As Advent arrives, I’ve been slowly and reluctantly dragging out a smattering of Christmas. I opened a box of my favorite ornaments, the ones I had packed extra carefully. The plastic wrapping did not coexist well with the August attic heat. My treasures are ruined. The ones I had tried most intently to protect, I lost.
And then seemingly unrelated thoughts and conversations followed.
My sister called and her close friend is preparing for her mother’s funeral and visiting her husband in the cardiac ward on the same weekend. Another friend is trying to locate her daughter and son-in-law while a tsunami threatens their home in Alaska.
I see pictures on my phone of me, holding and then letting go, of my parents’ hands last week. Knowing this 83 year-old father would begin radiation today. And not knowing this 83 year-old mother would renew her fight with debilitating pain within days of my leaving.
And reminders of a world of people facing hollow holidays without loved ones. Good friends and sisters who have buried children and husbands and lives they once knew. Thousands who have lost homes and security. I can’t pretend to understand.
So neither can I pretend to understand or explain the paradox of deep love and letting go. The two seem impossible to reconcile in this fragile life.
And then I thought about my daughter and how much she loved baby chicks.
Every time my daughter visited a petting zoo as a preschooler, she was drawn to the baby chicks. I was always in fear. Not for my child, but for the tiny birds. I just knew she would either (1) hold the chicks too loosely, drop them to the ground, and give them brain damage, or (2) hold them too tightly and squish them. 99% of the time, it was the second concern that proved more valid.
When we love and value something, it comes natural to hold it closely, to try to protect it. We hold most tightly what we treasure most. But more often than not, that can ruin our treasure. Like Halloween candy hoarded long past spring, we hold too tightly and they become worthless in the end.
But what we love deeply we can’t completely let go either. So we must instead learn to hold loosely.
Against our nature, God calls us to hold our blessings loosely: jobs, health, relationships, family, financial security. To unclench the white-knuckle grip on these things, and cling tightly to Him. Hold everything (and everyone) else loosely.
No one knew more about this than Job. Job with his children and his property and his wealth, and then suddenly without: The Lord gives and the same Lord takes away. Blessed is still the name of the Lord.
Job knew about loving deeply. He even rose early every morning to offer sacrifices to God in case his children had sinned unknowingly. He always honored God. And I believe he could only do so by holding things loosely.
Job knew that God’s glorious potential for a life can only sit in the palm of an open hand. Honoring God requires that your hand remain open, even after the blessing. Because the blessings can never be allowed to replace our God, or our God’s All-Knowing purpose.
By loosening our grip, we honor that God knows more and cares more for us than we could for ourselves. And to say, I trust You more than I trust myself.
By the sometimes painful release of our life and blessings into God’s hands, we open possibilities we could never dream. As Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said, “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” From watchmaker to death camp inmate to world-renowned writer and activist, ten Boom lived to be 91.
So I suspect the prying open is not to punish us or test us, but to prepare us for the greater potential we would miss. David Benham puts it this way, “God’s not going to give you what’s in His hand until you let go of what’s in yours.”
When my daughter got home after evacuating from the wildfires, she had the clothes she was wearing and an extra shirt. She couldn’t wait to change out of the socks she’d had on for four days. Even still, as she said, she was best-case scenario, one of the lucky ones.
That same little girl who learned to hold the chick loosely was learning to hold other things loosely. And so was I. After Thanksgiving, I sent her back to scorched Southern California. Only days later, even as I unwrapped those ruined Christmas ornaments, classes were cancelled again and evacuations were ordered for mudslides and flooding. They warned about life-threatening debris flow through the Santa Monica mountains she drives daily to campus.
And I thought back to releasing my daughter from our final hug so she could get on that plane to Pepperdine. I had felt that intention to clench. But living has also taught me to let her go. Because it is only in the letting go that we can receive the blessings God has in mind for us, and for our children. And in opening our hands, we create room for Him.
So maybe all of life is about learning to let go into this loose hold.
And Advent is about learning that deep love and holding loosely are the same thing.
God so deeply loved this fragile world. By sending His perfect Son, He demonstrated this loosely held love. And then extended it to us. His holding love, tethered to each of us by the loose strands of free will. Deep love forever guaranteed, if we choose to make room for the Christ Child in our open hands.