What happens when we let go?
Every so often a friend or parishioner tells me that they admire my faith or my closeness to God, and to be honest, I feel like an imposter because my faith or closeness to God is no nearer than that of anyone else. What I do have, however, is a perspective on faith that has changed over time. The faith in God that I now possess is not the same faith I had growing up, or even when I was ordained as an Anglican minister, for it is a faith that has been purified by fire. I was recently asked by a friend how to cling to faith when life is excruciatingly difficult, and my advice was to let go. Now, before you think I am advocating turning away from faith in a time of crisis, let me explain.
There was a time when things began to go wrong in my life, very wrong. I remember joking with my counsellor that things could not get any worse, and then they did, again and again. When I got to my lowest ebb my mental health deteriorated. I suffered from debilitating anxiety, depression, and I self harmed — the physical pain being preferable to the constant emotional and mental pain — and I remember, on one occasion, driving down a remote road and thinking I could plunge my car into a lake or drive into an oncoming articulated lorry. My friends and church family told me to hang in there and cling onto God, but I simply could not, and so, I let go.
Christians errantly heaped guilt onto me and quoted Bible verses such as, “God will not let you suffer anything more than you can bear,” but I can tell you that this is not true. We can and do suffer trials in life that are far more than we can bear, and it is very possible to get to a point where your faith is tested to the point where you give up. I am not saying that my letting go of God was the best course of action, but I had no choice in the matter. When you are in the pit of despair you can see no light, no hope, and no way of escape, however, as I slowly emerged from that desperate period of my life, I made a remarkable discovery. Despite my inability to cling to God, God was clinging on to me. God had never let me go.
Since that experience, I have tried to theologise or rationalise how this could be the case, because if one thing is sure and certain, it is that giving up on faith should not draw one into a deeper and more profound relationship with God, but it did. I do not have a definitive answer but I think that what happened was because, when I gave my life to Christ, or when we found each other, we made a deal. I put my trust in God, and God the Holy Trinity said that they would never leave me nor forsake me. At my lowest ebb, I could not hold up my end of the bargain but God could and did. It was perhaps the most astounding and miraculous thing to ever happen to me, and a revelation that changed my life and ministry forever, for it meant that I no longer had to try to do anything or be anything. My faith was no longer built on any doctrine or idea, and did not depend on me in any way, shape, or form. I no longer had to work at my faith or even try. My faith now exists because God is.
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and as I reflect on how the emptying of myself led to my salvation, I think about how Jesus made that possible by the emptying of himself for all humanity. His life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate expression of God’s love for us, and we, as a church, are called to share and model that love to others. I hope and pray that this is what our church community will be; a safe place; a community of misfits that fit together and who journey with each other. No judgement. No pressure. No guilt. No shame. Just love.
This Eastertide, I pray that whether you cling to God or not, that you will somehow know that you are being clung to; that, although you may be physically alone, you are not alone because we, and God, are journeying with you. I will leave you with these words from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and was born as a human being. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above all other names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”