It was a year ago this month that I met most of you. Jen and I boarded a plane in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, full of anticipation as years of vocational preparation were coming to a head. The bishops and seminary faculty warned us not to think in absolute terms, saying that if congregations did not vote to call us it would be God’s will, but I feel safe sharing with you after that fact that I would have been devastated if Faith Lutheran Church had not voted to call me. Alas! That was not the case! You all voted to call me to be your pastor, graciously entrusting me with the Office of Word and Sacrament in our ministry together, and we left here with excitement for the future.
When we finally moved to Ronan in July, Jen and I were both excited to finally be able to stay put for a little while. The seminary process requires one to move every year or so, a process which was frustrating and tedious for us and one that we were happy to leave behind. An obvious and essential symbol of our moves was our boxes. We packed and repacked these things, from Indiana to Iowa, Iowa to Wyoming, Wyoming to Iowa, and Iowa to Montana (with some small moves in between!). Being honest with you, I came to loathe these boxes. Though they represented new transitions and experiences, they also represented a profound sense of grief. At every turn, they were part of leaving friends and loved ones behind, places that we became enamored with, and leaving every sense of home. These boxes seemed more like tombstones of what we had lost along the way than windows to new experiences ahead.
So when we finally moved to Ronan, with a greater sense of permanence than we had known in a while, I thought the first thing I would do is get rid of those stinking boxes! I piled them in the basement while we got settled, planning within our first month to destroy them. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks, I went about trying to get rid of these things. But whenever I tried to do this, a myriad of excuses came up. I thought, “I would like to burn them, but I don’t have a fire pit set up” and, “I could easily recycle them at Harvest Foods, but I would really rather burn them” and so on and so forth. One month of this turned into two, then three, then four, until, finally, nine months into our ministry here I was able to let go of these things that I loathed so much. I ripped them into small pieces and burned them over several hours one night, sacrificing them to the night skies above the Mission Valley.
I do not share this to worry you. My resistance to getting rid of the boxes had nothing to do with me wanting to leave. Rather, it was a problem of letting go. As much as I hated those stupid boxes which carried us to and fro, they were a constant in times of transition. They provided a sense of security for an unknown future, and I was reluctant to give up that security, even though they were a symbol of painful memories of all that we had left behind along the way.
Letting go in order to move on is a difficult process that is harder than most of us might expect until we are pushed to do so. This was true of the Israelites as they left the clutches of Pharoah. Immediately upon experiencing freedom in the wilderness, the Israelites began whining and longing for slavery back in Egypt (Exodus 14 and 16). As bad as slavery got, they could not easily let it go because they knew how to be slaves – they did not know how to live into the future unhindered by the oppression of the Egyptians. They had trouble letting go of the heinous institution of slavery, because even though they loathed it, it was what they knew. When things got bad in Egypt, they could always blame the Egyptians. When things got bad while they were free, they were left responsible. Slavery was something that God had to force them to let go of because they would rather endure the whips of their slavemasters than the challenging reality that as free persons they were tasked with finding their own way forward.
But, I suppose, there would be no value in letting go of things if there were no adversity involved. Part of what makes it so encouraging to parents to see their kids succeeding in adulthood is the pain that comes with letting them find their way for the first time. Part of what is reassuring about doing well in starting up your own business is that there is no certainty of success as it involves letting of the security of a steady paycheck. Part of the joy of welcoming each new generation into this world comes with letting go of the grief over the loss of those who have gone before.
Each new day we stand on the precipice of what has come before and what each new day will bring. In these daily transitions, as well as in big life changes, it is easy to try to hold on to things of the past, even things that frustrate us or hold us back. Sometimes, we are called to let these things go and move on. No matter how difficult or surprising it may be to let go of the things we need to, it is good. There is healing in the process of leaving the slavery of Egypt for the freedom that God has prepared for us. There is healing in letting go of the things that we should, so we may better cherish the things that truly matter.