June 17th, 2006 was a Saturday. I don’t remember the exact temperature, but I know it was hot. The uncomfortable kind of hot, because it was sticky like a sucker one of my kids left on the backseat of my car for me to find later. Anyway, that was day I gave my life away. I stood in front of my dearest friends and family, and promised to give Emily Ann Wenzel the best (and worst I guess) of me, for the rest of our natural lives. I would no longer live for just myself, but instead I would attempt to live for and honor her, with everything that I would do from here on out. It was a beautiful day, and one for which I have never experienced a single regret.
Or perhaps it was June 9th, also a Saturday, 2012. For some reason I DO remember the exact temperature of that day. It was 96 balmy degrees outdoors, and I was happy to be in the friendly air-conditioned confines of Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, MN. At some point in the middle of that afternoon, I got to meet my son, Ezekiel Aaron Steffen. I still remember holding him and having him wrap all five of his little fingers around the index one of my right hand and thinking to myself – “everything I thought I knew about life just changed didn’t it?” Now that I think about it, that might ACTUALLY be the day I gave my life away.
You know what, no. I think I’ve got it now. It was instead February 4th, 2016. Not a Saturday, and nothing happening in the daylight hours. Rather, in the middle of the night, after wandering the empty halls of Hudson’s hospital with my very pregnant wife, I watched my daughter, Esther Jillian Steffen enter the world, in what can only be described as a giant bath tub. As I helped one of our nurses pull her from the water and rather cautiously removed my shirt to press her skin to mine as I sat in a nearby chair, I caught myself fast forwarding to a day when I would walk her down the aisle, and hand her to another man, who would have the privilege and the honor of taking care of her for the rest of my life, and their’s. One of those MUST be, or will be the day I gave my life away, and it became about something and someone much more than just myself.
Perhaps you’re catching on. Somewhere, someplace, quite some time ago I gave my life away – but it wasn’t all at once. Little pieces here and there, little parts of me and who I was, began to fall away so that they could make room for a different, but better thing that had arrived to take their place. Each moment special in its own unique way. Each new part of my life, making it more full and complete.
I think this is how it goes when we give our lives to Jesus. We want to think that it was a certain day and time. Perhaps you can even remember the occasion at which you ‘gave your life to Jesus.’ You prayed a prayer – asked Him into your heart – and committed yourself to living your life only for Him. It was a beautiful day I’m sure. Probably in a church sanctuary, or a living room, or maybe if you’re lucky – in a smelly youth room in the basement of some old and stuffy building. People cried. Everybody hugged, and someone might have even given you your very own Bible. Everything about your life was going to be different from that day forward.
Except it wasn’t. You woke up the next morning and you still felt the urge to do something you knew darn well you shouldn’t do. He still had washboard abs, she still had legs that wouldn’t quit. Those words were so much fun to say. Everyone else was drinking it, so why couldn’t you? As they passed the joint around the circle at some party you ‘weren’t even at’ as far as your parents knew, or as the computer screen flashed images you’d do anything to keep your family from seeing – you still just couldn’t bring yourself to say no. Each time you caved you felt like the world’s biggest failure – and you wondered what had happened to that person who so desperately prayed that prayer? Why had you taken back control of your life? Why were you still clinging to it now? What happened to the one who gave it all away?
My take is, for most of us, it didn’t happen the way we were led to believe. There wasn’t a magic or even single moment at which we gave away the life we HAD for the one we wish to HAVE. Choosing to ‘give your life to Jesus’ – to me anyway – doesn’t seem to be a moment type of thing, but rather something we are choosing and growing in each day. Are there stories of instantaneous and miraculous conversions and corrections? Absolutely. Did it happen just like it appeared? Of that, I’m not so sure.
I remember once seeing a guy I knew ‘set free’ from his battle with smoking cigarettes. He walked to the front of the church during prayer time and handed the pastor the pack he had in his pocket. The pastor prayed over him, smashed the cigarettes in his hand against the pulpit, and people cheered. To this day, I’m almost positive that guy hasn’t smoked another cigarette. It’s a miracle really, I think it truly is. But did he ever think about smoking another one? Did he ever want to? Did he ever stand at the checkout in a local gas station and labor over buying another pack? Has he held one in his hand and thought about taking just a puff? Of these and many more things I am unsure. And even if he has, does that mean he ‘any less’ gave his addiction to cigarettes over to Jesus that day? I don’t think it does.
The Apostle Paul said something pretty incredible to some new followers of Jesus in Galatia. It goes like this;
Galatians 2:17–21 (ESV)
“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
There’s a lot of churchy stuff in there, so let me break it down a bit. I think what he is trying to say is something along the lines of this;
“when I try to be like Jesus and fail, does that mean that Jesus isn’t in my life? Nope. If I keep going back to and doing the same things I am trying to get Him to help me to stop, then I prove myself to be, simply, a sinner. And because I keep breaking God’s law, I have to let myself and my life go, and instead – day by day, little part by little part, choice by choice – give myself over to Him. I have to end my own ways of life, and instead allow Jesus to live through me. It’s not me anymore, but Jesus and His Holy Spirit, guiding and controlling my body, mind and Spirit. I TRY and give myself to Him, the way He gave Himself for me. And even WHEN I fail, I don’t cancel out the grace of God, because my sins are why He died. My failures are the reason He came. And so when and where I fail, I accept it, repent of it, and try the next time to give away, more fully, that part of my life to the God who loves me so.”
It’s not a single point in time – It’s a process. A process of giving away more and more control, and becoming more and more like Christ.
There will come a day on which I totally and completely give myself away and enter in to the fullness of life that God has for me. You will know it has happened, when those of you who are still around attend my funeral and see it printed on my gravestone. Until then though, it is my hope and prayer that there will be many more days – days like my wedding day, or the days I met my kids – where I will give pieces and parts of my dreams, desires, and myself – over to the God who gave Himself for me. One part and piece at a time, until I find myself face to face with Him. I guess that makes today, a day I give my life away.