The phrase self-conquest can come to sound odious because very often it can mean not the conquest of ourselves but a conquest by ourselves. A victory we have won by our own power. … Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender. 20

The Christian journey is not a self-improvement project. When I walk with Jesus I am not engaging in a self-help program. Like Paul I have discovered that “self” help is an illusion; I cannot help myself.

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:18, 19)

This is my problem. I can enthusiastically embrace the most exalted vision for my life. I can determine that I will live a life of love, beauty and truth. I can exert all my efforts to be kind and compassionate to every human being I meet. But, when I stop for a moment and face myself honestly, I know I lack the power to fulfill my vision. Everywhere I turn I see my failure to live up to even my most basic vision of what it means to be human.

I recognize myself in Paul’s words when he wrote,

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

It is not false modesty to acknowledge that I can identify no “victory” I have ever won by my “own power.”

If I am going to live even a small part of that “glory of God” for which I was created it is not going to be by “self-conquest”. My “self” is too small a force to make the conquest that is necessary. The only hope is for that small “self” to give up. The path likes along the way of surrender.

Lent points me towards this central gesture of the Christian faith. I must let go. I must lay down my determination to conquer myself, fix myself, even to improve myself. Instead, I must submit to a power higher than myself.

In what ways in my life do I see the failure of “self-conquest”?

Where do I feel the call to self-surrender?