To Receive Is To Let Go
Last spring, after I’d written about sitting in my side garden in the mornings, a friend of mine sent me this C.S. Lewis quote:
Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.
(The Four Loves, Chapter 2)
I saved the quote, knowing I’d write about it eventually; but frankly, as much as I love C.S. Lewis, I didn’t like the truth of his last line - that 90% of the time when you show up expecting a certain thing you want from God, you don’t experience it. That doesn’t seem like a good return on an investment.
I want things to work my way; and when they don’t, I don’t want to show up anymore.
Yet that’s the way of prayer, of all spiritual practices - which are just different forms of prayer. While we are doing it, it doesn’t seem like a good investment. I often can’t see any connection between the words I’m praying and an outcome of any kind. Words can sometimes feel like just air - or letters on a page. I know the goal of prayer isn’t to impress or manipulate God. I’ve said it this way before: He is not my vending machine. And I know the value of the practice is in showing up - with nothing, not even an expectation - and allowing something to happen to me. Maybe therein lies the truth about why we don’t persevere, why it’s so tempting to not show up and actually pray. Deep down, at some level I don’t want to be aware of, I know that talking to Him changes me, and I don’t want to let go of me.
I don’t mean to say we cannot expect from God. Nothing is further from the truth. We are the sheep of his pasture, his children, his beloved, his bride. All those relationships imply promises he has made to us and expectations we can have of him. He is always there in that garden. The invitation to live in his presence is irrevocable. He crossed the chasm to get us. That is what we celebrate at Christmas -the Incarnation. Christ has been born into the world. God came to us.
And yet the king wasn’t born to nobility, and the kingdom he established wasn’t political power. He showed up in his own way, in a grain trough, the Bread of Life. He showed up among the lambs in a stable, the Lamb of God. He was born to a lowly girl and a carpenter. It wasn’t what religious people were looking for. It wasn’t the picture of the Messiah’s coming that they’d imagined in their heads all those years. To receive him meant to let go of the image of God they’d imagined, to surrender to a baby in a manger and man on a cross.
Before my daughter went off to college, I prayed fervently and often about her future roommate. When the assignment came, I was shocked. Nothing about the young woman…
What had I done?
I’d imagined what I thought was the best roommate for her (someone who looked an awful lot like our family) and then repeated that to God a number of times over several months. I don’t think he got a word in edgewise in that conversation, but his answer forced me to rethink prayer - again - and realize that letting go is part of receiving.
…Thy Will Be Done…
Advent is not only about waiting, but also about realizing that we don’t control the manifestation of our prayers. We don’t get to decide how God shows up, what he looks like, or in whom he resides. We blind ourselves to God by our own images of God. When we make up our minds what his presence is going to look like, we miss seeing what is right before our eyes.