The Discipline of Surrender
The word “surrender” appears nowhere in our two basic texts, the Big Book and the 12&12. The term was avoided because of its negative association with the Oxford Group, where it was a membership requirement to “make a surrender” on one’s knees. That’s one of the factors which eventually led alcoholics to break with the Group and form AA.
As the OG faded into memory, it became safe to use the term again. Thus we will find as many as 21 entries under “surrender” in As Bill Sees It, published in 1967. Other 12-Step fellowships used the term freely from their inception.
There’s a good reason for this. Just as humility is the foundational virtue in the Steps, so is surrender the founding discipline.
In Step 1 we surrender the illusion of control and admit that we are powerless over alcohol. In Step 2 we let go of our old, failed ideas and come to believe in a Higher Power who can make us whole. In Step 3 we commit to turning our will and our lives over to this Power, whom we come to understand as a caring and a loving God.
In Step 4 and 5 we surrender the pride, dishonesty, and fear that keep us from a searching examination of ourselves and a humble admission of our wrongs. In Step 6 we abandon all resistance, and in Step 7 relinquish all defects, asking God to remove them.
In Step 8 we surrender any reservations we may still hold and become willing to make amends to all of those we have harmed, and in Step 9 we forsake any lingering defect or desire that may stand in the way of a completely honest and sincere act of restitution and reconciliation. In Step 10 we continue this process of surrender on a daily basis.
In Step 11 we surrender totally to God’s will for us as revealed through conscious contact in prayer and meditation, giving ourselves over to this spiritual way of life in Step 12.
Surrender works with humility throughout, the two forming the ground of acceptance.
[Image: Charles R. Towns Hospital, 293 Central Park West, NYC, where Bill W. surrendered and had the spiritual experience that freed him from alcohol.]
“Beaten into complete defeat by alcohol, confronted by the living proof of release, and surrounded by those who can speak to us from the heart, we have finally surrendered.” – Bill W., in As Bill Sees It
“We beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold to our old ideas, and the result was nil—until we let go absolutely.” – Big Book
“Only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.” – 12&12
“[T]he last vestige of my proud obstinacy was crushed. All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!” – A.A. Comes of Age
“Self-surrender has always been and always must be regarded as the vital turning point of the religious life, so far as the religious life is spiritual.”
– Williams James
“The process which comes before the act of surrender is the long discovery that the way of self is no way at all, and leads nowhere—the lonely, despairing, fevering desire to be rid of oneself. And the process which comes after the act of surrender is the steady matching-up of the actual with the ideal, the rethinking and remolding [of] life in accordance with the great decision.” – Sam Shoemaker
“I know what happened to me. I heard it in a hymn yesterday. I surrendered when I had that experience.” – Marty M.*
“[A] conversion occurs when the individual hits bottom, surrenders, and thereby has his ego reduced. His salvation lies in keeping that ego reduced, in staying humble. . . . If he did not surrender, a thousand crises could hit him and nothing would happen.” – Dr. Harry Tiebout
“Your proper concern is alone the action of duty, not the fruits of the action. Cast then away all desire and fear for the fruits, and perform your duty.” – The Bhagavad Gita
“Thou must learn to renounce thy own will in many things, if thou wilt keep peace and concord with others.” – Thomas à Kempis
“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can, namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.” – St. Teresa of Ávila
“. . . It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.” – St. Francis Prayer
“Justice that love gives is a surrender; justice that law gives is a punishment.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“Love conquers all; let us too yield to love.” – Virgil
“Unless you have made a complete surrender and are doing his will, it will avail you nothing if you've reformed a thousand times and have your name on fifty church records.” – Billy Sunday
“For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” – T.S. Eliot
“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.”
– Albert Einstein
“Once you have surrendered yourself, you make yourself receptive.” – Fulton Sheen
“The proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator—to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy.” – C.S. Lewis
“Take away from love the fullness of self-surrender, the completeness of personal commitment, and what remains will be a total denial and negation of it.” – John Paul II
“You give up nothing when you give up everything, because you gain the whole world.” – Tim Keller
“When I am trapped in thoughts about what I want and what should be coming to me, I am in a state of fear or anxious anticipation and this is not conducive to emotional sobriety. I must surrender—over and over—to the reality of my dependence on God, for then I find peace, gratitude, and spiritual security.”
– AA’s Daily Reflections
“[Miracles] are always accompanied by a real desire to conquer self and to surrender one’s life to God.” – Twenty-Four Hours a Day
“I will keep myself ready for the spiritual awakening which is certain to come to me when I have surrendered my will to God’s will.” – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
“It took a long time, but I finally realized that surrender does not mean submission—it means I’m willing to stop fighting reality, to stop trying to do God’s part, and to do my own.” – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change
"As we recover, new opportunities to surrender present themselves. We can either struggle with everyone and everything we encounter or we can recall the benefits of our first surrender and stop fighting." – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
“Letting go is a learned behavior. Like any habit, practice will make it a natural response. Freedom to fully respond to any experience can only be attained when we have sacrificed the outcome to whatever the bigger picture dictates.” – The Promise of a New Day
“Letting go doesn’t mean releasing our grip on life and falling into the abyss below. Letting go is a gentle process of easing the grip on some facet of our lives: an obsession, a character defect, or negative feelings toward someone.”
– Night Light
“Life seems to be a continuous pattern of getting committed to things and having to let go—falling in love and losing the one we love, developing a job skill and having to change careers, caring for our children and letting them go off into the world. This is the rhythm of life, and our spiritual growth teaches us to make peace with it.” – Touchstones
“Surrender is the requisite spiritual discipline, the discipline that opens the door to a right relationship with God, which in turn makes a right relationship with neighbor possible. Thus our journey through the Steps and the disciplines is first and foremost a continuing and deepening process of self-surrender.” – PTP
“When we admit we are powerless over alcohol we are taking the first step toward making an infinitely more consequential admission: that we are not God. That opens the way to making the ultimate decision on which our recovery hinges: to surrender totally to the God that is.” – PTP
* First woman to get long-term sobriety in AA.
– For more PTP passages on surrender, see, among others, pp. 14, 71-73, &
158-161. See also entries under surrender in As Bill Sees It, Marty M.'s story
"Women Suffer Too" in the Big Book, and “The Professor and the Paradox”
story in AA’s Experience, Strength & Hope. See also “Surrender: Transitive &
Intransitive,” on this site in “Reflections”
- Meditations for 03/09 and 07/17 in AA's Daily Reflections
- Meditation for 03/16 in One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
- Meditation for 12/15 in Al-Anon's Courage to Change
- Meditations for 01/13, 06/26, and 10/23 in NA's Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
Harry Tiebout: The Collected Writings (the psychiatrist who gave Marty M. the Big Book after therapy failed. He was also Bill W.’s therapist)
- The Business of Heaven, C.S. Lewis, daily meditations for 01/25, 02/20, 08/28, 09/24, and 09/25
- “The King’s Speech,” 2010 movie with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. A monarch lets go of pride and shame and rises to the occasion
- "Real Security and the Call of God," sermon (04/22/01) by Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God and other works, in MP3 (free)
For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.