Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Let Go, Let God

God uses failure to bring us to brokenness,
to force us back to a posture of dependence.
--Seth Barnes

Have you ever had an experience with people so difficult that it actually becomes easy?

You meet each other; you start talking.  You get to a point where you realize you cannot connect to them through any mechanism you may normally use.  You cannot find any natural points of congruency.  Perhaps you are driven to the brink of frustration.  Nothing you do works to find common ground or reconcile differences.  You realize: I am not going to change them, and they are not going to change me.

You simply run out of options and then something amazing happens:

You throw your proverbial hands up in the air and simply let go.

You let go of all your needs--your expectations, your demands, your codependent dynamics, your impulse to steer the relationship to go in a certain direction.  

You resign yourself to let it be whatever it is going to be.  Perhaps in a half-comical way, you simply accept each other as you are, because you just know you are so completely and totally different.

In other words, you get out of God's way.

Wise people say the ego needs to fail in exactly this way.  It is like hitting rock bottom and knowing in your bones that you are at the end of your supply chain.  It is the desperate plea of the Psalmist who realizes that s/he is ultimately powerless and dependent on God alone.  That stance of complete and total reliance on God--rather than our own power--is the place of spiritual communion with God. 

You can say that we live the Christian life on our knees.

Two egos can lock horns and fight almost endlessly.  When someone is depleted, they may pause--but after a rest, they invariably resume locking horns.  This can go on for years, and each party will convince itself of the value of his/her position and the necessity of standing ground in this fashion.  After all, wars are rarely won when one side becomes convinced of the other's rightness. Wars are more about exterminating and exhausting the other but never about change-of-heart.

Grace appears--through epiphany or sheer exhaustion--when this method absolutely and totally fails in a way that is abundantly clear.

It can be excruciating.  You are pushed to your limits.  So much of what you have invested in has failed miserably.

It can also be tremendously freeing.  Your pride was never a part of your true self anyway.

What seems at first like a contradiction is that this very attitude of completely letting go actually forms the foundation for the best kind of relationship--both with yourself and with the other.  It seems like a paradox, but it actually makes good sense.  It is a profound platform for love and affection to flow--the complete absurdity of the relationship has allowed you to shirk all your baggage about relationships, which then allows something miraculous to happen:  You discover a healthy place of self-differentiation--I do not need you to change in order for me to be okay with myself.

You do not experience any affirmation from them in any way that you normally rely on.  As a result, you stand on your own feet in your own shoes simply because there is no crutch available to you.  An amazing paradox:  Living on your knees allows you to stand your ground.

An authentic relationship becomes possible because you let go of your demands on the other person as well as any fantasy about who you or they might be.  You can instead receive the authentic truth of who they are.  This also means accepting the authentic truth of who you are, rather than seeing yourself through the blurred lens of your baggage.  You no longer feel compelled to avoid whatever it is inside of you that is uncomfortable--wounds that are unhealed.

This is one of the many grace-filled ways that the "enemy"--or the stranger, the lost, the misunderstood, the forgotten, the marginalized, the relationship sparring partner--becomes a key to finding ourselves.  This includes anyone in an oppositional position.  No one is excluded in God's Kingdom, because to exclude anyone is to put a barrier to your own self and the work you need to do on your spiritual walk.


Then—and only then—once a relationship is established where you truly respect the person as they are right now, of course, there is a place for giving each other constructive feedback.  There is a time to be a prophetic witness.  But that feedback comes out of genuine respect.  It does not come from yelling at each other based on what we think we know about each other but rather from the genuine care and concern that comes from the lived experience of a relationship.  It does not come from an agenda rooted in fears or being manipulated by our own triggers, nor does it come from painting people into categories with broad brush strokes.

It is a wonderful exercise then to apply this to all relationships--do not put any demands or pressure on each other.  Accept each other becomes your primary stance to anyone.  Sometimes it is easiest to do this with the people who are furthest removed.  Then begins the journey back home with this new revelation--bringing this same mode of healthy self-differentiation, lack of attachment to an agenda, acceptance of each other and calming of our triggers that we have experienced with strangers--back home to coworkers, neighbors, friends and ultimately our family and spouse.  This path back home, in this light, gets harder and harder the closer to "home" you get--because the closer relationships--and their inherent baggage--are much deeper.


This post applies to all relationships, but it might be interesting to think of how it relates to the quest for Christian unity.  Many say that quest for Christian unity has stalled.  We have reached the limits in many cases of what academics can resolve and what hierarchical structures can accommodate.  We know that arguments and wars do not work, and few ecumenists want to return to that method of solving theological differences.  Academic debates today are far kinder and more polite than ever.  In fact, the average church goer might be surprised to find out how well representatives from different denominations get along in this process. 

The real challenge for today, I believe, is learning to be okay and accept each other in our differences.  People are afraid to give up their debates and arguments about each other. We stick our necks out, but only so much.  Whether we are academics, clergy or any other member of a church denominations, what would it means for us to ask ourselves:  Before entering a debate with anyone, how can we begin that dialogue on our knees?  Have we gone through the personal conversion necessary before attempting to broker anyone else's conversion?  Accepting each other--and all that it implies--is not the end of the journey but rather a new beginning. 


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