Did you ever play the game Tug-O-War as a kid?
If you haven’t, it’s a game where you and some friends stand on opposite sides of a long heavy rope, gripping it and “tugging” on it as hard as you can until one team manages to pull the other over a designated line. Once the team crosses the line by giving way to your brute strength and unrelenting resolve, you win! Yay, game over. Simple enough.
Every time I played this game as a feisty and incredibly competitive eight-year-old girl, my hands took a beating. Callouses and cuts covered my palms as I’d grip that rope as tightly as I could, right up until the moment of sweet victory or the moment when I crossed over the “loser line.” No matter how hard it was to pull and tug and cling – I refused to let go. Call it stubbornness or “commitment;” I didn’t want to give up.
As an adult, I still tend to grab onto things and refuse to let go – and sometimes the things I hold onto are the wrong things. The approval of others, feelings of anger, old shame lies, comfortable sin habits, and the need for control being just a few of those things. I cling to them firmly, hoping to find the love, the justification, the happiness, or the self-inflicted punishment that I am looking for (and feel I deserve). I’m not ashamed to say that I love to win, but in a situation like that, the only way to truly win is to let go.
When it comes to my relationship with God, I also cling, but if I am completely honest, most times I don’t cling because of hope or love. I cling because of fear. It’s a fear that whispers, “If I let go of God, He will leave. If my grip slips or if my hands grow tired, He will walk away. If I let Him go, then He will most definitely let me go.” I’ve always thought that the secret to walking in righteousness and faithfulness was to hold on as steadfastly to God as I could. I was trying to hold on for dear life, and I was dying in the process. There were moments when I’ve thought to myself, “If only I grip hard enough, if only my fingers start bleeding, if only I pass out from sheer exhaustion – then I’ll be okay and only then will I be deemed worthy of love.” At least, that’s what I thought.
But it was on the days when I was weak that I learned the truth about God’s power and strength. God’s love was never dependent on how tightly I gripped onto Him. Instead, His love was and will always be entirely dependent on how tightly He grips onto me. And the beauty of that statement is found in the simple fact that He will never let me go. (And He will never let you go, either.)
Agh. Thank you, Jesus.
God does not want me to play Tug-O-War with Him. He doesn’t want me to waste my life trying to win over His love and affections and approval and acceptance through own human strength or ability. I don’t need to prove myself to Him or win Him over through my performance, my athleticism, my service, or my sparkling personality. The “loser line” has already been crossed, and here’s the major plot twist you guys – we weren’t the ones who crossed it. Heck, we weren’t even playing. We were sitting on the sidelines while Jesus willingly “took one for the team” and sacrificed Himself to become our champion, and His win was enough for all of us. The game is over.
When my trust and hope are in God and not in myself, I find the freedom (and the permission) to let go. The crazy part is that it’s actually in the letting go that my faith muscles begin to grow. My identity rests in the fact that God has my back, that He fights my battles, and that He won’t ever stop loving me (because His love never depended on me in the first place). He begins to increase, as I decrease. He becomes greater, as I become less. I need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough, not because of how hard I try to be enough, but because my Heavenly Father already says that I am enough. As those truths start to sink deep into the dark recesses of my spirit and my soul – the shame, the fear, the performance anxiety, and the endless and pointless striving begin to cease.
Then the real post-game celebration begins. And that’s when the hardened callouses on my hands (and the hardened callouses on my heart) fade away, as I revel in the fact that it is finished.
Hebrews 13:5 – “For He has said, ‘I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!'”