Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Yet, so many good people I encounter each day struggle with this idea of surrender. It is almost as if we have developed barriers around our hearts that keep the world at an emotional distance. The most important casualty, however, is our relationship with Christ, as we often wind up keeping him at a distance as well. I observe men and women every day who come right up against a deeper faith and a closer relationship with Jesus, only to walk away. Why? After countless conversations with a large number of my brothers and sisters in Christ, it comes down to three main obstacles in the way of our trustful surrender to the Lord: pride, fear, and excuses. Do any of these obstacles resonate with you? At various times, they have all clicked with me. When our pride gets hold of us, we forget our roles outside of the workplace: as a spouse, parent, or friend. When fear controls our faith, we fail to submit to Christ and his divine will. And in making excuses, we create barriers between God and us. In order to avoid these obstacles, therefore, it’s important to know how and when to surrender.
When we are experiencing success in business and our personal lives are flourishing, do we think about putting the Lord first in our lives? Is submitting to his will top of mind? Do we thank him? Before answering these questions, consider another perspective, following the words of Saint John Eudes: “You can advance farther in grace in one hour during a time of affliction than in many days during a time of consolation.” How do we view Jesus when times are tough? We may have lost our job or be going through serious financial problems. Maybe our children are struggling with peer pressure at school or a family member is dying. How would we view Jesus then? When is our trust in him most apparent?
In my professional life, I encounter dozens of people each month who are going through career transition, especially in this difficult economy. Many have shared with me that they have turned to our Lord for help in these tough times when they were at their weakest moments. They turn to him when they used to rely only on themselves. The point I am making is we often turn to Jesus when we are in crisis and ask him for help and strength. Crisis can be a helpful catalyst to truly and unreservedly surrender to his will, and any means to achieve that end is worthwhile. But we should not wait until our backs are against the wall to pray the words, “I am no longer in charge Jesus, please lead me.”
To give ourselves daily to Jesus Christ, it is important to put our absolute trust in him. What have we got to lose? When I think about my own faith, I remember what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.” When we give ourselves up, God lets himself in. And that is exactly what he did for me.
In the second Mass I ever attended (in October 2005, shortly after my wife and I made the decision to join the Catholic Church), I went through a powerful personal conversion. I was trembling, sweating, nervous, and felt weak at the beginning of the Mass. My family thought I was having a heart attack! This strange feeling lasted for about ten minutes. What happened in those few precious minutes was life-altering. I went into the church that morning feeling lost. I knew I needed help and that I no longer had the answers. I remember praying silently to God to lead me and acknowledging I was no longer in charge. I felt so weak because I had never asked God for anything before, and I didn’t know how to relinquish control. When I prayed those words, gave up control, and sincerely surrendered to his will, I felt a surge of strength and a sense of peace that felt like a wind blowing right through me. I had given up more than twenty years of stubbornness, ego, and pride that had been accumulating since I last attended the Baptist church as a teenager. When I humbly surrendered to his will, the Lord gave me strength and a sense of peace I still feel to this day. I still struggle with placing Christ first in every aspect of my life, and I have problems like everyone else. But knowing that he will forgive me, love me, guide me, and bless me keeps me coming back again and again to the place where I pray the words, “I surrender Lord, please lead me.”
Your experience may be quite different from mine. But recognizing those obstacles that stand in your way is the first step toward a stronger faith. One of the key obstacles to surrendering is pride. All of us have this in abundance. The good news is there is a cure: humility. The virtue of humility is the best way to counter the sin of pride. Best-selling Catholic author Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote, “Pride does not mean an exaggerated opinion of your own worth; that is vanity. Pride means playing God, demanding to be God. ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,’ says Satan, justifying his rebellion in Milton’s Paradise Lost. That is the formula for pride. Pride is the total ‘my will be done.’ Humility is ‘thy will be done.’ Humility is focused on God, not self. Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. Humility is self-forgetfulness. A humble man never tells you how bad he is. He’s too busy thinking about you to talk about himself.” How do you recognize pride? Or better yet, how do you surrender it? Consider these points:
Do your pride and ego always get in the way of work relationships? What about personal ones?
Do you ever ask, “How will my friends, peers, and work colleagues judge me?”
Do you feel, “It is tough to be vulnerable?”
