CHAPTER X

SELF-SURRENDER

Closely allied with the love, humility, and confidence of the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood is its spirit of self-surrender. For Saint Teresa, as we have seen, this means the surrender of a small child throwing itself into its father’s arms in times of joy as well as of trial, and remaining peacefully there, certain that it is safe. “Jesus was pleased to show me the only path which leads to the divine furnace of Love; this path is the abandonment of the little child who sleeps without fear in its Father’s arms.” To rest in the arms of God as a child in its father’s arms, demands the continual surrender of our will to the will of God, which is the essence of the spiritual life. “When the way of perfection was opened before me,” wrote Saint Teresa, “I realised that to become a Saint I must suffer much... I cried out: ‘My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee. One thing only do I fear, and that is to follow my own will. Accept then the offering I make of it, for I choose all that Thou wiliest’.”

So to surrender ourselves to God that we constantly will what he wills, is perfection. Saint Teresa teaches us to look upon the will of God as best and most lovable, especially when, to us, it seems the opposite. In the self-surrender she teaches, austerity, as such, is of secondary importance; the primary consideration is that if God wants it, then we want it too. The austerity indeed is there, but it is all enveloped in the Father’s love.

“Remember, Lord, that Thy most holy will

Alone is joy to me, alone is rest.

Fearlessly trusting, see, I sleep so still,

Saviour divine, close folded to Thy breast.”

That this is so, is clearly shown to us in the surrender of Our Lord to the Father’s will during his Passion and Crucifixion. As his Passion approaches, he says explicitly to his disciples: “Therefore doth the Father love me: because I lay down my life.” (John 10:17) The Cross indeed is there, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the soldier’s spear, but they all lie within the Father’s love, and thus Our Lord’s complete surrender to them becomes the supreme expression of the love of the Only-begotten for his Father. “That the world may know that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I. Arise, let us go hence.” (John 14:31) And he arose and’ went straight to his Passion.

“Jesus knowing that his hour was come, that he should pass out of this world, to the Father... knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands and that he came from God and goeth to God...” (John 13:1,3) The horror of the Passion and the agony of Calvary are simply the going forth of the beloved Son to the Father, the beloved Son into whose hands the Father has given all things. Saint Peter, like so many of us, could not see it. He draws his sword in a vain attempt to put a stop to what seems to him so wrong. Our Lord replies: “The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11) “Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done?” (Matthew 26:53-54) Finally, at the moment of his death, when the tragedy seemed complete and evil seemed so clearly to have triumphed, Our Lord, with perfect confidence, prays: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

What does all this tell us if it be not that the Father’s arms were about him, that the beginning and end of it all was love?

Before developing this theme further, it may be well to answer an objection sometimes raised to this image of a child in its father’s arms. The analogy is not to be understood in any quietistic sense. What the little child does by instinct in the natural sphere, the soul must do by grace in the supernatural. The sleep of the little child is a parable of that peace which comes from a will completely surrendered to God’s will, from moment to moment. This demands an activity comparable with that of a drowning man who, suppressing his natural instinct to trust to his own efforts, and realising that his only hope is in the man who swims to his rescue, surrenders himself completely – an act demanding courage and perfect self-control.

At times this surrender may appear to be merely passive. “I offer myself to Thee, O my Beloved, that Thou mayest perfectly accomplish in me Thy Holy Will.” But it is not so. A few years later, writing to her sister, Saint Teresa says: “My desire is to do always the will of Jesus. Let us leave Him free to take and give whatever He wills. Perfection consists in doing His will, surrendering ourselves wholly to Him.” “The more content a soul is to accomplish His will the more perfect it is.”

She would do his will with wholehearted devotion as well as accept all that comes from his hand, remembering however that, even in doing her share, she was entirely dependent on his constant help.

Surrender in its perfection, it is true, can be achieved only by those who reach the summit of sanctity, but it is most important for us to understand that, in Saint Teresa’s eyes, surrender is a characteristic of the Little Way from the beginning. It is, as she says, the only path which leads to the divine furnace of Love. Surrender in varying degrees as we progress is a marked characteristic in all those who follow the Little Way.

