My grandniece and grandnephew recently came to California for a visit. One of the requisite stops on this whirlwind weekend tour was Disneyland. My sister wisely chose to rent two strollers as soon as we arrived so we could make our way through the Park as efficiently as possible with a 6 year old and 2 two year old in tow. Conveniently, the strollers also served as rolling storage bins for such things as diaper supplies, extra changes of clothes, water, snacks, jackets, hats, and souvenirs. Short of renting a pack mule and a hiring a Sherpa I’m not sure how else we would have transported all that we brought.
The sun had already gone down by the time we set sail through “It’s a Small World.” It was a nice relaxing circumnavigation and the last ride we would go on before settling down for a snack with a good seat for the fireworks show. When we returned to the stroller parking area to move on with our evening plans, we discovered that only one of our strollers was where we had left it. The other was missing. We checked to see if it had rolled away. We carefully looked at every other stroller left in the parking area. We walked around to see if someone had left it nearby after realizing that they had taken it by mistake, but to no avail. The stroller was gone and so was the stuff we had left stored in it.
Upon that realization the mental gymnastics began. What did we have in that stroller? We hadn’t taken a formal inventory beforehand and, with the number of things we brought we probably should have. My sister went through a mental checklist of all she had packed that morning.
In the meantime, I flagged down an employee, Nataly, who worked in the toy store nearby. We explained what happened and asked her where we might be able to get another stroller. Instead of giving us directions, she began searching for the stroller herself. She asked me to come with her to another stroller parking area to see if I recognized any of them as ours. After looking through every aisle we returned to my sister empty-handed. By this time, she had determined that my niece’s Princess Elena dress (that she had been wearing earlier in the day) and my nephew’s extra pair of shorts were the two most significant items left in the missing stroller. As I inquired again about replacing the stroller, Nataly said, “Getting you another stroller is the least of our worries. What I’m most concerned about is your personal property that was taken.”
To be honest, I had already given up on that. I was pretty certain that we weren’t going to find that stroller and whoever took it, now had our stuff too. Those items we lost would either end up in the trash, at lost and found never to be claimed, or for sale on “Offer Up.” But Nataly’s sincerity was genuine. She told us that she wanted to make a few phone calls but that she would be back with us in just a few minutes to tell us what our next steps would be.
As she returned to the toy store our collective mood was low. Whether the taking of our stroller was intentional or accidental we felt ripped off. And that was because – we had just been ripped off! Our day was slowly coming to an end and this wasn’t the note we had hoped to end it on. All four of us were physically tired and the excitement and adrenalin that had kept us going for hours on end was completely depleted. Waiting for Nataly to return seemed like an eternity. It was just more time wasted from the fun we thought we’d be having and all because someone took our stroller!
At last Nataly returned and in her hand she held a small booklet. She asked for my grandniece and nephew’s names and wanted a description of what we had lost. She carefully jotted down everything we told her. When she finished, she handed me the two pages of the booklet she had torn out like checks from a checkbook. “Take these vouchers – one for the princess dress, and one for the boy’s shorts, to the stores I have listed on them. I’ve called ahead for you. They know you are coming. With these vouchers you’ll be able to get a brand new princess dress and a new pair of shorts.” She ended her instructions with, “I’m so sorry this happened. I hope you all have a good rest of your night.”
We were dumbfounded. Disneyland was going to give us – FOR FREE – the two articles of clothing that someone else had just stolen. They were not just new versions of what had been stolen from us. They were better, more valuable, authentic Disney merchandise. We thanked Nataly again and again. It was truly more than we could have ever expected anyone to do for us.
This experience reminded me of something God has been teaching me lately. Sometimes, God asks us to let go so that we can take in what He has for us.
One of my favorite parts of scripture is found in the Gospel of John, Chapters 14-17. These are Jesus’ last words to His disciples before He goes to the cross. In this tender conversation, Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to have to let go of something very precious to them — Him. While He assures them He will never leave or abandon them, He is going to prepare a place for them and then He will come back for them. (John 14:1-4) He promises that after He leaves He will send them Someone who will be with them forever, His Holy Spirit. (John 14:16-17) He even tells them, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Imagine being one of those disciples. You have just spent the last three years of your life spending every day with Jesus. You walk together, eat together, worship God together, minister to others together, and watch The Messiah just do His thing. Every day is a new adventure, another miracle, or a mind-bending parable. You get to witness lives being changed forever after just a word, a look, or a touch from Him. You have seen water turn to wine, dead people brought back to life, crippled people walk again, blind men see again, and deaf people able to hear. Your personal understanding of God and spiritual matters is far more than the wisdom of every rabbi you have ever met and all of them put together. You wake up every morning eager to see what Jesus is going to do next and wonder how it is that you have been so fortunate to follow Him around day after day. And now He tells you that He’s leaving. He’s going someplace that you can’t go. His kingdom that He’s been talking about will come, but not right now. You’re not going to be together any more. Things are going to be different from here on out. In fact, tonight is your last night together for a while.
The disciples had to let go. They couldn’t have possibly understood what He was trying to explain to them that night. He knew they were the ones to carry on His ministry. He had chosen them to do so before they were even born. And He also knew they needed His Spirit to do all the things He had prepared for them to do.
They had to let go. They had to let go of the physical presence of God Himself. That seems impossible, doesn’t it? Who in their right mind would let go of Jesus if He was walking and talking with you every day and teaching you more than you ever thought you could know and experience! But that was what He asked them to do, in order to take in something even greater than His physical presence. What could be greater than that? The truth is the disciples would have no way of knowing what Jesus was promising them. They couldn’t fathom anything greater than what they had right in front of them. But Jesus knew it would be better. It would be the very power of God living inside of them, inhabiting their own body! They would now be able to do what He had been doing. In fact He told them they would be doing even GREATER things than what He had done. (John 14:12)
I cannot possibly compare our Disneyland experience to what the disciples went through. But it is a hint, a shadow, a vague impression of the truth that sometimes we don’t know all the good that God has for us when He asks us to let go of something. Those times of letting go are rarely ever a part of our plan and certainly not on our timeline. And we can’t possibly fathom that what is in store for us is going to be better than what we already have. But if God is behind it, it will be the very best for us. And it is completely undeserved. Disneyland did not “owe” us newer, better quality clothes. They didn’t take our property. They weren’t responsible for keeping our items safe. But, they graciously gave us what they had.
Sometimes we have to let go. Sometimes God asks us to do what seems unfathomable. But He is good. He cannot be anything but good and what He has for us is always for our good. We have to trust and believe that even when we don’t understand what is happening or why. If He asks you to let go, trust that what He has for you may be more than anything you would have asked for or imagined.
Lord, You are good. And what You have for us is always good. How is it that we forget that? Help us to trust in Your goodness. Help us to believe in what we cannot see and trust that no matter what You ask us to let go of, the purpose is for our good and Your glory. Thank you for Your love, Your provision, the gift of Your Spirit living within us, and for blessing us through people like Nataly. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, amen.
(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article “Letting Go to Take In.”)