I was about to start my usual drive back from school. I stopped short of opening the car door and looked up at the afternoon sky. Rather than responding with awe and admiration at Allah’s creation, my heart responded with skepticism and dismissal.
What is going on? At that moment, I knew that something internal was terribly wrong – I was not letting go to Allah. I deeply lacked an emotional surrender: one of the heart.
Embarking on the search for true “surrender”
“Let go” and “surrender” – time and time again, I have heard these terms uttered by others in the recovery community. These ideas racketed within my mind but never really settled. I never completely understood what they meant and how they affected my recovery.
I mean, how can I “let go” when all I want in recovery is to learn to control my temptations? And, what do you mean by “surrender,” aside from physical acts of obedience, like prayer?
Nevertheless, I knew it was important I figure this all out.
I didn’t know exactly why it was important, only that it was. Years of slipping up were enough indication to me that I should really take the advice I was getting seriously.
Apparently, I was missing something huge in my approach to recovery, so I committed to pursuing it.
I decided I would simply try. In the days ahead of me, I would attempt to consciously surrender and just “let go and let God,” as they say.
The obstacles I encountered: deeply rooted beliefs and attitudes”
As I continued to practice letting go and surrendering, I found time and time again that something deep down objected quite loudly.
So I tried to understand what my heart’s complaints really were. The good news is that with further searching and reflection, I began to hear with more clarity than ever before why my heart refused to surrender.
Certain beliefs and attitudes lay deep within me which made it impossible to surrender. Here are two of these obstacles, along with what had to be done to overcome them:
Obstacle 1: Not reflecting on the pointers to my powerlessness.
Feeling like I should be able to handle this is a common obstacle to surrender and letting go. Addiction recovery is one example – when I decided that I wanted to stop, I thought that I should be able to simply stop.
It seemed that others managed, so why should it have been difficult for me? I had spent days, weeks, months trying with all my might to cause change in my life, never doubting it would yield results.
But the result was often the same: utter brokenness and desperation, leading me to finally let go to Allah and admit powerlessness.
The answer: It became time to make the remembrance of my powerlessness a daily part of life. The proof of my inherent weakness was plenty, all I had to do was notice it.
I was spending one-third of my life unconscious (sleeping) for goodness sake! As if that was not enough proof that Allah is a better caretaker than me, I then knew to keep looking.
So now, a simple illness reminds me of my physical weakness. I face my intellectual weakness when I stumble upon a book revealing insight and wisdom I never before thought of.
My emotional weakness is obvious when I am overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities.
Now I am discovering my true limitations.
I am gently saying to my hesitant heart, “Yes, the results you yearn for are important. But, it is not your job to bring them about, nor are you able to anyways.”
I remember that my wishes and desires are not causal. So, why should I not let go of the control I never really had in the first place?
Obstacle 2: Believing I can’t handle something means I am incompetent.
I have long had an allergy to feeling incompetent, and I would seek things to validate my competence. For example, when elders in my community asked me to teach Qur’an to younger students, I assumed that if I could not handle the task, I was not worthy.
I had put up an emotional defense mechanism – that I should handle a task well to tell myself “I am OK.”
This resulted in a consistent struggle to feel competent and adequate. If something went well, I only got a taste of relief before another task would come along to challenge my competence, taunting me, “Are you good enough to handle me?”
Thus, the show went on. I was reluctant to let go to Allah, since I thought that if I failed, it would prove what I already believed: that I am less worthy than others.
The answer: The answer lay in coming to terms with my inherent weakness. I am weak and incapable, not because I am not honorable and worthy, but because I am human.
My default state for any task is not ability – it is inability.
With Allah’s Mercy, He enables me to do certain things through knowledge and training. Ability does not equate to worth – it is simply a gift from Him.
By reflecting on all of this, I became much more lighthearted. I can now say with a smile, “Hey, it’s totally fine that I have no clue how to do this!” No longer struggling to feel adequate, my heart could let go far more easily.
Surrender: from fuzzy feelings to principles
I began my search for surrender based on a hunch that it was important. Through this seeking, I gained an understanding of letting go to Allah, surrendering to Him, entrusting Him with what I hold dear.
Far more than a warm feeling I get on occasion, emotional surrender is now a principle, rooted in my heart and backed by experience and the Qur’anic message.
It all started by accepting the possibility that I was in fact deeply mistaken, and then embarking on a search for true surrender, trying to always be honest with myself.
Consciously practicing, exercising our heart muscle and listening closely to its complaints – this is what it takes to understand what Allah’s call to surrender really means in our lives! W’alhamdulillah.