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? Almost 18 years ago, I surrendered to Christ and put His will before my own for the first time. It was the 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 Him at a distance as well.
What Obstacles Keep Hindering My Surrender
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 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!
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 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. Prior to that point, all I had was family and work, 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. Naturally, I thought I was in control. But God had other plans for me. 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, 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, knowing 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. Honestly, 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.”
Next week, we’ll look at the fruits of surrender and some practical steps to take to help us surrender to the Lord.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
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