Day 27 – Releasing
To put it simply, releasing is not easy. As move away from the certainty that we have things figured out (even our own lives), humble trust and dependence may feel like it doesn’t quite fit. What has worked and “fit” for so long are our attachments to strategies, things, personas, and even other people that we are now being invited to release. These attachments have seemed to protect us and give us certainty or control. However, in the wilderness, the illusions are now gone, and we begin to see that our attachments have really just protected us from love and deepening trust. Most often, those things to which we’ve been attached are not evil in and of themselves but when we rely upon them to provide in ways that only God can, we begin to see the problem. We may begin to notice the presence of disordered attachments, or disordered loves.
As we enter into releasing, we may begin to notice that what we believed we controlled is actually controlling us. The stripping down and loss is painful, and yet can function in a way that allows us to “detox.” As we encounter strong negative reactions, we are engaging in the work of confronting those disordered attachments and it may like we’re falling apart. In his book Fire Within, Thomas Dubay observed that much spiritual growth is initially discerned as backsliding. We have to be unmade and dismantled. So, in one sense, we are falling apart. This can be both confusing and painful, but the grace in experiencing those afflictive emotions is that they help us understand what needs to be released.
As the people of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, they dealt with all kinds of strong, afflictive emotional responses. To move from what was “certain” each day back in Egypt (as undesirable as living in bondage was) into this life of depending upon God to lead them was stressful. We must be careful not to downplay the difficulty of transformation … of moving from slave to free. They grumbled, they were afraid, they wept, and they were desperate. (Exodus 17, Numbers 11, 13, 14) In Numbers 14:22, God declared: “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice.”
Thomas Keating, in Invitation to Love, wrote: “As we begin the difficult work of confronting our own unconscious motivations, our emotions can be our best allies. The emotions faithfully respond to what our value system is – not what we would like for it to be, or what we think it is. Our emotions are perfect recorders of what is happening inside; hence they are the key to finding out what our emotional programs for happiness really are.”
The phrase “emotional programs for happiness” is a helpful way to understand how our attachments can be disordered. These are things we’ve always believed will make us happy. So, rather than trying to get rid of troubling emotional responses and reactions, we learn to pay attention to them. In prayer, we ask God to give us discernment. Like lights on the dashboard of a car, emotions provide an indication that we need to check under the hood. Very simply, if we find ourselves angry, we can ask in prayer: what is this about? What is this telling me? In Psalm 139, we are encouraged to ask God to search our hearts. In Jeremiah 17, we see that the heart is deep and mysterious and only the Lord can truly discern.
A helpful way to think about emotions is that they were designed to proclaim what we value and protect us from what threatens what we value. Our emotions both speak to us and others. Whatever emotions are being expressed and experienced, discernment is needed to understand what is being valued. If it is joy, what am I valuing? What is my joy saying about what is important? If it is anger, am I angry over things that one should be angry about or things that are about me and getting my own way? What am I trying to protect? Am I seeking to protect good, holy things? Or is my anger protecting my emotional programs for happiness? Indeed, our emotions give us insight into the disordered attachments we need to release.
As we release what needs releasing, we are able to say with the psalmist: “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7) Notice that the foundation of returning and rest is God dealing bountifully with us. It is His grace, His love … His attaching to us … which invites our own releasing and attaching more fully to Him. Ignatius of Loyola brilliantly commented: “Detachment comes only if we have a stronger attachment; therefore, our one dominating desire and fundamental choice must be to live in the loving presence and wisdom of Christ, our Savior.”
In the prayer of Psalm 16, we observe this dynamic of releasing attachments and attaching to God. “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” (vs. 1-2) As we pray “preserve me,” we are asking God to protect us rather than engaging in self-protection. As we pray “I have no good apart from you,” we are proclaiming that He is the one to whom we are attaching ourselves before and above all other things. To pray “you are my Lord” is the deeply humble stance of proclaiming the God is the one we rely upon to lead our hearts. Then, our loves … our attachments … become ordered.
Stop for a moment and notice what is going on in your heart. What will it mean for God to be your Lord? Can you trust Him to lead your heart?
“When humility delivers us from attachment to our own works and our own reputation, we discover that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for God’s own sake alone.” Thomas Merton
Questions for reflection: how are you noticing being unmade or dismantled? What are your emotions telling you about what needs to be released?
Prayer: Lord, protect me. I take refuge in you. You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You. Amen.