Letting Go (Part II) – What’s All the Fighting For?

My new catch phrase is Letting Go.  My slogan may not have the adhesive power to stick around like  Apple’s iconic slogan Think Different. Chances are my slogan would never appear as a sleek #hashtag on social media platforms (#lettinggo).  Webster won’t need to add my phrase TGILG (this girl is letting go, nah) to the urban dictionary along with acronymic giants like YOLO.  I am glad about that because the sobering truth is that pop culture and social media steer society into a labyrinth of “me” centeredness. This prevailing self-absorbed attitude that “it’s all about me,” locks us into the “me” maze leading us down a path of endless relational conflict. 

Throughout my journey as a believer, I’ve learned that dealing with relational conflict requires that I let go of my self-absorbed expectations and see the relationship from an eternal perspective.  My heavenly Father perpetually prepares the soil of my heart for redemptive opportunities. Relational conflict is one way that He prunes my self-centered heart . He pulls and yanks at the stubborn weeds of my arrogance and pride so that I won’t be strangled by them.  
As I progress on this path of Christ following, I have come to view conflict in relationships as a chance for growth and sanctification.  Trust me, it hasn’t come easy. Christian Counselor and author Timothy Lane offers the reminder that “God,who is sovereign, loving, and wise, sends people in our lives so that he might work in us in ways that can only happen in conflict,” ( here’s the pulling and yanking). When faced with conflict in a relationship, I am learning to ask myself what is going on in my heart that I feel the need to remain in conflict with this person rather than pursue them like Jesus would (ouch, the pulling and yanking again).
The book of James offers insight and practical application when dealing with relational conflict. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?James asks.

 

I’ve actually asked this very question to my kids (but not as eloquently as James) when I’ve stepped in to mediate a sibling squabble.  The famous fallback, ineffective, yet, highly used question every parent asks, “Who started the argument?” trills from my tongue like a songbird. The problem remains that I didn’t take the question to the next level which drives home the point James is making in chapter four: it’s not who started the conflict that matters. Finding out what is going on in the heart of those in conflict is what matters most. Sinful motives, according to James, lurk in the corners of relational conflict.
James presses harder on the heart, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” Example: conflict erupts with husband because he did not react the way one expects him to react in a particular situation (cough, cough, speaking from experience). 
How do I handle a season of icy relational conflict that leaves me emotionally battered and bruised?
Buried beneath relational conflict “my passions and cravings are at war within me.”  What is it that I am craving: satisfaction, approval, cooperation, control, security, comfort? My list of unfulfilled cravings unravels as the dark side of my arrogant heart is revealed.
The wisdom of God’s Word has the remedy for my conflict: “Humble myself before the Lord, and he will lift me up.”  Conflict is no longer about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about reconciling with God regarding my self-exaltation.
My new tactic of defense during relational conflict: repent and seek reconciliation. 
During this season of letting go, God’s grace and kindness have taught me to handle relational conflict differently. Conflict, now, forces me to retreat rather than attack.  Retreat not because of defeat but to pray to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.  I must repent for my selfish motive(s), plural here, oh yes, because I often come with more than one selfish motive even in a single conflict. As I follow the wisdom in James, I ask God to direct my path which forces me to let go of my selfish sense of entitlement.
It’s about where my heart is throughout the battle.  Do I pursue the person with whom I am in conflict with a holy love? Most of the time: no. There will be times when reconciliation in relational conflict is not possible right away.  That in itself is another form of letting go and allowing God to work deeper in me or in the heart of the other person.
The upside of this journey is that Jesus didn’t call me to his join his family because I am a flawless, pulled together emotionally perfect addition to His family tree.  It’s rather the opposite.  I am undeserved of His love. I need Him. The beauty of redemption is that I don’t need to figure out a way to climb his family tree; he grafted me into his lineage by way of a crude tree carved into the shape of a cross and planted on Calvary.  The day that tree was planted on the hill, the earth shook and the skies opened and when he tapped my critical, impatient, manipulative, quarreling heart his blood was exchanged for mine.  It’s scandalous to think that Jesus would adopt me into his family knowing that I come fully loaded with issues and flaws that suck life out of His garden rather than add life to it.
So many seasons have come and gone since my heart first yielded to Christ. During this season, I learned to recognize that relational conflict stems from my selfish cravings. Conflict will continue to find me; there’s no hiding from it, minimizing it, or avoiding it.  When conflict smacks me in the face, I will no longer devise a plan of verbal attack or icy disconnect; instead, I will retreat to pray and ask God to reveal the true motives of my heart. 

  •  see the relationship from an eternal perspective
  • embrace the pruning
  • conflict offers opportunities for growth and sanctification
  • get to the heart of the conflict
  • let go of the cravings 
  • realign your heart to His

The Letting Go (Part 1)

For me fall represents the season of change; the season of letting go.  The arrival of autumn in our speck of the world begins when the Canada geese fly above the fields in their captivating formation and honk to signify their arrival.  Their long, arduous flight from the north causes them to lay-over in our Mid-Atlantic cornfields until the next stretch of their journey begins.

