Good Zeal


dogwood petals in azalea bushBubbles phoned me on New Years Day. “Okay! My word for 2023 is surrender. I’m not going to manage my problems anymore. I’m surrendering everything to God. I’m putting out the white flag.” Every year, Bubbles phones me to share her resolution for the year, what she calls “my annual key word.”

I call her Bubbles. It is a term of endearment I ascribed to her several years ago. Hearing her voice is a gift, as her enthusiasm and effervescent personality, interspersed with giggling, earned her the nickname Bubbles. She explained her key word further. “I am sick of micromanaging and giving God the solution. It’s wasted energy. I’m going to surrender and let Him work it out for me. I’m exhausted trying to tell God how to solve my problems. I’m surrendering it all. That’s my word for 2023. Surrender.”

We have talked several times since New Year’s Day and Bubbles describes the progress she is making. “The White Flag Project has liberated me. Everything is looking up for me! I feel free! I feel at peace.” I replied, “You sound just like Mother Teresa!” Surrendering is working for Bubbles.

She gave me a lot to think about. Bubbles’ focus and adherence to surrendering immediately brought to mind Mother Teresa, whose 1985 book, Total Surrender, documented her life story and how the art of surrendering is aligned with obedience and humility. Of course, the White Flag Project also suggested the Benedictine way. St. Benedict developed the Rule for monastic living with three pillars: humility, justice, and obedience. “Obedience” is derived from the Latin word, obedire, which means “listen to” or “pay attention to.” In the Prologue, the first word of the rule is listen. “Listen carefully, my child, to the instruction of your master, and incline the ear of your heart” (Sutera, 2021, p. 11).

Obedience is woven throughout the Rule. Chapter 5 of the Rule states, “The first step of humility is obedience without delay, which is characteristic of those who cherish Christ above all else… not cringing, hesitating, or half-hearted, but free from any murmuring or resistance” (Sutera, 2021, p. 28). This approach describes how Bubbles wholeheartedly and ardently embraced surrendering. It is an act of obedience. Obedience often carries a negative connotation, with synonyms such as docility, compliance, submissiveness, tameness, servility, and authoritarianism. Obedience is none of that. Bubbles discovered that obedience is freedom.

I received a well-worn copy of Total Surrender from my son on Mother’s Day in 1998. We love poking around in used bookstores and when he handed it to me, he said, “This will change your life.” That was an understatement. I learned about faith in action from Mother Teresa, and her pearls of wisdom are priceless. Sometimes during the night when I can’t sleep, I reach for it and learn something new, even though I have read the book a dozen times or more. “Practicing the heroic virtue of obedience is an act of love that brings an unfailing source of peace and is our path to holiness…. It is the key to knowledge of God, love of God, and service to God…. obedience is the key to love of God, knowledge of God, and service of God” (Mother Teresa, 1985).

Before the New Year’s Day chat with Bubbles, I only had a superficial understanding of obedience. I also embraced the negative connotations, thus limiting my comprehension. I assumed that nuns like Mother Teresa encountered more opportunities for embracing it. As I pondered on Bubbles’ key word for 2023, “surrender,” I contemplated further. How can I apply the principle of obedience in my life? How is this actionable? I was thinking of something big and important.

As Mother Teresa recommended….”we can train ourselves to say yes to the thousand and one occasions of obedience that come our way throughout the day” (Mother Teresa, 1985). Because the first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, it makes sense that living according to the Benedictine principles and fully embracing it with passion is the way to peace. I don’t need to do anything amazing! Just do it all day long! Although Bubbles is not a Benedictine or a nun, she gets it. Her awareness of humility and turning over her problems to God has brought her inward joy. As Bubbles shared with me recently, she is now living her life with a focused approach. “Surrendering. That is my path to holiness.”

By Jan Vinita White, Oblate OSB

Mother Teresa (1985). Total Surrender. St. Anthony Messenger Press. Cincinnati, OH.
Sutera, J. (2021). St. Benedict’s Rule. An Inclusive Translation. Liturgical Press. Collegeville, MN.

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