I made a vision board at the beginning of 2022. It is not a practice I usually engage in, but there was within me this tug to create some visual reminders that would anchor me in the year ahead. So I sifted through magazines and other items I had around, cutting out phrases and pictures that spoke to me. In large letters in the middle of my vision board is the phrase “the art of letting go.” I see it every morning as I start my day and every evening as I go to bed.
I feel as if I have been on a journey of letting go for several years now. It started with my cancer diagnosis when I was confronted with my mortality. Not long after, I let go of being a homeowner. I didn’t realize how unsettling that would be to my sense of self because isn’t owning a home the American ideal? Then came the pandemic and needing to let go of having a predictable life. And now the separation of The United Methodist Church that we have long talked about has finally arrived. You would think I would have this art of letting go figured out by now. But as I have started working with a couple churches requesting to leave the Minnesota Annual Conference, I realized I still have some work to do, and this daily reminder on my vision board is timely indeed.
I have always stood in the middle and tried to hold people together, to find common ground. I was invested in finding ways that we could stay together and stay strong and thought perhaps we, in Minnesota, could be a beacon to the whole United Methodist Church and show how to be church together differently. But I find myself needing to let go of my vision of how that might happen. Some churches and clergy are choosing to leave. That is a reality I need to accept. I personally grieve that we have not been able to find a way to be together in ministry in the midst of our difference and diversity. For me, it reflects the fracturing and divides occurring throughout our world, and I believe the church is called to live a more excellent way—a way of love. And yet, I also recognize that we are not better and stronger if people are fighting or if we are holding each other to something out of our historical connection rather than a shared vision of the future. It just increases the animosity. So I have had to let go.
There is an interesting spiritual concept called attachment. It is the idea that the root of our suffering is our human nature to become attached to people, things, ideals as the source of our happiness. We become anxious trying to protect ourselves from losing them and losing our sense of self with the accompanying grief and pain. The spiritual practice is to learn how to stay awake and present to all of life, to be open and connected in relationships, to be engaged in the work of justice and creating a better world—all without allowing ourselves to become so attached to any particular outcome as our source of identity or happiness. In other words, to cultivate the art of letting go. That takes a lot of spiritual maturity!
I have found that the ability to let go has a direct correlation to how much I am able to trust God. If I can truly trust that God is working for good in all things, then it doesn’t have to be my way. If I can believe that out of death does indeed come life, then I can let go of my uber sense of responsibility to save things or fix them. This letting go does not mean I just throw my hands up in the air and say “okay, God, it is all on you.” And it doesn’t mean we don’t have commitments and responsibilities to one another and the communities to which we belong. But rather, I remember that there is more going on here than I can see or know, and I trust that there are many other hearts and wise people in the room and the Spirit is moving among us. So my task is to show up, be fully present to all that is. To pay attention. To listen. To sense where God might be leading. To speak my truth in love. To put my voice into the conversation but not as the only voice. To act in ways that are loving and respect the agency of others. And then to let go of the outcome, trusting that what I have offered is enough, and trusting that God has got the whole world in God’s hands and somehow, it is going to be alright.
Anthony DeMello, the Jesuit priest who wrote much about this spiritual work of letting go our attachments offered this wise word: “I have no fear of losing you, for you aren’t an object of my property, or anyone else’s. I love you as you are, without attachment, without fears, without conditions, without egoism, not trying to absorb you. I love you freely because I love your freedom as well as mine.”
Isn’t that how we all want to be loved and treated? It is a good word for me as I navigate my own personal relationships, and as I walk these days in The United Methodist Church where beloved friends and colleagues may choose different paths and where the church I have known for so long goes through radical transformation. We will not be the same. That I need to let go of. But at the same time, I trust that God will love us through it, and we will have the courage to love each other into whatever is ahead.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church