One technique for catching monkeys is to drill a hole in a coconut, just large enough for the monkey to slip his hand through, and fill it with rice. When the monkey reaches in, to grab a fist-full of rice, he’s trapped, because his full-fist is too big to pull out of the hole. The monkey just needs let go. But, letting go never crosses the monkey’s mind. He clings to what he thinks he has. In reality, what he thinks he has, has him.
If only he could let it go, he could be free. If only he could let it go.
Isn’t nice to be smarter than a monkey?
Before we are too self-righteous about how stupid monkeys are and how smart we are, we probably need to be reminded that there are some who believe humans evolved from monkeys. Even if you don’t believe that, monkeys do seem to be our closest animal relatives.
Maybe monkeys aren’t the only ones who have a hard time letting go.
I wonder, what’s inside of your coconut?
What are your plans?
Learning how to let go is one of the ways that many of us need to be stretched.
Humans, like monkeys, also tend to cling. We cling to stuff. We cling to hurts. We cling to relationships – even unhealthy ones. We cling to ideas – even when we’re wrong. We cling to traditions. We cling to prejudices. We cling to people – which why we say some people are called “clingy.” We cling to our children – which is why some people are called “helicopter parents.”
Today, I want us to focus on the myriad ways we cling to the illusion of control.
Most of us believe that we are basically in control of our lives. We live like we want. We work where we want. We hang out with whomever we want. We eat what we want.
We try to have our finances under control. We try to have our careers under control. We attempt to have our kids well disciplined, well behaved, and under control. We even try to have our spouses under control.
We set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, annual goals, a 5 and 10 year plans, and plans for retirement. Our days are well-planned – scheduled to the minute.
Most of all, we keep our images under control. Even if we don’t really have everything under control, we wouldn’t want anyone to know. Keep a smile on your face. Never let them see you cry. Never let them see you sweat. Maintain a stiff upper lip. When anyone asks how you’re doing, just say “great!” In essence, lie.
Then,d something unexpected, unforeseen, unplanned, uncontrollable happens. The car breaks down. The kids get sick. Lightning strikes. Your husband gets fired. Your parent dies. You’re hospitalized. The kids move back home after college. Your aging mother-in-law moves in. A category 5 hurricane blows through town. The economy crashes. The house catches on fire.
Or, maybe it’s not something so negative. You win the lottery. You’re offered a great new job. A long-lost friend calls. You meet your future spouse. You make a new friendship. A friend invites you to church, and it changes your life. You break a terrible habit. You finally get help you’ve needed. God calls you to do something unexpected. You go on a mission trip that changes the way you see the world.
The point is that control is an illusion. We may attempt to manage some level of control in our lives. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Planning and organization is wise. But, even the best plans are not always possible to execute, and there’s only so much we can do to plan for the unexpected. Everything, no matter how well it’s planned or how under-control you think you are – EVERYTHING – is subject to change. Unexpected stuff happens.
We used to have a magnet on our refrigerator that said, “We plan. God laughs.”
While we may think that we’re in control; while we might attempt to be in control; while we might cling to our plans and agendas: we’re definitely not in control, no matter how tightly we cling! You’re not in control of your life, oy anyone else’s. Control is an illusion.
One of the primary principles of all 12-step recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is that addicts have to confront the illusion that they are in control and capable of managing their lives successfully. Every addict believes that they’re in control of their “problem,” and can quit any time. There’s no hope for recovery until the addict acknowledges they are out of control, and that they have a problem they CAN’T control. The first 3 steps are…
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
You may not be an addict that needs 12 steps to recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. But, lots of us are addicted to control, and would do well to, “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”
While God gives us free will and responsibility for our lives, God is the only one ultimately in control. I may control what time I set my alarm clock, or how fast I drive, or what I wear, or what I eat for lunch, etc. But, the Bible is clear, God, and God alone, is ultimately in control. Theologians use the word “sovereignty” to mean that God is in charge, in control, and that ultimately his divine purposes will be accomplished.
