Life is about letting go. When we’re young we have to learn to let go of our pacifiers, our favorite blanket, or that one stuffed animal that has been through every trauma and joy of our young life. We learn to let go of our parent’s fingers as we learn to walk on our own. We let go of training wheels in order to learn how to ride a bike. We let go of the comforts of home when we go to school and eventually off to college. We let go of our kids as they strive for their own independence. We let go of our parents when the end of their lives come. We let go of our career when it’s time to retire. We let go of certain skills as our body ages. And ultimately, we let go of our very life. With all this practice, from birth to death, why are we so bad at letting go?
In Part 1 of this two-part blog entry I relayed the story of a recent trip to Disneyland where one of our rented strollers was taken along with some of our personal property. One of the employees not only helped us look for our missing stroller but ultimately gave us vouchers that allowed us to purchase new items to replace those that were lost. The experience was a reminder to me that there are times when God asks us to let go so that we might receive something better. (To read the entire blog entry, click here Letting Go to Take In – Part 1.)
The one thing that all of the “letting go” scenarios described above have in common is that they all signal times of growth in our life. We are designed to move forward, to grow, to mature. Sometimes those points in our life are exciting, but mostly they are just plain terrifying. Perhaps that is why we’re so reluctant to let go. We don’t know what we don’t know or haven’t experienced before. We may want to move ahead but the fear of the unknown cripples us. We may even believe that letting go is the best thing for us, but when our lives bring us to that precipice of change we’re never sure we can actually do it.
The scripture I used in Part 1 was from John 14-17 where Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for the end of His earthly life. They are being asked to let go of Him – His physical presence in their lives. And what He has for them to receive is His Holy Spirit. This is most definitely a growth point for His disciples. They were about to carry on His ministry. They were about to establish His church in the world. Everything that they had watched Him do over the past three years was now their job, their responsibility. Now THAT’s scary!
But Jesus didn’t leave them empty-handed. He didn’t just yank off the training wheels and say to each of them, “Good luck, kid!” No, He gave them His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was going to run alongside them as they learned to balance, pedal and brake. He would hold them up when they were too weak or inexperienced to do it on their own. He would never leave their side. He would always be there to protect them, dust them off after they fell, and help them get back on the bike even when they wanted to quit.
We read about Jesus giving them this gift in John 20:19-23. This is right after Jesus resurrection when He first appears to the disciples. It is on the evening of the first Easter Sunday. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”
There is one key word of this text that is important not to miss. Jesus tells the disciples, “Receive.” In fact in the original Greek text it is a command that can also be translated, “Take!” The same word is used when at the Last Supper Jesus tells His disciples “Take and eat” or “Take this cup.” (Matt. 26:26, Mark 14:22; Luke 22:17)
What God has been teaching me about letting go is that it is a two-step process. It is not just a matter of loosening my grip on whatever I have been hanging onto. It is also about receiving from Him what He has for me. He wants us to… “Take!” what He is giving us.
Imagine sitting at the Last Supper with Jesus and you are the one reclining next to Him at the table. He blesses the bread breaks it in half and hands you one of the halves. He says to you, “Take and eat; this is my body. Break off a piece and then hand it to Andrew.” Imagine nodding politely, smiling at Him and saying, “No, thank you. I had a falafel for lunch and I’m stuffed.” Unimaginable, right?! We would never think of declining something that came from His very hand. But, have we?
When we brought home the brand new Elena Princess dress from Disneyland my grandniece was uncomfortable about it. She felt really bad that someone had taken the other dress. She was also concerned that her great grandma was going to feel bad since she was the one who had bought that dress for her and even hemmed it up for her so it would fit better. Even though we assured her that her great grandma would not be upset, with all of the emotions tied to losing the other dress, it was hard for her to take in this brand new one as her own. It can be hard sometimes to take in something new especially when the circumstances are emotionally impactful.
God has shown me times where I have not received the gifts He has given me. At times it has been a kind word from someone that I have just not let penetrate my heart. At times it has been a lavish gift of someone’s time, attention or expertise. At times it has been an opportunity to uniquely use my own skills or abilities. While I may have experienced these things, gone through all the motions, and even been thankful for them I never really took them in as my own. I never took possession of them. I never consumed them as if they were gifts of my very own to keep.
When God brings us to these places of growth in our lives it is important that we complete both steps. That we thoroughly let go of the old, release our white-knuckled grip and open our hands to receive. And when He gives us what He has for us that we fully take it in and embrace it. That we consume it and make it ours. Like a trapeze artist, we can keep swinging on our bar, but until we let go and grab on to the next swing we are never going to move forward.
The disciples had to take in the Holy Spirit in order to carry on the ministry that was ahead for them. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be referring to these verses in scripture. The same is true for the plans that God has written for each of us. There will be many points in our journey where it will be time for us to take our next step of growth. We have to trust God not only in the process of letting go but also in the process of taking in. The best part is, the same gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave to His disciples, He has also given to us. We do not have to fear letting go of that trapeze. The Holy Spirit has us in His grip and will always be there with us.
Lord, thank you that You have made us to grow and mature. Even though that may not be our favorite thing about being human it is good. You are always good to us. Forgive me for the times I have been reluctant to let go and trust You. Forgive me for the times that I have not taken in the amazing gifts that You have given me. Help me to keep my hands open to You so that You will be glorified. Thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit in my life. I love you, Father. In Your Son’s precious name, amen.