Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.” — St. Ignatius Loyola
What is the connection between surrender and strength? Surrendering to Christ and putting His will before my own for the first time over six years ago was the very moment I felt stronger than any other time in my life. The strength of the Lord flowed through me, energized me, gave me courage and put me on the path to a life of discipleship filled with meaning. But, my soul’s conversion would not have been possible without absolute trust in Him and the recognition that I had to give up control and experience the death of my old self. Even more importantly, I have come to recognize that my surrender and conversion is an ongoing process and not a one time event.
So many people I encounter each day struggle with this idea of surrender. Men especially are often raised from an early age to “be tough, be strong, don’t cry, don’t show emotion, etc.” We develop barriers around our hearts that keep the world at an emotional distance. The most important casualty, however, is our relationship with the Lord as we often wind up keeping Christ at a distance as well.
Obstacles to Surrender
It is ironic that one of the things that keeps us from Christ is quite possibly the hardest thing to do-totally surrendering to His will. One of the key obstacles to surrendering is pride. All of us have this in abundance! The good news is there is a cure: humility. The virtue of humility is the best way to counter the sin of pride. Author Peter Kreeft wrote, “Pride does not mean an exaggerated opinion of your own worth; that is vanity. Pride means playing God, demanding to be God. ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,’ says Satan, justifying his rebellion, in Milton’s Paradise Lost. That is the formula for pride. Pride is the total ‘my will be done.’ Humility is “thy will be done.” Humility is focused on God, not self. Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. Humility is self-forgetfulness. A humble man never tells you how bad he is. He’s too busy thinking about you to talk about himself.”
I observe people every day who come right up against a deeper faith and a closer relationship with Jesus, only to walk away. Why? After countless conversations with a number of my fellow Catholics, I will share these observations (and a few confidential direct quotes) on other obstacles in the way of our trustful surrender to our Lord:
- Surrendering/submitting to Christ and His divine will is frightening
- Giving up control/not being in charge is scary
- “How will my friends and peers judge me?”
- “It is tough to be vulnerable.”
- Fear of losing personal freedom.
- Fear that the cost of surrender will be too great.
- Pride and ego always get in the way.
- Men especially struggle with emotional connections.
- There is a barrier around the heart, formed at a young age (my personal experience).
- “I was raised to keep this stuff inside… like my dad.”
- “Work and family stress is hard enough — I don’t have time for this right now.”
- “I go to Mass every Sunday. Isn’t that enough?”
Did any of these obstacles resonate with you? There are times when they all click with me! Keep these obstacles in mind as you continue reading.
The Role of Crisis
“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.” — St. Teresa of Avila
When we are experiencing success in business and our personal lives are flourishing, do we think about putting the Lord first in our lives? Is submitting to His will top of mind? Do we even thank Him? Before answering this question, consider another perspective. How do we view Jesus when times are tough? We may have lost our job or be going through serious financial problems. Maybe our children are struggling with peer pressure at school or a family member is dying. How do you think we would view Jesus now?
In my professional life I encounter dozens of people each month who are going through career transition, especially in this tough economy. Many have shared with me that they have turned to our Lord for help in these tough times when they were at their weakest moments. They turn to Him when they used to rely only on themselves. The point I am making is we often turn to Jesus when we are in crisis and ask Him for help and strength. Crisis can be a helpful catalyst to truly and unreservedly surrender to His will and any means to achieve that end is worthwhile. But, we should not wait until our backs are against the wall to pray the words, “I am no longer in charge Jesus, please lead me.”
Control vs. Surrender
“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.” — Pope Benedict XVI
I remember very well what my life was like before surrendering to the Lord and putting Him first in my life. All I had was family and work prior to that point and I was in charge (I thought) of my own destiny. I dealt with life’s challenges as they came and pridefully took the credit when things were going well. I thought I was being the strong husband and father that my father had been when I was growing up. I thought I was in control. But, God had other plans for me and as St. Bernard said centuries ago, “He who is his own master is a scholar under a fool.”
In the second Mass I ever attended in October 2005, shortly after my wife and I made the decision to convert and join the Catholic Church, I went through a powerful personal conversion. I was trembling, sweating, nervous and felt weak at the beginning of the Mass. My family thought I was having a heart attack! This strange feeling lasted for about 10 minutes until it passed. What happened in these few precious minutes was life altering for me. I went into the church that morning feeling lost-I knew I needed help and that I no longer had the answers. I remember praying silently to God to lead me and acknowledged that I was no longer in charge. I was feeling so weak because I had never asked God for anything before and I didn’t know how to relinquish control. When I prayed those words, gave up control and sincerely surrendered to His will, I felt a surge of strength and a sense of peace that felt like a wind blowing right through me. I had given up over 20 years of stubbornness, ego and pride that had been accumulating since I last attended the Baptist church as a teenager.
