The deeper I go into Christian faith, the more I understand it as a series of stark contrasts between what is considered desirable by the world’s standards, versus The Way of Christ. And there is perhaps no starker contrast between these realms than how we understand the concept of surrender.
Growing up, I learned to loathe the notion of surrendering. In books, movies and at home — and certainly when I went into the Navy — to surrender was to relinquish honor. It was definitely not something to espouse, and in my mental ranking of desirable outcomes it fell somewhere below death.
But, then there is this Way — this walk with Christ. And, in this Way, surrender is not only permissible, not only desirable — it is required. In order to fully walk with Christ we must first let go of our old identity, formed in the greed, fear and egotistical cares of this world, and surrender to our true identity — the identity formed by and of Christ.
St. Paul understood this perhaps better than anyone — and, perhaps that’s why God elevated him from Saul to become Paul, to better teach us by the contrasts in his identity. In Colossians 2, Paul tells us “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” His old self ceased to live when he accepted the cross. He died with Christ and was resurrected — a new being, with Christ within. That is surrender.
Before Paul, the Blessed Virgin Mary taught us this at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told her she would bear the Messiah. Facing ostracization, and possibly death by stoning, Mary teaches us how to let go of our fears and selfish desires and accept instead the greater glory of serving God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Three decades later, on the eve of his bodily death, Mary’s son, Jesus, taught us the next step in this surrender. In the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing he will be tortured and killed, “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus surrenders fully to God: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Not as I will, but as you will. That is a hard way to walk, as a human. And it is The Way of Christ. When we fully surrender, we open ourselves to fully accept Christ’s presence within us, to praise with Mary: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
In closing, I offer this prayer, from St. Ignatius of Loyola, 16th Century Spanish priest and co-founder of the Jesuit order, or Society of Jesus:
“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, Thou hast given me: I surrender it all to Thee to be disposed of according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.”
If that’s too long to remember, simply pray: Lord, let your will be done. Amen.