There is a comic making rounds on the internet based on the popular poem “Footprints in the Sand.” The actual poem is an endearing (if not a bit cheesy) look back across a person’s life and the ways God has been present to them throughout. When only one set of footprints is visible, God assures the narrator of the poem “those are the times I carried you.” It’s sweet, and I know God to have carried me through seasons of life as well. The comic, however, imagines the narrator looking back and seeing two sets of footprints, and occasionally one long groove through the sand. “Those are the times,” God says in the comic, “where I dragged you kicking and screaming.” Which is less sweet, but is probably more indicative of my general posture toward life–if I don’t want to, then you can’t make me.
Some people may call this stubbornness, I prefer to think of myself as a woman of principle.
Either way, I have a complicated relationship with my proclivity for sticking to my guns. Phrases like, “Let go, let God,” generally lead to me praying in the form of typing up spreadsheets–just so God knows exactly where things need to land once I let go of them.
For most of my life I assumed that letting go and letting God would mean that God would direct my steps down some God forsaken path (the irony is not lost on me) and that surrender was synonymous with “now you have to do all the things you hate, and be happy about it.” It turns out, what I need to let go of is my own idea of some kind of sadistic god who enjoys watching me squirm my way into a doleful sort of holiness constructed out of my broken dreams and unrequited passions.
One of my favorite aspects of the Christian faith is that Jesus is called Immanuel – God with us. Not God ahead of us, or above us, or hiding from us, or just out of our reach, but God with. Somehow, that story about who God is got lost along the way (despite singing about it every year at Christmas). As I tried to convince myself to unfurl my white-knuckled grip on life, and I imagined all the things God would surely take away from me, all the things that I decidedly did NOT want to do that God would absolutely make me do, I forgot that this is Immanuel I am talking about. God with us. God with me, even in my white-knuckled gripping of things God would gladly help me hold.
When I first entered seminary in 2016, I was asked to explain in an essay what my goals were upon graduating. Typical “where do you see yourself in five years?” kind of stuff. I hate those questions. I loosely parsed together something vague about being more informed and equipped for my current context. It sounded okay, but what I was really saying was I don’t know what the hell I want to do, and even if I did I would be too afraid to tell you what it is.
There was an unwritten rule in my mind that the minute I would actually verbalize what I want to do, God would take it away. In this line of thinking, the best way to not have your heart broken is to just not be too specific in your dreams, which is a big reason why it took me three years to apply to seminary and answer the stupid five year question in the first place.
“Are you afraid of success?” I laughed nervously and shifted on the couch in my therapist’s office, my eyes growing wide and rolling dramatically, “obviously not.” Which of course meant, “yes, and how dare you see through me like this.” This is not part of my script, not part of the unwritten rules I’ve learned to live by. I am not supposed to be good at things, and if I am then I am supposed to apologize for them, to make them seem smaller, to offer some self-abasing “only by the grace of God…” under my breath.
I wonder if God is ever insulted by the way we talk about God’s creation?
If every time I demean myself or my work, I apologize for my intelligence or shrug off an accomplishment as though it were no big deal, does God wince?
You, my beloved, I made you for this, and you’re afraid someone will see?
What if “letting go” means releasing my ideas about God to encounter Immanuel, God with me, and El Roi, God who sees me? To encounter, the Creator who forms beauty out of dust and leaves her naked in all her glory for the world to see. To join in the wild life of the Triune One who dances and weaves and plays and weeps.
What if “letting God” means letting God love me, letting God’s presence and care wash over me like a balm. “God loves the things you can’t do,” a classmate prayed over me last year. Can I let God love the things I despise about myself?
Can I let God love the things I cannot do?
Can I let God love me as I am?
No exceptions? No apologies?
“Let go and let God” was once a terrifying phrase, emblematic of a life surrendered to the whim of a removed deity who didn’t really give a shit about me. It’s still a terrifying phrase, but not for the same reason.
Let go of the idea that you have to have it all together to be worthy of love.
Let God be present to you in whatever mess or shadow or joy or excitement you find yourself in.
Let go of the idea that you are somehow a mistake, that your dreams and desires are inherently corrupt.
Let God invite you to discover and dance and try new things and fail spectacularly.
Let go of your fear of doing well, of being smart, or having something to say.
Let God’s wild creativity blaze forth in the ways you teach and preach and write and sing.