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Is it Surrender or Giving Up?

My rescued box turtle, Bruce, deciding whether he is going to stay in or come out. Some days are just like that.
My rescued box turtle, Bruce, deciding whether he is going to stay in or come out. Some days are just like that.

Surrender. For a dedicated meditator such as myself, it is a daily quest.

Of course, to read the textbook dictionary definition might indicate such a quest is foolhardy at best. Some examples:

…to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

…to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand or under duress.

…to give oneself up, as to the police.


This is not the kind of surrender I am personally looking for.

In fact, this kind of surrender sounds more like another term that often appears disguised as surrender – giving up.

The first definition of “giving up” that popped up when I searched the internet sure sounds like a match:

…cease making an effort; resign oneself to failure.

Yup. That’s the one.

Of course, as I search even a bit further, I find another definition of surrender, this one accompanied by specific notes that it refers to the practice of surrender in a spiritual or religious context: 

To surrender in spirituality and religion means that a believer completely gives up his own will and subjects his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of a higher power.

So yes, I could see how this might apply to the surrender I’m seeking, in the sense that I have a long and fruitful history of apprenticing myself to an assortment of wise mentors for the purposes of learning and practicing what they have to teach.

But lately in my meditation as well as elsewhere in my daily life (see Hello Mid Life Crisis for more), the retaining wall separating surrender and giving up has begun to feel perilously thin.

Sometimes I can hardly tell the difference between one and the other.

From the few wondrous moments when I have experienced what I think was surrender, I have to say that surrender has felt joyful. Freeing. Glorious. It is all that is innocent (yet wise), open and loving.

Giving up, on the other hand, mostly comes with handcuffs – the kind I put on myself right before I sit down and wait to be carted off to loser-ville.

Giving up feels grumpy, petulant, self-indulgent and impatient. Giving up is judgmental and horrid. It drops a big cloud of self-critical depression right over my head, just in case whatever it was that caused me to feel like giving up in the first place isn’t already punishment enough.

Sometimes when I am meditating, hoping to get an ounce of peace or a teaspoon of joy as a reward, I can feel the anxious and anything-but-peaceful being inside me just throw up her frustrated hands and say, “Enough. This will never work. Who am I fooling? I give up.”

This is very different from the moments when I am “meditating” (aka oh-so-busy reviewing my grocery or to-do list in my head) and suddenly surrender just….happens. It unfolds like a beautiful sunset waiting just over the next hill and I am awestruck. Blown away.


I guess I am writing this blog post to remind myself (and anyone else who happens along and may also appreciate a reminder) that surrender and giving up are NOT the same.

Surrender is willing, eager, excited for the unknown. It is worth the risk of dropping all those walls and barriers (exterior and interior) just this once, just in case, because what if something wonderful occurs…..

Giving up is quitting while there is still hope and even evidence to support that hope.

And what is funniest about giving up – for me at least – is that it doesn’t have a lot of staying power. Just like when I used to get so mad, stamp my feet and say,” That’s it – I can’t recover from an eating disorder – I don’t have what it takes – I suck – I give up,” well, that would only last so long.

I would have my temper tantrum, let it all out, prepare to die….and then somehow find myself getting right back to work on recovering again.

Today’s Takeaway: When you are in the midst of a difficult challenge, do you find it easy to remember other times when you tackled tough stuff and gave up and went back to work and gave up and went back to work and so on….until you finally had that big breakthrough? Or do you forget all too easily, like I do? What helps you be able to tell the difference between surrendering to a life or a lesson in progress that may take time to unfold and just throwing in the towel prematurely and giving up?

Is it Surrender or Giving Up?

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). Is it Surrender or Giving Up?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Sep 2016
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