Richard Rohr has noted that all world religions include encouragement and guidance on learning to let go (Simplicity: The Art of Living, Crossroad, New York 1992). From the AA dictum “Let go and let God” to the Buddhist notion of detachment, we are directed to face the fact that our efforts to control situations often get in the way and certainly impact us spiritually.
The essence of this challenge is summarized for me in the Serenity Prayer “God grant me the serenity/To accept the things I cannot change/The courage to change the things I can and/The wisdom to know the difference.” This wonderful bit of guidance calls us not to inaction but to discernment. Yes, sometimes we need to sit and wait. But at other times, action is required. As a good friend once said “You can pray all day for potatoes but you still have to go out and hoe the garden.” But when to act and when to let go? Therein is the great spiritual challenge.
None of us like being confronted with the fact that we like to be in control. Keep in mind, though, that control in and of itself is not bad. It’s when we try to control where in fact we are powerless that the problems start. Perhaps I bully people or perhaps I try to manipulate through guilt. In either case, I am not letting go. I am holding on.
Rohr notes that we are driven by 3 compulsions: the compulsion to succeed, the compulsion to be right, and the compulsion to be powerful. To some extent, we are probably driven by all three but with particular emphasis on one compulsion. In my case, I think I get into trouble with all three!
Letting go involves trust. But trust in Whom or What? Again I run into my relationship with and concept of God. If I let go, what is it exactly that God does? I remember sitting in a support group once and a man came in and announced that he disliked his boss and so had just quite his job and “turned it over to God.” I hope that worked out for him but the God of my understanding doesn’t run an employment agency. So for me personally I struggle with what exactly I expect God to do if I turn something over to Him/Her.
And yet that letting go brings peace when I am able to do it. My efforts to control often do make matters worse but when I manage to let go and trust, I find some true serenity. And, more often than not, things work out (although not always the way I thought they should.)
What the Serenity Prayer reminds me of, then, is something that has been spoken by wise people from Epictetus to Viktor Frankl: there may not be much I am in control of but I ALWAYS have control over how I respond. Within that response may be the key to inner peace.
Reflection: 1.In what ways do you struggle with letting go? 2. Which of the compulsions mentioned by Rohr are struggles for you?
Further reading: Richard Rohr’s book noted above
The chapter “We Agnostics” in the book Alcoholics Anonymous