Before Easter, during the weeks of Lent, it is common for church people to talk about ‘giving something up.’ As we dig deeper, however, we can see that at the root of ‘giving up’ there is the process of ‘letting go.’
In fact, giving up is perhaps a little easier than letting go. There is a sense in ‘giving up’ that we maintain a modicum of control. We have decided what to give up, for how long, and in what manner. And, rather than this ‘giving up’ exercise being an opportunity for humility, we end up prideful at our success. So ironically, simply ‘giving something up’ can actually puff us up as we proudly announce our fortitude and perseverance, ha!
But imagine if things were a little more complicated. Imagine if we put slips of paper in a mason jar that included things we did not want to give up, like, ‘wireless internet,’ ‘plastics,’ ‘chocolate.’ In that case you might draw out a slip that caus-es you to say, no way! Coffee? No. I am not giving that up! And so you turn around and put that slip right back in the jar where you found it. Not now, not yet, not ever, we say. Lord, do not ask me.
In my life, letting go has often been a hard thing. The things I hang on to are never the things I think of when it is time to ‘give something up.’ The things I am really attached to I am not prepared to give up. And if I do get brave enough to even consider it, I cannot stand the idea of giving it up for long. A few weeks of Lent is bad enough.
And yet if we are brave enough to really attempt to risk giving up something big, something wonderful happens. Because at the root of ‘giving up’ is the miracle of Letting Go. We discover that in letting go, our strength comes not from our own effort, but by leaning on the strength of God.
…at the root of ‘giving up’ is the miracle of Letting Go.
My husband and I moved to the Sierra Nevada mountains shortly after we were married. I learned about the history of the wagon trains there, and the rush for gold. On family trips we retraced some of the steps traveled by the overlanders. I read and heard the stories of those who filled wagons full of their most precious possessions and set out, from New York, from Missouri, from Ohio, and headed west.
I read, too, that as the journey west progressed, it became more and more impossible to hold on to all that precious stuff packed in those wagons. The oxen died, or became lame. The wagon wheels broke. People got sick and precious room in the wagons had to be made to carry passengers even as the strength of the oxen waned. Hard decisions had to be made. They could not continue without giving something up. What would they let go?
Our tour guides in Oregon showed us the ancient ruts of the overland trail. They told stories of how the road west was littered with the things that had been cast off the wagons to lighten the loads. Precious pianos, heirloom dishes, carefully packed gowns, books, all of it jettisoned because the journey forward demanded it.
Getting the piano off the wagon must have been hard enough. Giving it up had to be awful. But to let it go, that must have been another thing all together. I can imagine those pioneers as the piano was unloaded into the mud of the ruts through the prairie, or maybe left leaning against a boulder on the upside of a mountain pass. I can imagine that last gaze, that one last look at what had been such a gift and now must be let go.
Letting go is hard. Stepping away is hard.
Jesus told us, whatever binds you on earth will bind you in heaven. That is a pretty serious thing to think about. And it makes me consider, when it is my turn to stand in front of those pearly gates, what will I be hauling with me? What will I be bound to? How will I present myself, my one self, and where in my heart will I have let go of all the stuff in order to make room for the light of God?
Sometimes the things we have in our lives are life-giving and help us to grow and change. But sometimes not. Sometimes we attach to things that we really needed for a while, like that yellow baby blanket with the soft, fluffy edging! And sometimes it is hard to let it go. We have seasons of holding on, but there are also seasons where we are invited to give it up and let it go. For, if those things are not God, what are we bound to?
Blessings to all of you this Lent. We travel through March, think of that good question: what can I let go in order to be closer to God? Look to our example, to Jesus who is the Christ, who let go of everything and was filled with the power of Love.
Blessings to you all,