“Let go and let God” is one of those spiritual catchphrases you’re likely to hear in a variety of settings, from 12-step programs to church prayer circles.
Generally, what it means is something like, “I have a problem I can’t solve. I need to quit worrying about it and flailing against the bad circumstances and turn the situation over to the Lord so I can find peace of mind.”
The other day, though, my wife, Liz, asked me a practical question about this somewhat abstract saying. She wanted to know how you go about doing that, exactly. How do you manage to let go of a pressing, unsolvable problem that’s making you crazy?
I thought about that, and I came up with these suggestions for letting go and letting God, based on my own experiences. I’ve both succeeded at this and failed spectacularly. Thus, I have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
For those of you who aren’t comfortable talking about letting “God,” try substituting “a higher power” or “the cosmos” or “fate” or “the universal consciousness” or whatever else suits your worldview.
▪ Face three immutable truths head on: We can’t control others. We can’t control God. We can’t even control ourselves.
A lot of our unhappiness stems from trying to direct people or events that are outside our domain.
If your adult child is hooked on heroin or your ex-husband is spreading malicious lies about you again, you probably have little if any control over that. You’re wasting your efforts. You’re draining yourself unnecessarily.
▪ In light of the previous point, simply accept yourself in your helplessness. All of us are but dust. St. Paul, in fact, said he’d learned to rejoice in and boast about his weaknesses, for when he could do nothing on his own behalf, and he admitted it, that admission opened the door for God (a higher power, fate, the cosmos) to act instead.
▪ If you can’t fix the problem, quit trying to fix it. Just back off. Make a non-negotiable decision to let it go. Get out of God’s way. Quit pretending to be God. Usually, as long we’re trying to fix something, the Lord will let us. The surest way to keep smoking is to constantly say through gritted teeth, “I won’t smoke, I won’t smoke.” Because all you’re thinking about is smoking, right?
▪ Be mindful. You may have to remind yourself 50 times a day that this issue doesn’t belong to you anymore. When the fear and anger and frustration rise, take a deep breath and say, “No. This isn’t my problem. It belongs to God now. I refuse to let my heart be afraid or troubled. God hasn’t brought me this far in life to abandon me now. I will survive and flourish. I choose not to worry.”
▪ Recognize that no matter how bad your problem seems, there are a dozen people, just on the street where you live, who would gladly trade places with you. Suffering is universal, and a lot of folks have it worse than you do. That’s true.
▪ Decide to be happy today, where you are. We can’t postpone joy until we’ve seen our problem solved. Your son might stay addicted for 10 more years. You might be out of work for the foreseeable future. You might always be fat.
Don’t waste the life you have. Live despite your problems. Take yourself to a funny movie. Start hiking. Drive to coastal Maine and breathe in that glorious ocean air. Have fun despite it all. In doing so, you’re sticking your finger in the devil’s eye.
▪ Quit praying for the answer and instead start praising God that his answer is on its way and will arrive in its appointed time. Remind yourself that nothing — good or bad — lasts forever. One way or another, things will eventually be better again.
▪ Use this challenging period to get to know God, and yourself, better. Enrich your prayer life. Join a good Bible study group. Find a support group. Seek out professional counseling. Sit on a hilltop. Retreat deep, deep, deep into your spirit. Become more patient and merciful toward others who are struggling, because now you know how it feels.
Finally, good luck and Godspeed.
If you’re wrestling with an unsolvable problem, welcome to the human race. I’ve been there — and, unfortunately, I will be there again. We all will. To steal a line from songwriter John Prine, that’s the way the world goes ’round — you’re up one day, the next you’re down.
Just do your best, and that’s all you can do.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.