It was so in the life of Saint Teresa herself long before she entered Carmel. When quite a little girl she used to think of herself as the Holy Child’s ball, which he could play with as he liked. That this idea was no mere childish conceit we know from the way in which she turned to it for her encouragement in a moment of severe trial. After the failure of her appeal to the Holy Father during the pilgrimage to Rome, when all her efforts to enter Carmel seemed fruitless, she writes: “My journey had failed in its purpose... For some time past I had offered myself to the Child Jesus to be His little ball. I told Him to treat me just as it might please Him. In a word I desired to amuse the Holy Child, to let Him play with me just as He felt inclined. My prayer had been heard. You can imagine, dear Mother, the desolation of that little ball as it lay abandoned on the ground! Yet it continued to hope against hope.” From Rome she wrote to her sister Pauline who had only recently entered Carmel: “Great indeed is my trial, but I am the little ball of Jesus; if He wishes to break His plaything to pieces he is quite free to do so. Yes, I want only what He wills.” And this at the age of fourteen! Because of this surrender she tells us she never became discouraged: “All the time deep down in my heart reigned a wonderful peace because I knew that I was seeking only God’s will.”

Saint Teresa’s life abounded in trials. From the moment of her entry into Carmel she was misunderstood by those around her; all through her convent life she suffered acutely, both physically and spiritually; and the last three years were spent in unrelieved spiritual desolation. In all those trials she never wavered in her self-surrender. “At the moment of my greatest trials, when it was my turn to intone the psalms in choir, if you only knew with what surrender I would say out loud the verse: ‘In Thee, 0 Lord, have I hoped’.” In those words, ‘In Thee, 0 Lord, have I hoped’, we have perhaps the main secret of Saint Teresa’s self-surrender, namely, that she put her whole trust in Our Lord himself, not in any particular manifestation of his will. This is where we often fail. We lose heart, and our surrender is seen to be imperfect. We trust in some particular good which we imagine to be God’s will; and when that fails, we think that all is lost. Yet it is often when all seems lost that Our Lord’s will is most surely being fulfilled. To Saint Teresa the where or how of God’s will did not matter. She knew it would be done because she knew him in whom she trusted; the one thing she sought was to correspond faithfully with every grace she was given, and to go forward.

She seems to have learned this specially from the Gospel story of the storm on the lake. Our Lord bids his disciples enter a boat and cross the lake. Yet they sail into the teeth of a storm, while he himself falls asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship. The wind rises and the waves beat over the ship. Still the Master sleeps, until the disciples wake him with the cry: “Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?” A very natural cry, and a perfectly good prayer. The psalms are full of such prayers for rescue in the hour of peril. Our Lord stills the wind and the waves, then turns to his disciples, not to say: “I am so glad that you woke me in time”, but “Why are you fearful? Have you not faith yet?” (Mark 4:38,40) In Our Lord’s eyes the perfect thing would have been to carry on in spite of the storm, knowing that with him in the ship all would be well, even though he was asleep.

By thinking of the implications of this incident, Saint Teresa learned how to face the storms in her spiritual life. Writing of the retreat before her profession, she says: “I went through it in a state of utter spiritual desolation – as if abandoned by God. Jesus slept in my boat, as was His wont. But how rarely will souls allow Him to sleep in peace! Wearied with making continual advances, our good Master readily avails Himself of the repose I offer Him, and will in all probability sleep on till my great and everlasting retreat. This, however, rather rejoices than grieves me.” In this whole-hearted surrender she just carries on without fuss or fret. This image of her soul as a barque in which Our Lord was resting and asleep was a favourite one with the Saint, and she often referred to it, saying: “Ah well, I shall take good care never to awaken Him.”

“All my life love! No sign though Jesus make,

He is but sleeping on the storm-tossed sea;

Jesus, sleep on; for me thou shalt not wake;

Till the clouds part, I will wait patiently.”

In an unpublished letter to her sister Celine, Saint Teresa uses the same image with a slightly different application. “In order to guide his barque the one thing proper for a little child is to abandon himself, to let his sail be filled at the mercy of the wind.” Nothing could be more prudent, for the wind she refers to is the breath of God moving over the waters. “The Spirit breatheth where he will” (John 3:8), and the Spirit of God is love. In allowing itself to be borne along by the wind it is to Love itself, to a Love which is infinite in wisdom and goodness as well as in power, that the childlike soul entrusts itself.

Another image by which the Saint tries to express the beauty of surrender is that of the scattered rose. Many beautiful roses, she says in one of her poems, adorn God’s altar, and those who see them look at their beauty with admiration; but for herself she desires something very different. She wishes to be a rose whose petals are scattered far and wide, with no beauty except that of the pattern formed by the petals as they lie haphazard, blown hither and thither at the mercy of the wind. She wants to place her life unreservedly at the mercy of the Spirit of Love, that he may do with it whatever he will.

Dear Lord, the flowers that blossom yet

Thy feast-day with their perfume fill;

The rose that’s fallen, men forget,

And winds may scatter where they will.

 

“The rose that’s fallen questions not,

Content, as for Thy sake, to die,

Abandonment its welcome lot –

Dear Infant Christ, that rose be I!”

