Surrender! Surrender!

And It Almost Never Works, Because What is that Even About?

CJ Green / 8.20.20

Surrender is one of those words that, if you say it a few times in a row, becomes absolute gibberish. Surrender. Surrender. Surrendl;afjdfa;sdf. To constantly prescribe it (for yourself or others) will often backfire, because sur:lkjfsas;df goes in one ear and out the other.

A posture of surrender: this is a seriously great concept. It conveys that our position before God is not one of control, or of tense negotiation, but of passivity. “It is finished,” Christ said from the cross, and surrender means believing that. For me, it brings to mind a sense of relief. Of giving up, and giving in. There is nothing more to be done. The problem is that it’s easy to talk a big game about “surrendering” but harder to get a clear picture of what that actually looks like.

Sometimes I imagine that I will finally surrender to God when I am sitting in prayer, coffee in hand, breathing carefully and in a controlled manner, chanting the word “surrender” over and over and over. Seriously! I have been known to do that.

And it almost never works, because what is that even about? Me, myself, and moi — searching my mind for some inner light. I once told a friend about my prayer routine: fifteen minutes every morning, fifteen in the evening. She narrowed her eyes. “That sounds very compulsive,” she said, and she was right. My “calm, controlled” prayer life usually occurs in a state of complete panic.

So how does one surrender to God? In my own life, surrender rarely, if ever, has been an abstract, inner “shift.” It usually involves something specific. Nothing big; it’s not a show. But it won’t always look monkish, either. There are infinite ways to strike a posture of surrender. Here are two that I know of.

It’s like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? One option is “phone a friend.” The conversation doesn’t have to be long or labored. A brief “Hi,” a quick life-update, is sometimes all it takes to give in. You become open to hearing from someone other than yourself. Often, God speaks to us through other people.

Sometimes, too, you can “surrender” by doing some little thing you have been avoiding doing. Putting a stamp on that piece of mail. Washing that dish that has been crusting at the bottom of your sink for a week. These are little ways to show up to life on life’s terms, not on your own.

To be in “a posture of surrender” means admitting that life is far wilder than fifteen minutes of prayer now, and fifteen minutes later. It is far wilder than “do not heal on the sabbath, but go ahead and heal every other day of the week.” We don’t always get to decide when the healing happens.

It’s for our own good that we surrender — for the good of our mental health. If you, like me, grind your teeth at night, then you understand how unpleasant not surrendering can be. Not surrendering is like grinding your teeth constantly.

But one final thing is that “a posture of surrender,” as great as it is, has less to do with the life of a Christian, and more to do with the life of a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius may have written about “the art of acquiescence” and loving “the hand that fate deals you,” but the disciples of Christ clamored for greatness, then betrayed Greatness to the authorities. At which time Christ surrendered, not for the benefit of his mental health, but for the salvation of the very people who betrayed, lacerated, and ultimately killed him.

In Christianity, it was God who surrendered. When we charged ahead, God raised a white flag in the form of a cross, and even now, as we dig in our heels, the fight really is over. Christ did give himself away.