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08 / autumn : letting go

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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

Infinite Expanse of Paradise

September 28, 2019



 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (1)

Given enough time and thought each of us could probably make a fairly large list of things that we’ve lost over our lifetime.  People that have passed away or relationships that have ended, homes we’ve moved away from or family members and friends that have moved away from us, school friends we’ve lost touch with…etc.  Church families are not immune to this, even loving and supportive places will also see it’s fair share of comings and goings.  Co-workers find other work elsewhere or just quit, pop culture figures we’ve become attached to die or fall out of the spotlight.  Our own place in the world may change and become unfamiliar, or we may change and become a stranger to the life we’ve known.  Fire and storm and war and tragedy can take from us what we’ve come to define ourselves by.  We are marked by loss more than we want to admit. And sometimes we question the goodness of the giver.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (2)

In our better moments we do trust the goodness of God, but at our low moments we still cannot help but ask why an eternal God would give us temporary gifts?  Our ill-ease with the reality of loss as a natural part of life is worth noting.  We have at our core, an innate belief that loss is somehow wrong.  We understand the hurt of a scraped knee or a cut finger. It’s not often that we ponder to the heavens about the resilience of our epidermis.  But the finality of losing cherished things and loved ones, seems unnatural.  “Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind.” (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain)  Loss seems to be more rooted in that ‘fear of a different kind’.  We don’t fully understand it, and it seems to conflict with how we believe the world should be.  So we try to force ourselves to accept that change is to be expected in this life.  Growth, life, pain, joy, loss… and yes, death are a part of our lifecycle.  

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (3)

It is so tempting, in the light of the tremendous tonnage of loss we’ve experienced, to then sink our nails into whatever we’ve got right now and hold on to it for dear… life.  We try to keep the ‘here and now’ so that we may never lose to the ‘gone and done’.  Freezing time seems preferable to facing an unknown and unfamiliar future.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not much more valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (4)


How do we love this very moment and cherish and thrive in it fully, while also holding this moment in such a way that when it must be released, we do not break because we are not holding so tightly that it must be torn from us?  Do we train ourselves to then simply shrug off our sadness in this life and only care for the next, keeping our heads in ‘the clouds’? 

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (5)

To ‘lay up your treasure’ means to take something of value and to entrust it to a place where it can be held securely.  Perhaps Jesus is showing us that there can be a life beyond this one for the things we care about in this world.  He is inviting us to entrust these things to a place that is not given to the decay of time and loss.  Another realm where these beloveds can become the full expression of what was true and good and beautiful about them.  Do we not believe that this transformation will happen to us when we cross over?  Can we also believe it about those we love and those we lose to death?  Might we also believe restoration possible for relationships ended by division and brokenness in its many forms?  Imagine a relationship destroyed by the fallenness of this world, restored in the world to come.  Two people hugging each other and crying over how they’ve hurt each other in the life before, and weeping with joy for the redemption of their souls and the smallness of what broke their union in the light of the magnificent beyond that they both have been called further up and further into.  What about cultures and civilizations?  Could God redeem the darkness of our works of community and restore the good? Might this also be true even for such things as art and architecture and gardens and poems and songs?  Could God redeem, reclaim and restore even these?  If true, then we are indeed called to love and steward and care for things here and now, but to release their ultimate completion to the there and then.  Entrusting it all to the Kingdom of God.  If we instead deposit what we treasure to the bank of this world and trust the securities of this life for safe keeping, then our hearts will forever break when that bank is robbed by the thieves of time and decay and death and our minds will be held captive by the loss and erosion that we see around us.  But if our hearts are set upon that future undying land, and our minds are set on the belief that God can redeem anything and restore everything, then death will have indeed lost its sting.  Courage and gladness and virtue can become our resting pulse when we walk as citizens of that Kingdom, even while we yet live in this world.  What would it look like to count nothing lost, even that which was unjustly taken?

