Letting go is hard to do.
by Rita Platt
“He’s gone.” On a beautiful fall morning I awoke to words that threw me into a nightmare. My teenage son was gone, missing by choice. That moment turned into hours, then weeks, and even months with no communication. To my surprise, the world kept spinning; I hoped to keep breathing. Questions plagued me: Why? I don’t understand. What did I do wrong? I begged, “Please help me, God. I don’t know how to do this. I’m at the end of my rope.”
Help came in the form of Bible verses I thought I knew the kind I would buy as framed art. I demanded answers from God, but His words in Isaiah 40 confronted and comforted me at the same time. Through them He asked questions of me, questions that would ultimately answer my deepest need and send me soaring, questions that showed God wanted me to release the rope.
- Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary. . . . He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall (Isaiah 40:28-30).
I answered, “I do know You, Lord; I have heard of Your renown. I have seen Your glory in creationl. But right now I’m living in a fog of spiritual amnesia. I vacillate between believing You can help me and wondering if You will.”
Even as I confessed my fear, I sensed mercy. God reminded me that He wasn’t sleeping, taken by surprise, or shocked when my son disappeared. He was still the Creator of the universe. My son’s behavior did not diminish His power or render Him helpless.
I begged for wisdom. What I heard in response from God took my breath away. “Release him, Rita; let him go. My hands are big enough.”
Over the next few months, I engaged in a spiritual tug-of-war. At times I almost allowed myself the relief of letting go, but clung instead to my end of the rope. I persistently prolonged my desperate search for answers.
Understanding and trust
- His understanding no one can fathom (v. 28b).
God asked, “Whose understanding are you relying on?”
I circumvented the question and cried, “But God, I don’t get it. What happened? Why would he do this?” I analyzed recent conversations with my son, searching for clues that would help me make sense of it all. I thought if I could understand his desertion or explain it, the load would somehow become more bearable.
God continued to probe my heart as another well-known verse scrolled across my mind:
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
I’d sung the words of this verse from memory again and again. Now I needed to sing them by heart. Would I lean into the Lord or rely on my own understanding?
With this question came the realization of the truth that lurked beneath my longing to understand. By trying to gain comprehension, I was really looking to gain some control over my pain. I kept the rope firmly gripped in my hands and attempted to hang on to the idea that I could find a way to fix everything.
I stood face to face with my lack of faith. As long as I preserved some illusion of control, I could trust the Lord. But what about when I felt completely helpless? I could feel God beginning to pry my raw fingers from the rope.
- But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31a).
“Where is your hope, Rita?” God asked.
My hope was spread thin, like the fraying ends of the rope that seemed fused with my hands. I hoped I’d find my son. I drove around, white knuckles clutching the steering wheel, searching for a glimpse of his face. I canvassed the local mall with a permanent knot in my stomach, longing to see him and fearing that I might. I relied on myself, my ability to climb back up the rope and restore order to my chaotic world. I trusted in my son, that he would come to his senses.
I depended on other well-meaning believers, that their prayers might be more answerable than mine. Some Christians spoke words of encouragement, and others tried to convince me that control of the rope was within my grasp. They said that if I would only confess some outstanding sin, God would let go of the other end of the rope and all would be well.
God did encourage me through other believers, yet my hope wasn’t in Him. Though it seemed like mere semantics, there was a wide gulf between accepting encouragement from Him through others and hanging on for dear life to whatever morsel of advice came my way.
Right side up
Though I waited for the day my son would “get it,” I couldn’t trust in him to get it but only in God to get him. My faith was upside down, like expecting a horse to trot on its back. I was beginning to see that turning my world right side up meant placing all my hope in my heavenly Father. And that would require letting go.
My strength would never be enough to keep an eternal hold on life. Truth seeped into my bones, and my worn hands looked for a way to relax their grip.
- They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (v. 31b).
I prayed, “Oh God, if only I knew how to soar. Please show me.”
He turned my attention to the eagle. Eagles don’t flap their wings violently, trying to stay aloft; they glide majestically. They abide in the air currents with confidence. In my anxiousness, I grappled and pulled on my rope with a determination born of desperation. I couldn’t find a way to rise on the wings of grace and fly.
Again I heard “Let go.”
Silence and strength
- “But how, Lord?” I asked. I searched the Bible for some kind of muscle relaxant and found it in Lamentations 3:
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear (vv. 28, 29, The Message).
“Enter the silence”? But there I couldn’t writhe and gasp for air and moan while I struggled to hang on. There I might be powerless and out of control. Yet where else could I go?
Shaking, I drew a deep breath and quietly bowed. God held me there. Bathed in His goodness, I received the courage to let go and free the rope from my frenzied grasp. To my surprise, I didn’t crash to the ground. Instead, I entered a free-fall into the everlasting arms. As He cradled me, God bandaged each wound with a skillful tenderness. Then He carried me to a spacious place of strength and hope that was independent of my circumstances.
Months later my son returned, only to move out again. Externally, life sometimes looked like a battlefield, but inwardly I had peace. The desperate need to explain and control was replaced with an abiding trust that encompassed my tears and gave me strength to endure the pain.
When my son disappeared, I thought life was over. Bruised and bleeding, I gripped the end of my rope with a hopeless urgency. Yet God gently questioned me through His Word and revealed the true thoughts of my heart. He took me from a muscle-cramping hold on life to a silent release.
At first glance, surrender seemed like an act of defeat a waving of the white flag. But in silence I experienced letting go as a beautiful act. Through His power I emerged still following Jesus, still knowing He is God, and soaring in the current of the truth that He alone is enough.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.