It’s a fault we have as parents. We hold on too tightly. We don’t want to let go. We enjoy the control we have in the early years. The ability to be immediately and unquestioningly obeyed. But you have to start practicing letting go early on. You let go of your baby and surrender him to the nursery or to daycare. You let go of the little chubby finger so she can learn to walk on her own.You let go of fighting with her about what to wear, and she wears the princess dress to the store. You let go of his hand as you put him on the school bus for the first time. You let go of the bike as he takes off down the street.
But eventually you are letting go in much bigger ways. You give them the keys and a kiss and say “See you soon” hoping that it really will come true. You let go with every box you carry into the dorm room at college. Eventually you let go of her hand at the end of the aisle, so she can hold on to another. You realize that it’s a bunch of little letting go’s that eventually lead to the big ones so that we can truly let go. It’s all part of the practice of letting go.
So here’s the question: Did God the Father have to practice letting go?
I believe so. I wonder if some human experiences in the Bible that seem so odd to us were his practice of letting go. The first letting go was the garden. They broke the rule; they lied; they had to suffer the consequences. He had to let go of having them in the perfect garden he created for them. Perhaps the angels at the gate to keep them from coming back were more to spare his heartbreak than theirs.
Then he asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, his promised son, his waited for son. He watched as Abraham faithfully carried out the command. He saw Isaac’s confusion during the difficult walk. He watched Abraham raise the knife and wondered if he would be able to do the same. He watched the anguished relief when the provision of the ram came. In the same way that Abraham believed that Isaac could rise from the dead, God the Father looked to a day when he would have to believe that his son would rise again because no substitute ram would come. Abraham’s hope carried him up the mountain, and someday God would have to rely on this hope to carry him through being separated from his son. I wonder if God wept with Abraham when he received his son back and felt with him the joy of getting a son back from the grave. Perhaps God was practicing letting go.
When Jesus stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he somehow knew his friends would also soon stand outside of his grave. He saw their sadness and anguish. He felt it all with them. He obeyed the Father and stayed away for three days. The agony of not being able to relieve the pain immediately! When he arrived, he felt the permanence of separation, the finality of the physical death. And he wept, a deep gut-wrenching, earth-shattering weeping. He knew this was what it would look like and feel like to his followers when he had to leave. But the practice also included a receiving back. He would also that day receive Lazarus back. He would celebrate and dine with him. But first he had to let go.
Throughout history, perhaps God the Father was practicing letting go, letting his son, his one and only begotten son, walk like a lamb to the slaughter. It was part of the practice to hold back the supernatural rescue when he cried tears of blood in the garden. It was forsaking him and leaving him alone when the sin of the world was placed upon him. It was the gut-wrenching, earth-shattering weeping when the ground quaked, the sky turned black and the curtain ripped in two. The agony of waiting for three days. But ultimately the joy of receiving your son back. When you break open the tomb with the power of your word, when you reunite him with those he loved on earth, when you see the rejoicing together again, when he rises through the clouds and runs into your arms having done everything you asked him to do.
The practice of letting go also comes with the joy of receiving back. If you never let go of the toddler’s finger, they never get to run into your arms when you walk in the door. If you never let them drive away, you never know the joy of watching them return from a long journey. If you never let them go down the aisle, you miss their three-fold return with a baby in their arms. Yes, the letting go is painful, gut-wrenching, earth-shattering pain. But it’s a skill that takes practice. But the practice of letting go comes with the joy of receiving them again in a new life.
This is the joy of the Father with the Son seated at his right hand. To receive us, his children that he fought for and died for, as we walk through the gates of heaven, back into the garden to be with him forever. This is the joy of receiving us back, welcoming us home. This is the love of the Father. This is how much he cares for you.
And all along the way of this life God asks us to let go. When we move, we let go of possessions. When we give to the church, we let go of things we hold dear. It is all to practice the day that we will ultimately be asked to let go of this body and leave it behind. When you have practiced letting go, you will be ready to joyfully let go when it is time. And when you let go, by faith you receive back more than you could ever know.