As a child, I often pretended my backyard was a baseball stadium. There, despite the close proximity of neighbors, I would yell, dive, grunt and cheer to various scenarios I was imagining. As time for dinner would draw near, my mom would open the window from the kitchen and ask me how much longer I would be. “Almost done mom,” I would say, “it’s the bottom of the 9th and there are two outs.” Then, as the thousands of fans were standing and cheering in anticipation of the final out, I struck out the last batter to win the game, as my teammates rushed the mound and carried me off on their shoulders.
Somewhere, probably around the age of 13 or so, I became self-conscious and started to wonder, “What do my neighbors think about me yelling and cheering in my back yard? What are other people going to think of me if they see me? Is this how a 13 year old is supposed to act?” These were sobering questions. I realized what I was doing was not wrong, but that life was calling me forward, and if I wanted to move forward, I needed to let go of where I was and accept where life was taking me.
If someone were to ask me, what is the secret of life? I would answer: letting go. This phrase, unfortunately, is often misunderstood and misused. It can sound at times cold and even harsh. I have heard people use this phrase as a means to justify their own selfishness. “I am letting go of this situation,” one might say, when what is really happening is that one is refusing an opportunity that requires generosity and self-gift. What I mean by letting go is not self-preservation but acceptance of life as it really is.
Every one of us possesses an image of what we think life should look like. When that image is frustrated we immediately think there is something wrong with life. We blame God, other people, and circumstances for the reason our image of life has been thwarted. Perhaps the real problem is not life, but our expectation of the way it should be.
As a spiritual director, I have often accompanied people throughout a discernment process and continue meeting with them as they begin their vocation. After three months of living their vocation I ask them how they are doing. The response is generally the same: “The community, my spouse, the ministry, etc. is great. I couldn’t imagine things to be any better.” As the months go by, the conversation often changes dramatically. Generally, things remain good, but the community, spouse or ministry is no longer the perfect supplement to their life. They discover, much to their surprise, that their vocation looks nothing like they once imagined it would.
At this point a natural question arises, did I discern properly? The majority of the time the person has discerned properly. He is now being invited to let go of those former images about how his life is supposed to look, and embrace the life God is giving him. This invitation from God, though frightening at first, is exactly the food our hearts crave. By abandoning ourselves completely to God beyond what we can see and understand, we begin to experience that our life, though not perfect, contains exactly what we need to grow in faith, hope and love.
Perhaps this is the greatest test Christians face. We often assume that because we are following Jesus our lives will look and be a certain way. Once when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus informs them: “He who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Lk 9:48). This was not the answer any of them expected or desired; yet if they were going to keep following Jesus, they had to let go of what they thought that should look like.
We begin by pursuing the life we want for ourselves, but end up living the life God wants for us. After the Resurrection Jesus says to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). It is only by letting go, with childlike trust, that we allow God to lead us beyond anything we could have imagined.
Fr. Jeremiah, CFR