Handing over what is not mine, or, Learning to let go

I was up worrying the other night.  It happens.  Worry is a spiritual gift I received from my mother, and I have worked hard to perfect that which was passed on to me.  I also work not to pass it on to my daughter, but I worry that I am failing in that.

Anyway, I was worrying the other night when what I really wanted to be doing was falling asleep.  It was the end of a long day, the house was quiet, all other living creatures under our roof were asleep, and there I was, worrying.  Someone once defined worry as “misuse of the imagination.”  Yes, it is.  Finally my desire to sleep won over my need to worry, and I decided to hand it all over to Jesus.

Now I really don’t consider myself that kind of Jesus person.  I usually don’t hand it over to the Lord, nor do I think that he walks with me or talks with me in the “In the Garden” sort of way.  My prayers tend to be to God, not to Jesus.  I mean, I’m good with him, but I do like to keep my distance.  But that night I decided I really needed to hand it all over to him.  So I pictured what I was handing over, and it was a spherical-shaped thing, a tangle of worries that might best be represented by barbed wire, lima beans, the insoles of my daughter’s summer Keens, and all those random electronic cables you stick in a drawer because you have no idea what they’re for.  Roll all that up into a ball, and those were the worries I wanted to hand over to Jesus.  Lucky him.

So I did.  In my mind’s eye I pictured handing him this messy, sharp bundle, and I pictured him taking it.  And then a funny thing happened.  As soon as he took it, it turned into a beach ball- one of those big plastic, colors-in-pennant-shapes beach balls.  It was like he was taking all my worries so very lightly, like he was saying, “Hey, I know there’s stuff that’s getting you down but I think we should go play on the beach.”

What the hell, Jesus?

Okay, not really.

But somehow, it worked.  He took my ball of lima beans and barbed wire and turned it into a beach ball and I fell asleep.  Not only that, but that night I dreamed I was about to marry George Clooney.  (I did confess that to my husband the next day and assured him that George Clooney was no match for him.)

The next day I had coffee with a friend who is a 12-stepper.  I am remarkably proud of her, and often inspired by the rigorous and truthful way she looks at her own living.  We talked about whatever step it is where you let go and let God, and she talked about the deep meaning the serenity prayer has for her.  While I listened, I was having my own internal conversation about letting go and the whole Jesus-turned-my-worry-into-a-beach-ball thing.  Here’s where I ended up.

Sometimes, in order to sleep, in order to get the rest our bodies, minds, and souls need, we have to let it go.  (Apologies for cueing that particular song.)  It’s not always ours to keep, the things we worry about.  But sometimes, after that rest, we take some of it back.  Some of it is mine to carry, or to deal with, or to wrestle with.  But maybe when I take it back, there are fewer lima beans and more grains of sand.

a-beach-ball-ron-dahlquist

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Help me, Baby Jesus- you’re my only hope!

stormtrooper-costumes-christmas-coupleA few recent conversations have gotten me to thinking about the large Load of Expectations people carry around with them this season. It’s a bit crazy making, really.  Here are a few:

That I will purchase The Perfect Gift for a someone in my life, and they will love it so much.

That our gathering (family or friends, co-workers, girlfriends, whomever) will be perfect, the stuff of catalog stock photos.  Everyone will say it was the best holiday party ever.

That I will preach the perfect Christmas Eve sermon -or- the church service I attend will renew my faith/inspire me to sell all my goods and give to the poor/make everything that is wrong in my life or the world right.

That the dinner I prepare will make the judges on Top Chef cry with jealousy.

You get the picture.  We need to tone it down because:

You probably cannot afford the perfect gift or there is no way you have time to find the perfect gift.  It is the giving that is important here, and if the recipient of your present doesn’t know that, it’s on them and not on you.

Your gathering will not perfect.  Your family will likely not all get along, and someone might be sullen and someone might drink too much and not in the good way and someone will be disappointed.  Your friends might cancel at the last moment because their kid is throwing up or because they can’t do one more thing.

Something will go wrong with your dinner – the turkey might be overcooked (which, admittedly, is better than being undercooked). The person in charge of the wine might bring something dreadful.  The souffle might fall.

So let me ask: why are we doing all of this?

If you are a religious person, particularly a religious person who identifies with the Jesus people, you are doing this for Jesus and not for anyone else.  So if you think Jesus will be disappointed with you because you did not give your father-in-law the matching tie and pocket square that he wanted, you are wrong.  Jesus does not care about the presents you give or receive.  The Wise Men thing?  About honoring a king, not about making Mary and Joseph happy that the neighbors did the right thing.

If you are not a religious person, there could be many reasons you are doing this.  I am a religious person and always have been, so I’m not entirely sure.  But you might be joining in on all the holiday stuff because the sun sets too early and rises too late in this season and you need to add a little cheer to the gray dreary days.  You may be doing the holiday thing because you have time off from work and everyone else is doing it.  You may be doing it because you think it adds some good to a world that’s hurting.

Here is what I know:

That some people will be disappointed no matter what.  They have unrealistic expectations of you, or of the church, or of this season.  You are not responsible for their disappointment.

And some people will be sad or depressed in this season no matter how much cheer and twinkly lights surround them.  They have good reason to be sad.  They’re not getting enough vitamin D this time of year.  This is their first Christmas without their beloved and frankly, it sucks.  They are staring down cancer or ALS and wondering if this December is their last.  Their family won’t fight because their family won’t be together, for whatever reason.

The world is a mess and our country is a mess and that’s always been the case.  There has never been a time when everything was okay.  Everything will not be okay this Christmas, and to expect that it will be is to set yourself up for disappointment.  But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some good in the midst of the sad.  That doesn’t mean there can’t be some hope in the midst of all that is dreary and awful.

For some of us, Baby Jesus is our only hope – the hope that God did not give up on the world when it was a mess but instead came to the world because it was a mess in order to start getting it cleaned up a little.  If you’re doing all this because you’re a religious person, you might want to keep that in mind.

I suppose others find hope in other place – in the potential of good in the human heart, in that long arc of history that bends every so slowly toward justice, hope that there have been cures and ceasefires and confessions and pardons and there will be again.

Maybe Leonard Cohen said it best:

Ring the bells that can still ring.SONY DSC

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Sometimes there are no words

angel weepingSometimes there are no words for the things that human beings do to each other.

Sometimes there are no words to express our horror, or our sadness, or our fear.

Because we humans are capable of being so very inhuman. We forget that we have minds that allow us to think before acting. We forget that we were created to love. We forget that we don’t have to go through this alone, but we have friends and strangers who will help us get through the rough spots.

At the end of his life, Jesus had very few words. “I thirst.” “Forgive them.” “It is finished.” But in those few words he spoke there was no hatred. There was no blame. There was no judgment. There was pain in his words, of course. He had been in physical agony as he died. His spirit was in agony, too, wondering if God had left him there.

But at his core, Jesus was love, and so even in the pain of his dying, love shone through.

At his core, was Jesus expressing his human side, or was he expressing the God part of him? Because if he was expressing his Godliness, then there is no expectation that we should show love whenever we are in pain. But if it was his humanity showing, if that was Jesus the man who loved even at the end, well then, we are not off the hook.

Sometimes there is only one word that will get us through this life, and that word is love.