What surrender looks like

After yesterday’s post, I asked my friend,
“Tell me what surrender looks like for you?”
I took notes and wrote my own recounting. Here are just of few
of those he shared. He began each example with the words,

“For me…”

+ + +


It looks like coming to terms with the past. It was
good, it was bad, it was, well, I can’t remember.
All of that you come to terms with.
Facing it, raging against it, wailing over it, forgiving it,
trusting God to bring good from it by doing all
in your power to help him make that good a reality.
Mostly in extremely tiny matters no one cares about,
but him.

It looks like patience, accepting your relapses, not
pretending healing in this life is ever complete, though
never giving up on hope. Hope is the golden key to
surrender, because it allows you to see the darkness
as dark, yet see it pregnant with a dawn inexorably rising.
And when you can’t hope, get someone else involved to help.

It looks like humility, acknowledging, dealing with, being realistic
about, yet moving toward embracing your ugly limits and embarrassing
weaknesses, even while risking strengths requiring endless re-dos.
We try again, fail again, and fail better. This means to
give up on your perfectionism while you seek perfection. If you
can accept perfect includes stumbling, tripping, limping, walking,
crawling and being carried, perfection is in your reach at every
step along the way. This requires the ability to weep and laugh.

It looks like praying every day, whether you want to or not,
feel it or not, believe it or not that day – especially when not –
because you know without it all is lost. And “nots” are the best
places for every act of surrender. Look for them, value them,
they come to you so often you should feel spoiled by your
opportunities for surrender.

It looks like seeing in your needy neighbors, difficult and ungrateful
neighbors an invitation to surrender your wares to them by
small acts of mercy, alms of body and spirit, especially those who
to you seem to deserve none of it. This is a precious exercise
in God’s sight, a calling down of heaven like no other.

It looks like giving up your addiction to controlling everything
and everyone. Let people be themselves, give them a break.
Love them where they are, and if you have to kick their asses
for their own good when they need it, at least leave the results
up to them and God. Stop pining for all to like you, approve of
you, cheer for you. Or at least choose to avoid the ways you try
to strong arm or maneuver approval. When others disapprove,
differ, ignore, criticize – work through it with someone you trust.
But even more, know that your needy and manipulative self is
precisely the one God is madly in love with, even as he shows
you another way called the cross every day.

It looks like letting go of the compulsion to justify your
existence by having to always being productive, needed,
helpful, successful, funny, smart, whatever.
Don’t wait for an illness or misfortune to steal away your
abilities, to only then start work on letting go of the belief
you need to earn the right to exist, the right to be loved.
God alone gives you that right, freely, unearned, without
need for prior justification. So to let go, you must cling to him.

It looks like holding every moment, every person, every event,
everything in open hands, knowing whatever you give freedom to,
if it is to be yours, it will come back to you in God’s time and manner.
Trying to see Providence in everything, starting with the smallest things
every day, believing Providence is what the cross and resurrection
tell us it is. And then we’re never surprised, and yet always surprised.

It looks like accepting appropriate responsibility for your decisions,
for your screw ups, for digging your various graves. If you fail to do
that, always deflecting responsibility and placing blame elsewhere
(even on God), not only are you unable to grow up, but your lament
will have no place to rest. Repentance, accepting natural consequences
for decisions, recognizing limits, growing in wisdom from life and learning
God’s primary trade – how to make fertilizer from the dung – that’s all
part of surrender.

But mostly it looks like time’s passing, which sometimes is the only way
surrender comes … surrender through attrition, like a rock made
smooth succumbing to trillions of waves, each removing a micron of
resistance. Or like a fist clenching tightly to its sand which, imperceptibly
through the years, falls away till there is nothing left to hold onto.
As age strips things away from you, you need not act, but only consent,
knowing God is keeping them all safe in his treasury. Christ’s perfect
act was found in saying, “Into your hands, Father, I surrender my spirit.”

