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Roxane B. Salonen, Published February 28 2014

Living Faith: Full-on surrender makes for much deeper faith life

At some point in my study of children’s literature, I realized I could hasten my learning by heading straight for the winners – those that withstood both time and reader scrutiny.

I began seeking out as many Newbery-winning books as I could find, and through this process, became much more informed and illuminated regarding that genre.

So it has been with my life of faith. As I’ve grown in it, I’ve turned more and more to a study of those humans who’ve lived exemplary, time-tested faith lives.

And in this, I began to notice certain themes repeating. Namely, there always seemed to be some kind of dramatic turning, a point at which a full-throttle leaning into God had occurred.

In other words, surrender, full and true.

Many of us approach this word “surrender” warily, with good reason. Surrender implies lack of control, and it can be not only frightening but unwise in some cases to fully surrender.

In the life of the believer, however, we have the assurance of the safety net of God. When we fall it’s an upward descent into something beautiful and unconditionally loving.

Unless we allow ourselves to fall in deep, I’m convinced the life of abundance we’ve been promised as believers just won’t be possible.

So what does surrender look like? I’ve found one visual in the story of Edith Stein, who lived and died during World War II.

Born Jewish, Stein went through years of spiritual doubt as an intellectual in 1930s Germany. But one summer, while staying at a friend’s home, she discovered a book written by St. Teresa of Avila and couldn’t put it down. From that point on, each day became another step toward God.

Stein was baptized a Christian and later entered a Carmelite monastery. But her Jewish roots put her at risk, and she eventually was extracted from safety and forced onto a train heading to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

As recorded in “Edith Stein, A Biography,” one witness, having observed Edith en route, noted, “Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. Edith Stein immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.”

Stein was gassed in a “cottage” with others about five days after the train arrived at its final destination.

Despite the tragedy, what stands out to me is how she was able to hold up against the evil around her. I find an explanation in Stein’s signature phrase, “Learn to live at God’s hands.”

Stein had surrendered all to God, not through acquiescing to evil but in trusting God’s ultimate plan and accepting God’s grace. This allowed her to move through an unfathomable scenario with some wits about her.

Years earlier, Stein had said, “Only God can welcome a person’s total surrender in such a way that one does not lose one’s soul in the process but wins it.”

In other words, this full-on surrender can happen in completeness only with God.

At times, I’ve resisted giving my life so wholly to God, but as these holy people reveal, a real freedom happens with surrender. And in my best moments, I’ve known it to be true.

Elisabeth Leseur, who lived in early 1900s France, is another who made surrender to God her utmost quest.

The wife of an intellectual atheist who converted after her death after reading her diaries, Leseur once said, “It is only when one has rooted oneself in eternity that one can let one’s humble little barque float upon the surface of the waves and rejoice fully in the view from earthly rivers.”

Perhaps the simplest utterance of surrender I’ve read, however, comes from St. Francis de Sales: “Yes, heavenly Father, I accept everything; yes, and always yes.”

I suspect none of these found the “yes” always easy, and that it came at a price at times, but keeping in sight the one who will never disappoint surely made it easier.

As the transforming season of Lent draws near, for some faithful there’s no better time than now to say, “Yes,” once and for all, and to discover that in the yes is bliss.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com