Now, as I look back on our experience with artists, students, friends and audiences from all walks of life, I have found this statement to be true. And in my own life I would have to admit that my failures and successes, my growth spurts and setbacks can be traced to my own choices of what to hang on to and what to let go of.
Great wisdom of the ages should not be disregarded lightly. The book of Proverbs is full of warnings and encouragements focused on what to hang on to and what to let go of. And Jesus was wisdom, walking — so much so that many biblical scholars suggest that we could substitute the name of Jesus for the word “wisdom” as we read through Proverbs. In the gospels we see Him living out the “cling to” and “relinquish” tension with every breath.
The great saints, the prophets and many deep seekers who have gone to the desert or the seashore to step back from the politic of life and current skewed public opinion to gain perspective, have given us stories and poetry, songs and principles for living in the hopes we who have come after them could steer a clearer course and avoid some of the “shipwrecks” they had in trying to find their way.
There is a recent movie, intended for children, called Frozen. Nearly every 3-year-old in America (and, I would venture, their parents and grandparents, too!) can sing every word of the theme song, “Let It Go!” If anyone had brought us the lyrics to this song, suggesting it would be perfect for a kids’ movie, we would have undoubtedly rejected it for being too complicated and profound for a child. But never underestimate the mind of a child. The kids “get” this song!
“Let it go! Let it go!” the children sing, spinning around with their hands in the air just like the ice princess. And, indeed, even children are experiencing in our culture the discovery that there are hurtful things, things out of their control, that they must “let go” if they want to survive and move on unencumbered.
I guess I am hoping for a sequel hit that says, “Hold it close! Hold it close! Never let this treasure go!” Because as important as it is to let go of grudges, pain, betrayals, hurtful memories, damaging habits and untrue beliefs, there are some things we must hold on to.
For a short list, the words of Paul are a good place to start:
Now that you look back over your life, what did you hang on to for too long that you wish you had let go, and what did you let go of that you wish you’d held on to at the time?
The season when I consumed myself with an addiction to drugs and alcohol would certainly be one I wish I had let go of long before the 14-year addiction had taken its toll. Thankfully, when I was finally desperate enough to reach completely to Christ, I was at able to let go of the shame and hang on to His unconditional love and overwhelming grace.
But have you noticed that deception wears many disguises? I’ve written music since I was a young teenager; composing melodies to accompany great lyrics is my passion. Somehow, after writing hundreds of songs in my career, in my late 40s I began to believe the lie that my creative days were behind me. Why I believed that nonsense is something that still baffles my thought process today!
For whatever reason, I shelved the God-given gift of creativity for over a decade. But I remember my awakening as if it were yesterday. In January of 2009, I took a look in the mirror and something in my deepest soul said, “Your gift never left you. You left your gift.”
Weeping, I immediately took that to heart and somehow made my way to our writing room and my patiently waiting piano. In less than three months, God poured the music to almost 50 songs through my listening fingers. Each composition proclaimed the story of redemption, beginning with Genesis and ascending to Revelation. Since that moment, there’s been an avalanche of creative flow and it seems there is no end in sight. I‘ve learned … He never runs out of music.
Thank God that even in moments when we let go of His gift, it never lets go of us!
And the thing I wish I’d held on to far longer than I did was my brand-new 1957 Thunderbird. I loved it and was proud of it. I ordered it, paid $2700, and the man delivered it to me in Florida, where I was singing with the Oak Ridge Quartet. I’d had it about six months when I had a flat tire. Got out to change it and couldn’t get the continental kit off the back to get to the spare tire. I got frustrated and called someone to come change the tire for me. I immediately took it to the Oldsmobile dealer and said I wanted to trade it in on a new Olds. He was delighted to make the trade. I’ve priced the ’57 T-Birds since then (wishing I could have another like it someday) and the cheapest I’ve had quoted to me is $40,000. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to kick myself since then!
However, Jeff does offer this lesson: He remembers swinging out over the river when he was a kid and many times held on too long or let go too soon and landed on the bank! So there’s some Mayberry wisdom for you!
If I had to choose one thing that I held on to for too long, I would say pride. Part of that inclination comes from never wanting to appear weak or needy, I suppose. Over time, brick by brick, the need to keep up appearances can construct some pretty high walls. So often the things we do to keep out hurt and disappointment can keep out joy, encouragement and life-giving relationships. I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve rid myself of pride entirely, but it’s much easier for me to be real and vulnerable these days. I’m reminded of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s so true! We all have struggles and tender places we’d rather keep unseen, but we must remember, we’re in this together. Reach out and love one another, and let others love you.
