One evening I sat on a quiet beach watching the waves and waiting for the sun to set. A gull caught my attention. It was standing on a flat-surfaced rock as the tide started to come in.
At first the waves rushed around the rock where he perched. After a while, waves started to splash over his rock. Before long, the waves would completely cover the rock before receding.
I expected to see the gull fly away. But he didn’t. Instead, he would jump over the wave and then settle back on the rock as it rolled back to sea. Eventually, he couldn’t jump high enough. But he still didn’t leave. He just started flapping and shot up—vertically—until the water receded off his rock.
This was one stubborn bird, I realized. He was not going to leave his rock come hell or high water.
What about you? I sensed God quietly ask. Are you determined to hang on? Will you try to control, no matter what? Or will you release it to Me? Will you let it go?
I knew what God meant. It had been nine months after my husband had died and I was still hanging onto the idea of how I thought life should be. There was nothing I could do to bring my husband back. But I could cling to my ideas of what I thought life should be, couldn’t I?
So I spent the next day with God and my journal. First, I wrote down all the gifts I had received from my 23 years of marriage. Everything I could think of. Then I started a new page. I forgave my husband for all the hurts that still lingered, and I asked God to forgive me for the hurts I had caused. Finally, on another new page, I listed the losses—the things I would miss and the things I would never get to experience.
I used a lot of pages and a lot of Kleenex. When I finally finished—it was an all-day project—I called a friend and asked her to be a witness to my prayer as I thanked God, gave and received forgiveness, and then surrendered. It was a holy time.
When I finished, I felt tremendous release. I was no longer hanging onto what had been or my disappointment over what never would be. I was free to move forward into what God had for me next.
Recently I shared this experience with a younger friend on the journey. In her case no one had died. But a much-loved family member had stepped away from her and was making important decisions without seeking input from God, her, or family members.
In some ways it felt like a death. My friend struggled with her emotions. She grieved the loss of her family member’s companionship. Sometimes she tried to control the situation—but that only caused the distance between her and her loved one to grow. She felt frustrated. And worried. Sometimes she was scared.
God reminded me of my experience on my silent retreat six years earlier. I told her about it, then suggested that she take a day with God to give thanks, grieve, forgive, and let go. She agreed to try it.
When we talked a few weeks later, she was bubbling with joy. The person she had been so concerned about was seeking God again! Her family member was reconsidering important decisions. Putting off certain plans. Inviting input from other family members. Wanting companionship again.
“When did things start to change?” I asked. She thought for a moment, then said it had only been a couple of weeks.
“Was it after you released your family member to God?”
She paused and considered. A smile slowly crossed her face. It was! God had moved in just about the same time that she had let go.
I thought again about that silly sea gull. How foolish he had seemed to me, taking on the Pacific Ocean just so he could stay in the place that felt comfortable to him. But so often I’m like him. I try to hang onto things that can’t be held. When I hold things in my tight fists, afraid that if I let go they will be gone forever, I block God from working. We can’t both be in control. It’s only when I release my control that He can work freely.
Lord, I give it to You—I’m not doing a good job with this. Will You please take control?
Photo courtesy of Free Nature Pictures: http://www.freenaturepictures.com/seagull-pictures.php