I had never quite sensed that feeling of release before. It was time to have a rest.
That feeling of letting it all go and handing it on to someone else. I had been in ministry for 13 years serving as a Pastor/ Chaplain to people who struggled with ‘Normal Church,’ mostly due to Mental Illness. It had been a time of growth and challenge where I along with a team of volunteers developed a mid-week church service, ran camps and all the other stuff pastors do.
It was a load though, it was a responsibility, and now it was time to give it back. To take off my hands of responsibility and let it rest back into the hands of others. I visually saw myself handing this back to the Elders of the church. The future of this ministry was in their hands now.
Ever been there yourself?
You have finished something and felt the burden of care and responsibility roll off your back. Nice isn’t it. Liberating, freeing, and releasing to the tiredness of a soul.
So read these definitions of the Hebrew word ‘Shamat.’
- to release
- let drop or loose or rest or fall.
- to be made to fall down
- be thrown down
- to cause to let drop
- that which you are carrying you need to release it
This little word, so powerful and alluring, is found in one of the key texts relating to how the people of Israel were to conduct themselves.
Sow your land for six years and gather in its crops, but in the seventh year leave it alone and give it a rest so that your poor may eat from it. What they leave, let the wildlife have. Do the same with your vineyards and olive groves. Exodus 23: 10, 11
Give it a rest, take your hands off the plough, throw it down, release it from your grasp and let God work on it.
The agronomist in me (one who studies the aspects of soil and plant life) jumps to attention when I look at this verse. I see a gate shut, maybe even padlocked and the field growing wild.
Plant life growing then dying, layers upon layers of rich humus developing. Wild flowers blooming with pheasants roaming through the long stalky grass. Below all this earthworms and soil microbial life flourish.
A richness of life develops in the resting of the land.
So how does this connect with Spiritual Formation and Mental Health?
Well, I have been wondering this too as I mulled this passage around in the thought blender for the last couple of weeks.
Here is what I have come up with.
Sometimes you have to let things rest.
You have to take your hands off them and let them go.
I think of the many people I have known that have given care to people with addictions. For those who have teetered on the edge of burnout through the caring for others. Taking responsibility for others, for good reasons at the start, but now feeling it is unbearable.
Ringing any buttons with you
To pull a man out of the mud, a friend must set foot in that mud. Rabbi Nachman of Bretslav
This quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bretslav is true but are you drowning in the mud? Is someone else using your head as stepping stone out of the mud?
The word picture that this creates for me is the picture of someone carrying a responsibility, a burden, a load. The invite is to put it down, let it go, and abandon the carrying of it.
In this little passage from Exodus God was calling the people to ‘let go.’ To come to a place of Godly trust and give the burden they had have been carrying back to God.
Are you strenuously working on something in your mind? You go over and over it, time after time. Like a dog with a bone, you can’t let it go.
Perhaps you are carrying the responsibility load of someone who is mentally unwell. Perhaps its an addict that refuses to get treatment, that will not take responsibility for themselves.
Perhaps you have a victim mentality, and you blame everyone else for your problems. It’s all their fault that you are in this predicament. You are a P.L.O.M. – Poor Little Old Me.
We all have our loads, whats yours may not be mine.
There are burdens we have been carrying for too long.
Responsibilities, expectations, desires, and longings. Perhaps a hope that this person behaves in a certain way. That they conform in such a way as to meet your needs.
Trying to control others creates a lot of tension. The puppet strings can end up strangling the life out of you. A tangled web forms around the heart and constricts any movement towards intimacy.
Do you like to be in control? Does it provide a sense of safety or security? If it does, then your world will become as small as the number of puppet strings you can control.
Here is the invitation to let it rest.
Just saying ‘Let go and let God’ sounds too glib, a ‘fobbing off’ of taking responsibility and action yourself.
There is a time to surrender. To be like that farmer who shuts the gate on the paddock. They surrender, release, let it go, and throw down the weightiness of the burden.
Is this easy to do?
No, this is a test of faith, a faith that calls us to step out and trust in someone bigger than ourselves. Someone who knows all and will go with you through the toughest of times.
What are you missing out on by having to be in such tight control?
In God calling for a years sabbath for the land, he was calling them to trust in him rather than in their control.
This is not a call to reckless selfishness where we abandon responsibilities. There often has to be conversations, negotiations, boundaries explained and reassurances given.
Here is what might happen.
If I look at the results of a good shabat, then perhaps this will come about.
- Messiness. Land allowed to go fallow will look out of control and messy to your eye. Perhaps that which you have been controlling will also look or appear as a mess.
Most people do not see things as they ARE; rather, they see things as THEY are. Richard Rohr
- Criticism. The critics, inner and outer, may consider what you have done as an act of foolishness. It looks like you don’t care and that you have allowed something ugly to happen. You have to keep your eyes on the long-term, not on the present short-term crisis.
- Temptation. You might be drawn to return to the zone of control. Perhaps you will want to do this or that, but ‘No’ you have shut the gate. Don’t go feral now!
- What is naturally there will grow. Both unwanted and wanted plants will grow and flourish, and you pray that God will take care of them all.
- Depth will develop. That soil life, that place of genesis where seeds of change germinate and take root will deepen. As plants die and decompose the goodness contained within the plant will bless the soil once again. The soil life will explode, and opportunities come forth.
- The unseen will be room to move. Forces that are beyond your control are empowered to do their work.
- Others will be blessed by this abandonment. In the teaching of the Shabat, there is an invitation for others, the poor and the wild beasts, to be partakers of this rest. Perhaps you letting go will be a much-needed invitation for others. The unexpected and possibly unqualified come and be part of the healing process. Perhaps you need just to get out-of-the-way.
The most loving thing you could do for others, and yourself, is to let them go. To shut the gate on the work you have been doing and give it a rest.
Quotes to Consider
- The tighter you clench your fist, the less sand you can hold (unknown)
- Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
- The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. Julia Cameron
- Spiritual friends help us most when they make clear that their job is to point the way, not to lead the way. And the Way to which they should point is Jesus. David G. Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction
- Self-acceptance always precedes genuine self-surrender and self-transformation. David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery
- Simple being is a deep sigh of relief that comes from letting go of pretense. It is also the sigh that comes from releasing a heavy burden that results from creating and managing the false selves that are substitute centers for the truth of our being. It is the sigh of release as we exchange complexity for simplicity. It is the sigh of release as we let go of preoccupations, inordinate attachments, and disordered passions. Things in the depths of our beings get aligned when we let go of these things. David G. Benner, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life
- Stay in your own territory. Do all that you can do, but leave the miracles to God. Annon
- Why are there so few miracles today? To display the power of God, we must first let go every vestige of personal ambition and become utterly available to the Spirit. David Riddell
Prayer to pray.
Lord, today I am taking my hands off the responsibility to heal this other person. I lay the load down, and let it rest. I know I will be tempted to pick it up again because I have made this such a feature of my life for such a long time that it is a habit. When I do this, remind me gently to lay it down again. I am trusting in you to do only what you can do. Show me what I am to do. Teach me Lord how to pray.