Saving One's Life by Losing It

28 August 2005: 22nd Sunday of the Year
Matthew 16, 21-27 Saving One’s Life by Losing it

Let me concentrate on the passage, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” There is a Sufi tale that best illustrate this gospel passage:

Once upon a time, a stream was working itself across the country. It experienced little difficulty because it simply ran around the rocks and through the mountains and forests. Then one day it arrived at a desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared. After many, many attempts it became very discouraged. It appeared that there was no way it could continue the journey.

Then a voice came in the wind. “If you stay the way you are, you cannot cross the sands. You cannot become more than a puddle of water. To go further you will have to lose yourself.”
“But if I lose myself,” the stream cried, “I will never know what I’m supposed to be.”
“Quite the contrary,” said the voice, “if you lose yourself, you will become more than you ever dreamed you could be.”

So the stream surrendered to the scorching sun. And the clouds into which it was formed were carried by the raging wind for many miles. Once it crossed the desert, the stream poured down from the skies, fresh and clean, and full of the energy that comes from the storms.

For Christ, the person who risks all --- maybe looks as if he had lost all --- finds life. To lose one’s life, to take risks, means to die from many things, to let go, to move on, to surrender. We can never do so unless we let go of whatever binds us to the past. If we have a heavy burden in our heart, it will drag behind us and create sadness and weariness in our spirits. There are many different ways and times when letting go needs to be part of us. We may need to let go of any of the following, and may I invite you to see which of these things you have to part with, to say goodbye to, or to die from:

A person: the death of a loved one, the termination of a friendship, a child going off to school or marrying. As we let go, we cherish the good memories. Life will never be the same as it was before those events took place.

Unmet expectations: These are expectations of ourselves, of our parents or of children, of friends or co-workers. It can be extremely painful to finally accept a parent as she or he is, to see their flaws and weaknesses and to love them in their incompleteness. When a child so dearly loved continually makes poor choices and develops attitudes foreign to a parent’s values, it can be a harsh and dreadful experience for a parent to let go of the child they hoped for and to accept the child that they have.

Dreams and goals: Especially at mid-life, but at any adult transition time, we come to “truth times” when we see who we are and how we are. We can’t be like someone else, or we won’t be wealthy, or we will not be whatever it is that we thought we might be.

Old injuries of the heart. We all have them and they claim a lot of our energies at times. It may be the person who never liked us, or the one who destroyed us with jealousy or untruths, or the one who wiped us out with silence. It may be the relative who started the fight or the parent who abused us verbally or physically. We must let go of our sinfulness. It is very hard to accept our own weaknesses or our failures and to trust in the mercy and forgiveness of God.

Old securities. It may mean letting go of the outer strongholds of the place where we have lived for a long time or our present job, our set of friends, our known skills. We must sometimes let go of our inner securities as well: the way we think or feel about things or about ourselves; even our image of God needs to change as we grow and develop.

Our riches. Good health is a treasure. Sometimes we are forced to let go of it in sickness or age; when the natural aging process is seen through wrinkles and less energy. There are also times when we have to let go of the riches of friends who are close by, when a job promotion takes us far away and time or travel prohibit regular conversations and enjoyable sharing that we once knew and valued so much.

Surrender walks hand in hand with letting go. It is like the stream that has to surrender to the scorching sun; to let go of what the stream thinks what it is, and what it is supposed to be. To surrender is to give over to God, to give up our power over something that keeps us down or holds us back.

When we surrender, we open ourselves up to the mystery of life, to the risks of the future, to the challenge of the unknown. For many of us it is scary to think of surrendering ourselves into the arms of God. “What might happen?” is the secret question in our thoughts. Part of what keeps surrender from happening in us is our desire to be in control of everyone and everything.

But surrender is a freeing event, like a person paralyzed for years and being able to run and jump and dance again. Like the stream transformed into clouds. To surrender is to live with a mind and heart that trusts in God who desires our good, to be open to the future, and to believe that all shall be well. When we let go and when we surrender, we are most surely that we will be able to cross any desert and with full energy water the earth. And when the rain pours, as we all see, as the passage teaches, it gives life.

Let me end with Rabindranath Tagore:

When old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

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