Surrender and Change: Psychological Insights
Two weeks ago I identified three obstacles in our journey toward surrender as demonstrated by the Israelites in the desert. Last week was an in-depth look at Jesus’ surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane. The contrast between Jesus’ struggle in the garden of Gethsemane and the Israelites continual disobedience caused me to first reflect on what hinders our ability to surrender to God’s will. Secondly, I wanted to discover some positive steps we can take toward surrender. This week I want to explore what insights the field of psychology has to offer.
Cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authorityOxford Languages
Surrender by nature requires change, in either ideology or behavior.. There are two aspects of change that happen when one surrenders: ceasing and submitting. A thought, opinion, or behavior is replaced with something new. When we surrender to God, we stop sinning and start obeying. Easier said than done.
Challenges to Change
Challenge 1: Stoping
It is by the blood of Christ that we have been freed to stop sinning. There is no pain or addiction in this world that is stronger than God’s love and power. However neither is sin nor addiction easy to overcome. There is a reason both substance use therapy and sex therapy are specialties within the field of psychology. Years and years of research have been conducted to learn how to best help people break free of these chains.
Challenge 2: Obeying
It sounds easy in principle, however recall that one of the first words children learn is “no.” Children must be shown and taught how to be obedient. It does not always come natural and when done for the wrong reasons obedience can lead to resentment.
Steps Toward Surrender and Change
Here are some insights from the field of psychology about how to initiate change in one’s life. There is no one size fits all when it comes to making life changes and some of these approach may work better for you than others. You may even discover an approach I’ve failed to mention.
Step 1: Change is a gradual process that takes place over time. In fact, there are six identified stages of change according to the transtheoretical model. The stages progress from demonstrating a resistance to change to acting on the desire to change. In this model attitude change precedes behavior change
Step 2: Change is easier to maintain when it is linked to a value. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an approach that had gained a lot of traction since the early 2000s. One aspect of ACT involves linking behavior change to values. Change for the shake of change doesn’t stick very well, but change for the shake of spending more time with family or gaining wisdom will increase motivation.
Step 3: Some Cognitive-Behavior Therapy interventions can be summed up by the phrase, “fake it till you make it.” The focus is on changing a negative behavior by replacing it with a new positive behavior. For example, if you want to refrain from harsh speech, practice saying something kind or neutral as an alternative.
Step 4: Make SMART goals. This is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Ambition and excitement can be good, however consistency and sustainability are even better when it comes to life-long change. In other words, don’t over extend yourself when getting started or you might loss momentum.
Remember that getting started can feel overwhelming and scary. As humans we are sinful fallen stubborn people. Like the Israelites we struggle generation after generation to fully surrender, change and trust God; however Jesus, God in-the-flesh, has demonstrated how to live a fully surrendered life. By God’s power and grace, it is possible.
Additional Readings and Handouts
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy from Psychology Today
What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy from American Psychological Association