The Extravagance of Advent … in Letting Go
Part 3 of a weekly Advent blog written by Doug Kelley and Ted Wueste
Advent reminds us that extravagance and abundance come in unexpected packages. Sometimes those packages are bright, shiny, tied with ribbon. We anxiously wait as they sit under the tree or peek out of our stockings waiting for the time to be opened. (True confessions. One of my [Doug] guilty pleasures was watching our young children wait to open their presents while I readied the “adult” part of the morning – fixing freshly ground coffee and warming delectable morsels to snack on during our gift opening ritual.) And, sometimes those packages come in surprising shapes or forms. So surprising that we may struggle at first to see them as gifts. The key lies in waiting for their giftedness to emerge. In fact, some of our most memorable gifts may not have seem like gifts at all when we received them, but
up being something that changed our lives in a significant way. In this sense, Advent is about waiting for the gift to emerge, surrendering our expectations, and letting go. endedd
For most of us, we’ve been led to think that “the good life” is about having what we want now (not waiting), conquering (not surrendering), and getting what we can while we can (not letting go). The ancient psalm writer called this way of thinking: “striving” (Ps. 46). When the world doesn’t make sense, often our instincts are to push ahead, to fight, to go for it … to strive.
In that same Psalm, God is presented as the Lord of Hosts. The word “host” might conjure images of hospitality, but the ancient word “host” speaks of angel armies. It is an image intended to conjure hope of God’s power and resources. The idea is that we can stop striving because God is powerful, at work, present with us. That’s the good news. The other news (let’s not call it “bad” news) is that we’re now on God’s timetable, which often means waiting and letting go of our expectations.
We (Doug and Ted) have shared about our common experience with cancer and stem cell transplant over the last few years. When the “c” word gets mentioned, it strikes fear into the strongest of people. The temptation is to fight, to strive, to do anything to remove the difficult situation. However, there is a different path. While it is fashionable to talk about “fighting” cancer and, of course, understandable to want to take things into our own hands and “fix this mess,” what if we are being invited into a space that let’s God do the fighting, the fixing? Of course, none of us wants to receive cancer, but if we wait and watch we may eventually see certain gifts emerge. I (Ted) had a clear sense that the battle was not mine to fight. It was in God’s hands. It was a gift to wait with Him, surrender to His goodness, and let go of trying to make things happen. And, I (Doug) saw this time as one of journey, with God, toward uncertain outcomes, a gift to quiet my heart and journey with God more deeply.
As we discussed in our last post, waiting can be life giving. Letting go is part of what makes waiting life giving. As we wait, we can become aware of fears, impulses, and difficult emotions and, over time, let them go.
The invitation to let go isn’t just about letting go of the hard stuff, it is about being present to what is already there. It represents a significant shift in how we see God and ourselves. Instead of thinking we need more of God or more faith or more hope, we begin to realize that we already have all we need.
Ephesians 1:3 tells us that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, and 2 Peter 1:3 reminds us that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. The challenge is to let go of strategies (like striving and fighting) that may obscure our view of God’s presence and how He is with us, now. As we release those things that we do in the hopes of fixing our lives, we become able to see and fully access the reality of life with God. Remarkably, we find that when we are able to see Him, we become like him (I Jn 3: 2-3).
Meister Eckhardt said that growth occurs “not by addition, but subtraction.” Could this be why the psalmist in Psalm 46 writes, “Be still (cease striving), and know that I am God.” As we let go of our strivings, the subtraction (the letting go) leads us to see what we always sensed was there. God isn’t prodded into action by fervent prayer nor persuaded with right words. He is always with us (Emmanuel). And perhaps as we unwrap the remarkable gift of his presence, tossing off all the ribbons and wrappings and bows that we use to dress up our faith and make it look glittery under the tree, we shall see him “as he is” and be transformed (I Jn 3:2) from death into life.
Brother Sean Glenn (SSJE) notes: “By our holy waiting we will learn to rely on God, who alone has the power to change our minds. For if it is God to whom we surrender the final word about ourselves, we will come to know that this thing that feels like death is actually the way into Life itself.”
Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see me as you do so that I can see you as you are. And then, give me strength that let go of what obscures my vision so that I can see you clearly. Amen.
Question for reflection: What might you release? Is there something that you might let go so that you are able to see Him as He is?
Reflect on the words of Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Sit with those words and repeat them slowly until they sink down into your heart.