One of the most common themes in music and drama is ‘love’. People listen to their favourite love songs on the radio and flock to see their favourite love stories on the big screen. In most cases, love is depicted as holding on tightly to someone or something.
However, from a Biblical perspective, love is more about ‘letting go’ than ‘holding on’. The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us that God so loved the world, he gave something up and let something go – in this case, his very own Son.
The love that the world speaks of is often motivated by self-interest. At its most fundamental level it is energised by fear, and thus assumes the form of control. The recipient of such ‘love’ often feels engulfed and overwhelmed, smothered and suffocated.
The Bible, on the other hand, tells the story of a remarkable man who loved his son so much that he let him go in order to pursue the desires of his heart. Often referred to as the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’, it is, to my mind, the story of a magnificent father who successfully navigated the pitfalls of childrearing.
A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father … (Luke 15:11-20).
Under the Mosaic Law, two-thirds of the family estate was allocated to the elder or firstborn son and one-third was allocated to the younger son (Deut. 21:17). Although a father had the prerogative of abdicating his wealth prior to his death, it was extraordinary for a son to demand his inheritance in advance. Jesus doesn’t tell us what the father thought of this audacious request; he simply says that the father apportioned to both brothers his livelihood.
I’m sure that the father, as an attentive parent, was well aware of the irresponsible character of his younger son. And I’m also sure that the father, as an astute businessman, was well aware of the money management skills of his ambitious heir. And yet he let his son go, albeit with a heavy heart.
The question is: did the father do the right thing in acquiescing to his son’s demands, thereby allowing him to pursue his ego-driven course? Or would he have been better to have forcibly restrained his son, because after all, ‘father knows best’. The truth is that sometimes people have to get things out of their system before they can experience a change of heart and mind. Indeed, there is a world of difference between repressed desire and repentance from sin.
Even though his heart was probably breaking, the father let his son go. Why? Because that’s the nature of love: to release people to realize their potential and fulfil their destiny. Holding on is actually a form of control born out of fear.
The parable of the boomerang
Most people are familiar with the boomerang – a flat aerofoil, usually constructed of wood, designed to spin about an axis perpendicular to the direction of its flight and circle back to the thrower. The boomerang is commonly associated with Indigenous Australians, and is in fact, a national icon. But more importantly, the boomerang conveys a powerful spiritual message: To get it back, you first have to let it go! Jesus alluded to this same principle in Luke 17:33; “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
It’s easy to quote scripture and talk the talk, but it’s an altogether different matter to walk the walk, especially when it concerns your children. A few years ago our youngest daughter Bethany came to us and said, “I want to go and work at Disneyworld in Florida as part of my course in tourism.” Obviously, I wanted her to have the opportunity of working in this unique environment, knowing how important it would be to her development; but I have to admit that part of me was hoping that she wouldn’t get the gig, because I could hardly bear the thought of my nineteen year old daughter moving 12,000 miles away, and my not being able to ‘protect’ her (or should that be ‘control’ her?)
I also knew that if God opened the door for her to go, I couldn’t afford to stop her. Firstly, my motivation would be wrong – I would be acting out of fear rather than faith. Secondly, although I might succeed in restraining her physically, I would lose her emotionally. She would grow up with resentment toward me for depriving her of the opportunity to realise her potential and fulfil her destiny. I knew instinctively that we had to let her go in order to get her back.
I’ve had to learn and apply this same principle in business. When we started out, the Lord said to me, “The principles you learn in building this business, you will one day use to build my church.” Let me give you a tip: if you want to be successful in business, give your customers 110% all of the time, no exceptions. But a word of warning: don’t expect it to always be reciprocated. Some people will appreciate your services and develop a loyalty to your brand, others will take you for granted and drop you whenever it suits them.
Some people have dropped out of our business for legitimate reasons: maybe they relocated to another city; maybe they got divorced; maybe their financial circumstances changed; maybe they died (now there’s a good reason!) But the ones I find hard to accept are the small minority who dropout for no apparent reason. And to the best of my knowledge, not one of them has ever said (at least to my face), “It’s because we’re not satisfied with the quality of your product.”
Inevitably, as human beings, when we give 110% and it’s not reciprocated, we feel let down, disappointed, used and betrayed! But I learnt a lesson years ago that has served me well in life and business – that is, if you let a customer go with a good spirit, you have a better than even chance of getting him or her back again. People are like boomerangs; if you release them with a blessing, they’re likely to return. (Sometimes you wish they didn’t, but that’s another story!)
Sometimes people drop out, and we take it as a personal affront: “Is that all the thanks I get? After all I’ve done for you, is that how you treat me?” But remember this: people are like sheep – they make mistakes, they take the wrong paths, they’re easily led astray. Let them go with a positive attitude, and some of them will reappear as mysteriously as they disappeared, without a word of explanation. If you want them to come back … let them go with a good spirit! I guarantee this: if you part ways with judgement and resentment and ill feeling in your heart, you’ll never see them again.
