The Power of Surrender One Temptation at a Time

the power of surrenderWhat does the “power of surrender” mean?

Why is surrender an essential part of the addiction recovery process?

Or is it?

Most of us have heard of the concept of surrender as we’re going to meetings and trying to work the steps of recovery from addiction. But have you ever had this question:

“What does surrender really mean?”


“How do I practice surrender on a day to day, moment to moment basis?”

These questions can still come back to me as I get stuck with negative emotions or feelings, and I don’t know what to do with them.

In the book, “What Can I Do About Him Me?” Rhyll Croshaw talks quite a bit about surrender. Here are a few things that stick out to me:

“The first three steps of the program are all about accepting, believing in and surrendering to God.

“The first three steps are often a daily process of learning to surrender my will to God through believing in His great power. For most of us, surrendering our will to God is one of the most difficult things we may ever do. One spiritual leader has said:

The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,”…are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

“I have discovered that surrendering is an emotional, physical and spiritual process directing me to God. I can’t merely say that I will surrender my fear. I have to work through these steps daily.

“If the surrender process isn’t firmly in place, it’s rather easy for me to go to a place of fear…Fear is easy. To deal with those feelings of fear and maintain peace in my life, the surrender process is essential.”

The Power of Fear

“Fear is easy.” How true that is.

Fear is a root cause of me wanting to numb, hide, isolate, detach, and ultimately go down the path of lust and acting out.

Unfortunately, I’m finally starting to realize this has been the case my whole life.

Fear is the opposite of faith, and to have faith, I have to do things that I can’t see but that I believe in.

I’m learning that surrendering my fear is a practice.

It’s just like hitting a baseball, shooting a free-throw, playing the guitar, or whatever hobby or interest one wants to get better at – practice is crucial.

But how do I practice surrender of my fears?

What does that look like?

A 3 Step Process of Surrender

Rhyll goes on to talk about one process of surrender:

  • On my knees
  • On the phone
  • In the box (or Write it down)

Step 1. On My Knees

On my knees is pretty straightforward – I have to reach out to God, my higher power, and ask for His help in the moment. I have to show a level of trust that He is listening and that He will help me.  This could be a 3rd Step Prayer, a simple, “God, I can’t do this – please help me,” or a more formal thank you and request.

For me, practicing the chin-up approach – looking at everyone from the chin up (or just looking at the ground in some cases), has been a practice of “on my knees” over and over again.

I CAN’T do this on my own. I CAN’T.

But as I ask for His help, He is there to help EVERY TIME. The simple prayer of, “God, I know I’m in a dangerous place (the mall, the grocery store, or wherever there are lots of people). Please help me keep my chin-up and be aware of my surroundings.”

That’s it. Recognizing and surrendering to Him.

Step 2. On the Phone

On the phone is tough. It takes a level of humility that, at times, I don’t want to have.

On the phone means I have to actually reach out to someone – be vulnerable – admit that I need other people to help me.

I feel like the culture I’ve grown up in is all about “What can I DO?” It’s not about asking others for help: in fact, asking others for help seems to be weak or giving in – at least that’s been my perspective.

So reaching out, especially to actually call someone or talk to them in person, is extremely difficult.

In the Big Book of AA it talks about the importance of working with others:

Particularly was it imperative to work with others. (p. 14, bold added)

To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends-this is an experience you MUST not miss. (p. 89, bold added)

I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I? Have you a sufficient substitute? Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that. It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous. (p. 152, bold added)

We alcoholics see that we must work together and hang together, else most of us will finally die alone. (p. 563, bold added)

Can it be more clear, then, that reaching out is an essential part of surrender and working recovery?

Step 3. Write it Down

Finally, write it down. I’ve found that writing out my feelings, emotions, fears, and frustrations has been one of the most therapeutic practices I’ve ever done.