1 Chronicles 29 tells the story of King David gathering all of the materials that were needed to build a Temple for God in Jerusalem. David made plans to build the Temple himself. But, due to some significant moral failings, God gave the task of building the Temple to David’s son, Solomon. So, instead, David humbled himself, and gathered the materials that would be needed.
In 1 Chronicles 29, as David completed his collection, he offered a prayer of thanks. In verse 11 he prays, “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” I like the way the New Living Translation says it, “We adore you as the one who is over all things… for you rule over everything.”
God is over all things. God rules over everything.
It ought to come as great comfort to us to know that, even when we think we are in charge, ultimately God is the one over all things. That doesn’t mean I can be irresponsible. I’m responsible for all that God has given me. But, it does mean that when I mess up, or things don’t go as planned, God is still in control!
Proverbs 29:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
And, Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “
Living with Open Hands…
Many spiritual traditions talk about the importance of “detachment.” In simplest terms, “detachment” is learning how to let go of our impulse to cling too tightly to our plans, to let go of our false-sense of control, and to trust more in God. Detachment is letting go of agendas, plans, control, demands, and expectations.
Henri Nouwen writes, “To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be non-possessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to. A non-possessive life is a free life.”
Here’s a helpful exercise in detachment. Hold something in your hand, and make a tight fist. Cling as tightly as you can. Really squeeze! Depending on what your squeezing, clinging might feel uncomfortable. Eventually, your hand will definitely get tired.
Do you possess it? Of course. But, at what cost? And, with your fist closed tight, how can you receive anything new?
Now, still holding the object, turn your hand palm-up, and release your grip. Likely, the object is still lying in your hand. You still possess it. You can relax. The item can rest there without stress or pain.
Do you still have it? Of course. Is it possible it could be taken from your hand? Yes. You could close your grip, momentarily, temporarily, if you need to. But, maybe it needs to be removed from your hand. Maybe, something even better could be put in its place?
In your relationship with God, do you want to approach him with clinched fists, or with open hands, ready to give and receive?
One of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. The book is a fictional correspondence between a senior demon, named Screwtape, and his apprentice, Wormwood, about their efforts to undermine a young Christian man. Screwtape shares that what he finds most outrageous about God is how he asks his followers to surrender control of our lives to him, but then gives everything back to us, “When He (God) talks of their losing their selves; He means only abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
That’s detachment. We also call it surrender.
Let me ask you a question. Do you profess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? To call Jesus Savior, acknowledges that you need someone to save you from your sinfulness, and that Jesus did that for you on the cross. But, “Lord” means something else. Lord is a term of royalty and authority. A Lord rules over a place and a people. To say that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is to say that Jesus rules. He’s in charge. He calls the shots.
To say, “Jesus is your Lord,” is to say that he’s in charge of your life. If Jesus is your Lord, that means he is in control, and you’re not!
Many of us say Jesus is our Lord and Savior. But, really, we just want to benefits of a Savior. Taking the next step of surrendering to the Lordship of Christ is a difficult step,
Jesus doesn’t have any desire to be just a figure-head in your life, a puppet-king, an absentee landlord, ex-officio, a silent partner, an accessory, or even your assistant manager. He refuses to be second in command. Either he is Lord of all, or Lord of nothing. That’s why he’s crystal clear about what it means to follow him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Mark 8:34-37 There are no half-measures with Jesus. With Jesus, it’s all or nothing.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people, who are stuck between two options – a or b – neither of which they like. They’ve done their homework. They’ve considered the options. It’s either this or that; black or white; stay or go; yes or no; A or B. And, like I said, they don’t like either option.
I don’t personally believe that God is limited to just two options. I believe in “Option C.” There’s always an “Option C.” When I can only imagine Options A and B, it’s because I’m thinking from my very limited perspective. But, God always has another option; an alternative; maybe a better option; an “Option C.” But, the only way you’ll discover Option C, typically, is to let go of Options A and B, and surrender control to God.
What outcome are you trying to control? What are you clinging to?
You have to let go.
You can either trust God, with open hands. Or, you can clinch your fist and hang on to your plans – like a stupid monkey!