I grew up singing Gospel hymns at our little church in Loyd, Wisconsin, the village just down the road from our family farm. The tunes and words of many of those old favorites were imprinted on my soul from an early age. And though my understanding of God and Jesus has found expression in broader ways through the years, I still find myself singing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Love Lifted Me” and a particular favorite, “I Surrender All.”
Recently as I have struggled to overcome chronic Lyme disease, the surrender hymn came into my mind in a powerful way. What I thought was outdated theology may hold the key to the spiritual transformation that I have come to believe is necessary in any healing process.
Caroline Myss, author of “Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason,” noticed the people who were being healed in her seminars all had one thing in common – total surrender to God.
“... healing is the result of a mystical act of surrender,” she wrote. “The people I know who have experienced healings told me that they were able to detach from their pre-existing images of God. Indeed they managed to detach from everything – their wounds, their need to be right, their need to win, their need to know why things happened as they did in their lives. In doing so they discovered that all they really surrendered was their fear, their darkness – and much to their great awe, their disease.”
Myss told about a woman who had cancer in her back and was in continual debilitating pain. She wrote to Myss after one of the healing seminars.
“I said the prayer, ‘Now God I release the whole of my life to you,” she wrote. “I felt as if I went into freefall, as if I owned nothing. I felt as if I had no past and nothing to lose. I had only life to gain. I fell asleep after that prayer and when I woke up half my pain was gone.”
Within a few days she was pain-free. Her doctor ran tests that showed the cancer was no longer there.
The composer Judson W. Van DeVenter, wrote “I Surrender All” after a five-year struggle with a call to full-time ministry. He was successful as a teacher and high school art administrator. He also played 13 instruments and was a leader in his church’s music ministry. It was during a church music event in 1896 that he finally surrendered his desires completely to God, he said, and made the decision to become a full-time evangelist. The song was birthed out of that transforming experience.
Winfield S. Weeden, 1847-1908, put the words of “I Surrender All” to music. He loved the song so much he had the lyrics inscribed on his tombstone.
Whenever I hear that sweet melody I am transported back to the little church in Loyd. I can hear my father’s resonate tenor leading out on the refrain.
“All to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”