Sometimes but not often I read a book several times. It could be a novel that I particularly enjoyed, or a history book that needs closer attention. Probably most often it is a book related to the journey of the inner life. A couple of weeks ago I picked up at a used bookstore a copy of a book I had read twice before, but couldn’t locate in my own library. There had been metaphors in this book and specific paragraphs that had deeply impacted me in previous readings. I had journaled from this book also. I love how a fresh reading of a book at a different season of our lives can yield a fresh impact, sometimes even deeper.
Written in 1990 by award-winning novelist Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions opens Kidd’s inner journey in an inviting and challenging way. In this post, I want to concentrate on an idea she writes about on pg. 106, that of two levels of letting go. In a recent post, I wrote about the need for elders of any age to learn to let go, or ‘retire’ from a role or attachment in life. This is not easy to do for any of us, but can open up places of great enrichment for us and for our ability to love others. (see The Importance of ‘Elders’ Letting Go ).
Letting go of the positions, roles, attachments, outward patterns at the surface level is difficult enough as it is. Sue Monk Kidd is following here the ideas of Thomas Merton, a 20th century contemplative activist monk whose books continue to inspire new generations in going deeper and serving more widely in our world. Merton wrote of the importance of the active work required to let go at this level, and Kidd quotes him ‘you pray and suffer and hang on and give things up and hope and sweat.’ But as hard as this can be, and I can attest to living it out in areas and seasons of my life, there is a second and deeper level of letting go.
This is the deeper level of our ‘secret attachments’-those patterns and beliefs that we may only be slightly aware of. Perhaps the deeper insecurities and fears that make letting go at the surface level seem next to impossible. This is really a life long process of becoming aware more deeply of our deeper places. As Kidd writes, ‘Here the approach becomes more mysterious. We let go our letting go. We stop struggling, stop saying, “I will let go, I will, I will. Instead, having done all we can, we allow God to work directly on the more secret and deeply ingrained attachments we have to self. We allow God to release us through the experiences, encounters, and events that come to us”.’ (italics from author).
At this deeper level, we cease striving and let God be at work. Normally, in the silent places where we are not even sure He is working. We present ourselves to God, whether in words or in silent waiting prayer, and then as this book title says, we let our hearts wait. That is why it doesn’t work very well for us to tell someone else to ‘give up a role’ or ‘let go of a position’. That might not be difficult for them, or it could be the most difficult thing in the world if there are unexamined deeper level identity issues involved.
To let go is to retire or withdraw in the right time and season, whatever age you are, so that greater life and fruit may emerge. It is not easy to step back, to stop doing what you have been doing perhaps for many years. In the last post I talked of some of the practical struggles of finances or housing. Sometimes others around you have depended on you fulfilling a certain role, and when you pull back, they are not pleased! But in the long run, it is the best thing for them that you go deeper in letting go at both levels. Holding on when you should be letting go can result in greater frustration, and perhaps even have you missing those new opportunities right in front of you.
Of course I sometimes wonder whether I am striving to let go of letting go! That is why waiting and silence are so crucial to our soul growth, normally over long periods of time.
Waiting is not usually easy, but the letting go and deeper waiting beautifully blend together.