The healthy practice of letting go

By Amy Corbin & Kathy Litton

Not only did Jesus set an example of being sent. He also set an example of incurring loss to be sent.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).

Jesus let go of His own interests in order to save us. He let go of His grip on His deity to take the form of a man.

“Following God is always the call to let go.” —Lindsay Allen, planters wife in Miami, Fla.

Letting go of comfort, security, family, community and personal good flies in the face of what most of us value and pursue. We are preoccupied with safety and security, especially in regards to our children, and we are obsessively driven by our own comforts and conveniences. An unwillingness to “let go” of these commodities is a huge hindrance to discipleship, the advance of the gospel and living life on mission in western church culture.

“We let go of the money we had in savings, the security of a salary, and a nice 3/2 brick home on acres of land. We let go of the blessing of living near family, the doctor who had delivered all three of my babies, and our pediatrician who cared so much for our family that he cried when we told him we were moving away.”-Lindsay Allen, planters wife in Miami, Fla.

“We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” —David Platt, president of the International Mission Board.

Yet being sent will require us to incur some losses.

By the way, the call to sacrifice is not directed exclusively to a vocational missionary or minister. This is a concept for every believer. From as early as Abram in Genesis 12:1, we see a call that requires sacrifice. Jesus didn’t hesitate to call people across all walks of life to leave jobs (Matthew 4:20), leave security (Luke 18:22), possessions (Luke 14:33) and families (Luke 10:60) if they chose to follow Him.

None of those thing are evil. But God is calling us to sacrifice them for His more beautiful, transformational and eternal mission—to seek and save those who are lost.

When we are sent and it requires sacrificial losses, we must let go. It may take every fiber of your being, every ounce of strength you possess to say in the face of your losses, “Here I am, send me.”

It would be disingenuous to say these losses aren’t painful, costly and scary. As believers, we don’t need to pretend otherwise. Additionally, we don’t need to be naïve regarding our losses. Leaving a treasured community is hard. Choosing to relocate to a dangerous city is frightening. Facing the future with limited and uncertain financial resources is a true risk. Taking on a difficult ministry context where the culture is gospel resistant and other works have failed is not for the faint of heart.

Consider these healthy practices toward letting go.

Dialogue about anticipated losses.

It is vital to have open dialogue concerning losses. Avoiding it because it is difficult or emotional is not wise. Whether it is loss of community, support systems, family proximity, familiarity or comfort, unpacking those issues drags the struggle out into the light where it can be identified and processed.

Honor the pain of loss.

Give yourself or others permission to grieve. The stages of grieving do not only apply to losses from death.

God is big enough to handle our feelings and emotions and actually desires that transparency from us. Suppression of our emotions is not what God desires because He knows it almost always leads to bitterness.

Discuss strategies for loss.

How will you or your family walk out your losses? There needs to be both spiritual and practical strategies to do this well, such as:

Read through the Psalms, and appreciate through study the honesty David brought to the Lord when experiencing loss. He cried out. He questioned. At times he was angry. He was always transparent, yet he returned to find peace in truth.
Read other books about, or written by, missionaries. Study ways they worked through their loss or grief. People like Amy Carmichael, Nik Ripken, Elisabeth Elliott, William Carey and more.
Train yourself to focus on what God is providing. It is easy for the enemy to distract us so we only focus on our loss or what God isn’t doing. Train yourself to shift your eyes off of what you think isn’t happening and focus on what you are receiving, instead. You can even do this as a family by talking about it openly or creating some type of activity where you write down things you are thankful for that God has provided.
Pray for, and work towards, a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness. This can be difficult at first, and it’s not healthy to do it in an inauthentic way. But, when you pray, express to God your honest struggles; then genuinely spend time also thanking Him for what He has given you. The more we focus on being thankful the more it becomes our genuine and natural instinct.
Redefine or refashion relationships. Your best friend may get to live right down the street from her parents and share weekly Sunday lunches. But you see your family once every two years. It doesn’t take away from that relationship or how treasured it is. You must refashion how to experience that relationship. Enjoy what you still have, instead of grieving what you’ve lost or think you’ve lost.

Watch for the provision and hand of God.

The enemy is incredible at getting us to focus on everything God is not providing. The reality is, though, your provision might look a lot different than it does for others. It still doesn’t change the reality that God is providing. I (Amy) may not get the big house with a yard and white picket fence. But I choose to be thankful for my small, two-bedroom apartment where our family of five live, because it is a place we can call home. Space is tight, but it has given us an opportunity to reconnect with each other in a way we couldn’t do in a larger home when we were spread out in our own spaces. Many times we think “Oh, I have to have _______ to flourish,” but the reality is we have His presence and His provision as our greatest source of flourishing.

Stayed tuned for next blog in this series, When losses become gain.

Published November 17, 2016

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Amy Corbin & Kathy Litton

Amy lives in Vancouver, B.C., Canada with her husband, Tim, who serves as a church planting catalyst. They have three daughters. Tim and Amy are both originally from Dallas, Texas, but moved to Seattle, Wa., in 2007 where they were church planters for eight years in urban and suburban settings. Amy currently serves as the coordinator for church planter wives support with Vancouver church planting, as well as the North American Mission Board's consultant for church planter wives development.

Kathy lives in Mobile, AL with her husband Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has 3 children and 9 grandchildren. Presently, Kathy serves at NAMB as National Consultant for Ministry to Pastor’s Wives.