Surrender. Now there is a scary word. To Americans surrender is anathema. Surrendering is for the weak of will and heart. Think about football the most American of pastimes and allegiances. You have certainly seen games where one side is getting blown out. There is no hope for a comeback or even making it a respectable loss. Yet the losing team continues to try while the announcers try to keep the viewer entertained with trivia. I think it would be better for everyone (except maybe the advertisers) if the losing team just conceded. But no, we never give up. They always have to give it that “good old college try.”

Mary and Joseph surrender to God’s will

But surrendering can mean something other than giving in to an opponent or an enemy. One definition of surrender is to “abandon oneself entirely to a powerful emotion or influence.” Love is one of those powerful emotions that we submit to. In the best o instances we abandon our ego and give up our self-interest to love. That can mean that we give up our personal plans for the benefit of a relationship. Many people, especially women, have given up careers for the benefit of a spouse. Many parents surrender hopes for their personal future in order to increase the possibilities for their children. Many people have given their lives in attempts to save others. I am reminded of the man who kept going back into the icy waters of the Potomac after the crash of the Air Florida flight 90 in January of 1982. And there are the people we see running towards disasters instead of away from them as on September 11, 2001 or the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. These are choices made out of love not out of weakness. It takes a strong person to put self aside for the benefit of another.

Then there is surrender to God. Once again that nasty word gets in the way. We refuse to surrender to anyone. Our ego faced with its submission, if not annihilation, resists. Yet, our Lord and Savior surrendered himself. Some of our greatest saints did likewise. No one would call Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila, or Martin Luther King, Jr. weak. These women and men were far from meek and mild. Read about them or better yet read what they wrote. These were strong willed, passionate, self-assured people. There is not a weak one in the bunch, and each one submitted their selfhood, their individuality, and their ego to God’s will.

I suspect that it actually takes someone of true strength to submit fully to God. A weak person cannot do so. It is unfathomable to them to give over their self to someone or something else. True strength of character, spirit, and self is not afraid of being subsumed by something greater than itself. It is true not only of saints, but also of the ones that are called the Greatest Generation. These were people who struggled through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. These were people who gave themselves over to a cause greater than their individuality. It might have been love of family, love of freedom, or love of country. Whatever the motivation the love of something other than themself is what made them strong. It is what made it possible for them to make personal sacrifices for the good of something larger. 

This selflessness is possible for you and me as long as we do not give in to fear. As Shakespeare wrote we “screw our courage to the sticking place” committing ourselves to lives of submission to one greater than ourselves. It is one of the paradoxes of Christianity that there is strength in submission and there is victory in surrender; the surrender of Christ on the cross and of saints to the will of God. The minute the words surrender and submission start to get in the way, remind yourself that your strength is in your surrender to the Prince of Peace and submission to the God of love. Dying to self is the key to abundant life in this world and the world which is to come. 

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