Peter Marty: Letting Go


Jesus wants us to release our grip on all kinds of obstacles, possessions

Cartwheels were tough for me as a kid. I never really got the hang of them. One has to be ready to let the body fly freely in order for a cartwheel to have any elegance. Mine were pathetic. I must have looked like a rotary fan with bent blades. The legs never straightened out as they rotated over my body. The hands wanted to touch the ground at the same time.

It was a control thing, or rather an unwillingness to give up control as I felt my body going upside down. 

I can't say that my early cartwheel experiences have made me stiff and possessive in my adult life. But there are facets of my life and yours where we don't live as freely as we ought. Our lives tighten up around things over which we don't want to lose control. Yet freedom in Christ will only be ours where we find ways to stop clinging to our possessions, bodies and egos.

Reducing the entire message of Jesus to two words, I could make a persuasive argument in favor of the phrase: "Let go."

Jesus is constantly admonishing his followers to let go. He wants us to release our grip on all kinds of obstacles and possessions. Our fears, hang-ups, judgmental tendencies, fixation with money, narrow-mindedness, piles of stuff and self-centeredness all have to go. Oh yes, we also had better be ready to let go of our lives.

If we can't get this relinquishment assignment down, Jesus informs us we have no chance of experiencing abundant life.

Obviously, most of us fail in this relinquishment project most of the time. Why else are there claw marks all over our possessions, even fresh ones as we look up from our deathbed? 

The 12-step idea of "letting go and letting God" sounds wonderful. It is, in fact, an easy line to say. But it's also unbelievably hard to follow. The advertising world, to mention but one example, burns through our eardrums and eyeballs on a daily basis with one repetitive theme: "You never have enough." I suppose we never do have enough as our minds stay busy blurring wants and needs. There is always more to clutch, grasp and own. 

So how do we talk about the crisis of disposophobia (the fear of getting rid of stuff), or of the spiritual ache that results when we equate "letting go" with deprivation?

Our attachment to stuff isn't our only problem. How do you talk with your best friend about letting go of her anxiety over her dying spouse? How do you shape a conversation with your aging mother who is reluctant to give up the family home, displaying contempt for even the suggestion that she move into a residence with assisted living options? How do you speak to yourself when you are struggling to accept the fact that your grown kids are never moving back in, even though they left some clothes behind in the closet a decade ago?

Possessions are typically much harder to get rid of than they are to acquire. The same holds true for certain memories, secrets and resentments. Yet certain strategies can help us let go.

First, candor is essential. Tell the truth. Worrying about losing something every day, or pretending that we will never die - both are silly ways to live.

Second, recognize that the firmness of the grip with which we hold on is a greater spiritual problem than the object or relationship to which we're clinging.

Third, empathize with the anguish associated with letting go. Speak tenderly as you plot new moves forward. Relinquishing is hard. 

Fourth, letting go does not have to be resignation. It can be a positive choice that affirms something more important than the clutch of the present.

Finally, ask what kind of person you want to be. If Jesus could let go of his hold on equality with God (Philippians 2), by faith we can loosen our grip on unhealthy attachments.

"God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them." That's theologian Augustine (354-430) dropping a quiet reminder: To be rich toward God means detaching ourselves from mistaken priorities. Ah, the will to  let go.

Taken with permission from the July issue of The Lutheran magazine.