The Cruelty of Letting Go

The Cruelty of Letting Go October 21, 2018

This was making the rounds earlier—some young man in a flowery T-shirt leaning forward in his perfectly curated retro burnt umber chair declaring that all your sexual relationships are good and holy and that Jesus is very happy about them because of love. He mentions, amazingly, that the occasion is church, and if you squint you can see a table behind him and the well coiffed lady in yellow, displaying a sort of candle encased in wooden dancing figures, and a cup that might vaguely be construed as a chalice, and two bottles of water for the two people in the chairs.* And, of course, there is a crowd of people listening to the young man. They must be the congregation. And he mentions God, so of course it must be church.

To steady your shattered nerves you can go read this—another installment in Michael Kruger’s brilliant series on the postmodern Ten Commandments, this time about how love is everything, so we’re meant to believe, and sex doesn’t matter. If two people are in love, and they are happy, then there’s no harm done. God blesses the holiness of whatever it is that they are doing, and they can know that by how happy they feel.

Except, usually there is someone left alone in the background who has now been given sorrow as the measure of her days, instead of joy. The free and holy choice to go be with someone because you are in love, at least for right now, doesn’t usually include looking back through the last few minutes to see if there is someone unhappy because you changed your mind. You were in love with him, but you are in love with this other person now. He, the one you loved yesterday, needs to understand that you are just following God’s divine call to happiness. If he is unhappy, he just needs to quickly move on. His tangled web of misery isn’t your problem as long as you are following your heart.

Because, just to say something obvious, though perhaps revolutionary, when you make promises of any kind to one person and then break them and go off to be with another person, the first person’s world is shattered. It doesn’t matter if you immediately regretted the promises upon making them. It doesn’t matter if it took twenty years for you to feel tired of that person. It doesn’t matter if you finally had enough at fifty. That other person organized his or her life around you, trusting in the promises that you both made, and so when you broke them, it was a devastating catastrophe. Although by you, of course I mean whoever has done that, not you, but lots of other people.

And the reason its so terrible and unhappy is because the promise, usually, invoked God’s own character. God doesn’t change his mind or break his promises. And you thought that you were so like him. But here you have broken yours. So maybe God does change his mind. Maybe he is doing a new thing, because you can never be wrong.

I say you, but of course I mean all of us. It is human nature to change and shift, to mean something one minute, and then back quickly away from it or swipe away with the touch of a finger, the next minute. That’s why repentance is such a gift. It’s the single best, most healing way for the human person to change his mind. And by best I mean so painful that most of us never consider it.

How unlike God we are. Singularly unlike in that, for God, the point of life’s eternal joy is always the other person. The reason for being is never the self, but always the other one. That’s the very foundation of the Godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are ever and eternally reaching out for the other. They are never taking, they are always giving. But we, exchanging the creature for the creator, turn it upside down and think that we each, one by one by one, are the center of the cosmos. And then, to prove our mistake, we bless ourselves, we form and shape the human community on everybody taking what they can get, one from the other. We exchange the peace and happiness of God for a cacophonous, bitter, broken mess and call it good.

Verily, the most unkind, unloving thing you can do is let go of someone and give up. If you want to trundle down the flower encrusted path to misery and destruction, constantly exchange one person for another. Follow the inclinations of your stomach and your spleen, do what feels good, and in your wake leave all the people—the human people, the people who had souls, the people whom God, out of his own divine will, bothered to fashion in the darkness of the womb, to give flesh and heart and soul, to look out of the eyes, to endow with language—who haven’t satisfied your current whim. Worse yet, say it was God who called you to do it.

Or you could take the kind, the giving, the loving way. You could take hold of someone and not let go in this mortal life. This might be the child of your youth, who you always welcome home no matter the disappointment and anxiety. It might be the person over coffee hour who you know will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. Or the person at the soup kitchen who has a searching, exhausting way of trying to meet your eye and you just want to give up and go home because it’s been a long day already. Or, it might the person you promised to love, for as long as you both lived in the fragility and trouble of this brief and tumultuous life.

Imagine that moment when Jacob grabbed hold of that angel and struggled, desperately, all through the night. He could have let go, because he wasn’t having a good time, he wasn’t living his best life, it wasn’t going to make it easy for him to get to work on time the next morning or accomplish all his dreams for his life. It turned out he was wrestling with God, and he got a blessing but he came out wounded, limping, broken himself. Indeed, he had many long years of sorrow ahead of him. But he gritted his teeth and didn’t let go.

Jacob wrestled with God, and the church has a troubled and vexatious relationship with Jesus. And if you were once to meet someone and fall in love, the best thing for you would be to stand up before the church and make promises based on God and who he is, rather than the flimsy changeable reality of who you are, and then go on, day by day by day, in the most mundane, inglorious, difficult circumstances, not letting that person go. Contending, spiritually wrestling, resolving each and every argument all the way to peace, not giving in to laziness and hurt, searching each other out over and over and over, clinging desperately, judging every feeling and inclination by the wisdom and mercy of God’s holy word. What if she was wrong about something important, and you never said? What if you had sinned but thought it was no big deal and he never said? What if you had been unkind but didn’t really mean to be, but never had an opportunity to repent because you didn’t know the level of grief you had caused?

The cruelest thing is to let go and walk away. And find another, and then another, and then another. If someone preaches that message in your church this morning, get up out of your chair, however comfortable, however well appointed, however embarrassed you might be, and walk away. Go to a church where the true beauty and majesty of God, who never lets go of his people, who never changes his mind, who always welcomes the repentant sinner back into his arms, is proclaimed, worshiped, endured, and finally adored.


*It is important to drink enough water every day, although I hope they don’t throw the bottles away, because the oceans are full of those things and baby whales are dying. If you’re going to preach polyamory in “church” on Sunday morning, the least you can do is use a real glass for your water.

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