I had never liked the word surrender. For years I could only think if it in terms of defeat, giving up, and failure. No one in the secular world ever spoke of surrender as anything but something to avoid. To surrender was to be weak.
Through the years the saints, mystics and prophets have told us that "surrender is the root of faith." (John Kirvan)
So here we are, you and I, living in a world that frowns on surrender, and, as Christians hearing that surrendering is the root of faith. How are we to make sense of this?
I am here this morning to give you just a brief glimpse into how I have come to understand surrender. It has been slow in coming, I find this is hard spiritual work. My ego did not go down quietly! Nor does it stay down.
As I was preparing at John Carroll University to be a spiritual director, my professor said something one day that caught my attention and has stayed with me.
She said this: We need to let Jesus love us. We need to LET Jesus love us. Here is how I have come to better understand what that means.
Since 1974 I have been a registered nurse. As the years wore on I became less enamored of my chosen profession. I was becoming weary of the endless shift work, weekend and holiday demands, computer documentation, the endless stream of new drugs and technology to keep up with.
Being convinced, mostly by my ego, that I was really meant for a different path I put my mind to just that. I suppose in retrospect, what I was saying to God repeatedly was "Look, I have figured this out so let's just get on with the necessary changes for my exit out of this profession."
It was a Friday and I was off to see my last patient of the day. She was beginning to decline and I was called to assess the situation. As a hospice nurse you can be rerouted quickly to respond to a crises and that is what happened this day. When I arrived my patient was in a hospital bed facing the door I walked through. She briefly opened her eyes and glanced at me, then closed them again. She was so short of breath she could not speak. For the next hour I worked to assess her physical status, adjust her medications, administer medications to bring her some relief, and teach the family so they could continue with the plan of care once I left. After over an hour she seemed a little better, but not much. She was able to nod that she was in pain, but was unable to tell me where.
Pain has many causes: Physical, psychological and spiritual.
It was clear to me that something else was going on here but I was having a difficult time trying to discern what was at the root of her pain. After awhile she seemed more peaceful, and I was hopeful the family could now manage her care with ongoing presence from the hospice team. I had my coat on, all my equipment in hand and was heading out the door to leave. Suddenly her eyes opened really wide and she looked at me and pointed her finger intently at me. There was no question; I was NOT going out the door.
I took off my coat and put down all my equipment and went to her side. I was holding her hand and gently stroking her head when suddenly I became aware of a tingling sensation over the entire right side of my head. Standing there I wondered what was going on. Was I having a stroke? No. The tingling was constant. I am not sure how to tell you what this was like, but I was very aware that a shift had happened.
I asked her quietly "do you want to pray?" She opened her eyes wide and stared at me and shook her head vigorously YES! I knew she was Catholic and so asked if she would like to say the Our Father and Hail Mary. She nodded, I told her I would say the prayers for her out loud, she was still too breathless and weak to do so.
When I finished she began to kiss my hand almost frantically over and over. And I knew then that the source of some of her pain was spiritual.
The tingling continued, it never let up. Again she opened her eyes and looked straight up in the air ahead of her. I have never asked a patient this before but I found myself saying "You're seeing angels aren't you?" And she looked at me again and shook her head wide eyed. I told her she was not alone, she was surrounded by the love of God, she was surrounded by the love of her family. She smiled for the first time. Not long after this she died.
I walked out of that house and the tingling stopped. I almost fell down on the ground I was so overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for a God that would love me that much, for a God that showed me perhaps I could rethink the whole notion of bailing on nursing completely. I wondered, had I ever really understood what it means to say "Thy will be done?"
On that day, by the side of my patient, grace overflowed for both of us. We both were given our daily bread. "Faith is not about power, It is about weakness. It is about humility. It is about surrender." (Kirvan)
I learned that day, God will be present. Answers will come. My answer was not what I thought I wanted, what my ego had planned. But oh my, how much more full of life was God's answer than anything I could have imagined.
I now understand what my professor meant when she said, "We have to let Jesus love us." And we cannot do that without surrendering to that love.
"The spirit prays in us and we consent" says Thomas Keating.
"Peace is only found in Yes." (DeMello).