I’ve learned, from a great sponsor, to use the serenity prayer as a way to write out what I’m feeling:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I try to follow his guidance by asking myself these three questions:

1. What do I feel right now?
2. Why do I feel this way?
3. What’s the next step I can take?

There have been times when I’m not even sure what I’m thinking or feeling. I start to write, and my mind seems to open up and things come out that I’d never thought of. Sharing my writing with my wife, with my sponsor or a sponsee, or with other friends can also help me get additional perspective and awareness.


I’m grateful for Rhyll’s breakdown of surrender.

I’m grateful to be aware that surrender is an essential part of long-term recovery.

The White Book talks about surrender on at least 66 different pages. These are some of my favorite reminders:

“To win, I had to surrender and admit defeat.”(p. 21)

“I became as a child, teachable, having to reject my way of doing and thinking for a new way of life based on surrender of my will to God. (p. 23)

“We see that others who have gone before us have discovered that sex is truly optional, once they surrendered lust and the expectation of sex. And their comfort and joy are genuine; they are neither abnormal nor deprived.” (p. 31)

“As we learn to recognize and surrender our triggers in sobriety and accept our limitations, fear of falling lessens.” (p. 34)

“By surrendering lust and its acting out each time I’m tempted by it, and then experiencing God’s life-giving deliverance from its power, recovery and healing are taking place, and wholeness is being restored-true union within myself first, then with others and the Source of my life.” (p. 43)

“To stay sober sexually and grow in recovery, he will have to surrender his resentments.” (p. 49)

“Since we had something to do with becoming what we are, we can assume responsibility for the change of attitude-surrender-that will allow healing to begin. We can become willing to see and surrender what we know we’re doing wrong. The Fellowship and the Program of the Steps take it from there. (p. 57)

“All this was scary. We couldn’t see the path ahead, except that others had gone that way before. Each new step of surrender felt it would be off the edge into oblivion, but we took it. And instead of killing us, surrender was killing the obsession! We had stepped into the light, into a whole new way of life.” (p. 61)

“In recovery we find that Steps Six and Seven, once taken, become a continuing process. And rather than being a matter of eradication of the impulses to think or do wrong, it is freedom from their power over us, one temptation at a time. The defect itself may remain, but we no longer have to obey it. When we surrender the impulse and cast ourselves onto God each time it shows its ugly head, we receive the power to be free of it. And gradually, the impulses themselves get fewer and farther between. Healing.” (pp. 117-118)

To me, it seems that surrender is the key to a whole new way of life!

What are your thoughts?


How are you practicing surrender – what’s working for you?

7 thoughts on “The Power of Surrender One Temptation at a Time

  1. I can say that practice of the principle of surrender has been the key for me in achieving and maintaining sobriety and recovery. I have been practicing surrender since my introduction to 12-step through SAL, but what really helped me to get to another level of understanding was working step 3 with my sponsor. I’ve noticed that as I have worked the steps, my awareness of how each step applies to me has been heightened while I’m working it. For example, one night, during a heated conversation with my wife where I felt like I could never be good enough, I exclaimed “I can’t do it!, I’m not enough!” When I told my sponsor about this, he said “That sounds like you’re admitting powerlessness and unmanagability to me.” I hadn’t realized that was what I was doing, but his comment brought me perspective and I had peace at that point seeing that God was helping me take the steps.
    Another example of this, which involved learning to surrender, was while I was working step 3. Circumstances had come to the point that my wife was seriously ready to separate. This caused me extreme fear and anxiety. I was in panic mode trying to do everything I could that I thought would make her happy enough to stay. I was trying to surrender my fear, but it didn’t seem to be working. I was talking to my sponsor about this and he shared how important he has found it to surrender outcomes and actions of others (some “things I cannot change”). When I made the decision to surrender to whatever outcome may have happened and trust God, my fear was literally taken from me. I was willing to do His will and to face whatever happened, even separation, trusting that He would make everything right. I had true serenity with the situation and was then in a healthy enough mindset to give my wife what she wanted- a husband who was able to show her empathy and connect with her (although imperfectly). I learned to some extent what the white book means when it says “the way up is down.”
    So, learning to surrender outcomes has been a big one for me. I also have found the “on my knees, on the phone, in the box” approach very powerful for surrendering lust and emotional triggers. I find that the reaching out to others with a phone call- not a text, if I can help it- is crucial to making the “real connection” that my brain is seeking. To me, surrender to or trust in God is what recovery is based on. It’s what I never truly did before I started working recovery and what I am learning to do as I practice one situation at a time.

