Throughout our lives we have to let go of many things. Some of those surrenders are easy and most of them are difficult. I recall seeing a T-shirt once that had an image of cat paws and then marks under which were the words: "Everything I ever let go of had claw marks on it." For most people that's especially true of the final letting go at the time of death.
Yet we have many opportunities to practice surrender. As we move from infancy into childhood we surrender having the world revolve around us. When we start our first day of school we surrender the safety of home and the freedom of play. When we marry and start a family we surrender our time and independence. As we grow older we surrender our strength, vitality, energy, and, in some cases, our hair! In time we surrender health and even more of our independence, until the day we are called to surrender our very lives.
We can approach all these calls to let go grasping with claws, or resisting but then gently letting go in trust--the trust that being emptied does not mean losing everything. We are emptied of this earthly life in order to be filled with a life that will never end, the resurrected life that Jesus won for us by emptying Himself completely and dying on a cross.
A book entitled "Monastic Practices" underscores this great secret of living and dying. In a chapter entitled "From death to life" the author, Trappist monk Charles Cummings, writes:
Monastic life is practice for death. ... Of course, a person may anticipate the stripping process of death without entering a monastery. Life itself seems to provide opportunities enough for anyone willing to make use of them. ...
Death takes us whether we want to give ourselves or not. But monastic life is practice in giving ourselves--to others, to God, to life itself. "Whenever we give ourselves to whatever presents itself," says [Brother David] Steindl-Rast again, "instead of grasping and holding it, we flow with it." In the flow is life and meaning. In grasping and holding back there is only frustration and defeat. Whoever would save his or her life will lose it; only one who has the courage to risk letting go of his or her life will save it (Lk 9:24). "Letting go is a real death, a real dying," says Steindl-Rast, but it is the price of possessing a deeper, truer life. Letting go is a sacrificial gesture, extending open hands. The monastic practice of "offering up" little sacrifices throughout the day trains us for death, trains us in how to flow with life, to give ourselves in countless situations so that we know how to do it at the moment of death. ...
At the moment of physical death, this ingrained habit should prompt us to surrender our life to the inscrutable mystery that conceals God's loving care: "Father into your hands I commend my spirit, my life" [see Psalm 31:6 and Luke 23:46].
While Cummings wrote these words from the perspective of a monk, they are true for all Christians and the simple yet profound spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer can help all of us live this "monastic practice" in the secular world of our daily lives. We pray an offering prayer each morning and strive to live that offering each day. As we encounter the surrenders and dyings that are part of life, we "offer them up." Our offerings help us to be open to the life that will come to us only through death--"What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).