Preparing the way
The Bible speaks about preparing the way for people to return: “Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples!” (Isaiah 62:10).
It’s important to understand that the seeds of a person’s return are sown in the manner in which we let him or her go. In other words, we prepare the way (or make it possible) for people to return by letting them go in love and kindness. Consider the story of the prodigal son: if the father had angrily threatened the son, “You dare to leave this house and I’ll never allow you to set foot on this property again!” Do you think the story would have ended the same way?
Even though the father didn’t agree with his son’s decision, even though the father didn’t endorse his son’s behaviour, even though the father was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, he let his son go in a spirit of grace and forgiveness – and in so doing, left the door open for his son to come back.
Sometimes we have to make a few trips around the mountain before we come to our senses; sometimes it takes a few sessions in the pigpen to get the rebelliousness out of our system; but if we know that there is a place called ‘home’ where the law of love prevails, we will be drawn back in the fullness of time.
But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:2-24).
The father saw the penitent son returning “when he was still a great way off”. Was it just coincidence or was the father expecting his son to come home? Notice also that the father’s immediate reaction was one of unconditional love (non-judgement). There was not even the slightest suggestion of an ‘I told you so’ or ‘you should have listened to me’ attitude.
Unconditional love … unmerited favour … undeserved kindness … unqualified acceptance. Does that sound familiar?
Thoughts and attitudes create reality. By maintaining a spirit of love and forgiveness, mercy and non-judgement, the father removed the obstacles and created a pathway for his son to come home.
Love is letting go, not holding on. In fact, holding on to people or things inevitably backfires; we end up losing the very object that we are trying to save. The writer of Proverbs said: “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich …” (Prov. 11:24-25).
Please don’t go to Africa!
My grandfather, Reginald Price, was a wonderful man of God. I literally grew up next door to him, and he had a profound influence on my life. He came to know the Lord through the ministry of the Salvation Army, and years later, risked everything to embrace the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Only eternity will reveal how many people he led to the Lord through his cheerful witness and indiscriminate kindness. My grandfather had many, many strengths, but like all of us, he also had a few weaknesses.
In the early 1950’s, a preacher by the name of William Burton came to my grandfather’s church in Melbourne. Burton was a missionary to the Belgian Congo (Zaire). He was a Christian version of “George of the Jungle”. Talk about going boldly where no man had gone before; Burton was like a modern day apostle Paul! At that time there was a strong emphasis on missions; not just to raise money to fund projects, but to recruit volunteers to serve on the front lines.
The night before Burton got up to preach, my grandfather took his two young daughters aside (my mother and my aunt), and said to them, “If William Burton gives an altar call and asks people to dedicate their lives as missionaries, you are not to go forward.” Why did he say that? My grandfather loved the Lord with all his heart and had suffered significantly for his faith.
The only answer I can come up with is fear: fear of losing his girls; fear of something bad happening to them. And probably, in his own mind, he believed he was doing the right thing, protecting his beloved daughters from the unknown dangers of deepest, darkest Africa. However, unbeknown to himself, he was actually ‘protecting’ his daughters from the call of God, from realising their potential, from fulfilling their destiny, from adventure and excitement. And friends, that is not love; that is control born out of fear.
It’s the same as parents who try to live their lives vicariously through their children. Of course, it’s couched in terms of ‘wanting the best for our children’, but in essence, it’s a parent trying to gratify his or her unfulfilled desires through the next generation. “I never had the opportunity to go to university, so I’m determined that my son will go to university.” Or, “I never had the opportunity to pursue a professional career, so I’m determined that my daughter will become a doctor or a lawyer.”
But what if you daughter doesn’t want to go to university and become a doctor or a lawyer? What if God is actually calling her to become an artist, or a dancer, or a writer of children’s stories? What are you going to do then? Force the issue? The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go”, not “in the way you want him to go” (Prov. 22:6). In other words, let him go and follow his dream; let her go and pursue the call that is on her life.
Love is letting people go so that they can realise their God-given potential, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way. Heather and I go through this challenge every day of our lives – it’s called ‘raising kids’. For example, our son, Jonathan, is leaving on Sunday to go surfing in Bali with Heather’s brother. If I’ve gone through it once, I’ve gone through it a hundred times: “Look after your money, lock your case, wash your undies ….” But at the end of the day, I’ve got to just let him go and trust God.
The same thing is true in church. How many of you feel a little more secure when you know that there is a back door? There’s a way in, but there’s also a way out – in an emergency you’re not going to be trapped. Too many churches are like ‘Hotel California’ – you can check in at any time, but you can never leave. But if I know anything about human nature, it’s this: people are more likely to stay and enjoy the ride if they know that they are free to leave at any time. It’s called giving people room to breathe.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you of the words of the Lord Jesus: “Give and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom; for with the same measure that you use, it will be measure back to you” (Luke 6:38).
Or, to put it another way, “Let go, and it will come back to you in greater measure than ever before.”