[May Synchroblog] Life Unfurling

(This month’s Synchroblog explores the topic of growing spiritually by learning to let go of things that may have hindered us on our journeys, even good things. I will add other bloggers’ links as they come in this week.)

I bought into the belief that life must be a certain way to really be successful and happy and full. I felt that if I worked and prayed hard enough, I’d find the secret to get there. That mysterious way seemed to come all too easy for some folks, who then looked disdainfully at what others like me had possibly done wrong to miss out. But I suppose that we all buy into the illusion that we have much more control over our lives than we really do, and that if we have a relationship with God that is just so, we can convince him to do what we want. Even so, housing markets plunge, friends betray, churches split, babies die, dreams fade. I am realizing now that my life will never become what I dreamed it would be when I was in my teens and twenties, when the future was made of possibility.

As I reflect at this point of my life, I realize that I thought my husband and I would have had more children, a bigger quiver to enjoy. I thought I would have my PhD or DMin by now. I thought I would have written many more books. I thought I would be in a very different career or perhaps be writing full time and living on a farm full of greyhounds and cats. I thought I would have shed false selves and false concepts of God and others much more thoroughly. I thought I would have learned better how to live in a way that would change the world around me in more significant ways. I thought I would have found the key to suffering well, and to sustained joy. I thought I would have loved better.

I have reached my 50’s, an age which for decades I thought impossible. Perhaps I really thought I would be 35 forever! It truly felt that way. I thought I was grown up enough and forever young at the same time. Now I understand writer Anne Tyler when she compared the later years of life to the end of a game of solitaire. At that point, most of the cards in the deck have been played and laid out, and there are fewer options left in order to finish up the game. And even when many of the cards have been played well, the reality is, you still may not win.

While all this might sound sad or heavy, it is truly not such a bad thing. There is much in my life to celebrate, much richness and blessing and much gratitude in my heart. There is fruit born from the past to enjoy and relationships to treasure and new seasons to explore. However, there is both a joy and a gravitas present in the realization that this is a time to “set my face resolutely towards Jerusalem”, as is spoken of Jesus. He set himself on a path of no turning back – to the place of laying all things down, even that of being God.

In Pixar’s beautiful movie called “Up” there is an old man who lost the love of his life to death. He and his beloved Elly had worked hard their whole lives but never were able to fulfill their dreams of adventure to exotic places. They had never had children, having been denied that dream as well. The old man had nothing left but his house and her pictures and unused tickets to far off lands. Finding himself alone in their once joyful home he entrenches himself grimly into the old patterns that had made up the lonely rhythms of his life for so long. He lives in what-should-have-been. He becomes a dead soul in a still breathing body.

A construction company threatens his staid existence and he battles back, winning nothing but a placement in an old folks’ home. It seems that what little life was left for him was also being taken away. He decides to flee. He fills hundreds of balloons with helium which lift his house aloft and away from all that had gone so wrong.

He finds a stowaway on board, a young and earnest Boy Scout named Russell. The natural curiosity and energy of youth messes up the old man’s world. However, Russell’s interference ends up putting them on a path to what was once the old man’s dream destination for himself and his beloved. They arrive at some beautiful waterfalls in South America. The old man wants to plant his house beside the falls and continue his routine of existence, living in the painful shadow of his past.

Of course, as is the case in any good story, more conflict and trouble ensues. (*This includes some hilarious dogs – this movie was obviously written by a dog lover!) Ultimately, the man must choose love for this small boy and other lonely, helpless creatures over his small, numb world. The clincher comes when he must give up his prized home. He pushes all his precious belongings out the door to make it light enough to fly again. He gives up all that bound him to a time long past. He let it all go for love. And he does save the day, gaining both love and his own soul back.

The secret is, life is a journey of kenosis. That is the word from Philippians 2 when Jesus empties himself out –of everything- for love. Life is a constant journey of letting go, of unclenching our fists and letting what we think we must have slip away. We can hold onto old dreams and regrets and expectations and demands and stay tethered to them. Or we can push them out the door and lighten the load for the journey ahead. Without letting go, there is no love possible, for real love does not grasp and cling. And without letting go, there is no more growth into our true selves, because our identity will always be shaped by false images and dreams of what “should” be rather than what is.

My pastor has been doing a lot of reflecting on resurrection life during this Easter season. She reminded us that Jesus came not so we can be good (do it all right) or nice (everyone will like me!) but so we can be made new. And she reminds us, we can’t be made new if we are clinging to the places where we have forged an image of life and God that keeps us safe and certain. Those things keep us restricted and bound to a flat existence – our own creation of reality. And hands that cling cannot open up to receive what is new. But if we choose the courage to begin to let go of what we are sure we know, of what is certain and safe, of what we feel should be, our hearts and minds can be released into in the flowing river of Life that is far mightier than our ability to harness and control. We become people of the larger Story, buoyed by its current and perhaps finding ourselves bumping up into the hope that is greater that what we could ever manufacture. Our emptied hearts just may make enough room at last to become filled and stretched out of size into love. And we just may lose our grip on certainty, watching it fall far behind us as we enter finally, finally, into faith.

Those who lay down their lives for my sake will find it. ~Jesus

Enjoy these Synchrobloggers:

John Martinez – Indiefaith 
Letting go of the Holy me

Beth Patterson “What is passed over is not love”

Jeremy Myers Help! I’m Lost and I Can’t Find Myself!

