22 Mar On Letting Go
There’s a stunning bouquet of spring flowers on my dining room table. It pops with bloom and color, a perfect personification of the vibrant life this season ushers in. But in this moment, even though they’re elegant and sweet and lovely to look at, I find them conceited. They are alive with the health of spring, while my reality is stuck in winter. I’m sick again, this time with some random phlegmtastic menace, and I can’t help being discouraged.
My body has let me down a lot lately. Along with this inconvenient cold, I’ve had random, unexplained health issues, and not only is there no obvious answer, there is no obvious solution. As a person who thrives on exposing problems and identifying the appropriate resolution, this is infuriating. My body is betraying me. Where once I would have placed hope in my youth, or healthy eating habits, or the marvels of modern medicine, I’m left empty-handed, up the creek without a paddle with the waters of despair knocking against my boat.
Compared to the magnitude of illness that countless face, my problems are minor, more inconvenient than detrimental. But what I’m finding to be true about suffering—regardless of reason or weight or depth—is its knack for exposing what our hearts are holding on to. You see to my core, it’s incredibly difficult to admit something is not right. That I can’t perform at my normal capacity. That sometimes, I’m not capable of finding the answer. That actually, I’m not in control. Suffering reveals that I am not God. And to be honest, I don’t like that.
“But what I’m finding to be true about suffering—regardless of reason or weight or depth—is its knack for exposing what our hearts are holding on to.”
Unlike Jesus and Paul, I am not well acquainted with suffering. Though I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, my life is flooded with the relative comforts 21st century Western middle class affords. In this world, suffering is abnormal, something to be feared. But Paul did not fear suffering. Instead, he embraced it, and welcomed it as opportunity. And it’s not because he was some uber righteous superhuman; he was simply following the example of Jesus. Jesus didn’t cling to the justified comforts of his divinity. Instead in humble dependence he willingly chose to suffer so that my eternal reality would not be one of suffering.
“In this world, suffering is abnormal, something to be feared. But Paul did not fear suffering.”
When I read this passage in Philippians 2, a memory comes to mind. I’m four, maybe five, and I’ve just stuck my hand into the crystal candy dish on the counter. I’m not supposed to have the M&Ms, I know, but my fingers lock around the chocolate like a vice. At this moment, as in all classic hand in the cookie jar stories, my mother walks in. I slip my hand behind my back, gripping the candy so tight the colors start to ooze onto my sweaty palm. I’m sure I got in trouble. But it’s the grip, the clinging that I remember.
I’m certain my mother had to physically pry my grubby little fingers off those M&Ms. No way was I loosening my grip willingingly. Perhaps this is what God is doing with suffering. He’s simply prying our hands open, removing whatever item we’ve placed our trust in, and transferring our grip onto Himself. How lovely would it be if in these moments, instead of clenching my fist around my capability and wallowing in self-pity when it fails, I simply wrapped my fingers tightly around Jesus, like the sick woman grasped at Jesus’ cloak, or like a child clings to a parent’s hand when crossing the street.
“Perhaps this is what God is doing with suffering. He’s simply prying our hands open, removing whatever item we’ve placed our trust in, and transferring our grip onto Himself.”
Jesus let go of ultimate peace, ultimate wholeness, to face dirt, shame, ridicule, and death on my behalf. Surely, surely I can release my hold on my obsessive desire to be in control, to find the right answer. When faced with suffering, whether health or heartache, I pray my response will match the words of this well-sung hymn:
Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling, naked, come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace: foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Abby Moore Keith
Abby is the lucky wife of Sam Keith, and works as a nanny and writer for TOWN Magazine. She fulfills her millennial stereotype by frequenting artsy coffee shops, listening to obscure music, eating local, and chasing new outdoor adventures, currently manifested in the form of rock climbing. Abby attends our Downtown campus.