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for RELIGIOUS, Vol. 52: 842-848, Nov./Dec., 1993
Spirituality of Surrender
John P. Mossi
whether it is losing a friendly bet, an important argument,
or a business contract, is a difficult to swallow. We detest
losing. The same is true for any diehard sports fan who
endures a hometown rout. We walk away replaying the game,
blaming the unfair referees , or creating strategies that
"would have" favorably altered the score.
the defeat entails greater stakes, there is higher resistance
to a surrender. To address a serious problem like addiction
is personally painful. Implicit in such reality is a pervasive
sense of failure. One has lost control over life's direction.
The only way to regain control is to surrender what has
not worked and seek a new way. This process is replete with
article will examine the spirituality of surrender as a
means of coming home to God (1). Surrendering to God will
be looked at in three ways. The first involves an understanding
of how surrender is operative in twelve-step recovery programs
like Alcoholics Anonymous. The second involves a look at
the life of Ignatius of Loyola and the surrender components
of the final prayer of the Spiritual Exercises, the "Suscipe,"
or "Take and Receive." The third considers Jesus'
act of surrender on the cross in Luke 23:46. Each of these
three different "ways" of surrendering involves
putting our ultimate identity and confidence in God.
LET GO, LET GOD
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or twelve-step recovery retreats,
the expression "Let go, let God" is often used.
These four important words constitute the core spirituality
of A.A. and similar recovery programs that have adapted
the twelve steps to their particular addiction. "Let
go, let God" is an invitation to surrender one's unmanageable
life to God.
go, let God" is a gentle conversion reminder, a kind
of mantra, which assists us both to admit the addiction
and to hand it over along with its various forms of compulsions
to God. The long form of the prayer would be something like
"Let go of alcohol (or whatever the specific substance
or non substance addiction might be) and let the hand and
grace of God guide my life."
prayer is not magic. Saying "Let go, let God"
does not instantaneously bring about recovery. Its first
purpose is to assist the recovering addict to keep the daily
partnership task of surrendering the addiction to God. The
second purpose of "Let go, let God" is to be a
prayer of liberation, to call on the greater power of God
to help one escape from destructive lifestyle patterns.
In this way the creative resources of the individual and
the action of God are focused on together. The prayer also
serves to silence those addiction-related inner-committee
tapes and voices of doubt, loneliness, fear, and caustic
shame that can interfere with a person's slow recovery.
These, too, need to be handed over to God.
have the greatest admiration for all who enter the surrender
process of a twelve-step program. For many, it is the difference
between death and life, the difference between barely existing
as a human and participating in community, between dysfunctionalism
and experiencing the serenity that only God gives with amazing
first three steps of Anonymous programs set up this "Let
go let God" dynamic. The language of the twelve steps
is straightforward and simple. This is part of their wisdom
and wide appeal. The steps make sense to a lot of people.
Since A.A. began in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, Anonymous recovery
programs have multiplied to treat various forms of addiction
(2). These include Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous,
Gamblers Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous,
Sexaholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics.
us examine these first three steps.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or the other
specific addiction) - that our lives had become unmanageable
first step is crucial. You admit you have a serious problem.
There is no denial of the fact. The blunt reality is your
life is out of control, in fact, unmanageable. Furthermore,
you are powerless to do anything about it.
Anonymous meetings, this first step is handled in an up
front manner. When members speak, they state their first
name and their addictiveness: "I'm John. I'm an alcoholic."
"I'm Susan. I'm a recovering overeater." In formal
religion we might refer to this acknowledgment as group
confession. In recovery programs it is simply admitting
what can no longer be denied. Step one is an honest, vulnerable
beginning place. Owning and naming the unmanageable addiction
is essential to the surrendering process. When one is aware
of a specific uncontrollable disease, one can effectively
pray "Let go."
to whom does one surrender? Steps two and three look at
the second part of the mantra: "Let God." God
is the significant associate in restoring harmony. To appreciate
the spirituality of the twelve steps, it is important to
reflect that the existence and action of God are mentioned
seven times in the twelve steps. The particular addiction
is only mentioned once, and that is in the first step. The
activity of surrendering one's addiction and life to God
becomes the spirituality cornerstone of the remaining steps.
We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could
restore us to sanity (4).
two admits the need of an outside corrective authority,
a Higher Power, to bring about a stability in one's life.
This is the first glimpse of light that invites God in as
the restorer of sanity.
are two other important spirituality elements operative
in the second step: 1. The belief that a Higher Wisdom exists
and, 2. a disposition of humility on the part of the believer.
These two qualities counter culturally work against the
arrogance of the ego that craves to cling to the addiction.
Step two indicates that the recovery process entails an
attentive listening to a new Teacher, which means that the
addict has to take on the attitude of learner. There is
a major shift in trust: from addiction to God.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to
the care of God as we understood Him (5).
three is where the capitulation actually occurs. First,
a concrete decision to surrender has to be made. Second,
this decision is total. It includes the will making conscious
choices, and it affects one's entire being and journey.
Third, the whole person is placed in the care of God according
to the individual faith background.
spirituality of "Let go, let God" is a conversion
process. Conversion of its nature has two basic movements:
the surrendering of the compulsion, shame, and destructive
addictive patterns which reduce freedom; the turning to
the care of God and the Holy Spirit to be one's permanent
resources of wisdom and identity.
