Letting Go

Category: Monthly Reflection

simplicity www.photopoly.net

My British grandmother lived very simply on her widow’s pension in the house she shared with her daughter who worked long hours in a factory. Nan tended her small garden with loving care, knitted socks and gloves and sewed aprons for Christmas gifts, and always in one of the socks she hid half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) for each of us, her grandchildren. She saved all year since this was a lot of money in those days. She read murder mysteries in books she got from the library and created a word to describe political, social and religious insincerity – grarm. I think she would use it often today in the context of the digital age, big corporations, political fund raising and the unabated messages to have more. Our contemporary acquisitive Western culture which bombards us with urgent messages to buy would shock Nan beyond words. She lived through two world wars at a time when neighbor helped neighbor to survive and live minimally mostly by what each could grow and share.

I have spent enough time in Third World countries to know that I live a life of privilege and abundance but I am a child of this age. I want more – clothes, restaurant meals, and entertainment – though I know that none of these things will ever be enough as long as I am discontented with my life. Recently I put my house on the market in anticipation of moving to a smaller living space. I will be exchanging my house with its 2,500 square feet for an apartment of 800 square feet, which means that I have been letting go of things that will not fit in the new space. In the process of giving away furniture and other household items I notice a new lightness and joy. It has not been hard,  though I can’t say that about letting go of my plumber who came a few days ago to fix a leaking faucet. This man has served promptly and faithfully for twenty two years, always with a smile and when I have not been able to be present when he came I have left him my key. He has been utterly trustworthy and generous with his time. Letting go of sofa, table, rugs and shelving was a blessing but I almost cried when I said goodbye to Ron because he became for me a counter-cultural icon of contentment with his life, much like my grandmother.

At the heart of the Christian tradition is the posture of letting go of any encumbrance that keeps us from living life to its fullest. The Greek word “kenosis” is used of the life of Jesus who let go of the expectations placed on him by religious and secular culture, and even his family, in order to be true to his understanding of God’s way. In chapter two of the letter written to the church in Philippi there is a section which describes his downwardly mobile journey to execution and posits ultimate triumph in the commonwealth of God. Letting go was his message. When Jesus sent the disciples out to carry on his teaching and healing ministry he told them to go without money, extra clothing or food and to trust in the faithfulness of God (and generous people) to supply their needs. His message was far from the prosperity gospel espoused by some TV evangelists who live luxuriously at the expense of their followers. In the fourth gospel Jesus spoke of life in its fullness and says that this is why he called others to follow him not to a life of diminishment but joy in God.

We could point to leaders in other religious traditions who have, in a similar way, embraced a life of simplicity and radical letting go of reputation for the sake of truth and see that they too lived lives of fullness. I am grateful for the circumstances that have led me to this time of letting go but I know that Jesus invites me to a deeper relinquishment that goes beyond things. What really matters to me? What do I actually need as opposed to hankering after? Where does ego drive my decisions? How do I care for the earth and all God’s creatures? There is a lot of grarm around in these days and I want to question it and see it for what it is.  Perhaps you have experiences or practical suggestions for addressing our “must have” culture and ways of following Thoreau’s advice to “Simplify, simplify.” I invite your responses to this article especially to the idea of kenosis in the 21st century.


Liz Canham