Less Worry, More Trust: Praying the Surrender Novena in Times of Change

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Sometimes, I really miss my childhood. With my parents reliably around to take care of everything for me, I didn’t have to worry about much. As an adult with many more responsibilities, though, I often wish for that same sense of security and the ensuing freedom to rest unencumbered by the anxieties and fears of daily life. I want to be assured that someone else has things under control — especially at a time like this, when we remain gripped by a global pandemic.

Jesus longs to give us that sense of security, to take care of everything for us in a way that even our parents couldn’t do when we were children: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” (Mt 6:30). But in order to allow him to provide for us, we need to surrender.

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Surrender sounds lovely in theory, but it’s difficult in practice. Although letting go of our fears and anxieties seems like it should be simple, it requires that we stop worrying, and that takes great effort. Yet, until we learn to replace our worry with trust, we won’t live in freedom.

Okay, but how, exactly, do we do that?

Enter the Surrender Novena.

I first discovered the prayer at my parish’s Adoration chapel a few years ago, at a time when I was experiencing severe anxiety. Captivated by the freedom promised by a greater childlike dependence on God, I prayed it that spring and then tucked it into my prayer journal to revisit later in the future, when I was sure I would need it again. But then I completely forgot about it.

…Until a friend of mine shared recently that she has been praying the Surrender Novena on a loop for the last year or so, and that whenever she finishes the nine-day circuit, she begins again. Listening to her describe how the prayer had gradually strengthened her trust and peace over time, I saw that the Surrender Novena could become a powerful tool for spiritual transformation when prayed with consistency — and that it is most necessary when so much in the world around us feels out of our control.

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Revealed by Jesus to Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo, the Novena of Surrender to the Will of God (as the prayer is officially called) encourages us to lean into the Heart of Jesus with great confidence in his ability to care for us, through all the circumstances of our lives.

And we don’t have to wait for something big to arise in order to practice this kind of surrender, although I’m sure that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, none of us are at a loss for worries. I myself am beginning a full-time graduate program at a time when the university environment looks completely different, and global uncertainty compounds all the usual concerns that come along with making a significant transition. How will the pandemic challenge the cultivation of community when I move to a new city? Will the university be able to sustain the learning environment it’s currently planning? What happens if there’s a resurgence? How will everyone stay safe?

My friend’s reminder about the novena felt timely — definitely a sign that I should consider taking it up again. So I searched for the old handout in my prayer journal and settled into bed on night one, confident that leaving everything in the Lord’s hands before I went to sleep would be the best way to end my day: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”

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I woke up the next morning feeling lighter and freer, deeply aware for the first time in a while that I didn’t have to carry everything by myself. As I continued to pray the novena in the days that followed, I increasingly surrendered to God concerns both large and small — the people I love, trips to the grocery store, conversations with friends, and on-campus learning conditions this fall, for starters. Doing so hasn’t entirely eliminated my worries, but it has given me a sense of peace and security, a certainty of being held through it all.

“Leave the care of your affairs to me and everything will be peaceful,” Jesus promises on day one of the Novena. For anyone desiring to rest in the heart of the Lord, particularly during a time still marked by lingering uncertainty, the Surrender Novena is an indispensable spiritual practice.

Originally published July 29, 2020

Sarah Zentner is a freelance writer and doctoral student in literature at the Catholic University of America, who believes the written word can be an extraordinary place to encounter the grace and goodness of God. When she’s not ensconced in her studies, you can find her enjoying a steaming mug of tea, engaging in great conversation, or daydreaming about her next trip abroad. You can learn more about her at www.sarahzentner.com.