Learning to Surrender to God

Editor’s note: Throughout July we are celebrating 31 days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, this month’s posts on dotMagis will explore cannonball moments – moments that changed the course of a life, like a cannonball hit the course of the life of St. Ignatius Loyola has changed. The inspiration for our theme is the Ignatian Year, which marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ injury and conversion.

The familiar features of St. Ignatius’ experience of cannonball injuries have to do with his learning to recognize and change his résumé because he was stopped. But since not all of us have this one moment of standstill, there is another dimension of his story that increasingly means to me: the simple fact that Ignatius was hurt and almost died because he insisted on following his pride.

The Battle of Pamplona was a conflict that almost everyone knew from the start would be lost; many advised against the futility of the battle, but Ignatius went into battle anyway. Probably his passionate nature found it virtuous to defend a good, if hopeless cause, rather than not to fight at all. However, it turned out that God had different ideas about Ignatius than Ignatius. Ignatius had to learn to surrender to God’s will. Over time, Ignatius likely had some problems being passionate and idealistic, but he was also moving more and more towards being willing to follow God’s guidance and being more practical to realizing what that would be like.

As I thought about Ignatius’ story, I thought, Gosh, I don’t have a single cannonball moment. But I’ve had many cases where God had to persuade me over and over to give myself to the search for God in this life – the life God invites me to live, not my ideas about it. These are the times when I struggled to determine the direction of my own life instead of letting God do it. A clear example would be my conversion to Catholicism after briefly practicing Protestantism after a childhood that did not involve much formal religious practice. I was unexpectedly drawn to the Eucharist and the intellectual tradition of the Church. I loved Mass and the peace it brought me. However, one of the greatest obstacles for me to becoming a Catholic was not really understanding how conversion would make sense in the light of the rest of my life. I had questions like: what would that mean for my relationship with my husband and his family who were not Catholic? How would we raise our children? What if my policies didn’t always align with my beliefs? What if I was bad at being Catholic? What if…?

The “what if” stood as negative energy moving against what I had experienced for years as pretty clear consolation. I felt a deep peace when I was at mass. I had an intuitive feeling for the “correctness” of my upcoming decision, which took many months. Intellectually, I felt both curious and comforted by many aspects of the intellectual tradition, such as works that addressed the essence of hope or articulated a call to justice for all. On an even more fundamental level, I felt the knowledge that God wanted me here so that I could be myself most. But I hesitated anyway.

After much prayers and discussions with friends and family, I finally found myself in a pew with an overwhelming feeling of inner peace. A week ago I had even seen a little sparrow flown in, which sat happier on the ground than I sat in my seat. His presence made me think of the line in scripture that God has not forgotten a sparrow. The next time I went to church, I just knew in my heart that everything would be fine, and I allowed myself to engage in this longing for God that God obviously wanted for me too. I went through the process of formally becoming a Church member, and while it wasn’t a perfect place, it was the place for me.

When I look back many years later, it is impossible to understand myself or many of my primary activities without this belief: my writing, my teaching, my relationships with God and others, and, yes, my family. But back then, my conversion put God at the center of my life at precisely that moment when I could only think: It doesn’t make any sense.

Surrendering my life to God with a sense of peace and confidence is not a lesson I once learned and lived perfectly since. Instead, my life was a movement towards more trust and devotion to God, a movement that I have to make in new forms over and over again. God always seems to send opportunities for more trust and devotion. Not all of them were “cannonball moments” that stopped me and completely changed my direction. Sometimes something much quieter and simpler required me to say, “Yes, Jesus, I trust in you” (and not just in myself) – like making a decision to stay true to a family relationship that I have found difficult, or in to endure a difficult situation in the writing process. It is this cumulative series of decisions to say yes to God, see the best, and trust that God will take it from there, what I found so central to the spirit of Ignatius.

What would you say if St. Ignatius came to visit? Becky Eldredge asks that in today’s 31 Days with St. Ignatius Post. Use the hashtag # 31Days with Ignatius on your favorite social media to share what you would say to St. Ignatius.

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