In all of this you learn life’s grounding truth: nothing, nothing, nothing
is yours, all is gift, all belongs to God, and surrender is the only way
he has made for us to receive what he offers. It’s why death is the only fitting coda to life.
In all of these, Christ led the way, leads the way, is the way.
Sit at his feet often and say to him, “Teach me.” He infallibly will.

15 comments on “What surrender looks like

  1. Jennifer says:

    Whoosh. Reading this feels like a spiritual shock wave thrusting me back in my chair. Jolting me awake from my perpetual spiritual amnesia.

    This may be the most cherishable gift I’ve ever taken from this here store of wisdom. Feels like finding a treasure map that I need to cherish and memorize and hide in a hidden pocket under my clothes as I continue on pilgrimage. Forgive my effusiveness, just trying to express what a Godsend this is. Thank you for answering the question I didn’t realize I needed to ask. I mean, this is brutally painful to take in all at once! Ithink I’m going to need to meditate on one paragraph at a time (for the rest of my life if I’m smart)

    So keeping my focus on stanza 1 for now. THIS is making me cry:
    “Mostly in extremely tiny matters no one cares about,
    but him”. Why did that make me cry? Because I read too fast and jump to conclusions and I fully imagined it said “…no one cares about, BUT YOURSELF” and I was nodding in recognition of my tendency to rage and wail about ‘extremely tiny matters’ all.the.time that feel so huge to me, but that no one else seems to care about, for which I feel ashamed for even getting so worked up…but wait, what’s this? it says BUT HIM! like the sparrows, the lilies, and the hairs on my head… right, He DOES care. Nothing is too small or too insignificant to place at his feet, to weep over, for which to seek consolation. Not a dismissive ‘who cares?’, but HE cares.

    God love you, Tom. God love your wise friend for sharing this absolute TREASURE of a post. Love, love, love.

    To be continued…

    jf

    • Katy says:

      Jennifer, I love that. Y/our mind finishing it one way, but then seeing another. And what a turn that took, too. Thanks for sharing that; I am moved!

      I loved this paragraph:

      Don’t wait for an illness or misfortune to steal away your abilities, to only then start work on letting go of the belief you need to earn the right to exist, the right to be loved.

      What does this look like?!!

      Thanks, Tom, for this unfolding of surrender.

      • Jennifer says:

        Thanks, Katy. Yeah, this post rocks! I’m laughing at myself wrt the section you highlighted. Definitely having a concussion and struggling through cognitive issues was by far one of the most spiritually significant things in my life. It was the first time in my life that I was able to let go of those very beliefs mentioned in your quote. SO, ha, don’t wait for a misfortune indeed, unless you’re a stubborn goat like me, who needs a misfortune in order to wake up 🙂

      • Glorious! I look forward to *your* answer to that crucial question! I am drowning in wisdom here at Obstat, they say to me, benedicta tu in mulieribus…

    • jf, As ever, thank you for engaging in a constant dialogue with me over so many things, so much of which draws new things out for me, as you see — again and again. tn

  2. Tara White says:

    Hi Fr Neal,

    This is so good. Can I share this on Facebook of course written by you!

    Graciously yours & Be well,

    Tara

    >

  3. TN and JF, it is always a pleasure to read and let soak in the delightful spiritual repasts found in your exchanges. Bro Tom’s post “What surrender looks like” and all the replies/comments thereto reflect for me the odyssey into which I was thrust (through no fault of my own—save being born) five and a half years ago when Providence allowed me to awaken on my 70th birthday. What this post is for me is nothing short of a ten-act (re)play of “Dismas, this is your life! (and how to change it)” writ altogether too real in its oft-embarrassing exposures to faults, its good, its bad, and the downright—”I try not to remember.”
    Act 1 sets the stage. Act 10, “But mostly it looks like…” summarizes beautifully, illustrating what has and is actually taking place both physically and spiritually with each passing day of my septuagenarian journey. A beautiful life tip therein: “As age strips things away from you, you need not act, but only consent, knowing God is keeping them all safe in his treasury.” The ultimate denouement thereto, exquisitely encapsulated in the finale:

    “In all of this…you learn life’s grounding truth: nothing, nothing, nothing
    is yours, all is gift, all belongs to God, and surrender is the only way
    he has made for us to receive what he offers. It’s why death is the only fitting coda to life.
    In all of these, Christ led the way, leads the way, is the way.
    Sit at his feet often and say to him, ‘Teach me.’ He infallibly will.”

