Unglued church

Learning to let go

Embracing what we cannot see

By Sarah Robbins


“You really should just go ahead and embrace it.”

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Sometimes we are called to walk through doors not knowing what is on the other side.

When something new is happening in our life, like a change in job or relationship, people will often offer this perspective.

When we are in pain or in grief or a little of both– sometimes this is the advice we get.

When we are being forced to experience something different, people often try to help ease the tension of our obvious dislike, by encouraging us to go further than acceptance and move to full on embracement.

It’s not always the most welcome advice, at least at first —because we don’t want to relinquish the hope that we were holding on to. We didn’t want to believe things would be this way or change so fast.

One of the unnecessary mistakes congregations can make, as well as those who work for change with congregations, is to ask for something new to be embraced without acknowledging that which needs to be let go.

Being presented with all the facts in the world about the way Christ’s church has changed will not automatically make me want to embrace the new reality.

You can tell me through research, statistics and charts about how we are living in a post-Christendom age, how we can’t have the expectation that folks will want to walk in our doors for the best programs ever designed and funded, how its actually not going to work to try to be all things to all people. But that won’t make a bit of difference if I’m not ready to embrace what is next, which often is something that I can’t see, yet.

Why would I want to embrace something new that isn’t tangible, that isn’t fully fleshed-out, when I haven’t let go of what I already have in front of me, even if I know it isn’t working anymore?

In the Unglued Church Project, I have seen churches wrestling with these very questions of letting go and embracing, of making room for something that is yet to be fully formed. It is a sacred space to be invited into– as change is on the horizon and I get to be a witness to communities stepping out in faith.

This Sunday’s lectionary passage asks us to look again at the person of Christ through the eyes of Nicodemus.

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Nicodemus asks questions with astonishment, trying to embrace something that he himself cannot yet see or understand. Seeing the kingdom of God is a tall order, especially if you aren’t ready to embrace a new worldview. Christ is inviting Nicodemus to let go of all that holds him back from seeing the kingdom of God, so that he might further participate in what God is calling him to do next.

During this Lenten season, we prepare to embrace what we haven’t yet seen. We prepare to embrace how we will be changed during these forty days and how we might be able to further welcome and participate in God’s kingdom. But it might first mean letting some things go, and acknowledging they need to go.

In your context, in your congregation, what needs to be let go in order to embrace what is next? Is it a program or a pattern of meetings? Is it a sense of responsibility to continue to hold a particular identity in the community? Is it time to finally put down the facade that all is OK?

Letting go of ideas and practices that only ever lead to one way of doing things can be faithfully freeing.

Letting go gives space to pick up something else, leaves your hands and heart open and ready for what God will place in them.

Rev. Sarah Robbins is an at-large teaching elder in Pittsburgh Presbytery. She has served as pastor to two churches and currently serves on the Presbytery’s COM as well as in leadership of the Unglued Church Project. She is married to another teaching elder. Together they have one child and two basset hounds.