Letting Go--the Sacred Art of Surrender

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 Goby 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. Amen.

Letting Go: Why it's hard and Why we all have to learn to do it

dandelionEver since we were born, we knew we had to grab, hold and cling. From our mother’s breast; to clinching our toys that we enjoyed, we all learned to hold on to what mattered to us. We all learned to hold on to what we thought would give us life--what did give us life.  As we grew and matured, our sense of holding, clutching, and grabbing did not seem to develop. It seems to be something we all do to survive—or at least we are shaped to think we must cling to live.We held on to our positions.   We clutched possessions. We did not let go of unhealthy relationships. We hoarded experiences. We amassed a lot of stuff. Yes, we’ve got the holding on to thing quite down.Through life and in life, we learn that-- [tweetthis]The key lesson all of us will learn is this: We will all learn that we have to let go.[/tweetthis]Parents let go of their first grade child feeling that life has somehow shifted when school began. The memory of me taking my first born son to university and dropping him off is forever etched in my memory bank. I vividly remember holding back my tears as we made trip after trip to the car taking what he was holding on to—what he felt was necessary to clutch as a freshman. When the last load was delivered the deathly sense of dread overwhelmed me. I said to my son, “Blake, I need to get out of here. Let’s make this quick.” We hugged. I kissed his forehead and we waved. That was it—until I closed the door of my car to drive off. Then the tears came. Not just a tear mind you but deep waves of rolling emotion that I had so far successfully manged to keep down, deep inside. I let go of my son and to be honest in that moment of letting go—nothing has been the same. That rite of passage became a season of transformation that changed him and changed me.We let go of our health. An accident might take a limb. A disease my take a lung. A cancer cell my have lodged in a vital organ. A hip or some other piece of us might break and need to be laid aside.Every letting go is a letting go of some part of us that is necessary to let go of in light of the next step on the journey.I’ve seen people hold on to their status and position and use every principle available to tightly grip what seems to have given them significance in their life. I’ve seen pastors hold on too long. I’ve seen CEO’s hold on too long. It takes a lot of inner work for someone to let a position go that has defined them; shaped others and provided for them in life. Some of us may hold on too long. We can’t let go. I’ve seen this played out with powerful executives who try to retire and then put their power at work in Home Owner’s Association. It happens all the time. I’ve sat with women who have lost their possessions in a fire or learning that all their possessions were lost at sea due to storage unit falling off a tanker in the Atlantic Ocean. What seems devastating to us at the time of such a loss helps us realize what is really important in this life and the next. We learn this if we are curious, open and as we learn to hold lightly what needs to be held lightly and to hold tightly what needs to really be held on to in life.If we live long enough, life reveals to us that we can’t take anything with us as we pass through the doorway into the Kingdom that awaits us. At that door—the door of death—we lay down everything—even and including our final breath. The Hebrew word for breath is “ruah.” It is the breath God gives to us when our butts are smacked by a doctor to make us cry—to breath. In the end---and for some of us, our end seems far, far too abrupt and sudden—our breath is laid down. It is given back.When I turned 60, I was struck like a slap in my face that my time was going to be short on this planet. Before that particular birthday, I never gave much thought to my life line. But somehow that day marked much of my thinking now about how I need to live my life now; what I need to let go of and how to live lightly and freely for the time I have remaining on this planet.I am learning at 62 that evey act of letting go is really this---it is practice for me to learn to let go of everything until eventually I will have to—need to and want to—lay down and give back to God the “ruah” he gave me in the first place. For me to learn this lesson, I’ve had deep spiritual conversations with a wise, sage 10 years my senior, whom I go to for monthly conversations about what I’m really thinking and what is really consuming my head these days. Those conversations are now like cairns which are marking my trail and the trail behind me of how to lay down much in life as I continue my long obedience in the same direction. I have had to lay down this big thought: I can’t do this by myself. I am not wise enough. I need help. By laying down my independence, I am finding a new freedom that I simply am enjoying.I have had to practice this letting go thing recently with a possession I valued so incredibly much. I lost my journal. I kept my journal in a gray backpack and took it everywhere. In that journal, I recorded my thoughts—my inner world markings that were etched on my soul. I wrote about my grandson’s death. I wrote about my marriage with Gwen and the biggest fight we ever had two years ago. I wrote the outline for a book that I felt God had given me a new message to write about. It was lost. I felt lost. I had to let go.It’s interesting that I as I was lamenting over this most recent loss and my efforts to let go of it and to lay it down, my journal showed up. The story of how it showed up is another story. But suffice it to say, I remain happy and thrilled to have back what I thought was so important to me. Sometimes, this happens. We seem to get back or to be given what seemed lost. This happened to the father in Jesus story of the prodigal son. The father got back one son---yet in some ways he lost the son that had been sort of with him all along.There are many levels of letting go. Letting go is probably rooted in each of us at a cellular level. Attachments form early in our life and for some of us we never really quite seem to work through being hooked by what doesn’t really matter at all in life. This letting go thing is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. God let go of his only son. The son let’s go of his closest associates and friends. All of life, when properly understood is deeply grounded in this birth, death and resurrection—this life, laying down and finding what really matters through life revelations.Here are some practices that might help you let go and begin and continue to let go in life. 

