Let Go or Be Dragged

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Art Print Credit: Mary Engelbreit 

It was a Thursday night, which was not our usual time for violin lessons, and my four children knew it. Our day was as overloaded as the spring ditch creek at the end of our driveway – group play date, library, and tumbling, all falling back-to-back. We landed at music lessons tired, overstimulated, and hungry for anything else besides the box of atomic yellow flavor blasted goldfish we’d been sticking out hands into all day.

While my eldest attempted to follow her teacher’s instructions, my youngest threw books on the floor while his sisters lolled over my shoulders and pulled at my purse, disconsolately asking whether or not I had any mints, or new snacks, and if it was time to go home yet. The scratch of violin scales doggedly began. Heat started to collect under my arms and along my temples.

My eyes desperately traversed the now-familiar classroom. The black and white clock stonily stated we had fourteen minutes remaining. The sun glinted off the warped and dirty snowbanks quietly melting outside the south window. And then I noticed it, a little sign taped to a file cabinet. It was a picture of a child haphazardly holding on to a bunch of helium balloons that were dragging him backwards across the grass.

The cheery lettering at the top read, “Let go or be dragged.”

I read it again, no longer noticing the child pulling at my jeans, or the frenetic whisper play of the twins going on behind me. The violin noise faded, and I inhaled slowly.

Let go or be dragged.

Somehow, this seemed like a startling new revelation regarding a number of circumstances I was doggedly working through in my personal life. Potty training. Tantrums. Financial puzzles. Interpersonal connection. Hurt. Faith questions. Exhaustion. The ever-constant need to clean and organize.

Let go or be dragged.

***

Take potty training, for instance.

Potty training a boy (after training three girls) is proving to be an animal with different stripes. I was warned this would most likely be the case, but by the end of the second week, our success was limited to me remembering to haul my son to the bathroom at the appropriate elimination time. He maintained a very laisse fair approach to the whole affair, going when he was prompted, but with increasing resentment and hesitation.

Meanwhile, we burned through an entire bag of miniature colored marshmallow treats (given out in magnanimous handfuls by his helpful sisters), a bottle of Clorox wipes, and a bag of overpriced Cars-themed pull-ups.

One night after I recounted yet another exhausting toileting mishap to my husband, he gently suggested that it might be time to take a break.

Inside, I rebelled at his words. We had made some hard-fought advances, after all. Our son was staying dry at night and during naps, and rarely had accidents during the day. He successfully held it in the car, and had only had one public accident.

I saw my days of careful vigilance and bleached training pants and bathroom floor reading time swirling down the drain, and it hurt my pride to admit defeat. But this was not about my pride.

It was about my son.

Let go, the little boy in the picture whispered. He’s not ready yet. Don’t push it. You’re being dragged. I didn’t want to agree, but I knew it was true.

The next morning, we went back to diapers.

***

The events of life, it seems, are hell-bent on getting their hooks in us. A meaningless jest. A bad meeting. A temperamental car battery. A child’s lost library book. These things are outside of our control, but often fall just close enough within our purview that we can’t stop thinking about them.

Letting go doesn’t usually occur to us.

We lump around like an arthritic dog, imperfectly guarding our territory. We mull over our thoughts, chewing over conversations, shortcomings, mistakes, and concerns like a well-worn bone.

It isn’t often we give ourselves permission to simply let go.

That seems too easy, our brains say.

That’s giving up. It’s letting someone else win, the world says.

Or is it?

In the act of letting go, of giving in to circumstances outside of our control, what it we are better able to practice the little celebrated art of surrender?

Definition-wise, surrender means: to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand, or to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.

Spiritually, surrender looks like what Jesus taught in Matthew 11.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What if we have to start by getting over ourselves, and then seek out wisdom from the source?

Humility may not be many people’s favorite virtues, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a part of our daily lives– particularly when we need to let go of something and try another way. Humble surrender (as opposed to angrily giving in and then stomping around like a temperamental two-year-old) allows us to assess our circumstances and accept our position.

And if we’re lucky, it affords us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from the dust and either try again or walk away, this time with more clarity and perhaps, a deeper wisdom.

***

A few days ago morning, after our full return to diapers, my son grabbed at his pants and quietly mumbled that he needed to go potty. The deed was done successfully and with no cajoling, and I stood in the kitchen afterward in dumbfounded amazement.

I’m too old to pedal the old idea that if you let something go, it’ll come back to you if it’s meant to be. Life is too uncertain for platitudes.

But it is also, undoubtedly, too short to be threatened by thoughts that want to drag me, kicking and screaming, to somewhere I don’t want to go. Had I not stepped back from constantly directing my son to go potty (and thoughts of my own failure as a mother), he never would have had the space to determine his own urge.

Humility and gentle surrender will do far more good for a soul than clinging to failure and hurt.

