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On Surrender

I struggled mightily, writhing to and fro, trying to unseat the older and heavier boy astride me. "Do you surrender?" he repeatedly asked. I gritted my teeth and swore in response that I wouldn’t ever give up. Then he pinned my arms under his shins and began the much dreaded Chinese water torture. Rhythmically tapping my chest with his index finger, he insisted that I surrender. I rocked my head back and forth, trying not to submit. Finally, beginning to fear that I might really go mad, I muttered, "I surrender." He let me up as the sneer of victory spread over his face.

Such scenes were common growing up. Friends tussling with one another frequently punctuated our days when something more compelling didn’t capture our attention. Even though it was just part of our fun, I hated surrendering. I usually looked for an early opportunity to exorcise my humiliation on my younger brother.

These experiences were reinforced by scenes from scores of war movies and Westerns. Surrender was a detested last resort when no escape from the foe was possible. It revealed weakness, inferiority, dishonor, shame. The Japanese had it right, we thought: commit hara-kiri.

I think these experiences were common to many of us — at least to boys. It helps in understanding why surrender is not a concept we willingly embrace. In fact, we resist yielding, submitting, giving in to. Surrender is not consonant with our ideas about winning, success or achievement.

However, those ideas express just one facet of the meaning of surrender. Its earliest meanings were to give back or restore and to render or return thanks. Later, it evolved to include giving oneself up to some influence, course of action, to abandon oneself or devote oneself entirely, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

That leads to my thoughts about surrender and fund raising. Last week one of our clients staged a public announcement of its capital campaign. During its course we were astonished by the unanticipated announcement of a gift of $500,000! It was the largest gift this religious order had ever made. When we initially made our request, their responses revealed resistance. "We’ve never made a gift this large before. We have other demands on our resources. We’ll be setting a precedent that will encourage others to ask us for gifts of this magnitude. Our investments have enjoyed good returns and growth, but we don’t know how they will perform in the future."

So, why did they do it? What changed their thinking? In his remarks their representative spoke of being open to influence. He referred to the impression made upon them by the commitment of the campaign’s co-chair and his family, their openness to God’s call, and their willingness to respond. Also, he and his confreres heeded the call they themselves heard. They were called to relinquish their assets, their security, for the sake of one of their own who serves as director of the ministry, to validate his commitment and vision.

They were able to overcome their instinctive resistance by surrendering to these subliminal urgings, to that still small voice waiting to enter consciousness. In our firm we believe that giving is a spiritual act that fulfills the aspirations of the benefactor and his or her creator. Philanthropy is a surrender to the spirit. Spirit, according to Jewish philosopher and scholar Martin Buber, is "a response of man to his Thou (beloved other)."

Buber writes further in I and Thou, "Spirit is not in the I, but between I and Thou. It is not like the blood that circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe. Man lives in the spirit, if he is able to respond to his Thou. He is able to, if he enters into relation with his whole being. Only in virtue of his power to enter into relation is he able to live in the spirit."

This is at the heart of what we do — entering into relationships with our whole being. The spirit can find manifestation as we develop relationships with others. When we develop relationships that seek to control, to persuade to our own end, to extract for our own purpose, we leave no room for the spirit to act. It is when we surrender our own notions of success, of achieving our fund raising goals, that we can begin to develop authentic relationships.

Yielding or submitting to the interests of another is not our common practice; we resist. For most of us, it is contrary to what we have learned and experienced in our desire to create a successful career and life. Joseph Jaworski describes this common belief about how we should operate in his book Synchronicity, "I had been taught early on that ‘the way to win lawsuits is to make it happen — outwork the other person, stick with it, and stay deeply committed to what you are doing.’ This is the kind of commitment where you seize fate by the throat and do whatever it takes to succeed."

He goes on, "It was only later that I began to understand another, deeper aspect of commitment. This kind of commitment begins not with will, but with willingness. We begin to listen to the inner voice that helps guide us as our journey unfolds. The underlying component of this kind of commitment is our trust in the playing out of our destiny. We have the integrity to stand in a ‘state of surrender,’...knowing that whatever we need at the moment to meet our destiny will be available to us. It is at this point that we alter our relationship with the future. When we operate in this state of commitment, we see ourselves as an essential part of the unfolding of the universe."

And here’s the payoff: "When you are in this state of surrender, this state of wonder, you exert an enormous attractiveness — not because you are special, but because people are attracted to authentic presence and to the unfolding of a future that is full of possibilities."

What this means for us is that we are called to give up, to surrender our aims. We are called to trust that, as we develop authentic relationships, we will allow room for the spirit to become active and reveal possibilities that are much greater than we originally conceived. For the world is greater than we are, greater than our meager goals and objectives. Psychologist James Hillman in The Soul’s Code believes, "We dull our lives by the way we conceive them."

There is something at work in our lives that we can’t quite put our finger on. In spite of our best laid plans, something else happens. The life we have carefully crafted for ourselves goes awry. We sense a nudging in one direction or another without knowing why. We often shrug off these indefinable stirrings because they don’t fit within our frame of view.

The ancient Greeks had a word for this fate or destiny or genius: daimon. Hillman believes that to live a meaningful life, we must surrender to and follow the urgings of our daimon. As we do, "We breathe, expand, and let go, and something comes in from elsewhere. The daimon in the heart seems quietly pleased....It’s in touch."

This is a very difficult thing to do, this letting go. It’s scary; the unknown looms large in our fearful imagination. If there’s any reassurance, we might take it from this line from Alcholics Anonymous, "Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."

It requires faith in something greater than ourselves to surrender. In so doing, you will discover possibilities undreamt, powers unknown and joy unexpected on your journey.

Suggested reading:

Buber, Martin, I and Thou, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1958.

Hillman, James, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, Random House, New York, 1996.

Jaworski, Joseph, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 1996.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy


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