The Great Letting Go

Originally published October 10, 2020 

Today’s blog, The Great Letting Go, describes the times in our own lives when God invites us to let go of our fears, uncertainty, and doubt in order to live more fully and joyfully. The blog has more personal meaning today than it did two years ago when it was first published. As I prepare to retire after forty-one years of ministry, the Holy Spirit is nudging me to begin The Great Letting Go, knowing that new adventures, opportunities, and possibilities lie ahead. 

“What’s your favorite time of year?” I asked a friend as we were walking. 

“Fall. I love this time of year! The leaves are changing, it’s getting colder, and the days are growing shorter. I really like the clouds and darkness of fall and winter.” 

“I’m just the opposite,” I said. “I dislike fall and always have. I love light and sun, and after the time changes and it gets dark so early, it’s depressing. Besides, fall was always the time when school started, and as a kid I never wanted to give up the freedom and joy of being outside playing all day. Summer has always been my favorite season, and I never want it to end.”   

But there’s more to it. A few years ago, I finally realized why fall is challenging for me. Fall is a time of change and movement, and I often struggle with transitions. During the summer, nature explodes with light, energy, warmth, growth, and fruitfulness. Fall, by contrast, is the time when crops have been harvested, fields are plowed under, leaves fall to the ground, and the earth becomes fallow. Wood is chopped, silos are filled, warm clothes come out, storm windows replace screens, and we anticipate hunkering down for the winter. What has been given in such abundance is now taken away. 

No wonder I am wary of fall. I don’t want to let go of summer, contemplate six months of darkness and isolation, and be forced inside my house, let alone inside my heart, where God waits to teach me patience, hope, and the value of rest and growth.

On my daily walks, I check out a maple tree that is in the process of letting go of its leaves. Those that have already made their way to the ground are red, yellow, green, and orange. These leaves reflect not only the progression of fall but the letting go that characterizes the spiritual life. I confess that I am not ready to yield fully to God. I want to live life on my own terms and remain green forever. At the same time, I yearn to align myself with the fullness of life that God offers. I grudgingly allow myself to turn partly orange but keep one foot firmly planted in the life I desire.   

I remember John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As I prepare to die to all that prevents me from becoming who God created me to be, I turn a brilliant red, offering myself completely to God’s cycle of life and death. My color is a witness to the obedience and trust that guide my life’s journey. “The summer ends, and it is time to face another way.” (Wendell Berry, Fourth Sabbath Poem, 1984) 

The earth prepares with me. Squirrels hoard acorns. The coats of animals thicken. Deer are active through the winter, their digestive systems adapting to a changed diet. Bears gorge themselves as they anticipate the long rest of hibernation. Birds head south, finding their way together. Carved pumpkin faces delight. Children roll in the leaves.    

Of course, the word “fall” does not come from a bed of leaves but from the sun. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface determines the change of seasons. As the earth slowly falls away from the sun, the intensity of light lessens. The light then “springs” back in six months. 

Finally, there is The Great Letting Go, and I fall, playfully giving myself over to the ground where I lie, waiting to be transformed and ultimately reborn in due season. The losing of my life: surrender, emptiness, melancholy.

From left to right: Bishop Lanette Plambeck, Bishop Laurie Haller, and Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai.

Letting go of possessions, children, perfection, youth, dreams, productivity, relationships, addictions, anger, and old ways of thinking. Completeness in nature. It’s done for the season. 

Waiting.   

Gather it in and wait.

Wait for the cold. 

Wait for restoration. 

Wait for hope.   

The ebb and flow of life… the spirituality of fall. 

All things pass away. 

Completely free, I am able to see myself and God more clearly. I recite Psalm 8, which I memorized during Disciple Bible Study many years ago. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”     

 I can’t tear my eyes away from the heavens, claiming the beauty and gifts of the darkness in my own life. “I will love the light, for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness, for it shows me the stars.” (Og Mandino) 

As I walk, I wonder and ponder, eyes and ears open to God’s leading. I ask the hard questions. What do I need to let go of in order for Jesus to fill me up again? Disappointment, bitterness, fear, hopelessness, helplessness? 

In the midst of the pervasive impact of COVID-19; our struggles around racism; the health of our local churches; severe drought conditions that deeply affected Iowa’s farm economy; and fears around the future of our beloved United Methodist Church, there is a great letting go.

The Haller’s new home in Michigan.
  • A hawk glides through the sky. I, too, yearn to fly free.   
  • As wind whistles through the trees, so I long to follow the wind of the Holy Spirit. 
  • I rejoice in the warmth of the fall sun, knowing that those precious days are already giving way to the coldness and darkness of winter. 
  • Just as the clear water reflects my own image back to me, so I long to reflect God’s grace back to others. 
  • I long for the faith of trees firmly rooted in the earth, trees that trust God enough to offer their leaves to death, believing in the new life that will return in the spring.   
  • I long for Jesus to carry me through periods of dormancy, knowing that God can work through me even when I cannot see it. 
  • I long to be nimble as the white-tailed deer bounding through the forest, always ready to go where God calls. 
  • I long to clear out the undergrowth weighing down my spirit so that I can see and smell the flowers that still hang on to life. 
  • I long for the drops of dew that are my tears to be a source of healing and hope for others. 
  •  I long to say goodbye to what no longer matters rather than cling to what I do not need. 
  • I long to respond to the persistent call, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  (Isaiah 43:1b)  

Like nature, I am dying to live.  The Great Letting Go.

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