and the Meaning of Love dietrich von hildebrand

Why Surrender?: The Struggle to Let Go

6:00:00 AMStephanie Culy


I’ve struggled with the concept of surrendering for a long time. It goes hand-in-hand with my struggle of viewing myself in a very utilitarian way. “Productivity and efficiency” is the constant mantra that plagues my mind and dictates my actions (and inactions).  In this mindset, surrender just sounds unacceptable. Disgusting, even. Why would you ever surrender? To surrender means to give up, to give in, or worse, to relinquish all sense of responsibility. With this perspective, surrender is just not an option. I know I’m not alone in this; countless empires, powers, and influences have risen out of these demands. But in the freedom of Christ, in the joy of the Easter mystery, we are called to live under a different banner.

When I went on retreat a few weeks ago, the weekend leading into Holy Week, the LORD pressed me on this issue. His first challenge? He lead me to Matthew 19:16-30, Christ’s encounter with the rich young man. I had always read this passage as Jesus calling the rich young man to the vocation of religious life (“go, sell what you possess...and come, follow me”) and the rich young man, regretfully declining (“he went away sorrowful; for he had many possessions”). Moral of the story? Don’t be attached to worldly possessions. I think it’s fair to say that many of us like this interpretation. It’s safe; it’s straightforward; it’s simple. On to the next chapter.


In the quiet solitude of the retreat chapel, the LORD unlocked this passage for me in a new way. And he did so by revealing myself within the rich young man. The young man approaches Jesus with the question of how to gain eternal life: “What must I do?” Is this not the ravenous question burning in the heart of every poor utilitarian? And Jesus’ response?

You’re getting the question wrong.

It is not what you must do, but rather what you must give up. To be fruitful, to be purified, to be saved, you must surrender.

So how is this the responsible action? Do we just give up? Shirk all responsibilities and cop out by “surrendering to the mercy of God”? The fact of the matter is, to surrender does not mean that you give up responsibilities, but rather, that you know what comes first. The rich young man in the Gospel is grasping. Grasping at “What must I do?”, “What do I still lack?”. But Jesus’ calm response is: you don’t lack anything. You lack nothing except the awareness that life isn’t about any of your moralistic tendencies or your frantic and perpetual to-do lists (Psalm 127), nor of your striving to be blameless in the eyes of the law (Philippians 3:5-6).

This is not a call to shirk all responsibility, just as it is most often not a call to give away all of our material belongings. Rather, it is a call to return to the first thing. It is an invitation to reorient our lives and exchange our often self-inflicted burdens of utility for the easy yoke (Matthew 11:30). It is a reminder that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is our relationship with Christ and how we have allowed it to inform both our relationships with others and the tasks we have been given. In light of this first relationship, all other things will be marked with peace. “Be still and know that I am God”, remember?

As Edith Stein relates in her Essays on Woman, “When we entrust all the troubles of our earthly existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them” (56).

When we are called to this, and yet held by the world’s demands instead of being captive first of all to Christ, this is when we succumb to the experience of walking away, “sorrowful”, as the rich young man, for our possessions are revealed to in turn possess us. This sorrow is inflicted upon us by our own hearts, as our deepest desires tell us that we are called to more than our to-do lists.


We are called not to do more, but to be more.

We are called to recognize that we are made above the ants of the earth that march tirelessly day by day. We are made for encounter, not for following a marching order (moralism, utilitarianism, etc.) as the ants do. We are simply not made for this. And whether we can consciously acknowledge this truth or not, when we don’t surrender to it, we become sorrowful, afflicted, and blinded.

But how do we break the cycle? How do we give up all that we possess when its grip is so tight upon us? Let us again listen to Christ: “With men, this is impossible” (Matthew 19:26a). We simply cannot do it. We are too weak in the face of this temptation to moralize, to judge against the mark of productivity. And the LORD understands that. He understands our tendencies to over-complicate our lives by filling them with tasks and duties and expectations. And this is why he has ordained the solution so simply: “but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b). In other words, the cure is in the calling.

We are called to give away our possessions and follow Jesus. In fact, to follow requires a surrendering, because the first step is acknowledging that you cannot do it alone (John 15:5). To follow requires a separation or stepping away from your possessions (anxieties, tasks, inordinate attachments to belongings or people, etc.) in order to fix your heart on him.

Dietrich von Hildebrand concisely expresses this truth in his book Man, Woman, and the Meaning of Love:

[W]e should strive continually to be impressed with the greatness and seriousness of love and also with the realization that love is much deeper and more important than most professional activities. But this is possible only if we rescue ourselves from the whirl of activity and the anticipation of the next moment’s confusion which deprives us of any full awareness of the present. In other words, it can happen only if we provide a special place for contemplation in our lives (34).

Julia Caesar.jpg

You lack nothing except the realization and embrace of what makes you truly human, and what deep calling the Creator placed within your heart as your destiny.

You lack nothing except the gaze of love.

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