11:28-30 speaks of a "letting go, letting God"
process: "Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened,
and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from
me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find
rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden
light" (6). These three verses contain the confirmation
signs that accompany a true surrender. A learning will occur,
the process will be gentle and humble. Rest will be experienced.
A new relationship arises, a companionship with the Master,
which will be non addictive, easy, and light.
Surrender of Ignatius of Loyola
way of surrendering one's life to God comes from the spirituality
of Ignatius's surrender as expressed in his prayer the "Suscipe,"
or "Take and Receive." On his pilgrim journey
Ignatius was called to surrender on several notable occasions.
The first was during the defense of the city of Pamplona,
Spain. In 1521 Ignatius, wounded by cannon shrapnel, reviewed
the illusions of his life as sober death approached. But
he did not die. His long convalescence became a conversion
process. He gradually yielded up his stubborn self-preoccupation,
bravado, and ambition and began to discover a new self in
spirituality record of Ignatius's surrender to God is found
in his classic work, the Spiritual Exercises. Today, 450
years after its first published edition, it is still considered
a significant theological work noted for its integration
of Scripture, guidelines for discernment, sense of mission,
and themes of justice. The Exercises' developmental stages
of growth in discipleship and intimacy enable a person to
come home to God.
last prayer of the Exercises is called the "Suscipe"
or "Take and Receive." I invite you to spend some
time contemplating the components of the prayer. What is
Ignatius, the once vain soldier-at-arms, now a mystic, asking
us to do?
Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will - all that I have and call my own.
You have given it 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
"Suscipe" is a deceptively profound prayer. It
invites us to acknowledge the primacy of God in our totality;
it answers the humbling question What aspect of our being
is not a gift of God?" In the light of this answer,
Ignatius invites us to surrender all to God. The last part
of the prayer is a seeking of the purer gifts: "Give
me only your love and grace. That is enough for me."
Ignatius does not compromise in the process of "letting
go of self and letting God in."
recall a forceful experience in praying the "Suscipe."
It happened fifteen years ago during a retreat. I attempted
to pray and could not. I realized I had not surrendered
anything, certainly not my liberty, memory, understanding,
and will to anyone, much less to God. I told my director
that I could not pray this prayer at all. As a consequence,
I seriously questioned remaining a Jesuit. The director
gave me sage advice. He invited me to return to the chapel
and pray the "Suscipe" with my own words in my
prayed, "Lord, I give you my sins which I know so well;
those many areas of my life where I am not obedient, poor,
and chaste. I give you my pride, my negativity, my hatred
and vindictiveness, my compulsive rebellion and addictiveness
to self. I am overtly familiar with these dark recesses.
And I truly need to surrender these to you. Send forth your
Holy Spirit to guide, anoint, and heal with a love that
I am most in need of, your grace."
an ambush, the opportunity to surrender can appear at unlikely
moments. Do not let the occasion pass by. The benefit of
letting God in always outweighs whatever is surrendered.
on the Cross
turn to the spirituality of Jesus and the particular way
he has taught us to surrender. He, too, had to face a special
moment of surrender. His prayer in Luke 23:46 is a powerful
expression of letting go: "Father, into your hands
I commit my spirit" (9). Here on the cross Jesus is
still the master teacher. He models for us how to pray and
hand over our daily experiences and our life to God. Notice
the key elements: (1) The prayer is addressed to the Father;
(2) Jesus urges us to surrender, to commend, to let go;
(3) Jesus specifies what is to be handed over. He gives
what little is left, his spirit and last breath.
the daily minor or major surrenders of our own pilgrimage,
we can pray in the spirituality of either the twelve steps,
Ignatius, or Jesus. Specify in the "Let go, let God"
mantra and the "Suscipe" whatever needs are to
be named and yielded: "Let go of addiction and manipulation.
Let God in." "Take, Lord, my dishonesty, my hurts,
my doubts and sinfulness." God can handle and work
with these blighted areas quite well.
the prayer of Jesus to your immediate concerns: "Father,
into your hands I commit my grief, my sense of failure,
my disappointment, my pettiness and vulnerability...."Commend
these regions of brokenness to the higher compassion and
understanding of God.
is clear that not only our joys but also our sorrows must
be offered to God. Our ability to be powerless allows God
to meet us and tenderly heal us on our journey, embracing
us as we truly are. Moreover, the art of surrendering involves
a lifelong process. Some days we succeed better than others.
If we postpone learning the spirituality of surrender, we
will face it unprepared at death, when the surrender is
sudden. Perhaps we can learn to surrender to the care, to
the heart, of God in advance.
For more information on this topic , see Gerald G. May,
Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991),
Ernest Kurtz, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous
(Center City, Minn.; Hazeldon, 1991), pp. 37-57.
Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (New York:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1952), p. 21.
Ibid, P. 25.
Ibid, P. 34.
The New Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1985).
St. Ignatius' Own Story, trans. William J. Young SJ (Chicago:
Henry Regnery co., 1956), pp. 7-27.
David L. Flemming SJ, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:
A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading (St. Louis:
Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980), p. 141.
The New Jerusalem Bible.