Most of the time, these moments of pride are what keep us from surrendering to God on a daily basis and eventually make us fearful of that surrender. I remember very well what my life was like before surrendering to the Lord and putting him first. All I had was family and work, and I was in charge (I thought) of my own destiny. I dealt with life’s challenges as they came and pridefully took the credit when things went well. I thought I was the strong husband and father my own father had been. I thought I was in control. But God had other plans for me, and I know I am not alone. Most of us are afraid to surrender, and eventually this fear becomes another obstacle to face, in addition to pride.
Fear constantly keeps us from daily surrender, and most often it stems from our pride and ego. I knew that if I didn’t let go of my pride, I would not have God in my life. And I knew I needed to learn humility. But I was afraid. I wanted to keep control. When considering the previous points on pride, did you feel any of these?
Fear of giving up control/not being in charge?
Fear that the cost of surrender will be too great?
Fear of losing personal freedom?
More often than not, fear is perceived as a loss; and rather than losing, we try to gain more control. But, isn’t it tough to go it alone? Seriously, how effective are we if we rely only on ourselves for the answers? I don’t know about you, but I tried that way for more than two decades, and it was very difficult. Now that I live a life in which Christ is in charge, and after having seen the other side, I pray that I never have to fly solo again! But doing that not only means giving up my pride and fear—I need to stop making excuses!
Excuses separate us from receiving all of God’s love day to day. Often in our busy lives, we refuse to admit the obstacles that keep us from surrendering to God and in return come up with excuses like the following:
There is an emotional barrier around the heart, formed at a young age, to keep people at a distance (which is my personal experience).
“I was raised to keep this stuff inside, like my dad.”
“Work and family stress is hard enough. I don’t have time for this right now.”
“I go to Mass every Sunday. Isn’t that enough?”
The choice to surrender to Christ and place him first takes commitment, and the journey to get there is difficult. I know a lot of good, smart people who have been deeply moved by an emotional meeting/weekend, inspirational book or personal tragedy to make this commitment, only to lapse back into “me first” behaviors weeks later. It can happen to anyone. This commitment has to be firm and will require persistence, courage, and sacrifice. And when you find yourself making excuses, becoming afraid to let go, or are even trying to maintain control over your life, keep your thoughts and focus on how you can best serve Christ.
Please consider your answers (as I have many times) to these important questions:
Do I want to be a better spouse?
Do I want to be a better parent?
Do I desire a stronger faith journey in the Catholic Church?
Do I want to be a better son or daughter to my parents?
Do I want to be a better friend?
Can I be more involved in the community and helping others?
Do I want to be a better leader at work?
As we ponder these questions, it is probably safe to assume we said “yes” to each one. Now, think about surrendering yourself to Jesus and asking him for help. We know what it is like to go it alone, and if we are honest with ourselves, the results are not that great.
Surrendering to him, letting our old self go, and placing him first will change everything. We will receive from Christ his grace, guidance, and love which, in turn, will positively affect our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, and coworkers. We will see our faith journeys catch fire as we begin to appreciate the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. We will be perceived differently as people begin to see Christ at work in us. But consider this: Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. He redeemed our sins. He loves us unconditionally. The only way to heaven is through him. What does he want in return? He simply asks for ALL of us—mind, body, and soul. He wants us to place him first in our lives, before family, friends, work…everything. Think about the list of questions we just answered and place “Christ-inspired” in front of father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, friend, leader, etc. How can this not be desirable?
As you consider the substance of this article and how it speaks to you, please be mindful that you can’t simply “add Jesus to your life” and share control with him. He requires all of us, all the time. In return for our trustful surrender, he will fill us with his strength, his love, his peace and shape us into the spouses, parents, friends, leaders, and Catholics we always wanted to be. With his strength within us, we will find ourselves often giving to others and sharing our new found selfless love with the people in our lives. Please ask yourselves: What do we really lose by surrendering to Christ? Then, ask: What do I lose by failing to surrender to Christ?
I would like to share a wonderful and relevant prayer by Saint Ignatius of Loyola called the Suscipe:
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.
As we ponder the idea of more fully living out our faith, remember it all begins with a daily surrender that will require the virtues of trust, courage, and persistence. Anything less than total surrender to our Lord will doom our efforts at an integrated life to failure. We must trust that in return for our trustful surrender, Jesus will provide us with the strength we need to be successful in business and life and overcome the obstacles of pride, fear, and excuses. Finally, we must place our trust in God.