CSD book club – the imitation of christ (week 7 of 10)
The Sweet Peace of Surrender
Lord, how often should I resign myself and what should I renounce?
Always and at all times; small things as well as great ones. I make no exceptions. I want to find you stripped naked of everything. Unless you outwardly and inwardly divest yourself of your will, how can you be Mine, or how can I be yours?
The sooner you do this, the better off you will be. The more sincerely and more completely you put this into practice, so much the more will you please Me, and so much the greater the gain that will be yours.
Some people make this resignation of themselves but at the same time they attach one or two conditions. These people do not have full trust in God and so they seek to provide for themselves. And there are some who at the beginning do fully resign themselves, but later on, tired by temptation, they take back what they had previously renounced and as a result make no progress in attaining virtue.
Unless these people unconditionally surrender themselves and daily offer themselves as a sacrifice to Me, they will never achieve the true freedom of a pure heart, nor will they obtain the grace of a delightful familiarity with Me. Without such a self-surrender there can never be a happy and joyful union between us. – The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Ch. 37, p. 132-133.
His scream shook the silence of slumber in our small clapboard home. My husband and I were halfway down the hall before we were even fully awake – our bodies sprinting instinctively to the sound of our four-year-old son’s voice, which was filled with indescribable terror. Because he was so distraught, it took us a few minutes to realize through his pleas that he couldn’t move his legs. He was completely paralyzed from the waist down.
I’m not sure how my husband felt, but my blood ran cold, and I began instantly praying for the Holy Spirit to guide us through that moment. After the initial shock and confusion, we assured our son with soothing voices that his legs must just be asleep, and that they would be fine within a few minutes.
But they weren’t. After much poking and prodding and pushing – anything to see some resistance in his legs – we realized this might be serious. In the end, my son and I headed for the emergency room while my husband stayed home with our younger children.
You’d think that would have been the longest drive of my life. But it wasn’t at all. In fact, despite obvious concerns, I still remember, ten years later, the peace that absolutely engulfed me on my way to the hospital that Saturday morning. Yes, I felt helpless. But in my helplessness, I completely surrendered my son and our future to our Heavenly Father. And the moment I cast that weight off my shoulders I was wrapped in an embrace so warm and so strong that I was certain I could withstand any storm.
Of course, I did run a list of possibilities off in my mind – muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, a rare muscular disease – but I felt the Holy Spirit preparing me for the outcome of any of these possibilities and more by enveloping me in His love.
The above is only one example among many of my having experienced the peace that accompanies complete surrender. Sometimes things have worked out the way I would have chosen, and sometimes they haven’t. But either way, I’ve been OK. Why? Because I wasn’t surrendering to myself. I was surrendering to God. In each one of those beautiful, memorable moments, I united my will with His will.
But sadly, I have only completely surrendered to God in moments of complete loss. In those moments when I was “stripped naked of everything.” When I had no where else to go. Each time was followed by a peace that “surpasses all understanding,” but those moments have been way too few and far between.
As Thomas a Kempis says, I must surrender always and at all times; [in] small things as well as great ones. I need most to realize that I am never actually in control. This life, and everything in it is fleeting.
Once in a while I remember the truth – that control is a ruse – that in reality the only power I really have comes from God (therefore I personally have no power). In those moments I surrender – particularly after reading a great book like Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence. But it never lasts long. Like Thomas a Kempis says, I get tired by temptation (how does he know me so well?!). The temptation to live in the myth of my ability to be in control – the temptation to let my pride get the best of me.
Imagine the calm if every morning I would surrender to Him:
When the baby wakes early from her nap and I still have five things I need to finish – I am at peace.
Or when my husband has to leave town for work at the last minute and I have a meeting to attend that night – I am at peace.
Or when my house is in chaos because we’ve had a busy week, or even when our children are behaving in ways that we would never had imagined before we had them – I am at peace, because God, my Heavenly Father, has willed it so.
And what about the “unknowns”? You know – Will my children choose to follow Christ as adults? Will my husband keep his job with the sale of his company? Will our car make it another month? If not, how will we replace it? The “unknowns” tend to keep me up at night. But in the end, it will all be OK – no matter what happens – because God, my Heavenly Father, has willed it so.
At all times, and in all circumstances, I must remember the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
If I can only surrender everything, great and small, the amazing feeling of peace I had throughout that horrific experience would not be a memory, but a daily consolation. It may be mean a daily struggle with my “self” – but oh, the joy of peace…
[For those of you who are curious as to what happened to our son: The doctors were stumped. We were in the hospital for the entire day, seeing numerous on-call specialists. They mentioned most of the possibilities I listed above; but in the end, the tests weren’t conclusive, and the doctors suggested we see a neurologist that Monday morning. By the end of that first day, my son had a little feeling back in his legs. By the next morning he could walk weakly with a significant limp. And within four days, he was perfectly fine. Based on a lack of other possibilities, the neurologist concluded that our son must have had a rare virus that simply attacked his leg muscles. Thankfully, the virus has never come back.]
1. Do you find more difficulty surrendering in some instances than in others? Why do you think that might be? What helps you to surrender all?
2. Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week’s reading.
Week 8: Book 3 Ch. 44-54
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