I remember very distinctly the difference between hospice patients who “fought the good fight” and didn’t give in to death until it snatched them away and hospice patients who allowed death to come to them as a gift.
Over the years, I began to develop an understanding that there was a subtle difference between giving up and letting to. The funny thing is that from the outside the two look very similar. Both seem to acknowledge and give in to a force greater than ourselves. The difference lies not in the act, but in the attitude.
I also remember very distinctly the difference in the families of those patients who refused to give up and those who allowed themselves to let go. The grief was much harder in the former. Death was not to be spoken of in the presence of the beloved family member. All energy was directed toward propping up the patient, fighting the enemy, and holding death off as if it was an Olympic endurance race.
The rooms where patients who seemed to hold an attitude of letting go, however, had an emotional softness to them. Families shared touching and funny stories with each other. They used the sacred opportunity to resolve any lingering resentments and reinforce their love for each other. The presence of death in the room was not easy, but once it was accepted it became that friend who got the family talking about sensitive subjects and provided the glue for a lovely life-ending intimacy.
I was thinking about this when I happened to run across a Facebook presentation that had been recorded in November, 2011 just a few weeks after I returned from a 4,000-mile cycling pilgrimage. In that presentation to the presbytery I had said, “I am convinced that history is going to look back on us as the ‘letting go people’ the letting go generation.” I had said that after being convinced during that pilgrimage that a world was passing away and that God was doing a new thing
I could have never imagined the strange and unsettling series of crises and events that we are now calling 2020—the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest, wildfires, and an election that has this country on edge. I am finding fewer people who seem to have the energy to “fight the good fight” and somehow come out as victors through sheer grit and determination. I also know that we Presbyterians are not inclined toward “giving up.” It’s just not in our spiritual and ecclesiastical DNA.
I am convinced that the tone of the moment is telling us that the way forward is not going to be by hoping against hope that we beat this thing back. I am convinced that getting to the other side is going come as we “let go” of our expectations of how this all should end. I am convinced that our hope must be built on trust—that there is a goodness on the other side that we can’t yet see or possibly even imagine.
I have come to believe that giving up is a position of defeat and that letting go is a position of trust. Fighting the urge to give up assumes that we are in the center of our world. Allowing ourselves to let go assumes that God (or the greater forces of Life) are in the center. The former relies on our own resources; the latter relies on the resources of the One who initiated Life itself.
I don’t know what our congregations are going to look like after we re-emerge from this pandemic.
I don’t know how radically different we will be when we finally come to terms with the structural racism in our churches.
I don’t know how the wildfires and our response to them will change our sense of connectionalism and mission.
I don’t know what kind of America awaits us on the other side of this election.
What I do know is that something beautiful happens when we “let go” and trust that a wisdom much wiser than us exists in the world.
What I do know is that when we accept the ending of one world the next world has a way of showing up in wonderful and surprising ways.
What I do know is that resisting the inevitable only puts it off and makes the journey more painful.
“In life and in death we belong to God,” begins the PCUSA Brief Statement of Faith.
I am convinced that we need to believe that as if our lives depended on it.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades