Do you have trouble letting go? Of control? Of the lives of family members and friends? Of situations at work? If we’re honest, there are times in our lives when every one of us has trouble letting go. Monkeys have this trouble too. It is fascinating to study how zookeepers used to catch monkeys in the jungle. They would put a huge glass jar filled with brightly colored marbles in a clearing. Attracted to the yellow and red marbles, the monkeys would put their hand into the jar and take hold of a fist full of marbles… and would not let go! Even when zookeepers chased after them, and they were dragging a heavy jar behind them, the monkeys refused to let go! The zookeepers caught them easily. If only the monkeys had let go…they would be free!
Does anybody else see this as a parable of our own lives…as I do? Like the monkeys, we sometimes hold on to things that seem attractive, but actually keep us in bondage. Have you ever held on to resentment or anger at someone? Although we think that we are punishing the one who hurt us, ironically, holding on to the resentment and bitterness actually keeps US in prison! As C. S. Lewis said, “A familiar captivity is frequently more desirable than an unfamiliar freedom.” This is why people hold on to destructive patterns of behavior…even when we know they are killing us. Some destructive habits are so familiar, and comforting, that we find it VERY hard to let go!
But, if we want to live an abundant life, Jesus commands us to “let go” and put our trust in God alone. Jesus did this himself. In our text for today, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus “let go” of the prerogatives of divinity, and humbled himself and became a servant. The Son of God emptied himself of his divine power to become human. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the last night of his earthly life, Jesus asked His Father God if it would be possible to let this cup of crucifixion pass from him…but then he prayed, “nevertheless not my will but thine be done!” (Luke 22:42) Jesus let go of his human agenda to embrace God’s divine agenda. In the same way, Jesus wants us to learn to let go of what WE WANT and what we think belongs to us. One of the brashest assumptions of our narcissistic culture is the belief that everything belongs to us. We glibly say … it’s MY money, MY job, MY body, MY life, MY future; they are MY children! I can do with these things what I want! But, the reality is that nothing belongs to us. Everything is a gift from God. God wants to teach us trust… and the only way we can learn to trust is to learn to … “let go” of everything!
This week school started in Atlanta, Georgia! (Yikes! Fall is HERE!) Parents are watching their children start another year in school. Every parent has to learn the lesson that we can’t hang on to our children forever. They are “on loan” to us from God for a short time and then they grow up. We have to learn to let children go … and frankly, we must learn to let go of everything! Life is a series of experiences in which we must learn how to “let go.” We have to let go of our childhood, our adolescence, and our young adult years. We must let go of jobs, and places and ultimately, we must learn to let go of the people who are nearest and dearest to us… our parents, siblings, spouses and children…and, someday … we must let go of our own body…and our life. It is the only way that we learn how to trust God!
Life is like a trapeze bar. We must let go of the trapeze bar on which we are swinging now…before we can grab hold of another trapeze bar that God is pushing our way. But, as we let go of the trapeze bar (or the bright colored marbles, or the things that we think “we own,”) … God has a surprise for us. God will catch us, hold onto us…and will never let us go! This is how we learn to trust God!
A woman in Texas and her Father learned how to let go and trust God. Jan was a Roman Catholic whose father had terminal cancer. Her dad had been the CEO of a corporation and spent much of his life thinking that he was “in control” of people, deals, and the future. When he contracted terminal cancer, for the first time in his life he faced something that he “could not control” and he had to learn to “let go.” It was a major challenge for him! Jan asked the Roman Catholic priest in her parents’ parish to go and visit her dad in the hospital. When Jan’s dad welcomed the priest, he told him that he had trouble praying. The priest gave him a simple piece of advice: “just picture Jesus in the chair next to your bed, and talk to the chair…as if you were talking to God. “Jan’s dad appreciated this practical advice which helped his prayer life.
After her father died, Jan went to the rectory to thank the priest for all of his visits to her father. When the priest told Jan the story about her dad “praying to the chair,” Jan started to cry. The priest said, “I know that you’re emotional that your father died.” Jan said, “I am emotional that he died… but that is not why I’m crying. You see, I was not with my father when he died. I had gone out for a quick break. When I came back, my Dad was dead. But … it was the most interesting thing. My Father’s body was in the bed…but his head…was in the chair. Now I know why!”
In that moment, Jan knew that her father had finally let go of control and had put his trust in the only one who can be in control… Almighty God! The truth is that control is an illusion. No one is in control … except God! I hope it doesn’t take a terminal illness for us to learn this lesson…and to put our trust in God.