Thus, by varying images of the little barque, the scattered rose, and the child resting in its father’s arms, does Saint Teresa seek to express the beauty of childlike surrender to the love of God. But it is the last that appears most frequently in her writings. To it she returns again and again as expressing most fully the truth she is endeavouring to teach. “It is such folly to pass time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the Heart of Jesus. Neither ought the little child to be afraid in the dark, nor complain at not seeing the Beloved who carries her in His arms. She has only to shut her eyes – that is the one sacrifice God asks of her. If she does this, the dark will lose its terrors, because she will not see it, and before long, peace, if not joy, will return once more.”

The spirit of surrender permeated her prayer from the very first. “I have never,” she writes, “sought to ask favours of the good God. If for instance, I had said on the day of my First Communion: ‘My God, grant me the favour of dying young’, I should regret it very greatly today, because I should not be sure of having done His will alone.” Referring to the day of her profession, rather more than a year after her entry into Carmel, she tells us: “I was told to beg for the recovery of our darling father; but I was unable to make any other prayer than this: ‘O my God, I beseech Thee that it may be Thy will for my father to recover.” In her early days she seems to have had a desire to die young, but later she says: “From my earliest years I believed that the Little Flower would be gathered in her springtime, but now the spirit of self-surrender is my sole guide – I have no other compass. I am no longer able to ask eagerly for anything save the perfect accomplishment of God’s designs on my soul.”

Saint Teresa had a great devotion to the Saints, and she rested in the support of their prayers, especially during her last illness. This was not because she was particularly conscious of their assistance; indeed it was just the opposite. But the feeling she had that they had abandoned her did not discourage her; it only made her love them all the more. “I often”, she says, “pray to the Saints without being heard... But the more deaf they appear to my voice, the more I love them.”

So far from being stern and grim, her self-surrender was full of gaiety. Mother Agnes told her one morning that she was praying that she might suffer less, and yet she seemed to suffer more. Saint Teresa replied: “You see I am asking God not to hear the prayers that would place an obstacle to the accomplishment of His designs upon me.”

One of the results of her spirit of surrender was a refusal to worry about the future; though we must distinguish here: it is one thing to take ordinary and prudent precautions for the morrow, it is quite another thing to worry about it. It was this latter that Saint Teresa refused to do. “We who run in the way of Love ought not to think of sorrows that the future may bring, for then there is a lack of confidence, and that is how we confuse ourselves with imagination.”

This refusal to worry about the future is one of the most important and precious fruits of the Spirit of Childhood. There is nothing in our ordinary everyday life which so exhausts our energy – physical, mental and spiritual – as anxiety about the future. We worry ourselves over fears that are never realised, or, if the difficulties which we foresee do come to pass, they do so in a manner so different from what we expected, that all our worry beforehand has been of no avail. Many men have broken down through anxiety over imaginary troubles. It is vital to our spiritual life that we be liberated from such fears.

Self-surrender lifts us above all that: “It is a great mistake to worry as to what trouble there may be in store for us: it is like meddling with God’s work. We who run in the way of love must never allow ourselves to be disturbed by anything. If I did not simply suffer from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient: but I look only at the present, I forget the past and I take good care not to forestall the future. When we yield to discouragement or despair it is usually because we give too much thought to the past and to the future.”

This surrender to the Father’s loving will from day to day, this refusal to be anxious about the future, was one of the lessons which Our Lord was most concerned to teach when he was on earth. “Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow: for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34) We all know the Christian philosophy of living just for today; that thereby we lessen the power of our temptations, while pain is easier to bear if we have to suffer only for today. The more important thing however is to think of today as the only day which we have in which to love God. Then what quality will we put into our love!

“An instant is my life, a passing hour, no more,

A moment swift, whose flight no mortal hand can stay.

To love my Cod on earth, to love Him and adore,

I have but this brief day.”

If, in the spirit of complete abandonment, we love God today as if we had no other day in which to love him, then automatically all our pain becomes easier to bear, all our temptations lose their strength. It is love which is the key to all.

Saint Teresa was so wholly surrendered to God’s will that her life became a continuous act of love. At no time was this more true than during the great trials which marked the end of her life – acute physical suffering combined with terrible temptations against the faith. She was in an advanced stage of consumption, and added to this was a state of profound spiritual desolation. In her early days the thought of death had been welcome to her, for she had seen death as the gateway to heaven; now, when her sufferings closed in upon her, that seemed no more than a dream. “Once I was able to see clearly afar off the lighthouse which showed me the harbour of heaven, but now I see nothing. God wills me so to surrender myself as to be altogether like a little child who is not disturbed by whatever is done to him.”