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (6)

What a hard, countercultural way of living that would be!  To deny the cycle of scarcity that causes those who don’t have to take and those who have to hold violently.  To be able to let go with the confidence that it shall be returned in the life to come or whatever eternal thing the temporary was meant to point our hearts to will be waiting for us in the truest fulfilment of what the temporary aspired to express!  Like a hand caught in a storm grate because it refuses to release what it clutches so it might pull itself free, perhaps, in a sense, we cannot ‘fit’ through the ‘narrow way’ of Heaven if we are clutching all the things we’ve refused to let go of out of fear or greed or bitterness. 

“Enter through the narrow gate.
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,
and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (7)

What if we took God at His word, that it is in the attempt to keep our life, or the things that we think define our lives that will end up causing us to lose it all?  But if we lose our lives for His sake will we not ultimately then find them?  What if we could commit everything – our loved ones, our possessions, the work of our hands and our very spirits into His hands?  If we lived that way, the protective nature of our temporal existence would be unnecessary.  We would feel no need to ‘store in barns’, to horde and hide.  If we truly believed in a coming day when the love of God will make all things right again, then we would have no desire to build walls against others or lock our treasures away or fear the attacks from those who would wish to steal, kill and destroy.  We would be free even to love those who do us harm.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (8)

One day God will cast away all our armors and give us wedding garments and our hearts of stone will be remade into fully alive hearts of flesh, more real than those that beat in our chests at this very moment.  We all will be more fully our true selves and we will become what we can only image now.  We will receive back all the things of this life that were laid up in the care of the Kingdom.  God wins and everything is going to be ok!  It doesn’t always look like it now. Everything appears to be falling apart and things are probably going to get worse before the end… but you are God’s and God wins and there is a place beyond the veil where all of the broken unjust heartbreaking things that tear at our hearts will have no hold on us anymore.  A kingdom where all these things that we’ve lost can be redeemed and restored!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.” (9)

If God hold all and sustains all and has prepared a place for us all, then when we feel the pangs of loss and sorrow, we can hold it honestly.  Jesus wept too and fully felt how bad this life can hurt.  Even so, with our other hand we can firmly hold onto the sure and solid hope that this loss is not the final word.   Jesus also knew, as we can trust, that there is light and high beauty forever beyond the reach of the darkness.  Streets made with gold do not crack.  The very leaves of the trees in the undying lands are for the healing of the nations.  And there will be no darkness there, for God will illuminate everything, and everything will reflect Him. What lays in the beyond of this life is worthy of our anticipation and the One who placed it all there is worthy of our allegiance.  Whatever we find there, however we find it, we can rest confidently in the knowledge that everything there has been reclaimed restored and redeemed by an All Good Father.  We will marvel at the fullest expression of His beauty, His truth and His goodness.  Knowing assuredly that anything lost that is not returned was not for your benefit in the first place.  But in the end, if all of Heaven is nothing more than an empty room where we and God can sit together for eternity, it will be more than enough, for He is our true treasure, and we are His. 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (10)

 

For all that we’ve had to let go of we can be confident in this; that moth and rust and nails and thorns and thistles and cancer and affairs and betrayal and injustice and abuse and slavery and divorce and depression and oppression and lies and death do not have the final word.  Tears will be acknowledged honestly and wiped away by shining hands that still bear the nail scars. Wounds are not covered up but beautified and healed and are celebrated as heralds of the truer final victory. Death and mourning and ashes begets beauty and dancing and life.  Eternity springs from the heart of the Father and that massively intimate love, the molecular universality of wholeness found in that life beyond reaches every corner of the infinite expanse of paradise.

Revelation 21:1-5 (NIV)

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”



 

Unless otherwise noted, scripture has been taken from the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount.

  1. Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
  2. Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)
  3. Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)
  4. Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
  5. Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
  6. Matthew 5:39-42 (NIV)
  7. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
  8. Matthew 5:43-45a (NIV)
  9. Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
  10. Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV


The exquisite featured image is from Julie Jablonski and used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. We are grateful and rejoice in celebrating her beautiful work.



 

Adam R. Nettesheim

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