  1. Hold every thing lightly in life. Things are things and all things can be replaced. When things grip our hearts, we find we have too much clutter but inside and outside.
  2. Hold the people you love and value tightly. When people die, no one ever asks to hold an antique; an heirloom; a book or checkbook. When we pass into our next home, we want someone’s hand. We all want to be held at life’s most defining moments. That hug, embrace, kiss seems to mark those times as sacred because people are sacred—things are not.
  3. Become curious about your attachments. What would you grab in case of a fire and run out into the streets with so thankful you saved this thing from loss or destruction. Who are the six people that will carry your casket to the final resting place? Who matters most in life to you and why?
  4. Embrace letting go as a new spiritual discipline. The new book Essentialism has helped me think this through though a Bible verse or Jesus is never mentioned in the pages, it is filled with a challenge our generation needs to hear. Some of us need to let go of the boxes of our faith to experiences in life that is beyond our  boxes, we have constructed doctrinal statements we have written and more.
  5. Mark times of letting go with words, rituals and ceremonies. Find songs, poems, pictures and rituals that help you know—without words—what is really happening inside of you---inside of “us.”

Learning to Let Go

Who might you need to let go in order to move on?A part of the spiritual life is letting go of people that cannot and will not go with you. There’s a part in each one of us that would like to get everybody on the bus to go with us to our chosen destination. Yet, along the way we have to face the fact that some people do not want to get on the bus and simply will not get on the bus. They want to stay where they are. They are comfortable to remain as they have always been and always been told to be.Letting go of people is a challenge for those of us who grow, transform and morph. Perhaps, we secretly think it would validate us if we could persuade those in the margins; those who have not made up their minds; those who have not decided; those who are formed, fixed and set in cement in their own persuasions.I am not the same man I was. This week, Gwen and I celebrated our 35th Wedding Anniversary. We reminisced last night how much we have changed over these three plus decades. We’re not the same—and together we gave thanks that the seeds of transformation had, indeed, taken root in each of us. We’re more loving; more kind; more sensitive; more deeply spiritual and more thankful for each and every change. Does any healthy person ever really want to remain the same?As we have changed, so have our friends. As we have morphed so has our understanding of friendship and community. As we both have “put aside childish ways”, we have greater insight, wisdom and faith.We wish that all of our friends had joined us on this remarkable journey of transformation. But they did not. Some never boarded our bus. Some got off the bus.  Some thought our bus was a wrong bus to take in the first place.Let me explain. When Jesus called the tax collector , Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13), he beckoned him with these very familiar words, “Follow me!” OK. We all know this. We see Matthew doing exactly what Jesus invited him to do. He followed a different path. This is often read, quoted and preached upon. Yet remarkably what happens next in this story is not often explored.Matthew has a dinner party where he invites his friends to experience the finesse, charisma and teaching of Jesus. Maybe Matthew like me, was trying to manipulate a people group to get on the same bus. Maybe, he was, like so many preachers have said, having an evangelistic dinner party.This is where the push back happens. This is precisely where Matthew, like me—and perhaps you as well—had to let go of his friends and community to truly follow Jesus. The Pharisees—the people group that Matthew was use to hanging around asked some probing questions of Matthew:“Why does YOUR teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners?” Notice their (the Pharisees who Matthew had himself invited) snide slant of language in accentuating whose teacher was coloring outside the lines!  YOUR teacher...YOUR new deal...YOUR new insight.It is here where Jesus says something that I have somehow missed until this morning in my reading. He says, that famous line, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…” (Matthew 9:12). But Jesus then offers us the key to our own spiritual growth in understanding true friendship and authentic community.He says, “Go and learn what this means….”  Sometimes, people have to "go" away---go through other seasons of life---go to other churches--other cities--perhaps even other religions until they are ready. We cannot control the journey of other people--no matter how much we might want to.  I cannot control the spiritual pilgrimage of my children. I cannot control the spiritual pilgrimage of my teammates. I cannot control who gets on the bus or off the bus. I am truly ONLY a passenger--a pilgrim myself.I found it disturbing that when I "googled" for an image of tears, there is not one image of a man crying.When Jesus says, “Go and learn…” he is releasing folks to the process of transformation which says:-You are not ready to truly “Follow me.”-You need to do more internal work and then perhaps you’ll be ready to “Follow me.”-You need to percolate, marinate and steep yourself in more spiritual truth—and then and only then, will a moment of understanding happen.-I cannot force you to be ready—even though Matthew IS ready.-You are not all on the same page here of spiritual understanding. [tweetthis]For me to be like Jesus, I will need to let go of those who are not ready to join me. [/tweetthis]This is a part of what it means to "follow me". I can not follow Jesus if I am manipulating those around me to believe like me; do like me and travel like me. I have to let go.When Jesus releases Matthew’s old friends by saying, “Go and learn” he is saying this: “Go figure this out…then perhaps you’ll be ready…”When we left someone go to figure out a spiritual truth; when we let someone go who is not where we are; when we release someone—we might even love and care for—there is a letting go in order that we, ourselves can follow more fully.I find myself really longing for my close friends to be on the same page with me. I wish they were reading every book I am reading now. I wish they could hear every teaching I could teach. I wish that my own life experiences could truly be shared . I mistakenly believe that if we all believe the same thing—and at the same time—then and perhaps only then are we truly friends.Matthew had to let go of old friends in order to be embraced by new soul mates. To be honest, I really do want everyone to be on the same bus as me. I have an illusion and live in an illusion that by being in the bus and on the bus then we’d all be fine.Follow Jesus means that some will un-follow you. But it does not mean this will be forever. It may be for a season; for a few years; for a time until there is a greater awakening, desire and yearning. Perhaps they are too comfortable right now. Perhaps they are to fixed in their boxes of belief. Perhaps they just want to remain the same because changing requires too, too much.As you let go, you will be taken hold of. As we release our grip—then another more Sacred Grip will hold us—and this was Matthew’s great joy to discover and it will be ours.