Five years ago, in the middle of a pretty rough semester at university, during which I had struggled with some health issues and some friend issues and a massive pile of schoolwork, I sat in the adoration chapel feeling utterly depleted. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and lost.
Over the next few weeks everything continued to spiral downwards, and in a natural reaction I held on tighter to what I could control. My schedule became even more rigid and my personal requirements became even more demanding. Surely, surely, at some point, if I just kept my head down and kept ploughing forward, everything would become right.
Near the end of the semester, I went to the chapel late at night, sat there in my pyjama bottoms and oversized sweatshirt, and wept. If I could have yelled, I would have: What do you want of me? I keep trying so hard. Why am I so unhappy?
As I sat there, the answer that I had kept running from all semester surfaced. I wouldn’t look directly at it. I fought really hard not to notice it. But I also couldn’t leave that chapel the same way I had walked in, so I listened.
Let go. Abandon yourself to me.
How scary is that?! Let go? Really? I crossed my arms and gave God some major eyebrow raising. No. Way. And yet…
What I have in store for you is better than anything you could ever dream up.
And so—mainly because I was desperate—I gave very grudging consent.
Two months later, Crohn’s Disease—something I have struggled with since I was six years old—reared its ugly head after a five-year remission, and I had to leave university, move back home, and decide whether or not to follow my doctor’s recommendation and start a “miracle” drug which lists infertility and lymphoma among its many and varied side effects.
My life was veering wildly off the path I had planned for myself. In fact, I didn’t even recognize the country I was in. It felt as if I was simultaneously drowning and in the middle of a desert without map or compass.
The next three years were a bizarre mixture of highs and lows, where everything would seem to “right” itself, just long enough for me to try and pick up where I had left off and become excited about life. Then, things would fall apart yet again.
I was so. mad. at God. What the HELL was he thinking?! I had made a grand gesture and given him the reigns of my life, and this is what I got?
I find it interesting that during that whole period I never really listened. I merely endured and demanded that things get better. I never thought of what I was going through as a re-direct, but only as a distraction from everything I had planned for myself. Yes, I had told God to take control—and he had, with what I saw as overabundant and vicious eagerness. But what I had really intended for him to do was to make my perfect plans easier and my life happier.
No such luck.
One day in early summer, about three years after the roller coaster started, I listened. Yes—it took that long to wear me down to the point where I could do nothing else.
Step away from your goals and let go.
I sat on the couch, puzzled. How do you DO that?
Follow the desire of your heart.
I laughed, because…what?
But the thought wouldn’t leave me: Follow the desire of your heart.
By that evening, I had found a tiny cottage on a remote tip of the Peloponnese, with an Internet connection so I could do my job and British landlords who would be able to understand any questions I had about where to buy food and how to navigate small town life in Greece.
It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? My big revelation was not that I was going to become a missionary in Africa, or join the Peace Corp, or do anything big, grand, and glorious. No—none of that.
But it was the first step in the free fall of letting go, and that one choice led me down a path much richer than anything I could have imagined.
My hands, gripped so firmly around any ideas of what my life should be, opened. I gave up any type of control or certainty. I didn’t know the Greek language. I didn’t know how to get from Athens to my cottage, six hours away. I didn’t know where to get money. I didn’t know if my Internet connection would be good enough to allow me to do my job. I didn’t know if my health would hold up.
What was interesting is that none of that mattered. In following that desire buried deep in my heart, ignored because it was impractical and served none of the goals I had set for myself, I was right where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I needed to be doing. I had more peace and happiness than I had ever known.
Stepping off of that cliff into total uncertainty just got wilder. I had planned to spend three months in Greece, and then get back to “real life.” But as those three months wound down, that didn’t seem right at all. It felt as if my only way forward was to keep letting go of any ideas or direction I had previously held.
So, I went to France. And as I passed through Paris from Athens, on my way to a small town in the south, I met the man I am now engaged to. And that is where the story of letting go truly starts.
Sitting across from him in a small cafe in Paris, I knew without a doubt that I had been led there. In front of me was the most challenging—but possibly most rewarding—act of letting go and expansion of soul and heart I had yet come across. I wouldn’t have been able to step forward without everything leading up to that point.
That moment in the chapel where I so unwillingly let go of control, took me away from any path I was on. I entered a period of suffering and uncertainty which almost consumed me, but stripped me down so much that I welcomed a radical change in direction.
If we are truly focused on God’s will, the desires of our heart are what he wants for us—he has placed them there for a reason. But we have to let go of what we think we should do. We have to stop kicking down doors that keep swinging closed, so that we can find the door that swings open with barely any touch at all.
Maybe it won’t make sense, and at times it won’t be easy. But in following the desires and inclinations placed in us by a loving God, we encounter a life where we have the chance to become everything we can be, where we can reach all the unique potential placed in us.
In letting go of our plans and consenting to his, we open ourselves up to a story fraught with peril and uncertainty and sometimes hardship—this is true. But it is also a story filled with so much more beauty and joy than anything we could have dreamed up or imagined for ourselves.