In many ways, this is my favourite of my books. I wrote it in less than two weeks in a blaze of inspiration and amazement at what was emerging from my fingers. While to some extent this is the great blessing that I often receive as I write, never before or since has it been so effortless a process to release the gift that the Spirit clearly wanted to give me in this book.
What is it about? It’s about the difference between a life of obedience and one of surrender, and it is about how surrender must be a decision of the heart, not simply the will. If you haven’t read it yet I hope you will and I hope it will be as transformational for you as it has been for many others.
A few years ago I received an e-mail from a woman who told me she had greatly enjoyed my previous books but was furious over something she had discovered in a recent one. “I can’t believe that you recommend surrender,” she said. “As a psychologist, you of all people should know how dangerous it is to submit to someone.” She went on to accuse me of being irresponsible as a spiritual guide and “a typical male” in my “uncritical acceptance of the way power is abused in relationships.” I had obviously hit a nerve!
I will tell more of this woman’s story in the pages that follow. It is a story that dramatically illustrates the transforming possibilities of surrender to divine love. But it also reminds us how frightening even the idea of surrender is to some people.
The concept of surrender has come upon hard times in recent years. Some view it as too close to submission; others associate it with co-dependence or an abdication of personal power. Consequently the notion of surrendering to anything or anyone has become suspect.
However, despite the unpopularity of the notion, surrender plays a crucial role in the spiritual journey as understood by most major religions and spiritual traditions. Far from being a sign of weakness, only surrender to something or someone bigger than us is sufficiently strong to free us from the prison of our egocentricity. Only surrender is powerful enough to overcome our isolation and alienation.
Christians often focus on obedience more than surrender. But while the two concepts are closely related, they differ in important ways. As we shall see, surrender is foundational to Christian spirituality and is the soil out of which obedience should grow. Christ does not simply want our compliance. He wants our heart. He wants our love and he offers us his. He invites us to surrender to his love.
Christianity puts surrender to love right at the core of the spiritual journey. Christ-following is saying yes to God’s affirming YES! to us. If it is anything less than a response to love, Christ-following is not fully Christian.
Christianity is the world’s great love religion. The Christian God comes to us as love, in love, for love. The Christian God woos us with love and works our transformation through love.
In spite of the trivializing influence of romantic and sentimental views of love in Western culture, love is the strongest force in the universe. Gravity may hold planets in orbit and nuclear force may hold the atom together, but only love has the power to transform persons.
Only love can soften a hard heart. Only love can renew trust after it has been shattered. Only love can inspire acts of genuine self-sacrifice. Only love can free us from the tyrannizing effects of fear.
There is nothing more important in life than learning to love and be loved. Jesus elevated love as the goal of spiritual transformation. Psychoanalysts consider it the capstone of psychological growth. Giving and receiving love is at the heart of being human. It is our raison d’être.
This book is about love—not the soft, sentimental kind but the strong, spirit-transforming kind. It is about the paradoxical ways we often fear love and the way love uniquely offers release from our deepest fears. It is about the consequences of building the spiritual journey around anything else than surrender to love. And it is about knowing ourselves to be deeply loved by God as the first step in becoming genuinely great lovers of others and God.
But because this book is about love, it is also about surrender and spirituality. Love invites surrender, and surrender is at the core of spirituality. The interweaving of love, surrender and spirituality flows out of both the nature of love and the nature of human beings.
Carl Jung suggests that love and spirituality share many connections and surrender is the most important of them. Love “demands unconditional trust and expects absolute surrender. Just as nobody but the believer who surrenders himself wholly to God can partake of divine grace, so love reveals its highest mysteries and its wonder only to those who are capable of unqualified devotion.”
Surrender is as much a part of genuine love as it is a part of authentic spirituality. Love invites abandon and intimacy. Love speaks to the depths of our soul, where we yearn for release from our isolation and long for the belonging that will assure us we are at last home. Love speaks the language of the soul as it awakens our hunger for relationship and connection.