    Recently, resulting from conversations with my spiritual director, I have undertaken a writing project that examines events throughout my life (at least those I can remember) wherein Providence—Christ through The Holy Spirit—did, in fact, lead the way, guiding me in decision-making processes that carved out the trajectory of my life. A journey markedly dissimilar to that which my ego-diseased pride still challenges, “Hey, Lord, I got this!” As I juxtapose my ten-act play against an ardently spiritual, but merciless, evaluation of truth vs my self-forgiving tendency to undervalue the consequences of my sin, your words in consonance with the lovely comments from your followers shall keep me grounded. They also gently lead me to the beautiful prayer of St. Teresa of Avilla:

    “God alone is enough.”

    Let nothing disturb you,
    Let nothing frighten you,
    All things are passing away:
    God never changes.
    Patience obtains all things.
    Whoever has God lacks nothing;
    God alone suffices.

    Christ’s eternal Peace be with you all. Thanks so sincerely for this awesome post!

    DD

    • Jennifer says:

      I’d love to read anything that comes up that you’d be willing to share from said writing project. Love you lots, my friend! Write me soon, please!

    • DD,
      Thank you for all of your comments here, as ever. The best news I have heard in all your comments over the years, “I have undertaken a writing project that examines events throughout my life” — not only because you can write so well, but because it’s obvious you have a story to tell that will reach lots of people who may not think they could ever relate religion and hard reality. Which your story does in so many many ways. May God guide your work and bless it, and you must share it when you are done so I can promote it…and buy it.
      God bless you and M and the family!
      Blessed Eastertide, my friend
      Tom

  4. Brother Tom and dear and true sister, Jen, sincere love and deep respect back atcha. You both do me honor with your always-gracious comments. I pray that in this project the Holy Spirit will guide my hand so that as I recall special events they tell in all humility how I came to know and understand it was He and not “coincidence,” or “chance”, or “luck” that moved me to say yes and move forward with a recommended task. I have had a sometimes-gnawing fear of turning it in to a “Hey, world, look at me” self-cheering fest. That has caused me to hold off until now. But, my dear Brother Tom, your lovely comments help soothe that anxiety a bit by answering lots of “why?” questions that have crossed my mind for many, many years: “because you have a story to tell…(for)…lots of people who may not think they could ever relate religion and hard reality.” Thank you for that because that is what my confessor and I talked about when I related the story about how I came to understand “perfect contrition,” not fear, as I was involved in a potentially-fatal aircraft accident some 25 years ago. Jen, I think I related that one to you a while back.

    Too, one of the beautiful things about every one of the events of the last 54 years is that my bride M helped me “see the light” when I was often far too blind to know/accept the truth. Of course, there are a myriad of similar stories some going back to infancy: born with a thyroid tumor, Jesus saving both my Dad and me from death when a farm tractor slipped into gear and nearly crushed us both to death. The list goes on. In fact, many of the things I thought I had long forgotten are becoming clear as I began to assemble “the List”.

    Forgive me for my once again wordy diatribe. But your notes bring me smiles and encouragement that simply cannot go unacknowledged. God’s Peace my dear brother and sister be with you always. Jen, I will indeed get back to you. I owe you some comments on a couple of questions you asked. Weekend of 04/22–04/25 I am on a team conducting the men’s ACTS retreat, so when I can find a quiet moment or two, I promise to get back to you. I wanna know more about your work and how the fam is. God bless you both!
    DD

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