There is more to life than gaining; than the amassing of things; of collecting the sentimental stuff of our lives. There is clutter around us and clutter within our souls. The four quadrants of our hearts seems so filled that some days we cannot breathe or at least breathe easy.
We collect our degrees and proudly hang them on our walls not thinking the paper with our names inscribed will one day burn. We amass our pedigrees of knowledge yet to realize that our brain cells are dying and cannot be sustained in the long haul of life. Some of us have collected trophies, people, wealth and experiences. It is in these deeply held things that have filled our hearts that we must practice the sacred art of surrender. To let go and to learn to let go is a necessary passage. As we age in life, we find that every day it seems we must pass through that narrow gate. It really is narrow you know and thinking like this may show you how narrow it really is. Try as you might to deny this and it will not serve you well.
Our clothes and our children; our homes and our desks; our influence and impact will one day need to be examined. While some things are easy to lay down of in life, others we find, deeply rooted in our souls. We are enmeshed in our roles; tangled in our souls and we can’t find an ending because there have been far too many beginnings for some of us. What lies within is what is the hardest to surrender. It is within, in the secret places of our fourth quadrant where so much stuff lies. Jesus said so and I believe him on this.
Just like the octopus whose arms clutch, grab, hoard and cling, the soul –every soul will learn—whether invited or jarred—to learn the sacred art of surrender. We simply cannot hold onto all our treasures. The news so tragic this week has a lesson for us all. Those who went only to worship did not know this week that they would sing no more on this earth. Those that went to dance to music did not know they would never take another step on this earth. Crisis and tragedy stand daily in our faces to help us awaken, though we so often seem to sleep through so much of this needed lesson.
When I held my first born son—then my second, third and fourth—I did not know then what I know now. I will have to let them go—let them find their own way in this path of cul-de-sacs, dead ends, vistas and the grandeur of the adventure. I will lay down my voice in their lives and their voice will be their own. I am seeing it now as I see the sun rise and set every morning. Aren’t you?
Some of us have had to let go far too early—too soon in our own estimation of how life should work. An untimely ending—a divorce—a tragic and quick illness or a long, slow good by to our loved one with dementia. We learn in such times that nothing—absolutely nothing on this planet we call home, is forever. Such good-byes prepare us and teach us about all that is important that we never want to let go of in this dear, fragile life of ours.
Work, for many of us, is that place where we find our identity. Yet, when the lay off comes, the business closes its doors or we age “out”, we awaken that our identity is really not in our labor at all—though we hear the daily chanting that “we ARE what we do.” Hopefully, we awaken to the lie that this worldly proverb has teased us into believing. Yet our work, is for some of us,that great battle ground where the inner civil wars rumble through the night in our souls. The cannon balls hurl such lies at us in the dark hours. We may succeed in a nightly skirmish in thinking we see the way forward now, only to be enveloped in a great cloud of unknowing and feel so terribly lost. To let go is a process, isn’t it? It takes time–perhaps even a life time or more until we know what we could not learn earlier in our lives.
One day, each of us will lay down our breath. We will surrender the breath that keeps us alive. Our breath will stop and this life will be over—this life of amassing; this life of feeling so important—so needed—so valuable. Every time we let go of a small thing in life—give away a box of old clothes, sort through the shelves of our closets or reassess who our real friends are—we are practicing for this final surrender and laying down of our sacred breath within. And with this practice, we find that fear is assuaged and angst is cured. As we practice our letting go, we practice our new beginning–a new beginning that is lighter, more free and one that is truly life indeed.
There is a time for keeping and there is a time of giving it away. There is a time for the harvest, but there is in a healthy rhythm a time of embracing the fall of our lives. I have found this true in my marriage; in my fathering and in my work. Try as I may to sustain a springtime of something—it simply cannot work. And it was not suppose to work. It is a fabricated and American lie to believe otherwise. Other people who are more tied to the land and nature have learned what we still need to know. There is a rhythm to everything and everything that is truly alive lives in a rhythm.
Our body holds the stress of all our years. Every wrinkle is a folding of our skin that simply needs to droop now. If you are smiling as you read this, then you already know this deep lesson. If you are angry because I have said this, then a lesson is just ahead to be learned for you. All will learn this lesson one way or the other. Some now and some later but no one will escape the lesson of letting go. What was once vibrant, strong and full of vigor will give way to a new season—a new opportunity to awaken to what is happening in me, to me and through me now. This, I think is wisdom.
Wisdom is an essential element of surrender. It is ignorance and foolishness to believe otherwise. We are told in the ancient text to “Teach us to number our days…” because it is in numbering our days that we realize how precious life really is and not the things we have brought along with us. It is just smart to know that we are but dust and to the dust we will all return. It is not depressing to face such a fact. It is our invitation to relish in every breath we have—while we have breath. To view life this way helps us live in the present and not just hoping for a better day ahead.
In this deep interior space of letting go, something else happens. Freedom. Interior and soulful freedom. There is an emancipation which we feel rising up within us that we may one day soon, be truly “free at last” and this freedom is now, so oddly different than we ever first imagined. It is the liberty within to not have to be so responsible; so on time; so efficient; so exhausted; to always have to do it right and to be attentive to everyone else.
Now is our time to be gracious with ourselves–a graciousness there was not room for in our hearts for self-compassion perhaps. Before we may have been too pre-occupied–to strategic–too obsessed. To let go is to embrace a sense of reserve within—not that we might be withholding– but a sense that we are now aware of what wisdom,has all along been wanting to teach us. Could it be that our new found reserve is really the best?
A Prayer of Letting Go
by Stephen W. Smith
O Lord, I have ten fingers and two hands to clinch, clutch and catch.
Teach me, that as I learn to relax my grip that you are there to now hold me firm.
How can it be, O Lord that in letting go I will be grasped by you?
If I can let go, will you really hold me in my free fall?
There are many things for me to lay down. Too many, in fact to list in such a prayer.
Must I confess my list every single day?
My heart has many rooms where clutter has filled its hallowed spaces.
Teach me, O Lord to release.
Teach me to relax my white knuckled fists of all of this holding on.
Jesus, when you said upon your last breath that you were letting go of your final breath on that rugged cross, help me to pray what you did:
“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Sweet surrender. Sweet indeed.
Give me the assurance as I let go of so much that your hands really are present for me.
I have this unspoken fear, you see God, that if I let go, I will be so coldly alone.
I think you know that feeling. For, look at all you have let go of to love me.
The sacred art of letting go is my daily act of surrender.
My wants, my needs, my desires even—all must be laid down.
All to Jesus, I surrender then. All to him I gladly give.