How to Surrender (Without Giving Up) - Christine Kane

Today’s guest post was written by Sue Ludwig, a neonatal occupational therapist and a published poet. Sue is a consultant to neonatal intensive care units around the country and a national speaker. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

Last spring, I had to fly across country to do a series of speaking engagements.

Minutes before boarding time, an announcement indicated our flight was delayed for hours because our plane was stuck at another airport.

Not good.

If I sat and waited for that plane, I’d miss my connection AND my chance to get to California in time to speak the next day. After a series of hurried phone calls I found there was one last flight with a connection through Salt Lake City.

One catch though.

It was leaving from a different terminal, and it was boarding NOW.

In the seconds that followed, I had to make a decision. I could call my contacts on the west coast and tell them there was no way I would make it by the next morning. (Give up.)

OR I could choose to let go of my previous plans, my leisurely flight, and possibly my luggage to do what I truly wanted, which was to get there in time to speak. (Surrender.)

What followed was a most ungraceful scene – me at full sprint with my carry-ons, tripping up the escalator, getting a zipper-shaped gash across my shin, and barely making it to the gate.  As my leg bled freely, the surly gate agent told me she couldn’t find a seat on that flight for me.  Somehow, moments later, another gate agent (whom I’ll call ANGEL) calmly found me a seat.

When we arrived in Salt Lake, the passengers were all a bit edgy. Fearing we’d miss our connections, everyone was a crouching tiger waiting for the door to open. You know this scene. Even the most timid start boxing out like it’s their day in the NBA.

Slight problem though. The jet bridge was having issues and would only roll sideways, not forward. So, we all watched helplessly through the plane windows, trapped with the jet bridge just 15 feet away unable to connect with us. One of the crouching tiger-men was livid, yelling at the crew to do something.

Because I had already chosen to surrender that day, I found the whole scene hilarious. I had done all I could do. So, I made the choice again to simply surrender. To step back and see this scene unfold. My only decision was how to respond to the situation. I could make everyone around me miserable. Or I could choose to surrender to reality and go from there.

I sat back in my seat and said to the woman next to me, “There’s a certain peace that comes with complete helplessness.” She laughed and agreed. She’d spent 20 years traveling internationally for work. She hadn’t so much as batted an eye at this situation.

Believing we can control anything outside of ourselves is an illusion.

But we do have the ability to choose our thoughts and responses to everything. When things don’t go our way, we can still move forward without collapsing or giving up. Surrender is a deeper path.

Surrendering can take form in small ways like my trip. Or huge ways – like the many times in the NICU where I’ve watched parents of critically ill infants make the gut-wrenching decision to surrender and allow their baby to go peacefully when there’s no more science or medicine can offer.

This is not nearly the same as giving up. Surrendering in this way can take monumental strength. Giving up isn’t even in the same category.

Here’s how to know the difference between surrendering and giving up:

1.    Surrender keeps you connected.
It may involve painful decisions but you can still feel a sense of peace, and a connection with your truth. Giving up feels shallow, reactive, or incomplete inside.

2.    Surrender is a decision. When you surrender, you remain engaged. You step in and chose your role in a situation.  Giving up is not so much a decision as a way out.

3.    Surrender is drama-free. Giving up nearly always involves dramatic exasperation and blame on outside people or circumstances. Surrender needs no fanfare. It makes itself known only through its undeniable clarity.

Surrender doesn’t mean you’re weak or you didn’t try. It means you’ve tried all you can and you’re consciously choosing to let go.

You’ll find grace, humor and expansion there.

Even among crouching tigers.

  • Jamie Lees

    Very well said. I was inspired to create a drawing from you story. You can see it here. It’s called Giving Up Verses Surrendering…


  • cam

    Hurrying like a clumsy fool get on another plane is not surrender, it’s control. You’ve got it all wrong.

    Surrendering would be to say “that’s interesting, I need a flight but this one is cancelled…. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this. Maybe by missing this flight and getting there a day late, something unexpectedly amazing will occur. There’s no way I’m sprinting to another terminal, there’s no grace in that. I’ll just rebook another flight”.

    Then what you’d find is that you’d meet someone on that new flight who would probably change your life, for the better. Or some other amazing occurrence you could not have dreamt of.

  • Diane Cruz

    This post is so powerful. I bring these points up often to my private yoga students. Some feel that surrendering in a pose is giving up so they will try and try to make a pose happen no matter what. But sometimes our bodies are not ready for certain variations of poses. It may take time for students to be able to do more advanced yoga postures. So for them, the surrender is acknowledging and honoring where they are in their practice at that moment. Thanks for your experience and view on this subject!

  • kathreen

    amen, sista!

  • Mindful Mimi

    Oh this is so true. I have been in many situations like this before and it drove me nuts. Needless to say I was kind of a control freak. That changed when I met my husband and especially after having kids (do I need to say more?).
    Now I can look at the situation from the outside, I can see whether there is a chance I can change it or not. And if not, well then, I just surrender to it (being stuck in traffic or behind a slow driver, having your kids get their clothes dirty and torn etc).
    And it feels SOOOOOO good to be able to do that. It does not work all the time but the more you do it the better you get at it.
    Thanks for this.

  • Kelli King

    Another voice in the wilderness offering her thanks for this post…and thanks to your wonderful readers for sharing their thoughtful comments.

  • Sue

    t6: Love the comparison to the sea!!! thanks for that.

    Kel: Thx so much for this. And thanks for being my “research mentor” through that process. You helped me greatly. That was a tough one!!

    Thanks Michelle!

