Tibetan prayer flags represent prayers sent to heaven. Tibetan prayer flags often have the image of the Tibetan mythical creature, wind horse, or Lang-Ta, who carries prayers with the speed of the wind and strength of a galloping horse. I love the visual image of surrendering prayers through Tibetan prayer flags. Different religions and wisdom traditions have practices of surrendering to the Divine Will. The topic of surrender is complex and the practice is tough. During my years of attending catholic school, the most incredible practice of surrender I read about was the crucifixion of Christ. Christ, God-man, cried out to God in anguish and sorrow about what lay in front of him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He questioned God about whether God had forsaken him at his deepest point of agony. But, then He surrendered to God and accepted that “not mine”, but, “Thine Divine Will be Done”. I was amazed, scared and stunned when I read this in the early years of catholic school. How could a loving God ask this from His beloved son? It was baffling beyond words and my thought was I don’t think I like this “Divine Will” thing. As I have matured, I see the magnificence of Divine Grace in Christ’s crucifixion. It was for the salvation of humanity. I am a believer that this is a God of fierce and relentless love, who climbs the steepest mountains and dives into the depths of human despair and anguish, to rescue and heal souls.
The struggle in surrendering may vary for different people with diverse issues. As I have matured, I have started rethinking the surrendering process. The pandemic was a wake up call for me about the fragility and impermanence of human lives. I am sitting with the underlying uncertainty in life and chide myself for my arrogance at my pre-pandemic assumptions of certainty. To be honest, I struggle mightily with the surrendering process. My central fear is if the “Divine Will” leads to possible cataclysmic upheaval in my life. Frankly speaking, I am tired of upheavals. I prefer peace and quietness. I am a creature of habits, structure and schedules. Another facet of “Divine Will” is that it is very much unknown territory. No human being really knows the “Divine Will”. There is a level of comfort in known versus unknown territory. Bono (2022), lead singer of the famous U-2 band, writes in his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story, that the word “surrender” is possibly the most powerful word in the English language. When I think of surrendering to a Higher Power, the serenity prayer comes to mind. The central message of the serenity prayer is praying for wisdom to differentiate between factors in our lives that we have control over, versus, factors that we do not have control over. The serenity prayer encourages us to proactively make the changes that we can in areas within our control so that life is easier. These changes often require skills of contingency planning, anticipating and problem solving in facilitating change. However, there are factors in life that one does not have control over. One of the most frustrating things in life is trying to change factors that are beyond our control. This results in wasted energy, negative emotions, exhaustion, and a sense of depletion. This post consists of some reflections on the surrendering process. Again, please remember, I am a neophyte in the surrendering process.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT SURRENDER
Although I love U-2’s music, I did not know much about Bono’s faith journey until I started reading his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story. Bono’s book is captivating as the first chapter opens with his experience of struggling to breathe in a hospital emergency room waiting for surgery. Struggling to breathe, terrified, and grasping for his faith, Bono had an epiphany. He writes that in all the different names we give God, “Jehovaaaah, Allaaaah, Yeshuaaah”, we revere God as the giver of breath and life. No breath, no life. Bono points out that we do not have control over the two most fundamental aspects of our lives: when we are born and when we die. This led me to question why I struggle with surrendering other parts of my life, which are insignificant and puny, compared to the grand events of birth and death. I am learning to recognize that after I have identified the “uncontrollable” factors in life, why not surrender them to a Higher Power?
In his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story, Bono describes surrender as “the moment you choose to lose control of your life, the split second of powerlessness where you trust that some kind of “higher power” better be in charge, because you certainly aren’t.” (p. 540). Bono argues that the strategies to remain in control are very different than the strategies of surrender. Bono talks about his leap of faith and surrender in his marriage, family and music. Another beautiful example of surrendering to a Higher Power was discussed by Tim Allen’s character in an episode of “Last Man Standing”. Tim Allen used the metaphor of a compass in discussing surrendering to a Higher Power. He stated that a compass points “north” all the time, which is critical when we are lost in our paths. He stated that just as we can count on the compass as always pointing north, the Higher Power, God or Universe, similarly will point in the right direction in the surrendering process.
SOME STRATEGIES ON SURRENDER
On the website, tinybuddha.com, Dr. Amy Johnson writes a wonderful article on the themes of letting go of control and surrender. Dr. Johnson defines surrender as “stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality”. She writes : “Surrender = Complete acceptance of what is + Faith that all is well, even without my input.”. The key is the recognition that my input is not needed in certain situations. Bono has an entire chapter, “Get out of the way” in his book. Amy Johnson states the importance of a core belief in a “Friendly Universe”, that has your back, is very helpful in the surrendering process. People develop core beliefs about the Universe based on different experiences. This is a super complex topic and I have no definitive thoughts on this. However, I will share briefly my understanding of the research literature on applying attachment theory to attachment style to God. Psychologists, such as, P. Granqvist and L. A. Kirkpatrick (2008) have applied attachment theory (the bond between an infant and a primary caregiver) to discuss our attachment style to God or God image (how we see God). John Bowlby was a pioneer in attachment theory and he discussed that the nature of attachment with our parents set the template for our future intimate relationships. According to the attachment to God theorists, compensation hypothesis posits that people view the Divine One as a parental figure of agape love and a secure haven, who guides and protects them, to contrast to their inconsistent and unreliable earthly parenting figures. The correspondence hypothesis suggests people view God as having the same characteristics as their parents. So if you have punitive and emotionally distant parents, your image of God may be a punitive and distant. However, if you have loving parents, you may see God as a loving and kind God.