Your experience may be quite different from mine. All I can share with you is when I put my pride aside and humbly surrendered to His will, the Lord gave me strength and a sense of peace which I still feel to this day. Please know that I still struggle with pride and placing Christ first in every aspect of my life and I have problems like everyone else. But, knowing that He will forgive me, love me, guide me and bless me keeps me coming back again and again to the place where I pray the words, “I surrender Lord, please lead me.”
The Fruits of a Life in Christ
“Let your door stand open to receive Him, unlock your soul to Him, offer Him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace. Throw wide the gate of your heart, stand before the sun of the everlasting light…” — St. Ambrose
Isn’t it tough to go it alone? Seriously, how effective are we if we only rely on ourselves for the answers? I don’t know about you, but I tried that way for 23 years and it was very difficult. Having experienced a life where Christ is in charge, I have seen the other side and pray that I never have to fly solo again! Please consider your answers (as I have many times) to these important questions:
- Do I want to be a better spouse?
- Do I want to be a better parent to my children?
- Do I desire a stronger faith journey in the Catholic Church?
- Do I want to be a better child to my parents?
- Do I want to be a better friend?
- Can I be more involved in the community and helping others?
- Do I want to be a better leader at work?
As we ponder the questions above, it is probably safe to assume we said yes to each one. Now, think about surrendering yourself to Jesus and asking Him for help. We know what it is like to go it alone and if we are honest with ourselves, the results are not that great!
Giving ourselves to Him, letting our old selves go and placing Him first will change everything. We will receive from Christ His grace, guidance and love which in turn will positively affect our relationships with our wives, children, friends and co-workers. We will see our faith journeys catch fire as we begin to appreciate the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. Our appreciation of the Mass will grow exponentially as we more fully understand the gift of receiving the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and we are joined in intimate union with Him. We will be perceived differently as people begin to see Christ at work in us. Or we can continue to stubbornly go it alone.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for us. He redeemed our sins. He loves us unconditionally. The only way to Heaven is through Him. What does He want in return? He simply asks for ALL of us-mind, body and soul. He wants us to place Him first in our lives-before family, friends, work… everything. Think about the list of questions above and place “Christ Inspired” in front of parent, spouse, child, friend, leader, etc. How can this not be desirable?
The choice to surrender to Christ and place Him first takes commitment and the journey to get there is difficult. I know a lot of good, smart people who have been deeply moved by an emotional meeting/weekend, inspirational book or personal tragedy to make this commitment, only to lapse back into “me first” behaviors weeks later-it can happen to anyone. This commitment has to be firm and will require sincerity, diligence and sacrifice.
Here are some practical actions I have learned from some great Catholic role models which I utilize to help put Christ and His will first in my life:
- Start and end our day with Prayer – Speak to Christ through prayer and ask Him to lead us. Pray that His will be done and offer up everything to Him. Consider this prayer, “Lord, please make me a channel for your will. Help me be humble, selfless and able to discern your plan for my life. I love you and thank you for every blessing. I ask you to lead me and guide my actions today and every day.”
- Follow Mary’s example – Our Blessed Mother is the greatest example of trusting God and her “yes” should inspire us to do the same. Say a daily Rosary to invoke her help. “From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God!” – Blessed John Paul II
- Educate ourselves – Study our Faith, read the Bible, the Catechism or a short meditation each day. I highly recommend In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez, Jesus-Shock by Peter Kreeft, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron and He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.
- Become passionate about the Eucharist – Want to fully experience Christ and be closer to Him? Seek out the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in daily Mass when possible and spend quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration every week. “When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.” – St. Francis de Sales
- Pursue Joy, not Happiness – Father Luke Ballman, former Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, gave a wonderful talk to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association a few years ago in which he described the pursuit of happiness as the pursuit of the things of this world. We think we are seeking happiness in the bigger house, nicer car, better job, bigger paycheck, but do these things really bring happiness? His point was that all happiness must be preceded by joy and that all joy is Christ-inspired! Seek out and surrender your heart to Christ to find joy… and you will also find happiness.
You may be doing all of these things and much more and I say thank you for showing us the way by your example. This is certainly not the definitive list, but these actions help keep me focused on Christ’s will most of the time and help me find my way back to Him when I get lost. As you consider the contents of this article and how it speaks to you, please be mindful that you can’t simply “add Jesus to your life” and share control with Him. He requires all of us, all the time. In return for our trustful surrender, He will fill us with His strength, His love, His peace and shape us into the fathers, husbands, friends, leaders and Catholics we always wanted to be. With His strength within us, we will find ourselves often giving to others and sharing our new-found selfless love to the people in our lives. Reflect on this article, then ask yourself: What do we really lose by surrendering to Christ? Then, ask yourself: What do I lose by failing to surrender to Christ?
I will close with a wonderful and relevant prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Receive, Lord, my entire freedom.
Accept the whole of my memory,
my intellect and my will.
Whatever I have or possess,
it was you who gave it to me;
I restore it to you in full,
and I surrender it completely
to the guidance of your will.
Give me only love of you
together with your grace,
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.
Let’s remember to pray for each other that we will achieve what the Apostle Paul wrote in (Galatians 2:20), “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.
The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
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