The Way of Letting Go

When I was twenty-nine years old and the mother of a beautiful, rambunctious toddler, my (then) husband received a call to leave his country and kindred and the house on Linden Street in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to travel to a new land… by which I mean, a very nice offer from a particular university that wanted him to join their Ph. D. program. This involved leaving the Boston area, where we’d gone to college and lived for a total of 12 years, as well as going from the place all our friends were, to move to Binghamton, where we knew exactly no one.  And so he did. We did. We left that little Cape Cod house near the commuter rail, and traveled along I-90 and then I-88 to the small but pretty cool city that would be his home for the next twenty years or so; more for me. We brought with us our son, and all the possessions we had amassed in Massachusetts.

I regret to inform you that there are boxes I moved to New York from Wellesley that have still never been opened.

And, you know, it felt like a big deal to both of us, but I think, especially to me, because I was actually in the middle of my own graduate program at Boston College, in Pastoral Ministry. But that’s what you do when you’re committed to your partner. You get up and you go.

People have left homes and traveled much further, and under far more challenging circumstances, than we did. Anyone here grow up as the child of an active duty military service member? You probably moved more than once… the life of the so-called military brat, which seems like a terrible name to call someone just because their mom or dad is serving the nation in a profession that is not only difficult and dangerous, but is also inadequately compensated. I have a friend who relocated to New Zealand this year, leaving her work as an Ivy League chaplain, because her husband couldn’t turn down an academic job. They took with them two small children.

And then there are families who relocate, not because one member has an opportunity or a work commitment, but because they are all endangered, and they need to run because bombs have destroyed their home, their neighborhood, or their city.

All things considered, moving to Binghamton was a good thing for me, in both the short and long run. I found my life here, though absolutely not in the way I initially expected.

But to find that life, I had to let another life go.

Abram receives a call from God to get up, and go, go from his father’s house and his land and everything and (almost) everyone he knows, to travel to a new land, a land that God will show him.

Scripture can be found here...

This seems like a good time to mention the fact that God does not provide Abram with a map. In fact, God says the equivalent of, “I’ll let you know when you get there,” which sounds thoroughly unnerving and strange and maybe even a little upsetting. I mean, what if God told you to get up and go, only wasn’t terribly specific about whether you should hop on I-88 East, or  Routes17 West or I-81 North or South? That would be a challenge.

This also seems like a good time to mention the fact that “Get up and go!” is not the only thing God said to Abram. God made Abram three promises.

God promised land: the land that God would show Abram, would be his land.

God promised children: “I will make of you a great nation,” said God, and that means, that Abram would have descendants that would be so numerous… they would be their own country.

And God promised blessing: “I will bless you,” says God, “and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Land. Children. Blessing.

This seems like a good time to mention the fact that Abram was seventy-five years old when God told him to “Get up and go!” Later on we find out that Sarai, his wife, is about ten years younger than her husband, so, she’s about sixty-five years old.

And… you may have noticed that the reported ages of various characters in the book of Genesis are pretty large. “Methuselah lived nine hundred years,” George Gershwin wrote in his jazz opera, “Porgy and Bess.” Also, Noah (though he built the ark when he was a spry six hundred). So, for Abram and Sarai to be seventy-five and sixty-five…. who knows, maybe they’re sprightly young things? Maybe the promise of children, at this point, is not outrageously improbable… Maybe it’s only later, when they are nearing triple digits, that childbearing becomes truly unlikely, especially for the mother.

But for now, there is a threefold promise. And the way to receive the promise is to let go of the past. Should be a piece of cake, right?

Oh, if only.

Some are good at letting go of material possessions. Some are good at letting go of those things that keep them from attaining their heart’s desire. Some are even good at letting go of their own self-interest for the good of others. 

For the rest of us, the way of letting go can be challenging.

A few years ago, a little tiny book by Marie Kondo started flying off the shelves all over the world. It was called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Everywhere, there were testimonials by people who claimed that their lives were indeed changed by adhering to Ms. Kondo’s system. It even made its way into the plotline of last fall’s reboot of The Gilmore Girls, with Lorelei walking in to the ancestral home to find her usually elegant mother in t-shirt and ripped jeans, picking up items one by one to determine whether they gave her any joy, and getting rid of all those that didn’t.

This sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to everyone. (Which is why Ms. Kondo has a 3-month waiting list for her organizing services in Tokyo.) It can be hard to let go of the things and people we hold dear.

But letting go, when it becomes clear that is what God is ask us to do, can also offer us the best chance of being open to what God is helping us to make room for.

You all are aware by now that the labyrinth is set up in the Fellowship Hall on the Sundays of March.  The labyrinth is a form of embodied prayer—a walking meditation. As I mentioned last week, there are a number of resources near the labyrinth to help those who have never experienced it to give it a try. But one of the simplest ways to walk the labyrinth also happens to be one that is very much connected to what we’re talking about right here, right now. You can walk the labyrinth in a posture designed to help you to let go.

Stand at the entrance of the labyrinth. Say a prayer asking God for help letting go of whatever it is. You might need to let go of resentment, or anger, or some other emotion. You might need to let go of a behavior or action you feel is harming you or others. You might need to let go of a phase of life that is coming to an end. Then, you walk, letting this intention guide you. If you want, you can even hold your hands in a posture to show your willingness to let go. (I do it by walking with my palms facing down). Then, when you get to the middle of the labyrinth, you can stand and say another prayer, asking God to give you what it was God wants you to have instead. If you want, you can change your hands in a posture of receiving (I hold them like this, palms up, to show—not God, but really, myself—that I am ready to receive God’s blessing, whatever that might be.)

The labyrinth isn’t the only way to pray for help in letting go so that you can move on, but it is a useful one, one in which we can pray, not only with our hearts, but also with our bodies.

Abram and Sarai show their willingness to let go of the past, and whatever hopes and dreams they associated with their old life, by getting up and going, without hesitation, into the future God has planned for them.

We might not be as sure as they were, at least not as quickly as they were sure. But they were persuaded that God had a real future in store for them. What future do we see, that God has in store for us? And how can we prepare for that future—not by devaluing the beauty of the life we already have, or by ghosting our way out of the relationships that nurture us, but by beginning to wonder just two things: What are the things that God might gently be nudging us to let go? And how can we open our hands, our minds, and our hearts even slightly, and learn, not only what to let go of, but what to anticipate, to look forward to, to wait for… with trust and joy?  Thanks be to God. Amen.