The Gift of Our Surrender
As I was submitting this article to Catholic Mom, I got the news of Pope Benedict XVI resigning, February 28th, 2013, and all other thoughts I might put on the page seem less important now. But in light of this momentous news, may you read the following article with tremendous hope, knowing that our surrender in all things, will always lead to divine life . . .
Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” (Mt. 6: 33). Oh, how hard this is.
God has one goal for all of us. His goal in everything that he calls us to is to bring us closer to our true home, an eternal paradise with him. Every little thing he does for us and asks of us is focused on this one goal. He never deviates from it, not for one second. But to trust this, to have faith in his ultimate goodness in every situation, can seem like an impossible task. Of course, it makes more sense to entrust our lives, our day to day activities, to our Creator who understands absolutely everything about absolutely everything; but we humans try to take control. We grab the reigns, over and over again, in a horse carriage too big and unruly for us to drive, and we paddle the oars of our boat in the river of time, whose twists and rapids only God can see. Each day God asks us to hand him the reigns, to give him the oars. But do we want to? It can be so painful, albeit temporarily, and requires great trust, nothing less than our complete surrender.
To surrender is to give up control to someone else. This goes against our human self-centered, self-protective nature. Yet Jesus tells us that surrender is the only way that leads to eternal life. In all four gospels, Jesus repeats: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will save it.” (Lk. 9:24) And Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord will all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make straight your paths,” (NRSV).
Let us try, as painful and scary as it might be, to surrender to the fact that maybe Our Father in heaven knows best. Let us surrender to the fact that our lives aren’t really our own and that we are in control of very little.
We can’t cause our heart to beat for one second. We can’t bring anyone back to life. We can’t create a single star. But God can. He can create galaxies, not to mention the entire universe. He’s in charge of everything. Maybe, just maybe, he’s better at controlling things than we are.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Church’s preeminent teacher on spiritual discernment, gives us some practical help with this. He says in his work, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, that we shouldn’t first seek something of the world and then seek God. This would be dragging the end into subjection to the means, which orders our lives in a backwards fashion.
As an example of this, St. Ignatius points to the subject of one’s vocation—one’s calling to a certain state in life. He says, for instance, that we shouldn’t first decide that we’re going to marry and then decide how to serve God in marriage. First and foremost, we should ask God, “What do YOU want? How can I best serve you and praise you and thus save my own soul?” Then we have to listen, and this means being dedicated to a daily life of prayer. We may not get an answer right away or for a long time, but the most important thing we can do is keep our hearts open to God’s will, rather than telling him what to do.
In order to do this, St. Ignatius says we need to rid ourselves of our disordered attachments—things that take priority in our minds and lives over God’s desires for us. Whenever we say, “God you’d better give me this, or else,” this is a disordered attachment.
Surrendering our lives and our disordered attachments is anything but easy. Often we want what we want how we want it, and we want it now!
I wanted to get married. I really wanted to get married, and I was having no luck finding anyone. One day in my young adult years, a couple friends and I decided to go out to a bar in San Francisco. I don’t think we had ever made such an excursion together, but we were thinking, “This should be fun, and perhaps we’ll meet someone special there”—a truly dumb thought, to be honest. Trying to meet a special, holy Catholic guy, late at night in a seedy bar, is like trying to find a diamond in a box of Cheerios.
So we entered into a dark, smoky atmosphere, which felt as alive as desert sand. I looked around at the scattered men standing alone in the crowd, clutching their beers with feigned looks of self-importance and purpose. When I tried to talk to a couple of them, they avoided eye contact and jerked their heads to the side, as if something terribly exciting was just beside me. After about five minutes, I gave up hope of connecting with anyone new and tried to enliven the evening by teaching my friends Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. When I got home, tired and smelling like cigarette smoke, I plopped on my bed and thought, What am I doing? What was all that about? And that is when God spoke me. Not in audible words, but in my heart. His message was unmistakable: “Give it up.”
I knew just what he meant. He wanted me to give up my obsession with finding a husband and to stop worrying about it. I told him in tears, “But this is going to be so hard! Knowing that my will was not strong enough to surrender this desire, I forced myself to obey his wish immediately.
Late that night, I walked to a nearby open chapel, where a stunning, wood-carved, life-sized crucifix hung behind the altar. The chapel was dark. I was the only person there. Only the Lord was illuminated by a single light. Dropping to my knees before him, I said, “I don’t know if I can truly give this up. You are going to have to help me make this real.” Then with a trembling hand, I took out a small piece of paper and imagined the perfect husband. Placing the paper on the altar, I looked up at Jesus on the Cross, and said, “I give you this man because you’re more important than he is.” And then I wept. Taking two little slips of paper, I then imagined two perfect children kneeling in prayer, and with a silent, gut-wrenching cry, I placed them on the altar as well. Looking up at Jesus, I said, “I give you these two children because you’re more important than they are.” And then I wept.
Stunned by what I had just done, I went back to my room and collapsed onto my bed. What happened next has never left my memory. As I lay on my right side, my torso suddenly filled with a beautiful expansive sense of ecstasy and peace. “You’re here!” I said to God in my heart. I didn’t dare move for fear the sensation would go away. “Why are you giving me this feeling?” The answer that came was simple. He was thanking me for my offering and letting me know how pleased he was that I had surrendered to him what was most important to me in life.
It wasn’t easy and nor was I perfectly happy, but now I was free for God to do with me as he wished.
Anything can happen when we surrender our lives and our disordered attachments to God. I might have remained single. I might have become a Catholic sister. Whatever the path, whatever the days would bring, I knew that God would do what was best for my soul and for the salvation of the world. Sometimes what we release is replaced by a different gift we could have never imagined. Sometimes what we’ve surrendered comes back to us, and if it does, we can better know when it’s his will and not ours. In my case, God surprised me a couple years later with a husband and guess what – two kids.
Let us surrender to the fact that God really is the Lord of our lives.
Copyright 2013 Christine Watkins