Mental Health

The Value of Spiritual Surrender

by Rev . Katherine Katsanis-Semel

Holiday seasons, including Holy Week and Easter, are generally tough for everyone. For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, holiday seasons can be even tougher, but on the other side of our deepest heartache lies our deepest breakthrough. This is because what we cannot hold alone forces us to either go mad, or go to God. Due to the wonderful and terrifying laws of free will and choice, we get to choose. We can choose detachment from All That is Good, or we can latch onto All That is Good. We can choose brokenness beyond belief or we can become broken instruments in service to Love. And that, my friends, that choice…is an immense responsibility.

While I’m not invested in what one calls God—my own word for God incarnate is Jesus—I am invested in whether one goes to God. This is in part because as a mental health educator and advocate, I’m acutely aware of what can happen when someone refuses to go to God – to That which is bigger, smarter and stronger than we are. As an ordained Minister through Celebrating Life Ministries, I serve people – sometimes until the early hours of the night. And, as a part of this passionate ministry, I’ve seen the beauty that arises from ashes when someone agrees to go to God – to That which is bigger, smarter and stronger than we are.

Plenty can go awry when we refuse to offer up our hurt to the Great, Cosmic Recycling Unit. Conversely, plenty goes right when we decide to do so.

Once, I sat on the floor with a woman for hours, her head in my lap as I prayed over her. Involuntary sobs erupted through her body, pasted to the floor’s carpet. No matter how hard she tried, she could not get up. It seems as though she let go of a lifetime of pain during those precious hours. Afterward, she seemed like a new human being. My spouse and I walked her home that night, and she expressed gratitude for the experience that she’d just had. She was radiant. She looked like a child before us, beaming with innocence. This is what can happen on the positive end of the mental health spectrum, when we agree to no longer hold onto heartache. When we hand it over, knowing that we weren’t meant to carry it on our own in the first place. Miracles unfold when we consent to lightening our load.

Among my fellow Jesus followers, the aforementioned term breakthrough has circulated wildly, in recent years. It seems that so many are looking for breakthroughs. This is much like what folks in secular communities call transformation. The bottom line is, no matter where we fall on the spiritual identity spectrum, plenty of us suspect that we are not all that we can be, and we wish to become more of what we can be. Yet, how many of us are willing to pay the price for our own breakthrough?

In my own life, there are many moments where I’ve kicked and screamed my way through shift. I’ve denied and avoided the need for change. And, when that continued to fail as a strategy, I attempted to challenge change – sometimes, with every atom of my being. My lengthy coming out process is, largely, a testament to this pattern. The irony is, I brand myself as a “transformational specialist,” and I am! As they say, “We teach what we need to learn.” And the hopeful news is: even though I have, at times, moved less than gracefully through that which was before me, I’ve consistently come out on the other side because of my eventual surrender to God. I’ve been blessed on the other side of gut-wrenching change, whether it was the death of a relationship, the death of a professional role, the death of a loved one or the death of heterosexual privilege.

In hindsight, I’ve been lavishly, lavishly, lavishly blessed even when my blessings were excruciating ones to receive. Sometimes, God breaks our hearts so as to widen and tenderize them. No breaking, no glory. 

This isn’t to say that we should seek suffering. Nor is it about engaging in overwhelming austerity for the purpose of spiritual discipline. Perhaps that has its place for some folks, yet I find that many of us are more deprived of play than we are of work. So, there’s no need to go chasing the traumas of life. No matter what we do, hardship will find its way to us. And when it does, this will be part of the process of deepening our discipleship – as long as we allow it to be that.

Though the heartache of trauma is inevitable, what is not inevitable is whether we accept the blessing that heartache can yield. What remains uncertain, is how we receive the potential gift. Therein lies the tremendous choice. If we receive the blessing, the gift, the breakthrough, then all that is worthy of life will bloom within us. This process is called surrender.

If you’re cringing here, take heart; surrender is a red-flag word for the ego. The excessive ego that dwells within us is largely created by our unexamined pain. Ego hates the process of surrendering. It is revolted by the very notion. So, if you are triggered by the concept, you’re far from alone. Yet, surrender is still the magical password. We must internalize and utilize it in order to successfully move through to the other side of the changes we face.

The humility, that surrender demands, beats the arrogance of our fighting egos – every time.

So, from one breakthrough seeker to another, I humbly advise us to pay the price of spiritual surrender by re-submitting all that we are to All That is Good, again and again. This is how we endure walking over the hot coals of change, loss, and trauma. If we want to come out on the other side of what looms, surrender is key.

And with that my friends, may your Easter journey be one in which you taste the sweetness of humility – the humility that Jesus modeled for us so perfectly.

Photo by Flickr use: Kira Westland