$200 S.D. (spiritual dollars)

From my large, comfortable leather seat, I address the middle-aged man across from me. His eyes are closed. His head is cradled at the intersection of the loveseat’s armrest and back.

We are about 20 minutes into our monthly spiritual direction session. And I’m delighted to see this man surrender into the couch. It’s a beautiful contrast from a few years ago when he was so anxious and wouldn’t (couldn’t?) relax.

He slowly opens his eyes.

I speak, picking up on a theme he spoke about earlier:

My friend Bill, a Jesuit spiritual director, talks about maintaining within himself a spiritual ledger.


He smiles.

I suspected he likes the idea of a ledger – something that can be calculated and put in a spreadsheet. As a spiritual director, sometimes balancing the lofty ideas with grounding helps. I continue:

Bill talks about contemplating a social gathering and how his first thoughts are whether it will be a net gain or loss, spiritually – on his soul.


I see Tom’s teeth. He smiles and extends his arms towards me, speaking as he moves his hands up and down — a human balance scale:

Weighing all of the things we have to do. Will I get a spiritual gain helping my neighbor with a project? Yes. Will I get a spiritual gain talking to my ex? No. Will the one make up for the other? Probably. Possibly. Yes, probably. Yes. I get this.


He gives more examples. He likes the idea of calculating his inflows and outflows of spiritual energy.

I ask what happens when he has spent all his spiritual capital:

Are there penalties, compound interest? And a late fee?

I continue, free flowing with the analogy:

Might you have some overdraft protection in case you run out of funds?


His face lights up, and he explains:

No. It’s not like that at all.

There are no late fees.

No compound interest.

It’s when I am spiritually bankrupt that the magic happens. When I’m spiritually overdrawn, when I’m out of ideas, when I give up, when I have nothing left to give, when I am metaphorically – or literally – on my knees, exhausted, the account gets filled back up.


He has just given a brilliant explanation of the benefits of the spiritual notion of surrender/acceptance.

After I finish at the office, I excitedly call Larry, my BFF, to tell him this analogy of spiritual expenses; and how we automatically get topped off again when we run out. In this retelling, I say,

Surrendering is like playing Monopoly and passing go and collecting $200 when you really need it.


Larry pauses.

Often he pauses before he says something profound.

My hope is that this will be one of those times, and it is.

He says:

The ultimate lesson in life is the ability and inclination to surrender.


He repeats himself, slowly:

The ultimate lesson in life is the ability and inclination to surrender.


I repeat it, aloud, slowly, a word at a time, to make certain I capture all of his words.

The ultimate lesson in life is the ability and inclination to surrender.


I playfully cuss him out for never having told me this beautiful thought before.

He told me I never had asked.

I laughingly cuss him out more. But then I realize that I am not certain if I fully understand his use of the words ability and inclination.

I ask, and he responds:

The ability to surrender. Not everyone has that ability. It is a skill. It takes practice. It takes work. One cannot simply surrender. One must get better at it. Like anything else, it takes practice. That’s the ability.

Now, the inclination. That’s different. The inclination. The inclination to surrender. That means that you have to want to. And many of us don’t want to. Surrender makes our ego small.

We don’t like to surrender. Because it goes against our notion that we are in control. Or should be. But until we have the inclination and have practiced surrendering enough, we don’t collect the $200.







A few days later, walking after our dogs through the mud of the Grant Park park, I explain all of this to Greg, my Portland BFF. I start with Bill’s insight and continue with Larry’s notions of surrender being an ability and inclination.

Greg speaks as he leashes up his corgi’s collar and begins the process of wiping mud off of Milo’s “fluffy trousers.”

I get that. It’s always at that moment when I’ve run out of ideas, when I can think of nothing more, that I surrender and find peace. When I don’t know how to parent anymore and I give up. That giving up is the answer. It puts $200 in my account.


He pauses. I toss a treat to JJ, my dog, who is sitting attentively.

Greg continues:

It’s not just when we run out of ideas that we get the $200.


His mud-removal pace changes – it becomes slower, almost meditative. He has surrendered to the mess.

I can argue with the universe that there oughtn’t be mud, that corgis oughtn’t have extra tufts of hair on the back of their legs, or I can just surrender to what is and clean it up. Even without being out of ideas, every time I surrender to what is – not only when my account is overdrawn – I get a $200 boost in the spiritual bank account.





Most folks who come to my spiritual direction practice come only somewhat willingly. They are somewhat coerced by something within themselves. Something other than logic. Something they can’t figure out.

Usually people come to spiritual direction because of an innate inclination to surrender.

Like rock climbers hanging by their arms, knowing they can only do so for so much longer, they come in – gripping tightly to reason.

But also knowing that they must practice letting go – knowing that there is solid footing beyond the rational.

So I help them practice.

As my spiritual directors have taught me.

To be a bit less rational.

To surrender to reality.

And to get $200.





This message of surrender is particularly important today, in the light of this world-wide pandemic.

There is only so much that any of us can control. 

We have before us plenty of opportunities to better our inclination and ability to surrender.

I wish it were otherwise, too.

But, as this is what this is, try to enjoy those moments that you are able to surrender, to let go of your control of reality, to just take in the sunshine, the random good deed, the taste of an apple. And, when you do, you’ll collect your $200 SD. 

I send you lots of love,


Rabbi Brian

(And, while you’re here, check out the website and sign-up for the newsletter.)

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