A friend who has some experience with rodeo horses sent me a most picturesque proverb: “Let go or be dragged.” Whether this phrase was first spoken by a Zen master who had achieved enlightenment on the mountainside, or by a battered cowboy nursing his shattered bones and pulling cacti from his backside makes no difference. It is the unmistakable truth. Take my friend’s horses as an example. Training such animals requires a great deal of lassoing, roping, and haltering. Incredible strength, patience, and stamina are needed to match a horse. But sometimes, as the proverb goes, the breaker can become the broken. A tipping point is reached where the trainer must regroup, or risk being ground into the corral’s dust. Let go or be dragged.
Think of the little one who refuses to leave the playground. Haven’t you seen mothers and fathers, quite literally, hauling the kicking and screaming child to the car? Let go or be dragged. What about the dog that finally catches the school bus he has been chasing for years? Now what does he do; sink his teeth into the bumper? No, let go or be dragged. It’s the single handler left holding a giant Macy’s Day Parade balloon. He’s no match for 10,000 cubic feet of helium! If he hangs on, he will be pummeled against lamp posts, battered along 42nd Street, and become a spectacle in front of 40 million children watching on Thanksgiving morning. Let go or be dragged.
This much is certain: We all will face situations, diseases, circumstances, relationships, people, challenges and conditions that are larger, stronger, and longer-lasting than we are. We have two options and only two options in such encounters. We can keep fighting an unwinnable war, and whatever we have dug our claws into will drag us into a bloody pulp (and the longer we remain dug in, the longer it will hurt).
Or, we can accept our limitations and admit that we are not omnipotent. We can accept life for how it is, even when life isn’t fair (when is it really fair, anyway?). We can let go. And in this surrender – this little act of dying – we stop our suffering. We get to live again. For this is the counterintuitive way of the cross; the paradoxical power of Christ: We only live once we have died. We only gain by giving up. We only win if we surrender – let go or be dragged.
I wish there was a different way. I wish that by brute strength we could overcome everything, but it doesn’t work like that. Oh, it will for a while, but everyone loses his or her grip eventually. The quicker we get to that point, the quicker we can get to the joy of actually living.
William Law, an Anglican priest and something of a mystic from three centuries ago, discerned this power of surrender better than most. His writings, as pertinent as they were in the 1700s, are filled with phrases like, “the sweet resignation of the self,” and “the sinking down into powerlessness.” We have to give up our lives, Law inferred, to get in on the life God has for us. He wrote, “God must do all, or all is nothing. But God cannot do all until all is expected from Him. And all is not expected from Him until by true and good despair we have humbly resigned everything to God.”
At first blush this sounds so defeatist, something like “Christianity for Weaklings.” Some will find it intolerable and object: “Give up? How can this be? Surrender is for cowardly milksops and quitters!” Such objections ignore the fact that there are some things that we cannot change, and what cannot be changed must be handed over. Going further, such objections belittle the way of the cross. Read once again those familiar crucifixion accounts of Jesus, and there you will see that letting go requires more than a noble struggle, more than hanging on – infinitely more. It requires everything. So let go, or be dragged.