What does surrender to God look like? 1

The phrase surrendering to God is often used and seems to cover a variety of meanings depending on who is speaking. Is it a letting go or relinquishing of power? Is it a giving in but if so what part of us is giving in and if so to what? Is it a momentary glimpse of ‘the something more than ourselves’ or can such an experience have lasting effects?

People’s accounts of how they have experienced this start to offer ideas on what this might all mean.

The theologian Roberta E. Bondi writes of her experiences in this way. She describes one afternoon when overwhelmed by despair and the feelings she had failed as the mother she wanted to be and ‘the wife, daughter, friend, niece, historian, and teacher I had intended to be as well. The memory of all my unmet obligations… I cried out to God…I give up. I absolutely give up.’

She writes that she did give up, utterly:

My heart was torn in half, and out of these halves ran all the unmet and conflicting expectations, good intentions, and desires to please I had ever had. I didn’t care if I was a good mother or a good teacher or a good daughter. I no longer suffered with those who suffered. I did not feel guilty. I did not accept my unhappiness as my due, nor did I reject it. I did not fight against what was happening to me. Emptied at last of everything, I finally felt nothing. I simply sank like a dead body into darkness.

She does not know how long she sat there – whether for a long time or just a moment but without any warning she woke up:

I heard my own voice repeating in my mind the words from the Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers for Easter, “The joy of the Resurrection renews the whole world.’ Every cell of my body heard them and for the first time I knew that these words were absolutely true, and that they were true for me.

‘The joy of the Resurrection renews the whole world,’ I repeated to myself in wonder, and while I spoke, my long-broken heart was healed…my heart filled up with a joy so fierce that it spilled out and ran through the whole of my body and flickered around me like a flame.

Bondi says that on her journey and quoting from Psalm 84 that, ‘On my way to Jerusalem I had at last found that the Bitter Valley of my life had become a place of springs.’ So for her the surrendering was born from despair and an emptied mind set: ‘I finally felt nothing’ and from the nothing came ‘Something’ – something is inspired within her and she is brought up into life again. She is the same person not an empty shell but perhaps more ‘her’ than before.