Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hanging On for Dear Life

I remember going to the circus with my third grade class at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We all wanted to see different things. Some were waiting for the elephants. Others loved the lions and tigers. Of course plenty of people were looking for clowns. To me the amazing stuff happened above the rings -- the tightrope walker and those trapeze artists. Sure there were safety nets. (We wouldn't want someone to fall to their death in front of a zillion third graders, now would we?) But the daring of those young men flipping and twisting high above the ground, being caught by the strong arms and sure hands of the catcher. I always wondered about the catchers. It seemed like they didn't do much. They spent nearly the entire act swinging upside down by their knees. Every once in a while, he would catch one of the flyers and toss him back where he came from. But aside from that it looked like the hardest part of the job was keeping all the blood from settling in your head.

Henri Nouwen wrote about a group of trapeze artists in Turn My Mourning Into Dancing.
I am constantly moved by the courage of my circus friends. At each performance they trust that their flight will end with their hands sliding into the secure grip of a partner. They also know that only the release of the secure bar allows them to move on with arcing grace to the next. Before they can be caught they must let go. They must brave the emptiness of space.
Nouwen compares the flyer letting go of the bar to perform his stunt with the need for us to let go in our own life. And he's right. We look at all that God has given us and we hang on to them for dear life, knuckles turning white from our grip. But why are we holding so tightly?

Jesus said some pretty amazing things. I think there are a lot of people who skip the parts between the Christmas story and the Easter narrative. They miss some of the tough statements from the Master and don't understand contextually just how revolutionary His teachings were (and still are). In Matthew 10:34-39, He says:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Some may think, "Certainly that can't really be what Jesus said! After all, He's the Prince of Peace. The guy who said to turn the other cheek. Why would He talk about bringing a sword?" But that's the danger of not reading and understanding Scripture in context.

Jesus was honest about what following Him would mean. Arguments would happen. Families would be broken up. Hard choices would have to be made. Many people would be happier if Jesus had never been born, because that way those people wouldn't have to make a decision for or against Him. And those are the only two options. I know plenty of people who are still considering the decision and others who have been blessed enough to have had time to change their decision before they died, but still there are only two possible choices. And Jesus was straight with us that we could easily be the black sheep of the family for choosing Him.

Jesus said all this to point out to us that the things of this earth aren't to come between us and Him. The excuse that Dad would be upset if I became a Christian isn't valid according to the Master. He says, "Of course Dad will be upset. That's not the point. Love Me more than your Dad." Yet we hold tight to the blessings instead of the Blesser. We tightly grip the bar, afraid to let go and fly.

I certainly understand what it's like to hold onto my blessings for dear life. I don't want to lose any of my family. I've lost one son. I don't like losing anybody. And it's not much easier to lose someone because they are uncomfortable being around a Jesus Freak than it is to lose someone to death. Yet Jesus says to put Him before family. Let go of them.

Job had to let go. He lost all his children in one fell swoop. Holding tightly to them, praying for them, loving them; none of it kept them from being killed. Yet Job let go and didn't curse God for the disaster. He let go and flew and was caught by the strong arms and sure grip of the ultimate Catcher.

If we are to follow Christ's teaching, we must not be afraid to let go of our family, our work, our friends, our reputation, our blog, and even our very lives. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I lost my life rather than lose something else precious to me. Yet when we don't squeeze so tightly and instead love and trust Jesus, we fly and experience being caught by the strong arms and sure grip of the Catcher. Instead of valuing our earthly blessings supremely, we must store up our treasure in heaven. We'll have to give up the family, the work, the friends, etc., eventually anyway.

My three year old daughter has many toys which she loves. I gave her those toys. Should I not expect her to love the one who gave her the toys more than she loves the toys themselves? Why should it be any different for me? Shouldn't I too value the Giver of blessings more than the blessings themselves? Yet too often I find myself hanging onto them for dear life. I must let go and love God more than anyone. I mustn't love my life more than the Lifegiver.

Letting go is only possible because we can trust the One who will catch us. Nouwen quotes one of the trapeze flyers:
Henri, everyone applauds for me because when I do those leaps and backflips, they think I am the hero. But the real hero is the catcher. The only thing I have to do is stretch out my hands and trust, trust that he will be there to pull me back up.
Once we let go, we can fly. And the Catcher will grab hold and pull us back up. Let go and trust Him.

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