Summary: Love is about allowing others to choose for themselves.
Holding on and Letting Go
Mothers Day, May 8, 2011
I have a suspicion that four words will be spoken more today than any other day of the year: I love you mom. It is a cultural holiday, not a Biblical one, but we’ve come to see it as part of our obedience to the 5th commandment, honor your father and mother. That would only be a negative thing if it was somehow exceptional – the rest of the time we were not honoring our parents, but for one day of the year we do. For most of us, though certainly not all of us, today will be a day of positives, remembering the good, affirming the ideas of self-sacrifice and care and unconditional love that mark the best of motherhood.
As I thought and prayed about what to speak about today, two stories from Scripture came to mind to share. They are stories of mothers, but I want to broaden the meaning so it applies to all of us, and so I want to frame them around one of my favorite themes which I’ll phrase today in the form of a question: as citizens of God’s Kingdom, what does it really mean to love? Obviously that is a huge question, and so today I’m only going to explore one small aspect of it in these two stories, and so I want to be clear about that up front: this is only one small part of what it means to love, but it is an important one.
Holding Tight and Letting Go:
What does it really mean to love? Let me pull one line out of Ecclesiastes 3, the famous passage that begins For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. The line I want to pull out is from verse 5, where Solomon writes time to embrace and a time to turn away. Put another way, a time to hold on and a time to let go.
There are obvious times to embrace – a mutual expression of affection, a way of demonstrating care and acceptance, a way to share a celebration. We need more of that! In answer to my question what does it really mean to love, the embracing is an easy one. But let’s go a step further: when is holding on a way of love? Again, there are times when holding on is very obviously the best thing: holding on as we walk through a crowd, holding on to hope during times of discouragement, holding on to our dedication to one another during seasons of stress and conflict, holding on to our commitments to one another when those start to get hard. Last week I was putting Joanne’s snow tires away in the rafters of my garage – I got the last one up and rested it on a board, and then shifted my weight on the ladder so I could push it to the right spot and the ladder twisted and then fell out from under me – holding on to the rafters was obviously the best thing for me (I dangled for a moment, then was able to shift along and swing to a place where I could safely jump down).
But then I went to Scripture, specifically to the examples of mothers in the Bible, and the stories I read were not of mothers holding on. The examples of love were not of clinging, of embracing, they were of letting go. Even as I wracked my brain to recall other stories, where this idea of holding on tightly in relationships was predominant, I couldn’t really remember any. The predominant stories were of letting go. Let me tell you two of those, simply by reading the extended story just as it appears in Scripture. First, the story of Hanna.
Hanna (1 Sam 1:1-28):
1 There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.
3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.