The word seems repugnant to us. We seem to come into the world hardwired to hold on and fight instead of surrender. When we see a newborn infant, we see hands clenched closed. What is he or she hanging onto? Beyond what the developmental process might be, it is still metaphorical. For the whole of our lives our hands close over the things we want to keep, the things we want to hold onto.
Perhaps we fear what will be taken from us or perhaps it is simply hard-wired to seek to stay alive and value the gift of life for as long as we possibly can. Life will teach us there is much to learn about what surrender means and when we are to “let go” versus to fight to hold on. Not every white flag of surrender is a defeat, but every battle should not mean a white flag is the first thing we wave. If we choose it first it may be because we don’t value what it is that can be taken away from us.
When we fear to surrender it often means we are fearful of what will be taken from us, but Margaret Feinberg suggests we misunderstand:
“Surrender means willingly giving something over, while stripping is having something taken away. True surrender is not something that happens to you; it is something you willingly do.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo
Her words offer a bigger perspective on what surrender means and one to carefully consider since we have such an aversion to it.
Yet as we grow from infancy into adulthood, we discover life is a series of cycles of letting go or surrendering and holding tight and hanging on. It is a hard thing and over time we get a great deal of practice.
“Life, it seems, follows a relentless cycle: in our early years we accumulate, but in our later years we divest. Both of them have a place in this life. Both of them are a struggle. Both of them are liberating.”Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years
How true are Joan Chittister’s words! Often, we discover we are accumulating more than we realized when we are packing up for a move. All those drawers and closets, basements and attics are “treasure” troves with things we never got around to making decisions about and whether they were worth keeping. Yet we keep doing it even after a move, the process begins again even if slowly at first. Mail accumulates in our inboxes and on counters and tables in our homes. Photos keep piling up whether in print or digital format. Each thing we have requires a decision and the struggle of letting go of things stalls the process more times than we intend until we are about to move or suddenly look at something and wonder why we have kept it.
It’s often been said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. We don’t usually start out planning on acquiring a collection, but it happens nonetheless in small and big ways. We seem to be indecisive about what is important to keep and what we need to get rid of and much of the time that process is over-focused on material possessions that we have worked to get or acquired in some way or another. The critical shift is determining what we value and why more than whether we keep things. And that changes as we gain more experience in life. Over time we start to recognize there are more important things than success or “stuff”.
“…we have learned that the things we amassed to prove to ourselves how valuable, how important, how successful we were, didn’t prove it at all. In fact, they have very little to do with it. It’s what’s inside of us, not what’s outside that counts. It’s what we learned along the way, what we meant to other people along the way, what we became inside – along the way – that is who we really are.”Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years
For as hard as it may be to make decisions about giving up “stuff”, other areas are harder for us.
“…surrender takes many forms – everything including your schedule, your possessions, and of course, your heart. Surrender asks us to hand over not just what we have but who we are to God.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo
When we give our heart to the Lord as believers, we tend to have little recognition that it will be an ongoing process of surrender and learning it means giving over everything. We give our hearts and trust Him for eternity. How is it so easy for us to struggle in trusting Him with so many other things we may face?
Over my lifetime I have had multiple opportunities to deal with that truth about myself and one always comes to mind that happened maybe 20 years ago. It was one of those doctor’s visits that we hear the word, biopsy, that sets all manner of fear invading our hearts and minds. And on that day on my drive home that was exactly what was happening. I moved directly from biopsy to malignancy and chemo and on it went. About a mile from home, the Lord asked me a question: “And?” My answer after that litany of fears was that I might die. Again, I heard the question: “And?” By now it was becoming clear to me that He had something He wanted me to see. (Sometimes we are so thickheaded!) My response then was that I would be with Him! And I would tell you that I sensed He must have smiled as I sense He responded, “Would that be so bad?” By now I was smiling, and peace flooded through me as I recognized that in this life or the next, He was always with me. Even though He gave me many choices, some would not be mine.
“True surrender is not a single action but a process in life, yielding ourselves – our whole selves – to God. Breath-taking opportunities for surrender will surface throughout our lives, but grabbing hold of them begins below the surface, in the deep places of the soul where God is already preparing us not just for those moments but for himself.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo