Posted November 10, 2010 in New Millennium:
The Joys of Letting Go

by Fr. David May.

"Hey, there! Is everything under control?"

That was my greeting to one of our guests on Friday morning as he brought in the leftover milk and bread from the morning’s tea break in St. Goupil’s basement (our all-purpose workshop).

"Yes, I’m trying."

"That’s all a man can do."

"Come to think of it, that’s the problem, isn’t it?"

"Can be. It’s a problem for a lot of us. We just can’t let go. Lots of fun."

"I wouldn’t exactly call it fun!"

Having life under control is a big goal for a lot of people. Of course, it’s an entirely understandable one, considering to what depths of chaos life can descend. Many people have experienced, or do experience, precisely that: an agonizing, not to mention terrifying, dose of chaos.

Sometimes we bring it on ourselves and sometimes we’re the victim of circumstances. But once you’ve experienced it, law, order, peace, and tranquility all climb higher on life’s scale as something to be desired and striven for.

This is perfectly understandable. But spiritually, it’s disastrous.

Why is that? Because so very often my idea of "law, order, peace and tranquility" means that I am absolutely at the center of the universe.

It’s "the law" according to me. It’s "order" according to my idea. It’s "peace" according to what I define as the most harmonious arrangement of the furniture. It’s "tranquility" according to how I feel things are going, with sometimes an incredible insensitivity to the stifling effect on others.

At a deeper level yet, being in control is in large part a contradiction to faith in Jesus Christ.

When the Lord was walking by the Sea of Galilee and called those disciples to follow him—no introductions, no explanations, no promises except something about becoming fishers of men—that was the beginning of life out of control, at least their control.

It was a handing over of everything dear to domestic tranquility—a reasonable income from fishing, a known daily routine, closeness to family, dependable neighbors.

Sometime later, when he invited Peter to walk across the heaving waters to him, he gave us forever a perfect image of what it means for life to be out of our control and in his domain.

It seems that the kingdom of God exists somewhere just beyond the borders of my kingdom, where I am in charge. Somewhere just beyond those proud, unassailable walls, or hostile electric fences, a whole universe of experience awaits me—his law, his order, his peace, his tranquility.

Necessary as it is, many of us absolutely loathe the journey it takes to get there. However, what are a little loathing and revulsion, and a pinch of fear and trembling, compared to the blessing that awaits us?

Whenever grey November comes round, I often think back to that November 38 years ago when I found myself quitting university, leaving job, family, friends behind, and heading north to a monastery in Massachusetts.

Upon arrival, I found out I couldn’t stay there for any length of time, but Fr. Mark (who only died this year) and Joyce Thomasmeyer (a former MH staff member running a house of prayer nearby) told me about Madonna House. Within a week I was in Canada and at MH. Life as I knew it had taken a completely unexpected turn.

This experience has served as a template for me for dealing with the subsequent unexpected twists and turns involved in following Jesus Christ.

It has served me well, because it contains a number of basic principles: (1) Refer all major decisions in life to Jesus Christ in prayer; (2) Expect some anguish while you wait; (3) Be prepared to let go of whatever or whoever you are holding tightly on to (this may include requiring the people in my life to be a certain way, the way I want them to be);

(4) The Lord has an uncanny way of knowing what I really desire better than I do; (5) If I trust him and simply obey his directives, he fulfills my heart’s desire in ways that are utterly mysterious; and (6) Through all that happens, he is shaping me into his likeness.

This, in turn, brings me to the major obstacles to letting go: it’s a matter of faith and trust. Do I really believe that Jesus has my best interests in mind? That he has a better idea than I ever could as to what is best for me, and beyond that, through me, for others? Above all, do I want to be shaped unto his likeness?

We all know that most human beings have "trust issues," as we call them. And today, having faith in anything solid, dependable, lasting is perhaps harder to come by.

But despite these very real obstacles, I maintain that the greatest hindrance to letting go of control and handing same over to God is… I don’t want to end up like he did! Which is to say: I don’t relish the thought of being a perpetual servant, the other word for which is to be crucified with Christ. An example:

A few years on from that grey November arrival day in Combermere, I received word that my father, whom I hadn’t seen once in the nineteen years since my parents were divorced, wanted to meet with me.

It is incredible the number of stored-up and largely unconscious (until then) emotions that got stirred up by that communication.

But after prayer, it became so clear that to be true to Christ and to honor my father, I had to agree to his request. We met, were reconciled, and I was put on the trail of my long-lost first cousins, whom I have come to know and love through the years as a real gift in my life.

The emptying out of bitterness and disappointment that occurred through all this was fearsome. But also, liberating.

Never before had I experienced to such a degree what the mercy of Christ is all about. The examples could be multiplied.

Life in the kingdom—it is always a matter of letting go so that the Lord can cleanse our hearts and empty us of what clutters those vast interior rooms.

Then he takes up residence anew, so that he might live his life in us a little more—with family, friends, community, neighbors, enemies, greater society.

Yet it has struck me lately how few friends Christ really has. I speak first of myself. So many times I (we) turn away from his invitation, preferring instead something more to our measure, something safer, petty.

Yet the astonishing invitation of the Lord remains: I call you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I have learned from my father. You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go forth and bear fruit, fruit that will last (John 15: 15-16).


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