On Good Friday, I had the opportunity to share a part of my personal journey at my parish through the sharing of a reflection on the last words of Jesus from the cross. The topic of my reflection was surrender. The link to the video of the reflection is here (I am the seventh speaker). This post is builds on what I had written for the talk and looks forward from it.
Surrender Equals Weakness
Until quite recently, I would have said that surrender is an act of weakness. Giving up. Losing.
Growing up, I loved playing sports and I loved winning. I was taught never to quit and to fight until the final whistle or buzzer. Even if my team was losing with no hope of a comeback, the idea of quitting was never one I could stomach.
As a grown man, I have brought much of this outlook into important relationships in my life, not always in healthy ways.
In my marriage, I have been guilty of trying to ‘score wins’ instead of seeking ways to serve. Sometimes, it is more important for me to be right in an argument than it is to get to the heart of what the disagreement is about.
There have been times when I have chosen to be harsh to my children in a self-serving act of strength. As if to prove that I am strong by overcoming a child by raising my voice. (Sometimes raising my voice makes sense – I’m referring to the times when it serves me more than the purpose for which it is being used).
I have written at length in other posts about my work and the constant pressure to get ahead. The idea of not being in total control runs counter to everything that I learned from the culture and from watching others around me in the early years of my career.
I had fallen for the illusion that the world sells us. That a strong man figures it out on his own and does not need help.
The Self-Made Myth
The idea of being ‘self-made’ is sometimes held up as an ideal. Whether it is a successful athlete, businessperson, or politician, there are many narratives out there about the person who comes from nothing and makes themselves into a great success. The danger in believing in such a narrative is that we find ourselves feeling isolated. When we try and live this narrative, it leaves us wondering why we are not able to pull it off.
A decade ago, I struggled to admit (or even see!) that I had an issue or a challenge in any aspect of my life. As a young husband and father, it was easier to look away and hope for the best in moments when I sensed my wife needed me in the early years of parenthood. Or if one of the kids was off or not feeling well, my response would be ‘I’m sure everything will be fine’.
When I struggled at work, I looked for reasons outside of myself to explain it. The manager I was working for was unreasonable. The job I had been assigned to did not play to my strengths. The project was not what I signed up for.
To look inward would mean surrendering the façade and acknowledging that I did not have it all figured out. The truth is that I did not have it figured out and still do not. And that is ok. It is normal and part of the process of growing. But to enter into this process of growth, it requires an initial surrender.
Surrender as Strength
This past week on Good Friday, I gave a reflection based on this specific passage from the Gospel of Luke: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. In these, the final words He says in Luke before breathing His last breath, Jesus surrenders.
When I was reflecting on this, it was hard to park my long-standing feelings about the word surrender.
But when I focused on the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion, instead of seeing Him in human weakness during this moment and those leading up to it, I saw incredible strength.
Jesus could have come down from the cross. He could have walked away undetected from the mob, as He had already done on other occasions. Instead, He demonstrated awe-inspiring strength to not use His Power. He shows trust in His Father’s plan. It is an act of pure love for each one of us as He redeems us through death on the cross and overcoming death on Easter Sunday.
What Does Surrender Look Like for Me?
There are likely dozens of ways this question could be answered, but I am going to focus on three parts of my own life to answer this question.
1. Surrender to a person (or people). In opposition to the version of myself from a decade or so ago, I now seek out people in my life who I believe can offer me wisdom and guidance, particularly in the areas where I feel most unfinished. This applies to technical areas of my life (work) as well as the relational and spiritual areas. No one person can fill in all the areas of my life that I need guidance in. I am blessed to have a few sages, older ‘brothers and sisters’, as well as peers in my life who can help me on the journey.
Besides to being purposeful in seeking out these relationships, it is important that I am honest and vulnerable to the extent that I can be. In doing so, I create the opportunity to learn and grow the most.
2. Surrender to a process. The Cedar Life as I imagine it is a never-ending process. It is a seeking of the ‘ancient paths’ described in Jeremiah (6:16). It is a structuring of life in a way that allows me the regular opportunity to take stock of where I am in relation to who I am called to become. As I discover the process in my life, one of the most important parts is to constantly go back to the Father and ask, who is it that you intend me to be? If I can get even a small amount of clarity on that question, I have a light to walk towards. For me, the elements of the process are as frequent as daily and infrequent as annual (so far).
My process is iterative and evolving and likely different from yours and that is ok. The main thing is to have a process to surrender to.
3. Surrender of the heart. Along the way in my journey of faith, I realized that God is not interested in my spiritual scorecard. He is not looking to see how many times I said a particular prayer at a particular point in the day. The Father is in relentless pursuit of my heart. He does not want a part of it. He wants the whole thing.
When I come to this realization and experience a profound sense of love, the only question that remains is, Am I prepared to give it to Him? Do I trust God enough to give Him everything? That can be a scary question – at least it was for me. In asking it, I now understand that the Father does not want us to surrender so He can take everything away. He is asking me to trust Him with everyone and everything that I love, believing that he wants good things for my life more than I do.
This does not mean it is always easy to surrender. Especially when the events of life are not going the way I would prefer them to. It is only when I look backwards that I can see the hand of the Father at work in my life. In weaving together events, places, and people that seemed completely independent of each other at the time into a much bigger story. When I can see this, it helps me to continue to surrender.
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