Hanging on to words, worries, and fears and allowing them to direct our thoughts and emotions is dead weight, better to be cut loose from than strangled by.

Let go, or be dragged.

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The Fluid Nature of Things

open hands public domain image dreamstime.com

The last few days in Minnesota have been glorious. While the rest of the world may have been basking in spring for weeks already, us Northerners watched as flakes of white flew sideways across the landscape, covering the ground with drift after drift of frozen, icy gloom.

But suddenly, the sun came out Thursday and shocked us all with fifty-degree temps. The snow melted like mad, and my stir-crazy children begged to go for a walk. I was happy to oblige. I dug one scooter from a snowbank beside the house (did it stay there all winter?) and unearthed another and a bike from the dusty depths of the garage. Griff was already halfway down the driveway, so I decided to forgo the stroller or proper waterproof footwear (which I couldn’t find anyway) and let him walk as long as he wanted. Somehow, within minutes, we were off.

The delighted shrieks of the girls filled the air as we made our way down Reed Avenue. Griff kept pace a few steps in front of me in his halting toddler walk/run, stopping every now and then to pick up a rock and proclaim something. The sun sat warm as a promise on the left side of my face. Never did it feel so good to arrive at the creek and throw snow and sticks into the rushing, yelling farewell to winter.

We all burst in the house an hour and half later with red cheeks and flyaway hair. Griffin’s soaking wet, muddy feet and shoes demanded immediate attention, and I vowed that I had to find his hand-me-down rain boots before he set foot outside again.

Thursday’s walk was so great that no one hesitated when I suggested we do it again yesterday. I made a few slight adjustments to the lineup (scooters for all three girls, stroller for Griff when he got tired), and made another sweep of the basement for Griffin’s rainboots. Lo and behold, there they were, tucked into a storage tote labeled 0-3 mos. *Snort*.

Boots on and scooters ready, my small tribe gleefully picked their way down the rut-filled mess of our driveway and set off for the creek again. I couldn’t help but laugh inside thinking that last week, I was planning a Christmas party with a sweet friend as an act of defiance/acceptance of the forthcoming April snowstorm.

After all, it’s all so temporary, isn’t it?

We arrived at the creek, and the girls assumed positions at the top of the culvert, throwing in sticks, rocks, snow, and anything that would splash. Meanwhile, I sat down on the side, legs dangling over the water, and put Griff on my lap so that he could safely throw rocks in without me fearing for his life every time he leaned over the rushing water.

He was having a grand time chucking dried grass stalks in and kicking his legs against the edge, when suddenly, I heard a plop that was different than any of the others produced recently. Sure enough, I looked down, and there was the much-sought after rubber boot, gently bobbing sideways on the surface of the water.

The girls went crazy, demanding that I rescue the boot now making its way toward the fork in the stream. I quickly deposited Griffin in his stroller and buckled him in his seat, and then raced down the banks, stirring up a winter’s worth of dust as I picked my way through the dried yellow grass of the creek side. I grabbed a branch and made a few worthless attempts to snag the boot, but it doggedly kept bobbing just out of reach until the current took it downhill and all further efforts became futile.

There’s something poetic and important about physically letting go of something beyond your control, so I stood there a moment, watching the black rubber boot float away down the stream. It was clear I was never going to be able to retrieve it. It was also clear that I should not chase after it, since I left four unattended children watching aghast as their crazed mother attempted to rescue a boot from a raging spring creek armed with nothing but a weak sapling branch.

I hiked back up the ditch, listening to Ellis give an animated play by play of the lost boot escapade. Griffin, entirely unamused at this point, kept pointing at the creek and shouting “shoe, shoe!”. Lucy declared we might as well go home, and Gabby agreed, noting that there were still popsicles in the freezer. We walked back up the road in sunny camaraderie, as though I had just survived a lion attack instead of a failed attempt to rescue a rubber boot, and made it home without further incident.

Later that evening, it struck me that I had been searching for those rainboots off and on for weeks. How ironic that on the day I found and finally employed them, their usefulness slipped out of my grasp in a matter of moments.

Some people call it Murphy’s law. Some call it karma. I see it a little differently.

I see the reminder that the things we think we hold in our grasp are fluid – with us one moment, washing away the next. I see our human nature to fight, rescue, and retrieve what we lose.

I also see a loving Heavenly Father whose store of provision and grace never runs out. I see the relief in opening our clenched fists in surrender, letting the circumstance of life stream through our open fingers.

Why?

Because in this constantly moving flow of grace, I have never been left empty-handed.

It’s been easy to complain about the weather and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I could also be annoyed about the lost boot or being unable to drive on my mucky driveway. But that also means I’d be focusing on what’s lost, and not on what’s continuously being given.

I’d be anxiously looking down at what was falling out of my hands, instead of looking up at the stream of goodness that continues to keep them full.