Let It Go
Let it Go
I was not born with the gift of nonchalance. Ever since I can remember, I cared deeply about things being done right. I wasn’t born and raised a Presbyterian, but from the beginning I had the disposition to maintain proper order and insist on justice.
Especially for me.
I remember the outrage I felt as an eight-year-old at a church picnic softball game. A runner rounding first base missed tagging the bag. As first baseman, I was too slow to tag him out; but when I saw that he missed the base, I gleefully stomped on it and shouted triumphantly, “Yer out!” Alas, nobody came to my defense. They left the runner safe on second, and I was furious. It wasn’t right! It wasn’t fair! I was being wronged and disrespected, and the world would fall apart if rules weren’t followed. My teammates and our opponents all agreed, “It’s only a game, give it a rest!” I couldn’t. It ruined my day.
One of the marks of true maturity is the ability to tell the difference between essentials and non-essentials. Getting wrought up over non-essential things is a sure sign that we have some more growing to do.
John Calvin named only three convictions as essential to Christianity: God is One. Christ is God. Our salvation rests on God’s mercy. Everything else can be disagreed upon by Christians of charity and good will, and the church ought never divide over lesser things. (Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.1.12) Our Book of Order maintains this posture by citing the classic Presbyterian principle “that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” (F-3.0105)
Scripture enjoins us to live with each other “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love… forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:2,32)
Paul exhibits something of a holy nonchalance toward those who disagree with him when he contends, “Let those of us, then, who are mature think this way, and if you think differently about anything, this, too, God will reveal to you.” (Philippians 3:15)
Can we let it go when things in the church don’t go how we think they should? Can we, with Paul, trust that God will reveal the best way forward in God’s own good time? Perhaps I am the one who needs to be changed, more than my opponent.
One of our great barriers to full maturity is defensiveness. True wisdom, according to James, is willing to yield. Even if we’re right.
We can let it go, because we trust that God will work all things out in due time.
To be sure, there are things on which we should hold firm, in addition to the cardinal doctrines Calvin sets forth. Pursuing justice for others. Defending and protecting the vulnerable. Confidentiality and transparency (about which I wrote last week).
The way of wisdom is not “anything goes,” but “let it go” when it comes to insisting on having things go our way. Paul reminds us that true love “does not insist on its own way.” Embracing this way of deference is, for Paul, a sign of maturity, that we have put away childish things.
The pandemic has surfaced new eruptions of conflict in congregations, regional councils (such as presbyteries), and national denominations. We’re seeing people take sides and dig in more fiercely than ever, often over issues over which our wider society is politically polarized. Imagine the power of the church’s testimony to the difference Jesus makes if we practiced the grace of letting go rather than squaring off over things about which we should be able to reasonably differ. Just imagine!
Yours in mutual forbearance,