Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 12:42 pm | Fair 75º


Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Learning to Let Go

There is a puzzling story from the biblical book of Samuel. In the story, a woman prays for years for a child. She gives birth, and when the child Samuel is weaned — probably at 2 years or so — she takes him to the temple at Shiloh and leaves him there! What kind of a mother would do that?

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to see that this story illustrates an essential task of the family. The family is the place where we are nurtured and taught lessons for our lives. And the family is also the place that lets us go — over and over again. Here’s what I mean.

» The first letting go is when the mother weans the child. After that the child can get food from people other than the mother. The mother lets go of the close bond she has with the child and lets others into the relationship with the child. This involves risk, and the hope that others will treat the child well.

» The second letting go is when the child goes to school. The family wants the child to be nurtured and educated and inspired there. But there is uncertainty at school as well. Teachers may not meet the child’s needs. Bullies may torment the child.

» While they were extreme and rare events — for some children of Newtown, Conn., Columbine and others, school was a place of death. The saddest letting go of all is when parents bury their young children.

» When a child becomes a teenager, more letting go is required. In those years, there is a constant balance between giving the teen the opportunity to grow and the danger that he will make harmful choices.

» After high school, when children take their leave of the family home, it forces growth in the parents as well as the children. The parents must let go of their identity as the ones responsible for their children and hand that responsibility to the children themselves — ready or not!

» For one example, how difficult it must be to let go of a child to enter military service and go to war.

» When jobs and life partners and mortgages and all the rest happen, the parents need to let go of concerns about their child’s abilities to handle them, in spite of challenges and uncertainties.

» When grandchildren come along, more letting go must happen to give the new family space to begin the cycle all over again.

» In the course of these experiences, parents have many opportunities to let go of parts of themselves — their illusions, their opinions, even dreams for themselves.

» As time goes on, the child needs to let the parents go in death.

In all those instances of letting go, there are many opportunities for the child to fail to live up to his or her potential or to make disastrous choices. It is quite likely that the child will break his or her parents’ hearts. And there are many opportunities for the parents to make mistakes and to break the child’s heart. I don’t know any families that have not suffered some heartbreak.

I’ve heard it said that it is necessary for the heart to break — that it’s only by being broken open that the heart is able to grow larger to love more and more. As our hearts grow larger, our concerns and care can extend far beyond our own little family. Friends, church communities, civic organizations, even international efforts can become family for us. And those larger families present us with more opportunities for life lessons and for letting go.

So, how does this relate to our relationship with God?

I believe that God is constantly letting us go — to learn, to grow, to try, to choose, to fail. That is what freedom and free will are all about. Throughout our lives, God gently guides and beckons us, drawing us to be our best selves. God accompanies us and wants the best for us, just like human parents want the best for their children. God’s heart breaks when we fail to be our best selves. And like a human parent, God continues to love us and beckon us back to try over and over again, as long as we live.

— Mary Becker is a member and homilist at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

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