Letting Go

When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all—looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck—I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 163

It’s a good idea not to become too attached to temporary things.

When Job lost all of his children and nearly all of his wealth in one day, he said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

It must have been easier to say those words than to truly mean them. Job’s loss was severe, particularly the loss of his children, and his sorrow must have been overwhelming. But his response represents a recognition that the things he had lost were never entirely his, that they had been loaned to him by God, and that he needed to be willing to let them go when God required it.

Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal…. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, 3 Nephi 13:21).

Standing on the wall of Zarahemla, Samuel the Lamanite warned the people in that city of the futility of clinging to earthly possessions:

It shall come to pass, saith the Lord of Hosts…that whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more….

And because they have set their hearts upon their riches, and will hide up their treasures…cursed be they and also their treasures….

And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.

Helaman 13:18, 20, 31

Hundreds of years later, the prophet Mormon witnessed the fulfillment of that prophecy:

These Gadianton robbers…did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again….

And the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words…of Samuel the Lamanite.

Mormon 1:18-19

Commenting on these Book of Mormon passages, Adam Miller wrote:

Sin…is what happens when we choose to love the fragility of created things more than the Creator….

Those who are damned aim to acquire as many created things as possible, to wring as much satisfaction from them as possible, and to keep these things and satisfactions for as long as possible. They aim to generate and perpetuate an illusion of ownership, permanence, and control.

Mormon, a brief theological introduction, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020, 46-47.

The stories of Job and of the end of the Nephite civilization illustrate how this principle operates under catastrophic circumstances. But all of us can relate to the difficulty of letting go of temporary things. I would suggest that this principle operates in a small way every day of our lives. For example:

  • When things don’t go the way you had planned, how quickly do you let go of your plans and adapt to your new circumstances?
  • When you’re in the middle of a project and someone needs your time and attention, how hard is it to set aside your project, so you can focus on the new need?
  • When someone hurts your feelings, how quickly do you let it go and move on?

Today, I will follow Job’s example of gratitude for God’s blessings and willingness to let them go when needed. I will avoid the fallacy of thinking that I can control how long I retain temporary things, and I will avoid carrying burdens, including intangible ones, longer than necessary.

One thought on “Letting Go

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  1. Sure seems like the principle of stewardship applies here. If we view our lives as consecrated to the Lord (by virtue of the covenants we’ve made), then we should view our talents / material blessings as a stewardship given to us by the Lord. Ideally we would seek the Lord’s guidance daily, if not more frequently, on how He would have us glorify His name through the blessings / talents He has made us stewards of. It seems like that acknowledgment of our nothingness-without-Him and our stewardship on his behalf is the only way to ensure we remain humble and grounded in the things that matter most. Appreciate the great post Paul!

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