Thursday, September 3, 2009

Learning to wait: lessons in letting go

hummingbird“…believing isn’t the hard part; waiting on God is.” - Anne Lamott quoting Pastor Veronica

This hummingbird seems to have no trouble letting go and hovering around this bush perilously hanging over the edge of North Mountain near Phoenix. What does he know that we don't?

Letting go and waiting (trusting). The gap between the letting go of what we have or what we can see and waiting for the help or the change or the answer; therein lies the rub. If we could wait while hanging on to whatever we’ve got a firm grasp on we might not be happy campers but we’d feel reasonably secure in the interim. However, God often asks us to let go of whatever is serving as our security blanket and wait in free-fall.

It isn’t another belief versus doubt debacle.

It would be easy to turn this into a belief debate but belief is the easy part; it’s really about the wait – the free-fall. That makes it all about faith because faith takes both believing and doing. Do we spend the fall in expectant anticipation of the catch; or do we spend it wracked with anxiety about how bad it will be IF the catch misses and we hit the ground?

It gets trickier if we have to work on something else while we wait in this free-fall; could you put that baby bird back in the nest on your way by, or collect some rock samples? Huh, we think; but what about my fall or my rescue? Like with most things in life we base our perception of how much we are cared for by the speed of the response.

Maybe your transition was precipitated by a cliff, or during your transition you’ve encountered a cliff or maybe more than one. How do you handle the wait, the letting go? It is one thing to believe help is possible. It is another to wait knowing we will be helped. When we can wait with the knowing that help is arriving on time we start to undo the tension and reconnect with our humanity. This frees us to reconnect to those around us; secure in our own surplus and ability to share.

Two types of cliff experiences.

When I was transitioning from being a full-time mom to having all the children grown and moved out, that was not a cliff but I encountered a few along the way. I was secure in moving from the needs of children defining a major portion of my worth to creating a new definition of who I was. Along the way though little things tripped me up like not getting a job I especially wanted and so forth, but other things moved into the gap and I would regain my footing to keep moving forward.

Going through a divorce, on the other hand, was a major cliff; and it came with many other cliffs as time went by. It was definitely a free-fall; and it was tempting to grab the first thing in reach and cling to it for dear life. But again and again at each cliff fall this tripartite message would bubble up: “Let it go.” “Things are happening on time.” “Do the next right thing.” I wish I could report that it got easier each time I tumbled over a cliff but human that I am I would have to relearn that hanging on for dear life halfway down was not going to work.

What really matters?

Maybe it doesn’t matter that waiting by faith is not the first response to a cliff. Maybe what matters is that we’re eventually open to getting to the waiting by faith. Maybe we need to give ourselves a break if we manage to get there at last because maybe it is completely appropriate that the initial reaction to going over a cliff is not letting go but hanging on. But staying on the face of the cliff is not a place to live and eventually you have to let go and get off.

Let’s face it, falling is messy and doesn’t put us in our best light. All that messiness becomes ample fodder for the accusing voices that would hold us back or persuade us we can earn being helped or at least hurry it up. But really all we can do is wait; and trust.

Note: Anne Lamott is a writer and speaker. Some of her books are Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.


chelle said...

Falling definitely can be messy but the recovery can be quite beautiful.

Deb said...

@Chelle - Yes it is; and thank you for point that out because I completely missed mentioning it.