"Thy will be done."
"Turn it over."
"Surrender to God."
These and many other phrases invite us to "Let go and Let God."
But how, exactly, does one do this without turning surrender into a kind of "practice" that we "do," and even strive to "do right?"
Again and again in my own life, I come upon this conundrum and realize that even the act of surrendering to God is something that I need to, well, surrender to God. It helps to say the words and express the intent, perhaps unlocking some level of openness that would otherwise remain shut. But often it seems there is a sneaky level of willfulness that accompanies even this practice of conscious surrender -- a measured level of control that still carefully safeguards a deep letting go and letting God.
Such is human nature! We learned early in life that conditional love is the norm, and that it's somewhat dangerous to give ourselves over completely in any relationship. There is, it seems, this inner wariness rooted deep within, beyond the reach of even the best of our conscious expressions of willingness. We can try to live over and around it, constructing various facades of "authenticity" or even "holiness," but in our moments of deep silence, we note its subtle persistence. Something within us does not want to fully belong to God. True prayer entails an act of courage!
What's to be done?
After all these years, I am still amazed by the wisdom and carefully-crafted language of the Twelve Steps of recovery groups like AA, Al-Anon, etc. The first three Steps get to the heart of the matter:
1. Admitted we were powerless over _________, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- This _______ can be addictive substances, behaviors, people, circumstances, and even this deep-down desire for control. How do we experience this powerlessness? How does it make our lives unmanageable? We habitually avoid reflecting on both questions, but doing so helps to break the spell of denial and delusion that props up our masks.
2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We all become somewhat "insane" in our efforts to live around our brokenness. And yet we cannot "fix" ourselves. Minor tune-ups are possible with self-help practices, but something more is needed to reach down into the depths of our human nature to heal liberate us. We need only believe that this is possible in Step 2, and begin to look to our Higher Power for guidance and support in moving into a new life. Higher Power is usually an expression of religious faith, but can surely include how this Power works through books, community, circumstances, etc.
3. We made a decision to turn our lives and will over to the care of God as we understand God.
- The stroke of genius here is in recognizing that we do need to make a conscious act of surrender, but that we do so trustingly to "the care of God." This entails allowing God act in our lives in ways we cannot control or even see, including inner healing and transformation. Trust is of the essence, here, but Step 2 has disposed us in this direction, and Step 1 has shown us that the alternative -- doing things our way -- isn't working out so well.
These first three of the Twelve Steps are about surrendering our surrender, inviting God to show us how we need divine assistance to even give ourselves over to God's care. Of course, just the tiniest movement in that direction is usually rewarded with serenity and a sense of awakening to ourselves in God, and this encourages to keep on going. Our fear that we will lose any ability to protect ourselves in a dangerous world is eventually replaced by the knowledge that God is the One who holds us together and nothing is more powerful than God. So . . . basically, we are safe in God, even if we become ill or persecuted, as Paul noted (Rm 8:31-39).
Steps 4 - 12 of the Twelve Steps circle around to lead us through inner explorations that support and deepen our letting go into God. The process is very effective if we work at it. Doing so as part of a group is even better, if such an opportunity is available.
Years ago I did some writing on using the Twelve Steps in the context of Christian spirituality. Three works on this topic are still in print.
Twelve Steps to Spiritual Wholeness: A Christian Pathway
Becoming a New Person: Twelve Steps to Christian Growth
Freedom From Codependency: A Christian Response
See https://shalomplace.com/psrbks.html for more info and purchase options.
Prayer of Surrender
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding
And my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
- St. Ignatius of Loyola
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