I still have favorite stage outfits that I wore 30 years ago! They are sentimental. I wish that I could let them go, but I can’t. I may want to wear them again some day when I lose 500 pounds or they may go back in style ... no judging, please! However, with this said, some of the greatest blessings in my life happened when I let go and let God move. I would have never met Rickey and have the blessed life that God gave me now if I had not let go of the things that were holding me back. Letting go can be painful at times, but oh, the freedom that comes with it.
Now, with my own children entering adult society and finding their vocational calling, I face a different dilemma. A lot of what I want to hold onto remains from the time when I could more easily speak “wisdom” into their lives, during their childhood and formative years. Back then, it was so easy to speak into their lives and know they were listening, and (mostly) appreciating what their parents had to say. Now, as young adults, I see them making choices on their own that I know will affect their whole lives, and I, whether I’m asked or not, want to weigh in and make sure they’ve heard from “the voice of experience.”
But, I’m learning to bite my tongue, to let go, and trust that the Lord is leading them as He’s led Vicki and me. Theirs is a different world, in many ways, than the one we’ve known, and they’re going to have to learn to navigate it on their own. Vicki and I have taught them all along that God loves them, that He is Lord and King of this earth, that true wisdom comes from knowing and listening regularly to His word to learn His purposes, and no matter how the world changes, these tenets remain true. So a lot of our letting go has to do with trusting the One who has brought our whole family this far. It’s that old Ebenezer principle at work, that always applies for God’s people: we can let go of a lot by holding on to the One who’s brought us so far…
I must have “got saved” there at least 50 times as a child. My mama would look down from the platform to the mourner’s bench as she sang the invitational song for the altar call. Without fail, I would be kneeling, weeping and wailing like the world’s most hardened sinner. Usually my grandmother, Ma Rambo, and some other dear saint would gather on either side to help pray me through. One would say, “Let go!” The other cried fervently, “Hang on!” I was an emotional, confused wreck. I realize now that even at such a young age, I was filled with the fear I could never be good enough to deserve the love of God. It was all about my works, my sins.
I must have worn out most of the prayer warriors in Hopkins County, Kentucky. Even though they were so committed and lovingly patient, I struggled and felt like a failure.
Thankfully, on June 13, 1964, I heard and comprehended in my heart a simple message on the unconditional love of God. That night, a beautiful peace and joy swept over me at the altar. I realized both concepts were true; I needed to let go of the past and my slanted thoughts concerning Father God and hang on to the truth of the finished work of Calvary. I was washed in the blood and filled with Holy Spirit. That night my dad, Buck Rambo, led me into the watery grave of baptism. I had never before felt so clean and happy.
It reminds me of Mama Dottie’s song, “Let Go of This World, Get Wrapped Up in God!”
Let go … hang on. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I wish I had embraced my musical career when I was a teenager. My friend Maria and I landed a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1968. It was a surreal moment in my life! I was a young teenager and very inexperienced, so it just went by so quickly! I wish I could just soak in every experience during that year of my life. Seems like opportunities like that just slip by and it’s like they never happened. A vague memory of the audition and the recording process, the photo shoot and the finished product seems like a dream. If I could only re-live that moment. But I’m grateful for the experience. These things make me who I am today!
Although I love my parents so very much, the Bible says, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Ephesians 5:31). As I began the difficult transition of letting go of this part of my relationship with my parents that I had valued so deeply, the Lord began to show me that in letting go, I could then embrace a new and equally as treasured relationship with my parents that I had never known before. We can never receive the new things God has for us, until we trust Him in letting go of the past. Behold I do a new thing. Isaiah 43:19.
In Joshua 2:3-8 the Bible speaks of how the children of Israel held on or cleaved to the Lord just as you have done to “this day.” The day that the Bible was speaking of was the day, “this day,” when things aren’t going as you have planned; “this day” when the nations among you try to get you to fear all the other gods by calling on them for help in the time of need. These gods can be camouflaged as jobs, government resources or even people you associate with that you depend on for support. Just like Israel we must hold on to God’s promises. We tend to let the world dictate what we know to be true by yielding to what man says is normal and needed to make it in this world. The world says store up treasures on earth, so we spend most of our days focused on our jobs as the sole source of our future. Don’t get it twisted that we shouldn’t work, but we have to hold on and know that God is the holder and the sole source of our future. He will lead us and guide us where He wants us to be. If we listen and follow His direction God will give us “this day” our daily bread. For the greatest story ever told included the words “this day”: For unto you is born “this day” in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Choose “this day” whom you will serve and depend on.
But as for me and my house we will serve, lean, depend, defend, trust and hold on to the Lord God of heaven and earth. The one who walked on the water, opened blinded eyes, the one who split time into BC and AD. I know He died for you and me. He’s my Alpha and Omega, my beginning and the end. He is Jesus the Christ, not just another man.