The deepest ache of the soul is the spiritual longing for connection and belonging. No one was created for isolation. “Nothing in creation is ever totally at home in itself,” says John O’Donohue. “No thing is ultimately at one with itself.”
We seek bridges from our isolation through people, possessions and accomplishment. But none of these are ever quite capable of satisfying the restlessness of the human heart. To be human is to have been designed for intimate relationship with the Divine. This is why the yearning for connection is spiritual. Our needs for love, connection and surrender form the spiritual core of our personhood.
For most people, nothing awakens feelings of deep terror like the experience of absolute disconnection from others. But, in the same way, nothing vitalizes the human spirit like the experience of a loving connection—something that assures us that we are not alone and that we count for something to someone.
Love is the glue of connection. Love is the source of the deepest wellsprings of human vitality. Love is the only hope for overcoming our isolation. Love invites surrender and offers the intimacy and deep connection for which we long.
In my work as a psychologist and a spiritual director I am blessed to be able to accompany people as they learn to give and receive love. Journeying with others toward psychospiritual wholeness has been a rich opportunity for me to learn about love. Much of what I will present in what follows comes from these experiences.
But my personal journey as a human being and as a Christian has been even more important in this learning. Here I discover how easy it is to know that I am deeply and unconditionally loved and yet continue to strive to earn love. Here I learn how much I resist the very love that holds the promise of freeing me from my striving and fears. Here I learn how profoundly hard it is to make genuine progress in the school of love. And here I learn the most about how surrender to Perfect Love holds the promise of wholeness and holiness.
Those on the Christian spiritual journey form my primary audience for what follows. My own journey is being worked out as a Christ-follower, and my understanding of love is grounded in my experience of being loved by the Christian God.
However, while love plays a distinctive place in Christianity, the experience of love is obviously not restricted to Christians. The ability to love others is the pinnacle of fulfillment and health for all persons. Receiving the gift of love reminds us all of what it is to be fully human. What follows, therefore, should be of interest not just to Christians but also to those pursuing other spiritual paths, as well as those not consciously on a spiritual journey of any sort.
Surrender, love and spirituality—the big themes of this book—are, I believe, the big themes of life. In spite of the messages of Western culture, personal fulfillment lies in connection, not autonomy. Spirituality is the discovery of the fundamental connection that exists between us and God—a connection that then properly aligns us to others, the world and our deepest self. Love is the welcome that tells us that this is where we truly belong, the assurance that we have at last found our place.
“Surrender to Love is one of the most beautiful, powerful and insightful books I have ever read. It took me a couple of weeks to read it for it kept leading me into contemplation. Through it I have experienced torrents of Divine unconditional love to a degree beyond anything I have ever experienced before. I count reading it to be one of the great graces of my life. Dr. Benner shares his lived experience in a way that opens for the reader the possibility of true transformation. May Dr. Benner’s book be such a grace for you as it has been for me.”
“For anyone who desires to learn more about the unconditional love of God and how that love can be experienced daily: Please, Please, Please read this book. Dr. Benner has presented the love of God in such a straight forward way. God’s love for us is what truly makes transformation possible. But anyone who truly wants to mine the treasures within this work must read it more than one time.”
“This is by far one of the most powerful looks I have ever read. It should be on every Christian’s shelf to pick up over and over again. This is also a wonderful book to give to someone who is struggling with their place in this world, to reassure them in profound ways, of God’s incredible love for them.”
“Slowly we are unpacking the implications of incarnation. David Benner does exactly the same in this excellent book, using good theology, psychology and spiritual practice to make the profound obvious. This is the work of all good teachers.”
“Benner does it again. This book highlights what we most need to learn. Benner most aptly states that there is nothing more important that learning love, because this is learning that counts for eternity since learning to love is the core task of the human psychospiritual journey. This book facilitates such learning!”