What Surrender Looks Like

Monday, June 4, 2018

Photo by Will Li on Unsplash

I've always thought that to surrender looks like letting go.

Like a balloon drifting quietly away into the atmosphere, surrender must involve a relinquishment of some kind.

And I've been on enough retreats, and sufficiently combed through Scripture, and heard enough about the lives of the Saints, to know that surrender also means a total abandonment of oneself to God.

In other words, surrender is an act of letting go.

But it's also a tenacious holding-on.

To surrender is to let go of what isn't important, and to cling to the One who is.

I've been thinking a lot about my future lately, because my first year of graduate school is over already, and in less than a year I'll either be a) navigating the job market again, or b) preparing to continue my studies if I decide to pursue my doctorate.

And I am trying to picture what it would look like if I surrendered both of these options to God. If I said, "Okay, Lord, here's what's on the table. These are the two things I see myself wanting. You know how indecisive I am, so why don't You just take it from here? Throw up roadblocks if you need to. Plant obvious signposts by the exits I'm supposed to take. Just get me wherever it is I'm supposed to go."

Of course, there are action steps I need to take to move in both of these directions. Network. Set up informational interviews. Research companies I'd like to work for and schools I'd like to teach at. Polish my resume and CV. Work on my writing sample. Solicit letters of recommendation from faculty members. Write that personal statement.

And honestly? I've been looking at this list recently and feeling paralyzed by overwhelm. It's just as tempting to stand back and say, again, "Okay, Lord, here's what's on the table. Why don't You just take over and do the thing?" But surrender that arises from a place of paralysis is not really surrender, either.

So what is surrender, exactly?

In Catholic tradition, one figure stands out as being the epitome of what it means to surrender: the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would conceive of the Holy Spirit and bear Jesus into the world, she had every reason to react with paralysis and fear. But she didn't. She surrendered to love, and said a bold "yes" to what was asked of her in the moment. And she continued to do so for the rest of her life.

Mary's surrender wasn't as much of a letting go as it was of a holding tightly to God's will for her life, and an eagerness to always do the next right loving thing.

On a seemingly different note (I promise it's related!), I love how excited kids get to share their artwork with other people. "Look at this!" they'll say, holding up an abstract fingerpaint masterpiece, or shaking glitter onto the floor from their latest project. I sometimes think of God this way, grabbing me by the hand and leading me through my days looking (to use one of my sister's favorite phrases of late) "pleased as peaches" to show me all of the good things -- all the works of art -- He's giving me right now. No waiting required. "Look at this! Now look at this! And this!"

But usually I am too caught up in what I want to see that I don't notice the blessings right in front of me, and the myriad opportunities to say "yes" to love again and again.  I'm usually too worried about the logistics of how it will all work out to realize that God will take care of it if I just keep showing up. To surrender, I'm slowly learning, is to let myself dig into the reality of where I am, of where God is finding me in this moment, and of how He is asking me to serve others and myself.

To surrender is to hold a little less tightly to my expectations for life. Instead, it asks that I hold a little more tightly each day to the outstretched hand God offers me, and follow wherever He leads.

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