The “S” Words

I consider myself a law-abiding citizen…well, except maybe on the expressway.  I confess that I have a lead foot.  In my city, if you aren’t driving a minimum of 15 mph over the stated speed limit of 55 mph, the wind of cars racing by, (whose drivers apparently believe we’re in a NASCAR race,) will blow you off the road! (How was that for blame-shifting?)

Since a young age, I learned that obedience, at least outward obedience,  brought praise from authorities in my life.  Therefore, it has been a long time since anyone had to stand over me to make sure I did what I was supposed to do; believe me, this girl knows how to ‘submit to authority’!  We’ll come back to that…

But that’s a catch-phrase of Christian circles, isn’t it? Particularly in fundamental  and Conservative Christian circles, mandates from the Bible such as “Submit to authority,” (Romans 13:2-7; Titus 3:1-3); “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Hebrews 13:17), or often the most abused one – “submit to your husband,” (Ephesians 5:21-24), have caused the hackles to rise for generations.  Women generally get the rap for being resistant to authority, but I believe it is because we are more outspoken.  Men,  perhaps, are more subversive in their lack of submission…or maybe it’s just passive-aggressive behavior.

What is it about the word, submit, that evokes in many, if not most in the Western world, an immediate, visceral, knee-jerk urge to resist?  Putting aside the basic sin nature, we can consider John Piper’s suggestion  that “We bring to the text presuppositions from our experience,” (*, or, I might add, preconceptions which our culture has carefully cultivated within us for decades.  A self-centered type of individualism and narcissism fight to play key roles in each of us; it’s difficult to keep a balance on Truth.

Mirriam-Webster defines submit as follows: to yield to governance or authority.

Oxford Living Dictionary says: Accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another  person.

Well, there’s the problem right there in black and white! Mirriam-Webster and Oxford each used that horrifying word yield AND Oxford had the audacity to suggest there was a superior force or authority to which to yield!


At least in the 21st century…

Uh, helloo? We don’t do that well – that yielding thing…we do it our way; we get the job done; we keep our sh*t together and we don’t need to submit to anyone else to do it!  Bless God and thank you very much!

About a week ago, I read a passage in Reflections for Ragamuffins, by Brennan Manning comparing surrender and submission.  His words arrested me with the truth that submission is the conscious acceptance of the reality.  There is a superficial yielding, but tension continues.

I can give you lip service any time of the day or night; (Hm, reminds me of Matthew 15:8).  I’ve been in the church scene most of my life and I know it inside and out; most of my friends have, as well.  I am intimately acquainted with “Christianese,” which makes me nauseous because it often lacks sincerity and hides feelings of inadequacy, especially when it is directed at people experiencing grief or loss.  The fact remains, however, that I am capable of spewing it.  I (we) have experienced and witnessed how women have been treated in the hallowed halls of my past churches and in my denomination while its leaders have proudly proclaimed that all are created equal in God’s eyes.  Yet, despite this and more, generally, I submit to my leaders and my husband…though admittedly not always wholeheartedly.  As Manning wrote, sometimes a superficial yielding remains and a tension continues.

Surrender – that is an entirely different mindset.  Cambridge Dictionary states the meaning simply:  to stop fighting and accept defeat.

There is nothing left to fight, nothing superficial, no tension remaining.  Manning wrote, Surrender is a moment when the unconscious forces of resistance cease effectively to function…When the Christian surrenders to the Spirit on the unconscious level, there is no residual battle, and relaxation ensues with freedom from strain and conflict.  Submission, on the other hand, is half-hearted acceptance…described by words such as resignation, compliance, acknowledgement, concession, and so forth.  There remains a feeling of reservation, a tug in the direction of nonacceptance.  Surrender produces wholehearted acceptance.

I realized as I read this that surrender was not something I had done in a long while.  It was humbling to acknowledge and confess, but I experienced a tremendous freedom in my Spirit and mind after doing so.  Don’t think this is a once-for-all thing; it isn’t.  The battle doesn’t abate for long.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandment of Jesus.  Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest, some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason…how can you hope to enter into communion with him when at some point in your life you are running away from him?”

Without being fully conscious of it, I think I – and perhaps the Christian community at large – have bought in to the consumer idea of Christianity.  It’a sort of like going to Sam’s Club or Costco church.  If I like it, I’ll submit.  If I’m really hungry or needy in a certain area of my life, I’ll get a lot from or give a lot there.  If it makes me feel or look good, I’ll surrender that part of my life to Jesus…wow!

Surrender brings peace…a wholehearted acceptance of God’s will for my life.

Today, at least, I choose surrrender.


* is John Piper’s web site.  His article, “Six Things Submission is Not” is worth a read.


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