Thursday, 30 November 2017

Holding on to God and Letting Go of the Rest

                                                        By Theresita Joseph

About a month ago I was invited to a small worship night organised by a friend. Music has always played an incredibly special part of my life, and only recently have I begun to appreciate both its beauty and power in enhancing my relationship with God.

In one of the songs we sang through the night, the lyrics ‘I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open… there is nothing I hold onto’ struck a chord with me. In prayer, I found myself singing ‘I hold onto You’, without at the time being aware of what the actual lyrics were. Whilst opening up to worship through this seemingly small line, it also opened my eyes to an aspect of life I have always struggled with – holding onto God during the hard times of letting go.

The fear of letting go

I’m the sort of person who didn’t get a new phone for years because I thought it meant I would lose all of my Whatsapp chat history (Nb: I’ve now figured out how chat back up works). Despite the countless number of friends who persistently told me it was the worst reason to hold onto my shabby memory-storage full-iPhone 4s, I still maintained that the conversations and photos I had stored in there were more precious to me than any new updated version I could trade it in for. Why? Because they were my personal time travelling device. For the late nights when I couldn’t fall asleep, or situations when I had time to kill, I would read back over those old chats and laugh over the way things had changed, or smile over moments with people I had forgotten.

Without this already making me sound too sad, the point I’m trying to make is that there are several things in our lives which each of us struggle to let go of; be it friendships, hobbies, possessions or plans. Their existence gives us a sense of control and stability in our lives, and with time they begin to shape our identity. An unexpected or sudden loss of any of these things can therefore quickly set us back and instinctively cause us to question ‘why’; and without a valid explanation we often struggle to accept them or move on. At such times of hardship, it can feel challenging to turn our dependency to God and let go, especially when the future we had in mind is no longer clear. However, with time, I am beginning to see more clearly how it is in these times that God wants us to hold onto Him more tightly than ever, and form our own memories with Him that last a lifetime.

 ‘He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together’ Colossians 1:17

Fear of loss

One of my first wake up calls to confronting my own personal fears of loss came a couple of years ago during what was supposed to be the end of a blissful family holiday to Sri Lanka. Being an only child in a country with only a few other relatives, my parents have always been my rock, and the thought of losing either one of them remained my greatest nightmare from a young age. That nightmare appeared to become a reality when I was abruptly woken up on the morning of our flight home to hear that my mother had collapsed in the bathroom, and had very badly hit her head.

Rushing out of my room, I saw her laying on the ground, unconscious, with my dad by her side trying to shake her awake and the nurse panicking if there was any internal bleeding. Like in a film, the life that could lie before me slowly began to play before my eyes; watching my father’s heartbreak, dropping out of medical school, leaving England to be closer our relatives abroad. And for losing my mother; all the times that I didn’t reach out to her enough, show her how much she meant to me, or have the experience to learn from her faith suddenly hit me, and I was terrified that my greatest horror could be occurring in such an unexpected and unplanned way.

Amidst the fear, anger, and confusion I felt, I turned to see a picture of the Divine Mercy hanging in the corridor wall, with the line ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ written beneath. For many years, my faith had never been concrete or something that changed how I lived or what I wanted, and my prayer life had been virtually non-existent. But in that moment, I remember fixating my eyes upon His, and through the blur of my tears making my most fervent request that He could hear my plea to not take my mother away from me. Not now. Not this way. Not us.

By a miracle, my mother came around slowly, however that evening my grandma fell incredibly ill and had to be admitted to hospital. In the craziness of those few days, I came to realise how my faith was now the only thing I could depend on. All the plans I had made were now uncertain, and being miles away from home with challenging time differences and wifi opportunities to talk to my friends, all I could ask them to do was pray. And within those few days, God provided all I needed. My grandma was discharged the day before our rescheduled return flight home, and my mother was fit to fly.

I remember sitting on the plane back home and pondering over how just maybe, the whole drastic turn of events could have been part of God’s plan. If my mother hadn’t fallen, we wouldn’t have missed our flight, and would have left my grandma alone at a time when it was most important for us to be there. And through the drama, it completely shifted my outlook on what was important to me. Realising how insignificant my relationship with God had been in my life, I knew that things had to change, starting from then.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight’ Proverbs 3: 5-6

Handing over to God

My journey in faith has come a long way since, although I am still making baby steps. Right now, I am in the process of letting go of my first relationship with someone who played a very special and important part of my past year. Whilst my experience of feeling loved and cared for exploded, I constantly wrestled with my gut feeling that something was missing. 

Despite this, I still found it easier to turn to this relationship rather than to God during various emotional and physical challenges I faced, and with time I felt more disconnected from my prayer life or views on chastity. By the time of the break up, I was left feeling confused, saddened, and aware of my own personal withdrawal symptoms from the love I was used to. I constantly questioned God why He had put someone into my life that I had to distance myself from; changing from being the first person I opened my heart to, to now the person I had to act like a stranger with. More than loss of a relationship, I found myself grieving the loss of a best friend, and it was, and still is, incredibly painful.

I’m grateful to have had this experience with someone who was consistently understanding, and ironically one of the most beautiful moments we shared was going to the chapel together for the first time to pray about the end of our relationship. I realised that the struggles of the relationship was something I’d kept separate from God, and bringing them before Him could have been one of the most encouraging steps of faith I have yet experienced. It allowed me to feel like I was handing over the relationship to God, rather than simply letting go, and has given me the opportunity to pray not only for the growth in my faith, but in his also. Trusting that God knows what is best both of us, and has a bigger and better plan than we can imagine, is one that only through prayer, hope and faith I can learn to accept. I truly believe that God puts certain people in our life for a reason, and regardless of how long or short their presence was, the impact they can have on our journey towards Him can be monumental.

 “For know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Finally… take a dive in with your faith

One last thought. Whilst the whole basis of this post has been triggered following an experience I had with worship, I’m not going to lie in saying that I’ve always found it the most comfortable or natural experience. This summer I went to my first Youth 2000 festival in Walsingham, and at the start I remember experiencing the fear of whether it was all just too much for me. At one talk about worship however, a particular analogy given by a Franciscan friar stuck with me. He likened the experience of embracing worship to the decision between standing on the edge of the shore and feeling the cold water touch your feet, or diving straight in from the edge of a cliff. The outcome is ultimately the same: the water is freezing, and you want to go in at some point. You can either choose to tip-toe your way in and experience the changes bit by bit until you are finally submerged, or you can embrace both the uncertainties and thrills and go straight for it, head first.

‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ Jeremiah 29:13

Faith, and the courage to step out of your comfort zone into seeking God, is exactly the same as the latter option. No matter what stage of faith you are at, He is a father that waits patiently for you to seek refuge in His own arms, and once you are there, He will never let you go. Coming back to the original lyrics of the song that triggered me, the concept of climbing a mountain with outstretched hands is incredibly powerful. It tells us that in moments of life when we go through our own personal challenges of change or loss, whilst it feels easier to try and cling on to the tangible roots of this world, the greatest strength we can receive is through surrendering over control to Him. None of us can predict what will happen in our life, nothing is constant; except that love and the promise He offers for each one of us.  It is this knowledge that in the strongest of tides that try to shake us, our faith should be what remains anchored, as it is the only thing that matters.

Let go, and let God in.

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