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Letting Go

and we didn’t have enough registrants to even begin to cover our costs. The possibility of failure was enormous— which is probably why, in the end, the conference was such a success, since the It’s January again, and although I long possibility of failure is inextricably linked ago resolved to cease the wearying and to the possibility of grace. My letting-go lesson came from one ultimately discouraging practice of making New Year’s resolutions, some habits of our speakers, a delightful nun by the are particularly hard to break, especially name of Sister Elaine Roulet. Although for a go-to-it, to-do-list-making person well past what most people would conlike me. This time around, I resolved to sider retirement age, she is still devoting unpack that dreaded word—resolution her life to loving, empowering, and —and get to the bottom of it before I advocating for women behind bars. She launched 2007 with any more of those told us a story about a Tibetan singing across-the-board vows (“I’ll make my bed bowl she once saw advertised while every day”; “I’ll never yell at my kids”) working as a women’s prison chaplain. She ordered this bowl in the hopes that that are doomed to future failure. The verb to resolve, as it turns out, has its ringing song, used for centuries to its origins in the Latin word resolvere: to assist in mediation, would be a nonunfasten, loosen, release.Well, loosening threatening invitation to silence and is just about the polar opposite of how I prayer, regardless of the prisoners’ faith usually feel when I resolve to do some- backgrounds. When the bowl arrived in thing—abdominal muscles taut, teeth the mail, she took it out excitedly and clenched, mind determined to change followed the enclosed instructions, holdmy behavior by sheer willpower. What ing the bowl in her hand and striking it would it mean—in my family life, my with the accompanying wooden stick. To her disappointment, it emitted only friendships, my work—if, instead of clamping down and pushing my way into the a dull thud. She tried again and again, new year, I loosened my grip on the each time evoking nothing more than life God gave me and offered it back to a lackluster clunk. Eventually she realized that she had been clutching the metal him instead? A dizzying thought. And, of course, bowl so tightly in her eager fingers that the bowl was unable to vibrate. When a thoroughly biblical thought. This past November I experienced she loosened her grip, the metal rang firsthand a lesson in letting go. My col- freely and sweetly, instantly becoming league and I shared the daunting respon- the stirring spiritual invitation she had sibility of organizing a conference to hoped for. Sister Elaine shared this metaphor enlighten the Body of Christ about the rise in female incarceration and to with a room full of dedicated, godly challenge it to address the problem. women and men who, like her, have Almost everything about the endeavor devoted their lives to prisoners. Many was difficult.We assembled a group of 20 of them were weary, frontline workers speakers, many of them formerly incar- who care much and are paid little or cerated, and we had heard none of them nothing for the efforts they expend in speak before.We arranged a visit to a local an arena where the need is greatest and women’s prison, and the bureaucratic Christians are scarcest. Many arrived at logistics were sizeable.The venue for our the conference with somewhat guarded conference was still—in spite of promises gazes and shoulders sagging from the to the contrary—undergoing renovation, fight. But here was this beautiful, whitePRISM 2007


haired nun, reminding them that not only is it okay to lighten up and let go, but it is also essential. What does all this have to do with the current issue of PRISM? Everything really. For it is only by letting go that anything of value is ever accomplished in this world. In our cover story, Chi Huang let go of his comfort while he was a young medical student and went to La Paz, Bolivia, to work with street children. Then he let go of his personal need to see every street kid housed in an orphanage and instead learned the importance of ministering to the one child in front of him at the moment. He learned to listen to the kids rather than preach to them, to trust God to work in their lives rather than try to do it all himself. In “The Dangers of Evangelical Nostalgia,” Todd Lake urges us to let go of our fantasies about an allegedly Golden Age of the past, when life was better, sin less prevalent, and Christians nobler. Failure to release this figment of wistful imagination prevents us from living out our faith boldly and radically today. In “One Builds Coalitions for Justice, Another Builds Family Life Centers,” Dennis Hollinger invites Christians to loosen their grip on their oft-held conviction that there is only one right approach to God’s work. In “The Bishop and the Mango Tree” we meet a man whose willingness to give up preconceived ideas about Christianity and culture opened the door to full-on revival in the church in Bali. In “Handmade Hope, Homegrown Faith” we see a group of Mexican women giving up the label of poverty and donning the mantle of daughters of the Living God. “Lighten up,” my husband sometimes (wisely) suggests to me. Or, as Jesus puts it (in The Message), “If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms” (Luke 17:33). I think I can resolve to live with that this year. How about you? ■

Letting Go