  2. To me, surrender means to “not do”. Basically to surrender my desire to God to do a certain thing. I surrender a look by not looking. I surrender lustful thoughts by committing to do anything necessary to stop and give that lust to God (through prayer, phone calls, and inventory). Great article.

  3. I agree with the article and both of the comments above. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. A thought that made a connection to me was that faith can replace fear: drive fear out. Fear is the root of so much of my pain. Merely understanding this relationship, and thinking about it, early, in the moment of temptation/triggers will be helpful to me. I like the 3 step approach to surrender mentioned above. I have been doing those things separately, from time to time, but want to do all three at the same time. Feels like a lot of power to me!

  4. Hello. I have found surrender rather confusing…if I say I can’t do this and ask God to help me, I assume He is telling me that is not enough and that I need to come to the party a bit more myself…He is not simply going to heal me, rescue me like an ambulance or stand between me and the drug..He expects me to make an effort at obedience…now this is contrary to what most of you are saying….that making an effort is pointless in God’s eyes…our efforts are worthless….I think this is dangerously misguided…there are plenty of places in tghe Bible that ask us to make an effort……’ gird up the loins of your mind….be sober…be strong and corageous…..recovery requires us to surrender, listen and obey…not just surrender and expect God to make up for our lack of wisdom and effort…

    anyway, I’m still addicted so maybe I’m wrong…all I can tell you is that simple surrender has not worked for me, but surrender + an effort at obedience seems to be better…

    1. Jim, thanks for the comment. For me, surrender has been a hard concept as well, especially because I’ve been raised in a culture where I’ve been taught to “go and do.”

      Surrender means this to me:

      – I’m willing to recognize I can’t “overcome” or “beat” this addiction – it’s much bigger than me (Step 1)
      – I’m willing to ask God for help and let go of my agenda and my ideas on what I think I should do to beat this (Step 2)
      – I’m ask God to give me direction and I’m patient in listening. For most of my life, I’ve TOLD God what I want Him to do – ie. Take this addiction from me, give me what I want, etc. Now, I’m learning to listen. It’s a hard concept that is taking daily and even moment to moment practice. Saying the Serenity Prayer or a 3rd Step Prayer has been helpful. In addition to God, I also will reach out and ask others – like my sponsor and fellows in the group who have found sobriety.

      As the article mentions, “On my knees, on the phone, write it down,” the writing is part of my asking God and others. Sometimes I’ll get answers as I write that I may have never received by just talking to myself in prayer. As I write, I’ll ask questions and then let God in as I write out how I feel, why, and the next step I can take.

      Hope this helps.

  5. I have found that giving it up to God is a way of surrendering; knowing that my old ways of isolation and hiding and ultimately acting out will never work, but will in fact, stifle the part of my relational brain which for so long has been stuck in an infantile state of underdevelopment. I must surrender my old ways and release them to God and stay open to His grace. I have promised to reach out when necessary, to communicate feelings appropriately, and to really work at building relationships, which includes making amends when appropriate. Journaling has been a help as well; I find it easier to understand and process feelings on paper…..and I realize I’m a work in progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Attention: your comments will be viewed by other people in our community and potentially by the world wide web. If you'd like to remain anonymous, please only put your first name and last initial.

Your email may also pull up a picture of you depending on how you've set things up with your email provider. Unless you want to receive notifications of comments via email, you are welcome to put Thanks for your participation in the community.