A small piece of tattered, white cloth flaps in the breeze above the bloodied soldiers. They no longer have the energy nor the resources to continue the fight. Many had given their lives for a cause that would now never come to pass. The dreams of the Confederacy had been shattered.

Surrender brings with it a sense of hopelessness and defeat. Few in the Confederacy could picture what we, with the advantage of 150 years, understand:  their surrender created an opportunity for the South and the rest of the United States to be reconciled and healed. It was a time for repentance and embracing a new path that could lead to freedom and opportunity for all.

But instead of embracing that golden opportunity, southern states passed restrictive “black codes” to impede the path of freedom for former slaves. As newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government, the Ku Klux Klan rose up to stop them with intimidation and violence. Because of the combative stubbornness of fearful southern whites, many in the south experienced another hundred years of oppression and poverty while opportunities for prosperity opened up for their counterparts in other regions of the United States. It would be another hundred years before the civil rights movement and more bloodshed finally started moving them ahead again.

It saddens me when I step back and compare what could have been with what actually transpired during those shameful years. The prideful South saw surrender as defeat and devastation instead of an opportunity to change direction and make things right.

We, like the South, miss those opportunities too. The word “surrender” is encumbered with so many negative connotations that we cannot see the prospect of reconciliation and joy that it can bring. In Christ we have the power to deny our old selves which allows the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds. As we surrender our own agendas and selfish desires, the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts. We will be filled with thankfulness and compassionate hearts. We will demonstrate kindness, humility, meekness and patience toward others. As we begin to bear with one another and to forgive one another we will look more like our Redeemer. (Colossians 3:3-17)

Surrendering means turning over control. That requires a lot of trust, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Small steps add up and build trust. You are surrendering when you put aside time each day to spend with the Lord. You are surrendering when you help a friend move instead of watching the big game. You are surrendering when you pick up the socks and thank God for the opportunity to serve your spouse instead of complaining about it. Your own will or happiness is no longer at the center of your universe.  You are part of God’s plan and willing to be used by him.

Many came to Jesus and asked to be his disciples, but most of them turned away because they were not willing to give themselves to Christ. (Luke 14:26, 33; 16:13) Don’t wait until you are battle-weary and scarred from trying to do things your own way. Don’t wait until your dreams have been shattered and your hope snatched away. Surrender your life and watch how the Holy Spirit begins transforming you into the man or woman he created you to be.