Marta Layton On Burdings, Blessings, Babies and Bathwater

Kathy Escobar Letting God Off The Hook

Alan Knox at The Assembling of Church – Where Did I Go? 

Crystal Lewis – What Happened When I Let Go

Pam Hogeweide at How God Messed Up My Religion – Letting Go of a Church-Centered Me 

K.W. Leslie at the Evening of Kent - Legalism, Anti-Legalism, and Anti-Anti-Legalism

Ryan Harrison  at How We Spend Our Days - Scraping the Barnacles 

Christine Sine at Godspace – Giving Up For God, What Does it Cost?

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – What Do You Do When You Are Not Sure

Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Letting Go for a Greater Good

Elaine Hansen – Recovering Control Freak – Let Go?

Wendy McCaig at View From the Bridge - Embracing the Grey

Chris at The Amplified Life - Seasons of Life 

Kerri at Practicing Contemplative - Synchroblog 

Jeff Goins What You Get From Giving



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30 comments
  1. Marta said:

    Ellen, this is beautiful. I loved your vision of Up – a personal favorite film – and on aging in general. It shows a real grace and courage that you can write about your own life in this way, unflinchingly and with a keen and humble eye.

    You have totally put my own synchroblog post to shame. Not that this is a competition or anything! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. phyllis said:

    beautiful, ellen.

  3. Brian Newman said:

    This is a wonderful reflection Ellen. Thank you. Pimut many of my thoughts together. Blessings.
    Brian

  4. Beautifully written Ellen. It brought tears to my eyes remembering Up, and remembering that we have to let go sometimes in order to receive the next thing. Thanks! :)

  5. Nadia said:

    Beautiful. you are such a gift.

  6. Ellen:

    So much here to think about here. Thanks. The synopsis of UP was wonderful and spot on. Great movie. Entertaining and meaningful.

    Now in my 50s I am a living contradiction. In my teens I was sure I would not live beyond 30 (there were good reasons for this) and I had no hopes or dreams beyond my Friday paycheck and blowing it all on substances that I hoped would kill the pain and maybe end my life.

    So, simply living this long, still being loved by my wife, family and friends–and being granted children and now grandchildren–is beyond my wildest dreams.

    Yet, God has birthed dreams in me over the years that are yet to come true or be fulfilled in the way I imagined them. And there is less time in the front yard than has passed through the back yard.

    Thanks for stirring things up.

    Eugene

    • I’d love to hear your story sometime, Eugene. It has formed such a pastoral heart! :)

  7. I loved the movie Up, for many of the reasons that you mentioned here. It is so easy to set our sights on some goal that we miss seeing Christ in the moment.

    -Alan

  8. That paragraph about everything you had hoped for and dreamed of which have not come true hit home for me. Sometimes, life is about learning to deal with disappointment and unrealized dreams.

    …Maybe they can be fulfilled in eternity.

  9. Andrea said:

    The timing of this message for me was perfect. I’ve been job hunting for three months and part of the process is determining that next step. Ideally, what might that ‘perfect job’ be and where could it be? I’ve needed to adjust my target a bit. I’ll share that I may be one of the few on the planet who did not like “Up” because his losses were so sad to me, but how you wove that into your piece was very compelling. Thank you!

  10. as always, my friend, such beautiful stuff. i loved this: “The secret is, life is a journey of kenosis. That is the word from Philippians 2 when Jesus empties himself out –of everything- for love. Life is a constant journey of letting go, of unclenching our fists and letting what we think we must have slip away.” here’s to unclenched fists, open hands, open hearts. glad that somehow we’re on this weird and wild journey together…

  11. Ellen,
    This is lovely–thank you for the ‘tour’…I truly believe that at least in the second half of life quality can only be found in letting go, peeling back actually, those layers of expectation and paradigm that we thought held us together as ligament and sinew. only then can we discover what really holds.

    Love your writing, as always–

  12. I love how you wove UP into this. My husband and I now use “squirrel” as a code word to alert the other of going off on a tangent when talking with others…or each other.

    I will always be 35 I think – my body is aging but my desire for learning and stripping away all that is not me continues. At 63, I realize I still have more to “let go” of…I think I must have picked up a few new things along the way.

    Letting go has made it easier for me to love. I am grateful that my capacity for love and gratitude has multiplied over the years. “love is all we need…”

    Accepting that “I don’t know” has allowed me to replace my certainty with curiosity. And in letting go, I’m discovering myself and who God made me to be.

    Your post was spot on and what I needed to hear. Now, I must act and risk more. Thanks, Elaine

  13. Liz said:

    Ellen – I’m a little late getting around to all the synchroblog posts for this month but boy am I glad I am doing it. There are so many wonderful posts and yours is right up there. I too am in my 50s (although in my mind I’m much younger:>)and could really relate to what you said.

    Letting go of “the way I thought life should play out” was sort of forced on me when my son came out to me several years ago. At first I thought I wouldn’t survive – my whole world was turned upside down – but now I see it as one of the best things that ever happened because as a result I was able to let go of so many things that had become a barrier between me and others/love/God.

    PS – I too loved the movie UP and loved the way you used it to illustrate the focus of your post!

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