Surrender, Then Embrace

November 4, 2019

It is so hard for us Americans to give up control of our lives and what happens to us. We are supposed to in charge of what happens to us, determinative of the direction of our lives. So we resent anything that happens to us that was not in our plans. Even Christians can be upset at God for allowing or causing any event that was not on our agenda for our lives. But I want to suggest that there is a whole different way to look at all the ups and downs of our lives.

 

If we look at our life-span here on Earth as a school in which we are to learn certain lessons about loving God and our neighbor, then we can look at what happens to us without fighting or resenting it. The event or disease or death of a loved one or loss of a job is not a judgment on us or just something that causes us to postpone our own agendas. Or a difficulty that we can’t manage. First of all, God is right there in the midst of any problem to help and guide us out of it. And secondly, there is new life after any “death,” that is, the death of our plans or of someone we love or of a life we cling to. That is the nature of the cross that Christ asks us to bear[1]: it promises a whole new life once we face the challenge before us with surrender and peace.

 

To surrender to what is before us whether we like it or not takes us to giving up our own agendas, our own assumptions,  expectations and desires. It takes giving up the world’s way of dealing with things. And it takes all of ourselves. The more we surrender to God, the more we are giving up parts of ourselves in favor of seeing things and ourselves with God’s eyes.

 

We are  each created with certain gifts and talents and we each go through good and difficult experiences from which we are to learn certain things. And then, if we are willing to deal with what happens without resentment or fear or anger, those lessons are often the gift we can share with others. Think of the ex-alcoholic helping others in AA or someone who has dealt well with Parkinson’s Disease helping others see how s/he has learned to cope. Or a former homeless person sharing how he got housing and a job eventually. We listen best to others who have been through the same challenges we are facing. And that is how we can truly give back to others what God has shown us in our own lives.

 

Surrendering to what is already in our lives is the name of the game. Surrender to things big and small, from a job loss to a traffic delay is what God call us to do. That surrender may happen without anger, but perhaps grudgingly, too, as we seek to resolve our upset over having to deal with this thing at all. Surrender can then lead us to acceptance as we let go of our anger or fear. And finally, surrender can lead to embracing this new thing in our lives as we learn to not take things personally, and to even love what this event has to teach us. And as we surrender more and more to God, our suffering goes way down, because our resistance only adds to our suffering.

 

We can bring the same attitude to things we resent that have happened in our past. Just growing up in a hell-fire-and-damnation church and its negative effect on who I am was a terrible experience. But as I began to resolve the issues of doubt of myself and fear of God that I was left with, I began to see how that experience had shaped my entire life. And I came to tease God with this: “If you hadn’t put me in that church to begin with, I’d be a proper Christian woman—1950’s style, but since you did, this—me—is what you get!”

 

That wholly negative experience sent me on a life-long journey to resolve my very negative attachment to God into a very positive, peace-filled, surrendered one. The defining years of my life became the reason I became a spiritual director, a supervisor of spiritual directors, a blogger and an author. Everything in my life for the last 20 years has been about how do I, how do we live this life in Christ in the 21st Century? None of this would have happened if I hadn’t grown up in that church.

 

This is the lesson for us all: meeting our greatest challenges with surrender and embrace means that we hardly experience any suffering at all in what could be very negative circumstances. God’s presence and our surrender and embrace of what is happening mean that we are moving successfully through our lives without rebellion and fear and anger. We do trust God with everything. And I mean every single thing in our lives.

 

We can learn a lot from the apostle Paul as he writes about all the suffering he has endured: prison, floggings, exposure to death, shipwrecks, bandits, danger from other Jews and Gentiles and more.[2] He endured all this and more as He carried Christ’s message to the Mediterranean world. And if he is to boast, it is about “the things that show my weakness.”[3] He went through all this with equanimity, never forgetting in jail or wherever he was to teach about Christ.

[1] Matthew 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27

[2] 2 Corinthians 11:16 to the end

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:30

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