If you believe in a God of agape love that has your back, you may be less stressed about needing to arrange every detail in life. However, it may be difficult to surrender to an unseen Higher Power or God if people in your life have repeatedly let you down and you have a belief system that “I cannot trust the world and need to rely on myself” or “the only way to get things done is to do them myself”. I know many people who are livid with God for traumatic events in their lives. I recognize that God is a loaded word where people have many emotions and biases as throughout history, groups of people have hurt or oppressed others in the name of “God”. I like the idea of a “Higher Power, as you see it”, as discussed in the language of Alcohol Anonymous recovery groups. Some folks find the word God or Universe as too abstract and they use the concept of a Higher Power, something bigger than themselves, ASSOCIATED WITH EXPERIENCES OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. I know people who talk about surrender strategies as handing over insurmountable problems to their grandparents, or other relatives who passed away. They talk about the unconditional and powerful love from their relatives and these relatives serve as connections to the Universe. They often talk about the great love that they have experienced in the relationships with loved ones. I used to work with an individual who defined his “Higher Power” as his family and he believed that the love for his family, especially his young children, was a powerful intrinsic incentive for maintaining his recovery.
I, too, have been angry at God regarding certain events in my life. There are times when my faith has been shattered and I have broken up with God. I believe that like in any relationship, we, as human beings, have different emotions, positive or negative. Someone once told me that God is Big Enough and He can handle my anger and rage and reminded me that I need to deal with my own anger. I did not like this comment initially in my stage of wrath and fury. But, I agree now that this person made a good point. I recognize that feelings are human experiences, and perhaps part of the faith journey is to process feelings and thoughts about God or the Universe in safe places, just as one may process feelings about other relationships. My faith journey is partly dealing with my thoughts, feelings and figuring out what is the lesson the Universe is trying to teach me. The surrendering process for me is let go and lean in to learn the lesson. My experience is that if I do not learn the lesson the first few times, circumstances will repeat where the lesson presents itself.
I believe that as God seeks relationships with us, He reveals Himself in our faith journeys. For example, Bono talked about discovering agape love from his mom. After the devastating and horrendous trauma of losing his mom, Iris, at age 14, Bono discusses his grief as a lost, “motherless boy”, yearning for his mother in a “house” that was no longer a “home”. Bono also reflects on his rage in his youth at his emotionally distant father. He describes his faith journey of discovering a God of Grace, who was very interested in the details of his teenage life after the loss of his mom.
Perhaps, the practice of faith teaches us about the nature of the Universe or God: friendly, loving, kind or not. Practices of faith are key in building a relationship with the Divine Source. Different people have different practices of faith. I love Bono’s argument that his faith is “not a crutch”, but, requires a level of boldness, guts, and sheer courage in an impermanent world. Bono discusses his fascination with the story of the prophet Elijah, who was waiting to hear God’s voice. Elijah did not hear God’s word through the earth shaking and celestial fire, but, through “the still small voice”. Bono describes his faith as a practice to quieten the noises around him to hear God’s voice. Bono talks about hearing God’s voice in his relationship with his wife, children, band members, and serving impoverished and vulnerable people. Bono views his songs as prayers and discusses the sacred power of music to help navigate people through turbulent times.
I love Amy Johnson’s differentiation between the energy of control versus surrendering. Amy Johnson describes the energy of control as stemming from fear to avoid certain outcomes. She describes that the fear response often is tied to the fight or flight response. She very accurately describes that working super hard to control the “uncontrollable” often feels chaotic, stressful and “out of control”. She discusses imagery of control energy as rowing a boat upstream against strong currents in the river. Blood, sweat and tears to move the boat against the current. She describes surrendering energy as letting go of the oars, turning the boat around and riding the boat with the flowing currents.
Amy Johnson suggests asking ourselves three questions to determine if we are entangled in “control energy”. Am I fearful of an outcome? Am I involved in someone else’s business? Is there freedom in letting go? These questions may be guidelines in transitioning from control energy to surrendering energy.
In all honesty, I have surrendered after having my butt kicked and lying flat on the floor after all my control strategies failed miserably. I have learned that there is no winning against the Universal will.
Different people have written various perspectives on the surrendering process. On the website, drwaynedyer.com, Dr. Wayne Dyer discussed surrender as releasing the “ego mind” that we can fix the problem. Dr. Dyer discusses that surrendering may appear as handling the big problem to our “senior partner”, God or Universe, who walks with us .My goal is to surrender earlier in the process and not wait until I am punched in the face or kicked in the butt and groaning in pain, lying on the floor. In exploring the surrendering process, I am learning the practice of reflective delay before decision-making in highly stressful situations. People seem to use different practices of reflective delay, such as, silence practices, prayer, journaling, working out or walking in settings of nature to connect to the Divine Source or inner wisdom of the Divine Spark. In practices of reflective delay, one may need to differentiate factors that are in our control versus uncontrollable factors. In terms of undesirable uncontrollable factors, one may need to process thoughts and feelings in safe places and then, try to implement radical acceptance strategies (“It is what it is”). Reflective delay practices help reduce reactive reactions to difficult circumstances. It is empowering to intentionally respond and adaptively work on “controllable” factors to make life easier and joyful. Intentional responses to uncontrollable factors may include letting go or surrendering to the Universe or God. I am discovering that this surrendering process to the Universe or God allows me to stay out of messy situations. There is great relief and peace in this. Peace is a beautiful thing.
Please note that this is not a therapy site. Please seek medical and mental health services, as needed.