We have entered the season of Lent, a period of 40 days before Easter when Christians traditionally lament over their sins and then, in response, choose something to give up such as chocolate or Facebook or alcohol. The idea is to daily turn away from what distracts us or derails us and turn back to God. Instead of giving up something for Lent, this year I encourage you to let go and let God.
LETTING GO OF CONTROL
What does it mean to let go of something? Letting go assumes that there is something we are hanging on to. Everyone chooses different things to hang on to – a girlfriend, a home, the dream of entrepreneurship, retirement funds, the hope of having a child, a trip to Hawaii or Paris, their good looks, the latest phone or iPad.
One thing we all try to hang on to is control; we keep the illusion that we are in charge in our tightly closed fist and run roughshod through life (and the lives of others) like a defensive lineman trying to sack the quarterback. Jesus had something to say to Christians about this tendency in Mark 8: 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.” He makes it very plain. If we want to be Christ-followers, we have to take ourselves off the throne and out of the driver’s seat. We have to let go and let God. As the Twelve Steps say, we have to acknowledge that we are powerless and turn our need for control over to God.
Powerlessness, which also implies not being in control, has a bad rap. We associate powerlessness with weakness, helplessness, feebleness, or with being incapable, ineffective, or defenseless. We even call people who don’t like and don’t want to play power games “toothless.” We believe that power makes us right, and oh, do we love being right! No wonder we don’t like to think about losing the edge or the advantage or the best position – in any situation.
But what if we accept the fact that being powerless simply means that we recognize that the outcome is not in our hands. Think about that for a minute. What outcomes, small or large, do you actually have some power or control over? Can you control the weather, the stock market, the election of 2016? How about global warming, the water level of Lake Michigan, or forest fires in California? Can you control your child’s fears, your spouse’s faithfulness, your parent’s dementia, your boss’s temperament? Can you control when your neighbor mows his lawn or if he flies his flag correctly or if he weeds his flower bed? Do you have any power of what happens at a red light, or over your arthritis diagnosis, or over how quickly time passes? Do you have any influence over gossip on Facebook or lies in the church or cover-ups by government officials?
If we are honest, we have to admit the outcome of anything is beyond our control. We truly are powerless. The truth that only God is in control. God is the Creator; we are creatures. Powerlessness is the reality of our lives. What if we admitted that the recognition of powerless opens the door to being empowered by God? What if we admitted that we can learn to live safely and freely within the boundaries that God creates instead of constantly pushing the boundaries past the danger point? What if we accepted that God has tasks for us to do that the Spirit will enable us to carry out? Why don’t we let go of the pretense of being in control of the universe and turn over that job back over to God?
What would it be like to open our fists and symbolically and physically and let go of control? What would it be like to turn our addiction to being in charge over to God? What if every day during Lent, we presented our open hands to God and said, “I let go of my need for control. I admit that my controlling nature makes my life unmanageable. I turn over control of my life to you”?
Jesus is our Master and he did exactly that: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We also need to let go and let God do what God wills. This submission will lead to peace and joy, even when the way is difficult. We need to say with Jesus, “Father, I place my life in Your hands!” (Luke 23:46).