She sat very still, almost like a statue. I looked over at her from time to time, just to make sure she was okay. She seemed to be in another world, entirely consumed by the moment, her prayer and our uniquely tranquil environment. When I think back to those incredibly precious moments in the Adoration Chapel, darkness enveloping us except for the brilliant light emanating from the Monstrance, I marvel at her deliberate yet peaceful resolve to surrender everything to God. Months later after she had gone home to heaven, I realized that during those moments together she was actually resting in God’s presence – trusting Him, loving Him and allowing Him to gaze upon her beautiful soul.
“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”Psalm 121 1:2
American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert Dorothy Day famously said “Life itself is a haphazard, untidy, messy affair.” But Day didn’t succumb to the pressures of twentieth century American life. After her conversion to the Catholic faith, she clung to God in prayer and trusted entirely in His will for her life despite her utter loneliness. And God worked miraculously through Day, allowing her to found the Catholic Worker Movement which helped thousands of poor and disenfranchised people.
Unexpected life changes and challenges (death of a loved one, terminal illness, chronic pain, job loss, family stress, loneliness, etc.) can shatter the mirrored facade of our perfect lives. At such times we may seek help from all the wrong places in the messiness of today’s world. Like the Rich Young Man in Matthew’s gospel who was earnest yet unwilling to surrender his money and possessions in order to follow Jesus, we too can become greedy at the thought of giving up control to an unseen God. But God calls us to communion with Him and invites us, like Dorothy Day, to cling to Him in prayer and total surrender.
The greatest thinkers in history have a great deal to teach us about the real gift of surrendering to the will of God. One of my favorite “surrender” saints is Ignatius of Loyola, a former nobleman turned priest. He wrote the Spiritual Exercises, which are dedicated to discernment of God’s will in one’s life, over a couple of decades in the mid-sixteenth century. One of the Spiritual Exercises’ last parts is the Suscipe (Latin for “take”) prayer below:
St. Ignatius of Loyola
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.
I often wonder if we are ever really in control? Giving this up is tough and actually counter-cultural in today’s society, but I believe it is the only path to lasting peace and happiness. Our feeble attempts at controlling every aspect of our lives often falls short and leaves us feeling frazzled and discouraged. God certainly wants us to be the architect of our lives – working hard on whatever path we are called, but I don’t think He wants us to micromanage every tiny detail, endlessly worrying and fretting, especially during the times when we are struggling. I believe He invites us into a partnership, reminding us that we are never alone. I like to think that He is the captain of our ship and will steer us safely into port each day if we only have the courage to surrender to His will! Like Dorothy Day, we can learn how to surrender to God’s will by simply praying each day for the grace to do it. When mastered, this act of faith allows us to experience true freedom, joy and contentment beyond anything this world can offer, no matter the personal struggles we may be battling.
As the hour became late I nudged her and indicated that it was time to depart. She looked at me in regretful agreement. I watched in amazement as she knelt one last time in total silence and stillness. The cancer medications had been taken and the radiation and chemo had been received. She was now giving it all to Him, in total surrender. There were no signs of anger or sadness on her face, only peace. She knew where her help came from – and she knew that her life was in the hands of her Divine Lord. I gingerly took her arm and we departed the Adoration Chapel together, mother and daughter united in love. I will never forget what she taught me during those beautiful nights together when no words were exchanged. “Accept and surrender all to the One who is endless love and brilliant light in the darkest night. All will be well.”