  • Sister of another mother

    As always, you take my breath away. I can so see you laughing in that plane. I wish I had been there to laugh with you.

    Another recent example for me is your act of surrendering the research project. Not an easy decision, but without a doubt, the right one. It has afforded you the opportunity to be creative in the important areas of your life. Much more life sustaining.

    Watching you trust the process is inspiring and encourages me to surrender that which I have no control.

    Love, Kel

  • Michelle

    Awhile back I learned the difference between responding to a situation and reacting. Choosing to surrender is empowering and can be a very powerful way to respond to a situation that might otherwise have me reacting in a way that leaves me feeling drained and emotionally spent from trying to control what I cannot. Choosing (emphasis on choice!) to surrender to what is takes learning, and practicing but each time I do it successfully I feel great!

    Thank you for this amazing post.

  • T6

    Excellent post, surrendering to the currents when you absolutely know it is impossible to get anywhere when swimming against it.

    I am unclear as to where you are but those of us who grew up near the ocean well understand the concept of undertow. Undertow is an inverse current created by the constant roll of waves to shore. The result is a current which will either

    1. Pull you in and under- if you fight it.

    2. Drag you out beyond the break line (out to sea) but eventually will push you into shore – only a mile or so down.

    Fighting that which you cannot change will only drag you in and under. Letting go will often get you close enough to get back on track.

  • elaine g

    When I first started reading this blog I was determined to only keep the good ones, guess what, they are all good ones, this is one more.

  • Sue

    Thanks everyone for these amazing comments!! Love to read them. Totally makes my day. Christine, thanks for the opportunity!

  • Elaine

    Great post Sue! …and I remember you telling me about THAT zipper-shin 🙂

    Surrender is very peaceful and graceful. Thanks for reminding me.

  • charlene

    i loved this! so inspiring and a necessary reminder for us to be strong while at peace with the things we cannot control.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you, Sue. What a comfort and inspiration your words are, and a needed reminder on this road I am on. xoxo

  • brojoe

    I need to learn how to surrender. I’m horrible at it. Thanks for the challenge.

  • Lola Fayemi

    Wonderful – thanks for that very helpful distinction between surrender and giving up, an area I get confused over sometimes.

  • Mary Miller

    Inspired post! Thank you,Sue. This is the second the message of “surrender” that has come to me today, thanks Universe :^)

  • Kim

    I love having this spelled out. I’ve felt this way a lot.

    And if you’re ever surrendering in SLC again, email me. I’ll come get you and hang out until you can again move on.

  • Slices of Beauty

    Full of wisdom as always!

  • Catherine Cantieri, Sorted

    Beautiful post. I especially loved this: “Believing we can control anything outside of ourselves is an illusion.” Little by little, I think I’m realizing deep in my bones that it’s an illusion and starting to live my life accordingly.

  • Andrea

    I am a total believer and thank you, Sue, for putting a mirror to my own experiences. Twenty-four years ago, I held my critically ill newborn as she died and that numinous time, her short life, was a lifetime of experiences. “The peace that comes with complete helplessness”. (And bless the neonatal ICU for allowing us the private time we had together.)
    Time stretches and shrinks and when I am able to surrender, time is a friend. Instead of white-knuckling my commute home when I feel I will be late and letting my family down, I find if I relax and enjoy the ride…it seems as if all the lights are green and I arrive with time to spare.
    Thanks for this wonderful post.

  • Lynne

    Hi Sue,

    You have an amazing gift for offering profound insights in a way makes me feel like it is so very possible to integrate a different approach into how I think about and engage with the world. Every time I read one of your posts I think to myself, “I think I could do that. Yes, I think I can.”

    And then the most important part — I do.

    I don’t know what it is about the way that you share your thoughts, but you make the process of change seem so… so… possible. No, strike that. Probable. When I read your posts, I always walk away feeling like I want to try whatever it is that you’ve written about — because I know it will work.

    I just really love the way you write, and the topics that you choose to write about. Keep up the amazing work you do (both with the babies and with your writing!).


  • Giulietta

    Hi Sue,

    Lovely post and story on surrender! Yes, what happened to you was hilarious and that’s a terrific reaction. When you think about it, life is all make believe. We run around all day long stressing ourselves out, doing things that go against our natural grain, worried about this and that when we can change the make believe to whatever we want, to a make believe that let’s us relax and enjoy our precious lives while we are on this fabulous planet!

    Thx for the reminder!


  • Cyndee

    Thank you for this beautiful post!
    I have heard from my Guides that when I am stuck in traffic (or whatever the situation) to stop & take a look around. It is always amazing what I see.
    I had never tho’t of it as surrendering before. I needed that word this morning, as I am moving forward into my dream of fostering teens. And needing a larger home to do that & not having the money to do so yet.
    Not giving up but surrendering to the process. It is always a beautiful one even when it doesn’t feel like it in the moment!

  • Positively Present

    Wonderful guest post. I love the three points you’ve made about surrender. They are so true. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Jandi Small

    Thanks, I needed that!!! Beautiful post.

  • Rhiannon

    Yes, beautiful post – thank you Sue. Your comparison to parents in your NICU unit certainly puts smaller issues into perspective. But I really like the conscious approach you’ve described.

  • Megan “JoyGirl” Bord

    What a beautiful and brilliantly written post. There is artfulness to surrendering, and as you pointed out, a tremendous peace that accompanies it.

  • styleosophy

    This an excellent post, and it left me in tears this morning. I have been tussling with personal issues and this article very quickly brought deep clarity to those issues.