Surrendered. Embracing. Peaceful. Calm. Centered. I first encountered some women who radiated these qualities in 1998 when I entered a training program for spiritual directors at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, California. I’ve met a number of Sisters of Mercy since then and most all of them emanated these same qualities. The essential quality is surrendered. All the others—embracing, peaceful and centered– are built on that foundation.
We all live under authority all the time, our parents and teachers when we’re growing up, our bosses at work, our society’s rules and enforcers, just like these Sisters of Mercy. And yet, how many of us have surrendered our will, our objections, our self-sufficiency and our self-determination to another? We rebel, we go around the rules, we obfuscate, we seek to get our way—there are many ways to express our rebellion directly or indirectly.
For us to live a Christ-centered life we must surrender to God’s rule and to give up our own. We don’t have to become monks or nuns to surrender, but we do have to put God’s ways first. We have to give up our expectations, assumptions, our own narrow way of thinking about life and other people and move into a wider, more inclusive, more loving perspective,.
Those of us Christians outside the convents and monasteries need to surrender to God, but often we remain accountable only to ourselves. Surrender can look pretty negative in our culture—wimping out or maybe giving up. Often how we feel about surrender depends on authority figures in our lives and how we have reacted to them. Am I rebellious, passive-aggressive, anxious to please, uncertain about the authority’s motives or treatment of me? My attitude towards any authority figure is also my attitude towards God.
On a spiritual level surrender means to put God first, to allow him to lead me, to acquiesce to his plan for my life, to give up my fight against authority, to let God have dominion over me. The thing we misunderstand when thinking about surrender is that when we surrender to God, we gain everything–the greatest freedom.
For God lifts the heavy stuff—the agenda for our lives, the direction, the next step; he forgives our errors and loves us always; he encourages the person he created to come forward to fulfill his/her destiny; he fills our needs, often before we even know what we need. With God carrying the brunt of the responsibility for our lives, we are free to discover ourselves—talents, proclivities and interests and to learn how to express them in an integrated way. There is no longer any striving, only relaxing into God and then into ourselves and who we were meant to be. We slough off the unnecessary concerns and just focus on our contribution to life(read God) itself. We draw a larger and larger circle around us as we begin to give back to life what it has given to us.
Surrendered. Embraced and embracing. At peace. Calm inside. I recall a conversation I had with Mercy Sister Lorita a year or so ago. I was asking her about the American Bishops’ insistence on the Vatican investigating American nuns. She laughed and said something like this—“Oh, that’s the movement of the Holy Spirit. We’ll see where he goes with it.” No concern. No defensiveness. Only peace. That’s what a surrendered life looks like, inside and out.
Questions to ponder over the week: Have I surrendered my life to God? Am I continually surrendering to God the big things and little things in my life? Do I put God’s plan for me first? Or my own?