By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
I often notice car bumper stickers saying ‘One Day at a Time’, and ‘Take it Easy’. One of my favorite bumper stickers is ‘Letting Go and Letting God’.
Popularized by the 12-step movements. this phrase reminds us that excessive striving and drivenness is damaging to our health, our families, and our inner lives.
Our North American culture is becoming more and more frantic and fear-bound, especially in our shaky economic and political context. Is it little wonder that A.A. teaches us that the first step to sanity is to admit that we are powerless over our problems and that our lives have become unmanageable? This admission of powerlessness is very humbling to our ego. It is a real death to our illusions of grandiosity and immortality
The 3rd Step to sanity is making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. The heart of Step 3 is ‘Letting Go and Letting God’. Most of us put enormous energy into remaining in control of our own private lives. The idea of surrendering control to anyone, let alone God, can be enormously threatening. Yet the act of surrender can be the most healing step that we may ever take.
The heart of spirituality, in fact, is surrendering our will and lives to God who really cares for us. As Jesus was hanging in agony on the cross, he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. Such a surrender can be our choice one day at a time. Either we commit our lives daily into God’s hands, or we commit our lives into our own hands. Either God ends up at the centre of our lives, or our self ends up at the centre. There is no greater disease than finding one’s self at the centre, the essence of self-centeredness. As Dr. E. Stanley Jones puts it, anything that leaves you at the centre is off-centre.
Self-centeredness is rather like bad breath or body odor. Everyone knows about it but yourself, though you can certainly detect in other people. I have discovered that the heart of my problems in life is not usually other people. Rather it is my own self-centeredness. As a teenager, I tried to live life seeking my own personal happiness. I was never unhappier. I have learnt the hard way that happiness is a by-product of serving others and caring for others in a Christ-like way.
The A.A. Big Book has a passion for honesty as a key to sanity and sobriety. In one section, it ironically comments that blaming others and anger is a luxury that alcoholics cannot afford. You cannot indulge bitterness and finger-pointing and stay sober. The truth, of course, is that none of us can indulge self-centered blaming of others, and stay healthy. Bitterness always eats the bitter person alive.
“The deepest necessity of human nature”, says Dr. E. Stanley Jones, “is to surrender itself to something, or someone, beyond itself. Your self in your own hands is a problem and pain; your self in the hands of God is a possibility and power.” Why is it so hard to let go and let God? Why does our ego so often fight self-surrender with all its might? Because self-surrender is choosing to die to the false self, the self-centered way of living, that the true self might live for the sake of others. “Fears, worries, anxieties, and resentments”, says Dr. Jones, “are all roots in the unsurrendered self.”
Letting go is to surrender to creative love. Letting go is to align ourselves with God’s healing peace in our lives. Letting go is learning to stop and smell the coffee, enjoy the sunsets, rejoice in our children. Letting go is all about learning to slow down in our pressure-cooker world. Dr. Jones comments that ‘the surrendered are quietly creative and actually produce twice as much as the unsurrendered with all their fussy activity.” You may have heard of the old expression: ‘The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get’.
As Bob Dylan once wrote, ‘you gotta serve somebody…It may be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody’. The choice is ours one day at a time. We may choose to surrender to fear, to pride, to money, to resentment, to popularity, or we can choose to surrender to God who really cares for us. My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us may learn to slow down, let go, and let God.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
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