The Monarchs, too, make portions of our garden their summer home but only long enough to morph into a new creature and migrate to their new South of the Border home. 

Our field crops, which started as minute seeds in the chill of the spring, irrigated and nurtured through the sweltering heat of the July sun now stand tall and ready for the fall harvest.  The combine clips the crops and runs the harvest through the auger filling the grain truck; we are blessed in the harvest.  The cycle is complete.

Change surrounds us.

My six year old and I are reading E.B White’s beloved novel Charlotte’s Web (I refuse to categorize it as a children’s novel because this grown up girl loves the book). For the sake of his young readers (and the grown up ones too), White weaves with words a delicate explanation regarding the passing of time.  The passing of time often brings about change and change requires a measure of letting go. 
The novel details the passing from one season to another. The letting go of summer brings about a sad change for the crickets on Zuckerman’s Pennsylvania farm.  The crickets croon their somber melody because the season of warmth and sunshine is ending; they dread the change, as do most of us, especially children:

 The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song.  ‘Summer is over and gone,’ they sang.  ‘Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying’.
“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—-the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”

Change and letting go ought to come as no surprise to me as a follower of Christ. The moment I yielded to Christ I changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).  Even so, I still treat change as an uninvited guest who shows up on my porch when my house looks like Hurricane Ida swept through, and I haven’t a clue what I am having for dinner (do I even have enough clean plates?).

By now, as a follower of Christ when I feel change coming about, I ought to belt out a tune of worship rather than one of melancholy.  My tune ought to sound something like this:


(Click above to listen and be blessed )
Hillsong Worship
We recently hatched Monarch butterflies.  After gently capturing the caterpillars, we created a habitat so that the creature could thrive and go through the stages of metamorphosis in captivity. Weeks of watching the caterpillar endure the God intended changes brought heightened anticipation, would a butterfly really emerge safely from the paper thin chrysalis?  More days followed as the chrysalis hung loosely from the container and it almost seemed impossible in such a cramped, seemingly unsuitable position that such a miracle could take place.  We calculated what we thought would be the hour of emergence. We moved the container to the kitchen table; after all this time, we were going to witness this moment in nature.  Within forty five minutes of setting the container on the table, without anyone watching, the Monarch broke out of its temporary dwelling and rested its soft wings on a branch.  After several hours, the wings hardened and we opened the hatch to let the butterfly go.
The Letting Go of Children
And so it is with my children; my husband and I created a safe, nurturing environment filled with unconditional love and respect.  And what seemed like overnight, my children morph into adults, and it is then that the letting go begins.  Years before, heart strings began to stretch; a bit like walking hand in hand with a child and she pulls ahead without actually letting go.  Her hand clasped in mine, the two of us strolling along, her looking back knowing that I am just footsteps behind. Releasing her is like the Monarch whose wings are ready for that first flight. Letting go can take them to far- away places where the Lord cleared a spot in an impoverished country full of children who hunger for the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
Hannah’s sacred example in I Samuel serves me well, but she is a tough act to follow.  As a mother, I labor and toil in the raising of my children for the glory of the Lord; yet, the season has come when I begin to prepare my heart to let another go so that she can follow her calling.
Like Hannah, the weaning has come. Throughout the seasons of motherhood, my husband and I partnered with the Lord in plowing the soil of the hearts of my children; oftentimes, we labored to break through fallow, hard encrusted soil so that when the seed was sown it landed on fertile ground.  Every stage of motherhood brings new challenges to the soil, some seasons called for pushing the plow to the ground so hard that our hands blistered with emotional fatigue and our heart ached with discouragement.  Then the season to let go and let God do his sovereign work came so quickly, too quickly, now that I look back. 
In some areas of my life, I am still trying to welcome the uninvited guest named “letting go.”

There are moments when I am still letting go of the children that I never had the chance to embrace.  Miscarriage has its own set of rules for letting go.  It’s a gut-wrenching, savage-like pain that wraps its tendrils around the heart and tries to suffocate any chance of hope.  For me, the letting go of despair and anguish took the passing of several seasons before I realized Jesus knew how badly it hurt.  The Son of God when near death asked His Father, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).  Finally, late one fall a time came when I no longer felt like I was falling from a cliff into the abyss, but I found myself falling into the arms of God.  Gradually I rappelled back to solid ground where I could once again lift up holy hand and worship the One, True God.  

“If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves.
 “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”  Elisabeth Elliot

Autumn will end and the snow will dust the bleak fields.  The barren, frozen pasture will be an unwelcome sight to my sheep.  Temperatures will drop and the water in the troughs will freeze.  We all wait for spring.  Each season brings a new perspective and new growth in the life of a Christian.  Fall brought a letting go, and with that came a sense of freedom in knowing that Jesus has it all in control.