Life’s Seeming Contradictions

“Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess. More precisely–we have to have enough mastery of ourselves to renounce our own will into the hands of Christ–so that He may conquer what we cannot reach by our own efforts.” ~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude….

We are presented here with some rather difficult concepts. First, we are told that mastering ourselves is really a matter of surrendering ourselves to God and to life. To me, it sure seems to be the case that those who have found happiness and success in their lives, have also learned to exist harmoniously in life through the ups and downs and the joys and sorrows, developing ways to embrace life as it is instead of trying to bend things to fit their plan. Rather than trying to control the world, these individuals often display a profound and deep acceptance of life, which is perhaps the root of their peace and happiness.

Another difficult concept presented here is the idea that we do not possess ourselves. Thomas claims that in order to surrender ourselves, we must become ourselves; but to become ourselves, we must first master ourselves, which requires self-surrender. At first, this appears to be a seeming contradiction–how can we surrender something we do not possess in order to possess it in the first place? Yet upon further analysis this begins to make much more sense: in order to master myself, I must spend the time, effort, and introspection to become myself, and then, once I have become myself, I must surrender that self into the hands of God so that he may help me conquer what I cannot reach on my own.

The more we put into life, the more we will get out of it. And while it may seem contradictory to say that “self-conquest is really self-surrender,” it also seems contradictory that we make a flu vaccine from the actual virus. Yet life’s seeming contradictions are often its most wondrous and beautiful rules, and the irony that we must find ourselves, only to give ourselves up, is both essential and beautiful, for it allows us to realize our destined potential–an awareness that is necessary to live a life of purpose and meaning.

Surrender yourself more fully to God.

Questions to consider:

How do you feel about the idea of surrending yourself to God and to life? Why?

What is required for you to be able to become yourself?

If you are able to become yourself, what would you plan to do with that self?

For further thought:

“We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old. This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery. I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all, but I begin to know that I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters.” ~ Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

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