On the Inconvenience of Surrender

“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: Submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Some days I find this inspiring and true; other days I have no interest in it. I know I have faults—I know I must submit to behavior modification from time to time. But good God, must I submit even the food on my table? The clothes on my back? My kids’ college fund? My health? My relationship status? Books? Beer? Discretionary income? Must I consume and think about and manage all of these things in total relation to a homeless rabbi who presumably rose from the dead, shattering every category of reason and philosophical thought? Haven’t I earned just one little shred of territory all to myself?

I can go about my business in this mode of religious self-justification for a while. It isn’t long, however, before I am haunted by the closing lines from George Herbert’s poem, The Collar.

“‘Away! take heed;
          I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears;
          He that forbears
         To suit and serve his need
          Deserves his load.’

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
          At every word,
Methought I heard one calling, Child!
          And I replied My Lord.

Update: Why does the simple address in this 17th-century poem change everything? Because it captures the gospel narrative that Christ gave up every shred of his territory to come, to die, to rise — to make us his children. That is a relationship of intimate self-sacrificial love, not cold, transactional obedience; and the degree to which I am convinced of this determines my willingness to give up everything out of love in return.

La Soupe, by Pablo Picasso. Image Credit: Wikipedia. I have always enjoyed the ambiguity in this painting. Is the child giving, or is the parent? Something about it reminds me of the mystery of surrender in the Christian life. We are never asked to surrender for no reason—even though, in the throes of agony and want, it may absolutely feel like it.