Death Grip: Letting Go of the Rope

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.

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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]!'”

Finding My Identity In the Midst of Idolatry

“Your pain could be God prying open your life and heart to remove a gift of His that you’ve been holding on to more dearly than Him.”  – Tullian Tchividjian

Let go.

Two words that are simple to understand and simple to write.  Two words that can change a life – for better or for worse.  Two words that have caused me to lose countless hours of shut eye during these past few weeks (maybe even months). Two words that instill a deep desire within me to sing a particular song from a particular Disney movie at the top of my lungs.  “Let it go, Let it go…” 

Letting go is hard.  It almost always requires a step of faith, a burst of courage, and a heck of a lot of discipline.  Three things that are nearly impossible for this 24 year old girl living in South Africa to muster up simultaneously.  So what’s the big deal?  Why is the struggle so real?  Well, God has asked me to let go of the one thing that I love most.  The one thing that I may have started to love more than Him…

Soccer.

Agh.  Just typing that word out on this page gives me a nasty stomach ache.  I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old; it fills my life with passion, purpose, and pride.  It’s a part of who I am.  I am “Sam, that girl who plays soccer.”  But you see, that’s the problem…

About halfway through my soccer season this year, I started compromising.  My identity became: athlete.  My value was being measured by what my coaches and teammates thought of me, and my worth was determined by how well I performed in each game.  My standard of integrity declined to appease my friends, and I had forgotten the real reason why I stepped out onto the field in the first place.  Not to prove myself.  Not to please my parents or my peers.  Not to impress my coach or the spectators.  Not even to stay in shape.

I played to worship.

So, God challenged me with a question, “Samantha, my beloved daughter, who do you play for?”

My response:  “Not You, God, at least… not anymore.”

His response: (*with a smile and a gentle nudge) “So what are you going to do about that, My child?”

My honest response: “Agh…”

I used to think idols were artifacts of the past.  Golden statues that people bowed down to and danced around, but little did I know, idols are alive and well today (especially in my own life).  It’s so easy for me to idolize people, meaning that I depend on them to fulfill my needs for love, security, comfort, and affirmation.  I didn’t realize that my Heavenly Dad (who already offered me all of those things perfectly) was being replaced by counterfeits, by things and people that can never satisfy me.  And I think this truth hurts Him more than it hurts me.  He has a love for me that is so wide and so vast.  He has a desire for me to know who I am according to Him and not according to the fleeting opinions and imperfect judgements of this world.

My friend Rencia shared some wise words with me the other day.  We both were fighting this same battle around the same time, and she spoke these words to me with humility and conviction, “Sam I haven’t just been committing idolatry with God, I’ve been committing adultery against Him.” 

Woah.  Her words hit me hard. If am supposed to be in a committed love relationship with the Lord, then He is supposed to be my everything: my source of joy, my provider, and my strength.  And I’ve been cheating on him with men that can’t love me unconditionally and with material things that can never satisfy.  Not to mention, I’ve been taking the abilities and talents He freely gave me, and I’ve been using (and abusing) them for my own selfish gain.  These things have taken God’s place in my heart, and it’s left me feeling insecure, empty, and desperate (things He never intended for me to feel).

So, with 5 games left in the season, I have to walk away.  Do I struggle with the thought that I can just “tough it out, suck it up, and finish?” Yep.  Do fears and worries  constantly flood my mind as I step out in faith? Oh, yes.  And as I battle with the concerns that my teammates will hate me, that I’ll be deemed a quitter, and that I will regret my decision to step back, I also know that God is faithful and that His promises are true.  So, during this season of separation and extra spare time, I will walk hand in hand with the God of the universe who calls me His.  I may try to run ahead of Him when I think I know the right way to go, and I may try to unlink my interwoven fingers from His when I want to go faster or further than He intends, but I find rest in knowing that He will always be patient enough to put up with my rebellious shenanigans.  

Who knows?  Next season is an entirely different story, and by that time, my heart may be in the right place to play again.  God knows the desires of my heart:  to serve, to marry, to play, to teach, to laugh, to adventure, and to grow (just to name a few things).

So for now, while I am confronted with this difficult season of sacrifice, I will do my best to “let go” of the fears and worries that come from this world, and I will choose to hold on to these unshakable truths instead:

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Deuteronomy 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”