This post is by author and spiritual director Colette Lafia, who was with me this week at the Spiritual Directors International Conference. Colette’s new book, Seeking Surrender, comes out today, and I asked her to share some wisdom from her own surrender journey (chronicled throughout the book), as well as guidance for our own journeys. Plus, she’s giving away a copy of her new book to one lucky reader, so don’t forget to enter to win at the bottom of the post! -Lacy
“Our real journey in life is interior; it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender….” Thomas Merton
It is human nature to strive for what we want and to believe that with hard work, determination, and discipline, we can achieve just about anything we want.
But what happens when despite all our efforts, we don’t end up with what we had intended or hoped for, and instead end up in disappointment or even a sense of failure? Where and how does surrender and acceptance fit into this uncomfortable equation?
FIND A TURNING POINT
During a period of my life when I was facing the emotional toll of infertility, the recent death of my 38-year-old sister due to breast cancer, and my own chronic insomnia, I reached a turning point. I instinctively knew that I had to find a new way of being in my life and with my life or else I was going to sink.
I had to make a choice between finding peace with my life or holding on to grief, frustration and disappointment. I found myself grappling with the expectations that I’d held for so long. My husband and I had to face the truth that we could not conceive. I had to find a way to live with the loss of my sister from a devastating disease. And I had to dig deep in myself for the strength, hope, and courage to find my way through the unpredictable demands of insomnia.
At the suggestion of a good friend, I decided to make a retreat to the Abbey of Gesthemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, best known as the home of Thomas Merton. My friend believed that the prayerful hours of quiet reflection built into the daily routine of the abbey would be a source of comfort to me.
LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE
She was right. Inspired by the principles of surrender and trust that accompany the monks each day as they rise at 3:00am for Vigils, I started to listen to a softer voice within me that was more compassionate and less judgmental about what was going on in my external life.
LET GO OF LABELS
In the act of surrender, the spiritual will, the compassionate will, and the merciful come forward with fortitude and resilience. Surrender does not arrive in one big “Aha!” moment, but it is slowly cultivated by letting go of labels such as good, or bad, success, or failure.
With an attitude of acceptance, we can stop wanting our lives to be something else and begin to recognize and embrace what is right in front of us.
FOLLOW THESE 5 STEPS IN YOUR SURRENDER JOURNEY:
1. Accept what you cannot control
By acknowledging what we cannot change or control, we begin to pave the way for surrender to enter our lives. Make friends with your grief and suffering. By holding your pain in a truthful way, you can bring compassion to yourself and your circumstances.
2. Find support
You are not alone in your journey. We all experience loss, grief, loneliness, disappointment, and have a desire for healing. Find others to connect with along the way, through affinity groups, a spiritual community, or with family and friends.
3. Express yourself
In my own experience, not being able to control my body, the infertility, my sister’s cancer, or even my sleeplessness felt like an intense, never-ending confrontation with the human condition. I needed to release all I had stored up in myself. I cried. I wrote. I prayed. I painted. Self-expression is healing, so find a way to express yourself!
4. Seek spiritual nourishment
Engage in a spiritual practice that works for you. Bring a little of the monk’s path into your own world and commit to a specific time and place to reflect, pray, and be silent. Remember that daily intention is a powerful practice.
5. Practice surrender in daily life
Throughout the day, bring the qualities of surrender into the way you respond: trust, acceptance, compassion, and release. It is our relationship to what is happening that forms the cornerstone of our experiences.
I have learned that surrender is a grace, as well as a practice. It’s a day-by-day journey. My own experience has shown me that the more we can surrender to what is difficult and unwanted, the more we can open up to what is beautiful, profound, and abundant.
How are you being called to the journey of surrender at this sacred juncture in your life?
Win a copy of Colette’s book!
Note: Due to shipping limitations, this giveaway is only available to readers in the US and Canada.