Letting Go of Control

#SundayCoffee #Lectionary

Letting go of control.
This is probably the hardest thing for us humans to do. For me, it’s not necessarily the power to control outcomes — I’ve lived long enough to know that that is an illusion. For me, it’s making sense of things, the “why” of it all. If I can understand the reason, the operating principals, I can somehow align my life accordingly, and therefore have some degree of safety and stability.

Control is also closely tied with expectations. Like, if I know how something is *supposed* to work, and I plan my actions accordingly, I *should* be able to expect certain outcomes.

Yeah … not so much. Life really doesn’t work that way.

This week’s gospel lectionary reading focuses on Jesus’s famous words about taking up one’s cross to follow him. It has traditionally been understood in a sense of self-denial, not building a life completely centered around one’s own ambitions and desires, and putting God’s priorities first. True enough. It is also understood, in context of the passage, to refer to earthly means of acquiring power. The passage reads that Jesus is telling his close group of friends that he is about to be condemned by religious leaders, endure great suffering, and be put to death. But he would rise after 3 days. They didn’t know exactly what he meant, but this did not line up at all with their expectations.

They were following this guy because he performed miracles and had some amazing insights into the mind and heart of God. They fully expected Jesus, after he finished his course in spirituality and ethics, to storm the Temple, kick out the establishment, raise an army of patriots and zealots, kick some Roman ass, and set up an independent Jewish Kingdom that would last forever. This death and defeatist talk didn’t fit that scenario. And Peter wasn’t having it. Probably voicing the reservations of all the disciples, Peter confronts Jesus and tells him to stop talking that way.

And Jesus’s infamous response: “Get thee behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

It is certainly true that Jesus was speaking specifically about all their political expectations. They knew what they all wanted, what they felt their Scriptures pointed to and guaranteed. And Jesus was pouring cold water on all that.

In this context, “denying oneself and taking up one’s cross” refers to letting go of their grip on the future. It meant letting go of the direction they’d set for their lives. Their dreams. Their plans. Their planned outcome.

Jesus is saying, life — especially life lived God’s way — doesn’t work as planned.

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

Life — a rich, fulfilling, and God-inspired life — is bigger than our plans, richer than our imaginations.

Holding on to our expectations, our plans of how things are supposed to work out — whether plans for social justice or political change, or personal aspirations about what our life is supposed to look like — will only hold us back. Holding on too tightly to our dreams will only stifle the dynamic life that is waiting for us. Life, at least in the God-flow of things, can’t be predicted or planned. It can’t be set in stone. It is fluid. It is, as Jesus described the life in the Spirit, like the wind. It blows where it will. And where it comes from and where it is going, no one really knows.

This is a difficult way to live a life. And impossible to plan a life around. One has to be willing to let go of plans, ambitions, even life-long desires. And just step into God’s flow. “Okay, God. I want to be part of your movement. I want to be part of what you’re doing. I want to be like you, to live like you and love like you.”

Cuz here’s the thing: Life seldom works out the way we plan, or even the way we dream. Ask Peter and the other disciples. The death of their messiah was not at all what they signed up for. But that was the divine plan. That was the path that would revolutionize the way people understood the heart of God and the true path of humanity. It would, in fact, revolutionize humanity — if we could get in line with it.

Here’s my takeaway. We all make plans. That seems pretty basic to human nature. But the key is to hold those plans loosely. Don’t imagine you’re in control — because life will quickly show you that you are not. If you wanna follow the path of God, to “find your life,” you gotta be willing to switch priorities, adopt values inspired by the Spirit, values that don’t put you at the center. You gotta let go of control. The alternative is to follow our own agendas, and in the end, find that we missed it after all.

ref: Mark 8:31-38
Image by 6689062 from Pixabay, cc