Giving up the Fight

Ahem. I am a fighter.  Had I been on the Titanic, I guarantee you I would not have been the picture of peace, praying the rosary on the promenade deck.  I’d have been 1024px-Christ_Falling_under_the_Cross_MET_DP805728scrounging up wood to build a raft.  I might have gone down, but I would have gone down fighting.

In some ways, my fighting spirit has been invaluable to me.   When I was young, I overcame what some would call “difficult circumstances” to become the first person in my family to graduate from college and obtain a master’s degree.  Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I had a promising career as a marketing manager for an innovative division of a giant telecom company.  And today? Well, at this moment I am wading my way through life with four teenagers and two high energy little ones, and have been homeschooling for the last 17 years (which definitely takes a bit of resolve).

All well and good.  But frankly, while determination has served me well in this world, having a fighting spirit makes for a pretty crummy spiritual life at times.

You see, I’m a doer.  If I have a problem, or if anyone I love has a problem, by golly, I won’t rest until I solve it.  And if I don’t have the necessary knowledge at my disposal, I will go to the ends of the earth to find it.  Or Amazon.  Which is probably the same thing.

If you could see my selection of spiritual reading books, you might think you’d entered your local Catholic book store.  And believe it or not, I’ve read most of them.  But putting them into practice? That’s another subject altogether.  Every book I have ever read on the spiritual life has advised me to “Be.”  Be present.  Be silent.  Be open.

Essentially, surrender.

Surrender is not something I do well.  That is unless I’m laid out on the floor with nary a breath left in my body.

And then?

Well…and then…it’s beautiful.  There are no words to describe the peace that accompanies true surrender.

I have a feeling I’m not alone.  Who among us had not endured pain so excruciating that at the time we could not even whisper our Lord’s name?  It is in those moments that we most willingly lift our hearts to Him.  When we can do nothing else, we offer whatever we have left. We surrender.

I think the most poignant description of this experience I’ve seen comes from Fr. Walter Ciszek, who spent some 23 years in Russian concentration camps during and after WWII:

I had talked of finding and doing his will, but never in the sense of totally giving up my own will.  I had talked of trusting him, indeed I truly had trusted him, but never in the sense of abandoning all other sources of support and relying on his grace alone.  I could never find it in me, before, to give up self completely.  There were always boundaries beyond which I would not go, little hedges marking out what I knew in the depths of my being was a point of no return.  God in his providence had been constant in his grace, always providing opportunities for this act of perfect faith and trust in him, always urging me to let go the reins and trust in him alone.  I had trusted him, I had cooperated with his grace – but only up to a point.  Only when I had reached a point of total bankruptcy of my own powers had I at last surrendered.  

That moment, that experience, completely changed me.  I can say it now in all sincerity, without false modesty, without a sense either of exaggeration or of embarrassment.  I have to call it a conversion experience; it was at once a death and a resurrection. (He Leadeth Me, p. 78)

Which of us does not desire with all our heart to experience the resurrection?

I would venture to guess that most, if not all of us would give anything to unite ourselves so closely to Christ.  So the question becomes, Why must we endure such excruciating pain before we can simply and without obstacle, raise our hearts to God?

According to scripture, …unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25.  Or, as one priest used to summarize it, “No cross, no crown.”

Father Ciszek experienced this mysterious truth in a profound way: …it was at once a death and a resurrection.

Usually, I’m unwilling to die.

Except for those times when the suffering is so acute (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) that death doesn’t sound like such a bad alternative.

Thankfully, as I get older, I’ve noticed those times come more frequently. For me, desperation has not so much come from physical illness – more often I’ve been blessed with other types of battles.  Regardless, with age has certainly come the wisdom to know that all the fighting in the world will not solve some problems.

So, while I have a long way to go, I do see a ray of hope in the distance. Eventually, I’ll either learn to give up the fight, or I’ll have all the fight knocked out of me.  Either way, at that point (God willing), my surrender will be complete.  In this world, many may consider that a cause for concern.  But in the beautiful, complete and perfect world of God’s grace, it will be a good thing.

 

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Art: Christ Falling under the Cross by Charles Nicolas Cochin II (Wikimedia Commons)

9 Comments

  1. The easiest way that I found to surrender was be anxious for nothing by casting all of my care on the Lord (see Isaiah 26:3-4, 1Peter 5:5-7, and Philippians 4:6-7). It gave me both peace and strength.

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  2. Rosa Molto

    Dear Vicky, thanks for this post that has come at a time of suffering in my life. My husband who is suffering from mild dementia has suffered a recent heart attack and had to stay in hospital. This is a situation that I had anticipated with dread. The main question was : how will he cope? How will I cope? In the end we have come out of it relatively unscathed and I experienced what you describe : when I experienced the real situation of helplessness I managed to say from the heart : fiat voluntas tua… That acceptance was a gift from above… I read the book you mention “He leedeth me” and learned like you a very powerful lesson in surrender.. Thank you too for your book Read your way to heaven… It has signposted to me a few books that are guiding and encouraging me at this time of forced isolation in the house.. Keep going, God is using you in a powerful and unexpected way. God bless you and your family Rosa Lalor

    ________________________________ De: Pelican’s Breast Enviado: viernes, 23 de agosto de 2019 04:28 a. m. Para: rosamolto@hotmail.com Asunto: [New post] Giving up the Fight

    Vicki Burbach posted: “Ahem. I am a fighter. Had I been on the Titanic, I guarantee you I would not have been the picture of peace, praying the rosary on the promenade deck. I’d have been scrounging up wood to build a raft. I might have gone down, but I would have gone down “

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    1. Rosa, Thank you so much for your comments. I’m so sorry for your suffering, but am pleased that you’ve found some solace from Fr. Ciszek as well as wisdom from other spiritual reading books. I will certainly keep you and your husband in my prayers! In Christ, Vicki

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  3. O my I find it sooo hard to surrender.. with 6 grown girls and 16 grands I have found if I don’t at least try to surrender to God’s will I will worry myself in to a ball of nerves… the older I get the more I e learned that surrender inf is not a giving up it is asking God to come along and carry the weight with me. I stop worrying and thinking about something that is not asking for my advice , or intervention.. and let it lie. Our Lord will prompt me to act or put a hand over my mouth!!! Very good article.. thank you.

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    1. Yes – That is a nice way to look at it too. He does walk along with us. Thanks so much for your comments! God bess!

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  4. A well written.
    Letting go is a revolutionary act.
    Trust is a child-like quality.
    Thank you for your insight…

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    1. I don’t normally think of revolution in the same breath as children. Perhaps that’s why letting go and trusting is so challenging? Thanks for your comments! God bless!

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  5. rhymelovingwriter

    Wonderful to hear your sincere, encouraging voice again Vicki. Luke and I read Fr. Ciszek’s “With God in Russia” while he was in high school. The quote from “He Leadeth Me” is quite inspiring – and convicting. Recently I was given the penance to “make small acts of trust, many times a day”. I knew immediately upon hearing the words it was what I needed, and pray it will bring me to the place of surrender you eloquently describe here.

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    1. I’m so glad you loved the book! It’s such a great tribute to complete trust!!! God bless you and thanks so much for your kind words!!:)

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