While experiencing major heartache after a breakup a year and a half ago or so, I remember striving hard to feel resigned to God's will. But it seemed an impossible task. Everything had seemed so right, and I felt strongly that there had been some horrible mistake, either with God or with this guy. A lot of my prayer time was taking up with telling God how I felt about all this. But I would always strive to end my prayer by resigning myself to God's will -- "not my will, but Yours be done". I'm sure this attempt was valuable in the Lord's eyes, but it didn't feel very effective at the time.
Then one day, feeling at my wit's end with my self-pitying, confused, miserable broken heart and asking God what I could possibly do attain the resignation I was seeking, the word renunciation popped into my head. Perhaps it's only a slight nuance to think of renunciation rather than resignation. But it made a big difference to me to think about "renouncing" this guy and the love I had felt for him and simply being "resigned" to circumstances beyond my control. I felt like I was finally taking an active step to regaining ownership of my heart. Rather than simply saying "your will be done", I was spelling it out to God: I do not want this path if You don't want this path for me and I hereby renounce it. In my mind, I was taking this dream I had conjured up of my life with this guy and pushing it away. It was not the final step in the healing of my heart, but it was very helpful.
There is something in the human spirit that rebels against the idea of mere resignation to circumstance. William Ernest Henley, the author of the poem "Invictus," seems to be crying out against resignation when he says: "In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. / Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed."
But knowing that a loving God is behind the seemingly mysterious twists and turns of fortune makes all the difference. As Christians, we aren't being called upon to be resigned to mere circumstance or dumb chance, but actively to place our wills in the hands of a loving Father. Dorothy Day wrote a superb, line by line, response to "Invictus" which she entitled "My Captain". I will quote the corresponding passage here: "Since His the sway of circumstance, / I would not wince nor cry aloud. / Under that rule which men call chance / My head with joy is humbly bowed."
Don't get me wrong, I think there's a definite good being conveyed when we talk of being resigned to God's will. But the concept of renunciation has been so much more helpful for me in my ongoing attempt to surrender myself to the Lord. To me it makes all the difference between the idea of grudgingly accepting the trials that God allows and embracing the trials as they come. For only once I renounce my own plans can I go forward to embrace what God is presenting to me. And as the Lord reminds us in John's Gospel, He has not called us slaves, but friends. "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I make known to you" (Jn. 15:15)