On a recent solo, I found myself standing in the middle of a creek under a sycamore tree that had begun to shed its leaves. I was simply watching each leaf as it detached from the branch and floated gently to the water. As it landed on the water, I was struck that it did not sink, but instead floated. I continued to follow the leaf’s progress as it slowly began its descent down the river.
This process appeared to be so peaceful as the leaf surrendered its life, let go, and fell gently to the water. I found myself wanting to join in this process of full surrender, the process of dying as letting go. Recently I read a segment of the poem “The Sacrament of Letting Go” by Macrina Wiederkehr:
Shedding her last leaf
She watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
Wearing the color of emptiness,
Her branches wondering
How do you give shade with so much gone?
When we let go of the last vestiges of our self-sufficiency, our disordered attachments, our own strength; we may find ourselves, like the tree, empty and wondering. What is my purpose if it isn’t to give shade? How do I live from this place where I feel stripped bare? What does love that doesn’t come from my resources look like? Am I willing to let go and trust that even when I feel empty, God is beginning to help me understand that my vulnerability, my dependence and needs, my emptiness are giving me a new kind of beauty?
With the depth of that question still in my mind, the remainder of the leaf’s journey drew me further. I decided to see if I also could float down the creek as the leaf did. I laid back, trying my best to let go and rest fully on the water. I closed my eyes and floated for 2 seconds before my body tensed. I opened my eyes, lifted my head and promptly began to sink. The desire to see where I was going, to control my descent, continued to plague my float, causing me to give up in exhaustion after a mere 20 yards of floating. I felt the impending need to do something to keep myself afloat. Whether it was laboring to breathe in, looking to see where I was in relation to the flow of the creek, or wanting to make sure I didn’t run into something, I felt that I must do something to remain afloat.
Surrender is like that. We often find ourselves ready to let go of a stronghold or struggle, only to find that a few hours later, we are gripping tightly and trying to secure our freedom. We are able to let go fully only when we stop trying to do so, when we stop trying to earn God’s love or make progress toward spiritual transformation.
After resting a few moments, I decided to try again. I walked up the bank to the place I had first begun and again lay back in the creek. This time, I resolved that I would not open my eyes. I floated peacefully for some time and smiled in enjoyment. Floating was fun and really didn’t require as much effort as I thought it did. The creek was somewhat shallow at this point and the water swifter. I discovered this actually aided in the ease of my float. Around 30 seconds into the float, something changed. My progress slowed, the current was no longer carrying me along, and my legs and feet began to sink. I opened my eyes and found myself totally disoriented. I was floating in a deeper section of the creek, barely moving. The current was almost indiscernible on top of the water, but I knew that it still flowed deeper down.
Again, the journey of surrender is like this. Isn’t it true that the deeper we go, the more confusing it seems? At times, it may feel as though we have ceased making progress altogether. God feels more distant and when He does speak it is vague and confusing. How I long for the moments where I could feel the current pushing me along, where floating felt easy. And I did find myself paddling with my arms to find a current rather than allowing myself to rest fully in this place where it appeared that not much was happening. In reality, there was a great deal going on beneath the surface and when I stopped striving to return to the familiar current, I discovered a deeper and more satisfying rest.
I wish that I could say that I was able to fully surrender to floating that day. The enjoyment of the experiment led to floating this small section five or six times. Each time I was able to float a little longer before giving in to the urge to control or manage my descent in some way. Each time learning a little more.
I have been reminded often in this season of the simple truth found in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” I want so badly to understand what it is that God is doing in me, especially when I find myself in those deep and disorienting places where He seems to have disappeared. And yet, God continues to remind me that it is not my understanding that leads to true life, in fact, the opposite is true.
Surrendering the need to understand is a part of the process of dying. As Macrina Widerkehr ends her poem:
They helped her understand that
Her dependence and needs
Her readiness to receive
Were giving her a new kind of beauty
Every morning and every evening
They stood in silence
And celebrated together
The sacrament of waiting.
And Jesus said: Now if that is how God cares for the wildflowers in the fields, which are here today and gone tomorrow, will He not all the more care for you?