Saturday, January 22, 2005

Letting go in life

When one's life fell apart, many things are broken.Something in us just die a little or sometimes die a whole lot more.

Life fell apart for a family I knew when they lost a much longed for child to a miscarriage. the couple was really broken. “What about our plans?” they asked through their tears. Up to that point, they had felt in control of the life they had so carefully planned.

Life fell apart for a friend when he was diagnosed, at age 35, with nose cancer.He was almost at the peak of his career but now there appears to be no effective treatment and no cure. He was given five years to live.

Nine years later, he still lives. His life now reflects his hard won, and uncommon, spiritual maturity. After his diagnosis, he could have just given up on life. Instead, he chose to live fully into the mystery of a life that brought suffering.

My friend died 2 years ago, leaving for most of his friends this message of hope:

“We have no choice but to fall, and little say as to the time or the means. . . . Perhaps however, we do have some say in the manner of our falling . . . in the way of our falling, we have the opportunity to express our essential humanity.”

His writings not only express his humanity, they teach us the lessons of a lifetime: lessons about living through the suffering, and finding grace amid the pieces our lives.

The first lesson is about letting go. We need to learn to let go – to relax our grip on our vision of the perfect life, and to live the life we have been given, in all its messiness and mystery.
The art of letting go is taught by nearly all the world’s religions, and it is hard spiritual work.
I will not tell you that letting go is easy, or some simple answer to suffering. When things have fallen apart in my own life, letting go was not my first response. Turning it all over to God in prayer was not my first response.

Crisis and suffering would send me running not to God, but running to find the “epoxy glue” to try to put it all back together again, to fix it. I saw life as a problem to be solved.

We deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will one day lose everything. When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious – our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves – can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom.

In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them . When we stop seeing the world as a ‘problem’ to be solved, when instead we open our hearts to the mystery of our common suffering, we may find ourselves where we least expected to be: in a world transformed by love.

It is something of a spiritual paradox: When we do let go, our hearts are more open, and we can reach out, ask for help, ask for companionship in our struggle with suffering.

The second lesson is about reaching out. Let’s face it: sometimes the burdens of life are just too much for our shoulders alone. “We need one another” were the words we said together a few minutes ago. We do need one another, yet it can be hard to reach out, especially when we are so used to feeling in control of our lives, handling things on our own, being self sufficient.

We can succumb to the myth of omnipotence. But life has a way of reminding us that we are not God. It can be a spiritual challenge to reach out and admit that we can’t carry the whole burden on our own shoulders, but it can be a path to salvation.

When we reach out, the load we carry can feel a bit lighter, and grace can enter our lives leaving us transformed by the power of love. When we reach out, we invite our sisters and brothers to share the load with us, and we can be saved from despair and isolation. When we reach out in prayer, we allow God to take us by the hand and lead us home.

Can we learn to let go of some of the things in our life?


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