Wasted with fever, in continual pain, she became quite helpless. “O my Mother, what would become of me if God did not give me His strength? I have only my hands free. Never would I have believed it possible to suffer so much. And even yet I do not believe I am at the end of my suffering: but He will never abandon me.” So severe were her sufferings that she was asked whether she did not long for death. She replied: “I desire neither life nor death. Were Our Lord to offer me my choice, I would not choose. I only will what He wills, and I am pleased with whatever He does. I have no fear of the last struggle or of any pain, however great, which my illness may bring. God has always been my help. He has led me by the hand ever since I was a child, and I count on Him now. Even though suffering should reach its furthest limits, I am certain He will never forsake me.”

Along with this physical suffering went great spiritual desolation. Saint Teresa says that she was enveloped in “a darkness which found its way into my very soul.” “For my soul it was night, always the darkest night.” “Pray for me,” she said to her sisters, “for often when I cry to Heaven for help it is then that I feel most abandoned.” “How do you manage,” they asked her, “not to give way to discouragement when you are forsaken in this way?” “I turn,” she replied, “to God and to all the Saints and I thank them notwithstanding; I believe they want to see how far I shall trust them. But the words of Job have not entered my heart in vain: even if God should kill me, I would still trust Him. I admit that it has taken a long time to arrive at this degree of self-surrender, but I have reached it now and it is Our Lord Himself who has brought me there.”

Because she knew that this suffering was her Father’s loving providence for her, Saint Teresa embraced it, and in it found her joy. After a painful day, her sister said to her: “You have suffered much today.” Saint Teresa replied: “Yes, but I love it. I love whatsoever God gives me.” In spite of this, she knew the value of the virtue of prudence; feeling herself ever little and weak even in the arms of her heavenly Father, she never desired or asked for greater sufferings than those which Almighty God destined for her. “At each moment,” she says, “He sends me what I am able to bear – nothing more – and if He increases the pain, my strength is also increased. But I could never ask for greater sufferings. I am too little a soul. They would then be my own choice; I should have to bear them all without Him, and I have never been able to do anything when left to myself.” Again during her last illness she said: “I have found joy and happiness on earth, but solely in suffering, because I have suffered much down here. You must make this known to souls.”

Acute suffering of soul and body, and yet all enveloped in love and joy. How can those two be reconciled? So impossible does it seem to us that we are almost inclined to suspect that the sufferings were exaggerated, or that Saint Teresa was deluded as to her joy.

We are in the presence of a great mystery. The Saint seems to have foreseen that difficulty, and to have had a premonition that she was in some way suffering as an example for the encouragement of other souls in the future. “It must be made known,” she says, “that these transports and joys are only in the depths of my soul. It would not greatly encourage souls if they believed I had not suffered much.” She then lifts the veil a little on that great mystery. “To suffer peacefully is not always to find consolation in the suffering, for peace is not always accompanied by joy, not at least by sensible joy. To suffer with peace it suffices that we truly will all that God wills.”

In another passage Saint Teresa takes us a little further. “Our Lord’s will fills my heart to the brim, and if anything else be added it cannot penetrate to any depth, but like oil on the surface of limpid waters, glides easily across. If my heart were not already brimming over, if it needed to be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness that follow each other so rapidly, then indeed it would be flooded by bitter sorrow, but these quick-succeeding changes scarcely ruffle the surface of my soul, and in its depths there reigns a peace that nothing can disturb.”

Here she leads us, as always, to Holy Scripture, to the mystery of Gethsemani. On the 6th of July, a short three months before her death, she said: “I have just read a beautiful passage in the ‘Imitation of Christ’: ‘Our Lord in the Garden of Olives enjoyed all the delights of the Blessed Trinity, and nevertheless His agony was not less cruel’. That is a mystery, but I assure you that I understand something of it, through that which I have experienced myself.”

In the words of Saint Teresa it is a mystery, and as a mystery we must leave it. But she does help us to understand something of it. A soul which is entirely surrendered to the will of God, and therefore completely filled with His love, can be carried through physical suffering and the dark night of faith, in such a way that although the storm rages and the night is dark, the soul is happy and at peace, with “the peace... which surpasseth all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

“One law alone I know – within my Lord’s embrace

In perfect trust to lie. No storm there shall I fear.

Slumbering on His breast, near to His Holy Face,

That is my heave here.”

We see now something of what Teresa means by self-surrender. Those who are among that “vast number of little souls” chosen by God through the intercession of Saint Teresa are all, in varying degrees, called to follow along that path of childlike surrender. One thing is necessary – that we be converted and become as little children, for only little children can be carried in the Father’s arms, and so enter the kingdom of heaven.