It is autumn where I live—here in the northern hemisphere. As the earth gradually tilts away from the sun, the change around us is quite dramatic: the days are getting shorter, the temperatures are going down, and (most amazing of all) the leaves have turned bright colors and are falling from our trees. Autumn is the season of change, of letting go—letting go of light, warmth, and lush green foliage.
For many of us change is not easy. And the change that involves a letting go is the most difficult change of all. That’s because for some of us, the phrase letting go has negative connotations. We equate it with giving up or surrendering. And surrendering is for wimps. Yet our Christian tradition tells us that letting go plays a vital role in our spiritual life. It is anything but wimpish. On the contrary, letting go demands great courage and resolve. And although letting go can look a lot like dying, it can actually be life-giving for ourselves and for others.
What are some of the things we have to let go of on our life’s journey? Sooner or later we all have to let go of our childhood, our adolescence, our youth. We also may have to let go of certain relationships, a cherished home, a particular job, an accustomed way of doing things, past joys, past hurts, good health. Death, of course, is the ultimate letting go. All the other letting go’s we do in life are “rehearsals” for that final great yielding of ourselves into the hands of God.
But why is letting go so difficult at times? For one thing, we like to be in control, and every letting go involves a loss of control. Secondly, letting go entails uncertainty. We know what we have now, but if we let go of it, who knows what will happen to us in the future. Thirdly, it takes energy to let go of the known and move into the unknown. And we simply resist the exertion required to let go. It’s often easier to stay put.
But our faith tradition is filled with individuals who let go in dramatic ways and surrendered themselves to God and to God’s designs. By doing so, they found new life for themselves and others. Moses, for example, surrendered himself to God at the burning bush and went on to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Jonah surrendered to God in the belly of the whale and saved the vast city of Nineveh from destruction. Mary surrendered to God at the Annunciation and brought forth the Savior of the world. Paul surrendered to Jesus on the road to Damascus and was transformed into the great apostle to the Gentiles. Ignatius surrendered to God on his bed of pain and went on to found a religious congregation that has served the church for over 450 years. In 1843 Sojourner Truth surrendered to God’s plan for her and became one of the most influential voices against the evils of slavery.
Letting go is not always neat. It is seldom once-and-for-all either. For our God is a God who calls us again and again to continue on our journey, to move forward. What helps us to let go is not so much the belief that things will turn out exactly the way we want them too. No, it is rather the conviction that no matter how things turn out, God is with us through it all. And even if we let go and tumble and fall, we will be caught and held in the tender arms of our loving God.
What are some of the things you have had to let go of in your life?
What helps you to let go?
Have you ever experienced new life after letting go?
PS: Thank you for the prayers for my retreat last week. I held all the readers of my blog in special prayer….I noticed that my blog is approaching 2,000 responses from readers like you. I expect response #2,000 from one of you within the next several weeks. The person who writes response #2,000 will receive one of my books as a gift. It’s a small way of saying “thank you” to you for reading and interacting with my blog.