by Rev. Elaine Dent
As I am writing this, the trees surrounding my house are buzzing with the seventeen-year brood of cicadas. These creatures are fascinating in spite of the fact they manage to land right where I am walking or drown out my outdoor telephone conversations. But most intriguing is how they spend seventeen years underground as nymphs, tunneling and eating in the dark. Then one day, synchronized with all their brood, they know it’s time to tunnel out of the ground. Emerging into light, they climb up and cling tightly to anything vertical, wait while their outer skin (exoskeleton) splits, and finally emerge with red eyes and wings. What must it be like for these creatures to let go of their dark tunneling, leave their too-small skins behind, see light and fly?
The isolation from the pandemic is still fresh in my mind as I slowly emerge again into public spaces. I spent the first part of the pandemic adjusting to what I had to let go for the sake of everyone’s safety. We all can name so many things that we let go; much of it was difficult, painful and even tragic. Mine was not being able to see my elderly father in his residential facility for almost a year, until one day I could finally visit him in the hospital a week before he died. I also have heard people say they discovered new opportunities because of what the pandemic forced them to let go. I was able to read some wonderful books, live six quality-time months with my grandchildren to help with their schooling, and discover that phone conversations with people were diving deeper than many pre-pandemic discussions. What we let go in the pandemic in some cases allowed us to experience certain things in new and positive ways.
As we follow and listen to Jesus, it is not long before we hear him talk about things we need to let go and leave behind in order to step into a new way of living in our relationship with him and others. His “letting go” invitation seems rather drastic at times. For example, there was that young man (Mark 10: 17-31) who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. After a bit of discussion, Jesus “loved him” and invited him to be one of his disciples. But first he needed to let go of his wealth and give it away to the poor. What an invitation! And my goodness, what a letting go!! I know that I would have turned away sadly like the young man. I would need time to consider.
However, if we are to keep growing in our relationship with Jesus, then letting go is a lifetime process. Step by step, Jesus invites us to let go of things that get in the way of our loving him and loving others. Sometimes that means we have to leave some of our old skins behind. Here’s an example. One of the skins Jesus has been asking me to leave behind is my defensiveness, my need to be right, my wanting to do it perfectly, my negative (mostly internal) criticism when something is not right—a rather inflexible skin of perfectionism that shows up in a number of ways. Stepping out of that skin is hard and is not a once and done thing like it is for the cicada, because it pervades a lot of activities and relationships in my life. I have been spending much of the pandemic learning to recognize and let go of that old shell. I haven’t left it behind yet, but I am beginning to gratefully discover the beauty of God’s grace and love filling in the spaces where and when I am able to admit I am lacking and need help.
How do we know what our old skins are? How can we practice letting go in order to love God and others more? Here is one suggestion for a daily practice:
Take a few quiet minutes, perhaps in the evening, to review the day with God. Ask God to show you where you were most able to give or receive love that day. When you think of something, breathe in and remember the flowing of God’s love in that situation. Breathe out your gratitude. After several breaths and when you are ready, ask when in the day you were least able to give or receive love? Then ask if there is something you need to let go so that God’s love can flow more freely. If so, ask God for help. Several times breathe in God’s healing grace and breathe out your gratitude for God’s renewing love. If you continue this practice over weeks and months, you might notice old-skin patterns in yourself and new ways that God is calling and helping you to change.
May God bless us as we grow in the practice of letting go and of giving and receiving God’s love. May we all leave a trail of old skins behind us.