I have just one sermon. If you have listened to me preach more than a few times, you have probably figured out that sermon. It is encapsulated in the simple (often overused) motto: “Let go and let God.” Yes, it can be trite if we are not paying attention to what it means, and it can be devoid of Christian conduct if we do not fully appreciate the power of “letting go.”
It was many years ago that I came to understand the power of this phrase. I was serving in a large church with its many demands. I was spending all of my time chasing something that was, quite frankly, uncatchable. I was trying to find happiness and fulfillment by doing more … and more … and more. I was depressed and anxious.
It was during a series of conversations with someone who became for me a spiritual advisor of sorts (and she was someone who was very astute at diagnosing spiritual ailments) that I gained clarity. She looked at me one day and said, “You will never catch whatever it is that you are trying to catch. Even if you did catch it, it likely won’t bring you happiness or fulfillment or even a clear sense of identity. What is it you are trying to grasp so tightly anyway?”
I thought about it for a bit. I tried to talk about the fulfillment of my calling and career. I tried to talk about my feeling of self-worth and how this hard work will one day give me what I am looking for. For each of those explanations, she played what we came to call the “BS Card.” (Sorry, there is no clean or nice way to talk about that.) She told me exactly what she thought of my excuses.
She asked me again: “What you are trying to hold onto so tightly?”
And finally, I said, “God.”
That was when she offered me the best insight ever. “Your journey, my friend, isn’t about you getting your hands around God, but rather you figuring out how to let God get God’s hands around you.”
And she had me. She knew it, and I knew it. I was never going to get where I wanted to be by trying so hard to get my hands around God. My journey was forever changed when I stopped trying to get my hands around God and let God just get hold of me.
As I have gone farther on this journey, I have realized that “letting go and letting God” doesn’t mean it is a passive venture, by any means. As a matter of fact, it is an “active” letting go that finally puts us in the place where we can most effectively follow Jesus. Actively letting go means, among that other things, that:
- we are reminded that faith and trust are the same thing while belief is a whole different animal. Christians have long used belief as the litmus test for whether you belonged to this group or that group … whether you were suited for the glory of eternal life or for the throes of eternal damnation … whether you were validated as good or condemned as evil. Belief (getting our minds around some doctrine or theological statement) is about how we are divided and set apart; whereas, faith (trusting even without knowing why) is what offers everyone a place … a chance … true hope that we are beloved Children of God. We don’t enjoy citizenship in the beloved community by belief, but by faith.
- we are brought into holy relationships with God and one another. The commands to love God and one another are more about letting go than they are about taking hold. To love God is to empty ourselves and give ourselves wholly (heart, mind, soul and strength) to God, and it can’t happen without letting go of self. The same is true of love of neighbor: we can’t get there if we are clinging tightly to the stuff of our own lives. This is what fasting is really all about … emptying ourselves.
- we seek justice based on the notion that all of life is a gift and not a right. God has given this gift to us all, and when we let go of those things to which we feel we are entitled (to which we have a right) then we can live in holy relationship with one another. This means that we are free to pour ourselves out for others and seek their welfare … sometimes even above our own … when we love our neighbors as ourselves and make more room for God.
- we become better followers of Jesus, who really understood what it meant to be fully embraced by … be at one with … God.
Letting go is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart, and it certainly requires a lot more strength than holding on ever required of me. This is a story I told in a sermon recently, and I think it is relevant now:
Several years ago, I had a group of people who had studied a book on living the Christian life. The church we were in had its share of conflict, and there were people who were all holding onto their own beliefs and positions on just about every topic that ever came up.
After the study, the group decided they wanted to make tee shirts that made their thoughts clear. On the front of the shirt, it read: “It’s not about me!” When they turned around, on the back it read: “It’s not about you either!” Then lower on the back, the final statement read: “It’s about God.”
As we journey through our lives, may it be more about God and what God is doing with us. May your journey be a journey of “letting go and letting God.” When you finally realize you don’t have the strength to get your arms around God, let God take hold of you with the arms of grace. When that happens, you will find you are capable of some truly amazing things!