Everyone should read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you’re at all interested in war or peace, truth or fiction, or really just in a human’s humanity, I strongly encourage you to read this book.
The Things They Carried shows the physical, mental, and emotional weight and items that the soldiers carried. Some things they brought to the war from home, and other things they brought home from the war. There’s also a detailed description of the uniforms and weaponry they carried everywhere in Vietnam. From grenades to pictures to Bibles to guilt to death, the reader sees everything these men carried.
As we address this week’s bumper sticker, “Let go and let God,” I ask you this not to belittle the heart or content of The Things They Carried, but to apply the theme of carrying things to all of us: What are you carrying?
As Dave spoke Sunday, he identified four major things that we hold on to: comfort, needs, fears, and control. Maybe you don’t struggle with all of these, and maybe your struggle with one leads directly to your struggle with another. Or perhaps you struggle with each of these in phases. Regardless, these four items are popular things to carry, and they aren’t always simple.
I’ll give you an example. When I think of control, my initial reaction is that I don’t have an issue with it. The health class I took in college focused on stress management, and it showed me how pointless it is to stress about things I can’t control. It helped me to worry less about things that are beyond my control or that aren’t my fault. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally stress about such things, but I do so a lot less than I used to.
On the other hand, I do like controlling things I can and want to control. That’s one thing I enjoy about being a writer. I control the words, the length, the tone. If it’s creative writing, even better. I get to play God and create and control everything from characters to whole universes. Nothing happens that I don’t want to happen. I also like to paint. And if you’ve ever watched at least two or three episodes of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, you’ve probably heard him say that when you paint, it’s your world. It can look however you want it to. I like having that kind of power; I like being able to control the scene. So maybe I do have a control issue after all.
I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to like control or comfort. Nor do I think it’s wrong to take care of our needs or to be afraid. I think there’s a problem in dwelling on these things or keeping them from God.
Looking at all of scripture, there aren’t many times that God tells someone to do something that he or she is totally comfortable with right away. Jonah booked passage on a ship going the opposite way. Jeremiah played the youth card, making excuses on account of his age. Mary was nervous about being a pregnant, unwed woman. There are more, but I think that’s enough to illustrate the point. When these people stepped up to their roles in the Kingdom and did what was asked of them, they were uncomfortable and unsure. They had to let go of their comfort to let God work through them.
It seems pretty natural to hold on to what we need. That way we’re sure that we have it. And if we don’t already have what we need, we pursue it. Because why wouldn’t we? The result of this breeds a lot of worry and not a lot of faith.
Jesus says in Luke 12:6-7 (NLT), “What is the price of five sparrows – two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
I’m not telling you to stop doing what you need to do to survive. I’m telling you to let go of that worry because God can and will provide. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we need because God loves us and looks after us if we pursue God first (Matthew 6:25-34).
1 John 4:16-18 (NLT) tells us, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
John identifies our ultimate fear here as failing God to the point of punishment and maybe even eternal punishment due to living without love.
But what does this have to do with tangible or everyday fears in our real, current lives? My biggest fear is clowns, and I mean that. Nothing fills me with terror like the thought (heaven forbid I ever see the sight) of a clown adorned for a child’s party with any kid of weapon. What does that have to do with what John’s writing about?
Let’s look at the components of what helps us overcome our ultimate fear as identified by John. As followers of God, we are so filled with the pure and powerful love of His that, one, our love grows deeper and more perfect to the point that, two, we live like Jesus.
The life of Jesus is marked by many human qualities, but fear is not one of them. Jesus got angry, He did things He didn’t want to do, He cried, and He was sassy, but He was not once afraid. He was filled with a perfect, empowering love. Why should He have been afraid? He had the strongest connection and relationship with the Creator. The angels could’ve been by His side as soon as He spoke the word for them to come.
This is the life, love, and confidence we can have through God. It strengthens us to the point that we fear nothing. We don’t fear failure or heights or spiders or axe-wielding clowns because when we face such things, we do so with the love and power of God.
Lastly, I think we can all understand wanting to be in control. If I do something, I know it’s getting done. It’s simpler. When then don’t have to depend on others and be let down. It may get messy, it may not be easy, but it’s worth it.
But is it? My hands are known for being incapable while God’s are masterful. My record is spotty, and God’s is immaculate. The plan I once had for my life was vastly different that the one God had for me, and I can say with total honesty that I’m glad my life didn’t turn out as I had once wanted.
Still, I sometimes try to grab the reigns. I try to make my problem less problematic before I give it to God. But God can handle any and all of my issues, no matter how big and bad they are. What does it say about my faith in Him that He’s my last resort and not my first choice? Not much.
These are the things we carry. These are the things we should let go of and let God take care of. Holding on to these things does nothing more than hold us back. Freedom in God means living with open hands. We shouldn’t be bound by our comfort, worry for our needs, fear, or desire for control. Unshackled people with open hands are more ready to give and receive blessings, to do for God while He does for them, to be who He needs them to be. And we should be such people.
By Carrie Prevette