Creating Bondage or Freedom, Day by Day

Matt 16:19, Matt 18:18

The day my daughter Julia turned three months old, she found her fingers, and two of them took up residence in her mouth. Since she had cried non-stop for those three months, I loved those fingers even as they flung food when she pulled them out to take another bite and put them right back in. Those fingers were my friends. When she was two I started pastoring and pretty soon began to hear comments from people who obviously knew better than I did that she was too big to be sucking her fingers. I talked to her pediatrician, and he wisely pointed out that an orthodontist was much cheaper than a psychiatrist, which was all the support I needed. I had watched an ugly battle with a mother and a thumb-sucker up close when I was a child, and it was not a war I wanted to wage. Besides, I owed those fingers. If they didn’t mind being shriveled like prunes, who was I to care?

It was one of my brilliant moments as a mother. I started saying to her, “As long as you need those fingers, it’s OK with me. When you are ready, you will give them up, but you keep them until you’re ready.” The day she turned five she announced that 5-yr-olds didn’t suck their fingers. I never saw them in her mouth again. I wonder why, 25+ years later and with far more failures in this area to my name, I wonder why it has been so hard to use what I knew clearly then in the rest of my life.

 “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19) When we bind things—relationships, dynamics, energy flow, someone else’s hands—it means we bind either God’s ability to move or God’s willingness to act. It doesn’t matter which because we can scream and beg and pray all we want, but the powers of heaven do not move for us until we let go what we have bound. Our ego needs for our will to be done keep much of our lives bound up. Love always frees and releases. Jesus was always asking us to free and to be freed.

Now with my daughter in this one instance, I refused to create bondage. You know how I could have done it. I could have decided I was going to make her stop sucking those fingers, which in this case would have been a lot more about my image of myself as mother reflected by those comments. I could have let my own ego needs lock us in battle. I could have decided to break her of it, to make her conform to my will, to my vision of how she should be. I could have chided, shamed, belittled, nagged, pushed, begged, bribed or battered her. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. She would have resisted, sabotaged, hidden, cried, fought, deceived, manipulated—anything but relent.

Does this dance sound familiar? I’m going to make you do what I want, I’m going to make you change, get what I want regardless, make you apologize, make you hurt. Whenever we say some version of “my will be done,”—and we do this all the time folks—whenever we say my will be done, we bind those energies on a physical/emotional plane and on a spiritual plane. This bondage may be between two people or two ideologies or two parties, but the result of “my will be done” (and I keep hearing the phrase “come hell or high water”), the result of “my will be done” is bondage. Bondage of the other and bondage of ourselves.

What we bind on earth is bound in heaven and what we loosen or release or forgive on earth is released or set free in heaven. This is a spiritual principle about how we keep things stuck, even while believing we want them to change. When we get anxious, we do what we’ve always done only with more energy, even though what we’ve always done hasn’t really worked to get us what we want deep down. We just try harder—using our version of bigger sledge hammers—to enforce our will on the situation.

We also keep things stuck by what we believe should or shouldn’t happen or exist. We keep things stuck by insisting on getting what we think we deserve or what we think is right (and we all think we’re right). We keep things stuck by having only one acceptable outcome and refusing to entertain any other possibilities. In other words, it’s what we do when we really don’t believe God can do anything with the situation. If we believed God could do something, we’d be asking God’s help and direction—and listening—instead of telling God exactly how to fix this. When we admit coming to the end of what we can do ourselves, coming to the end of our own striving, to the failure of our own devices and the need for something beyond the best we can do alone, then the powers and resources of heaven are loosed and poured out upon us. Being free in God is about living in the place where we can always say, “Your will be done, not mine.” That’s when we begin to understand God’s providence day by day, hour by hour. When we drop the tug-of-war rope, suddenly the whole situation and what is possible within it shifts.

Several years after I had failed to transfer my learning with Julia and her fingers to other areas of my life, I was moaning to a friend about changes I wanted to make in my life and what a horrible person I must be because I was such a failure at doing so. “Put the energy toward the positive,” she said. “Don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do today. Tell yourself you’ll be able soon and then picture yourself doing it. Put the energy toward what you want. Give thanks that it is coming to you soon.” I had been putting my energy into fighting with myself and being upset about that. What if I focused on putting my energy beyond the tug-of-war into a positive outcome?

My will be done is one reason reform movements fail. We are going to make you change. When we are going to make you change we lock the energies and possibilities. It’s where we are politically today, stuck in the ego demands of opposition. We have knee-jerk responses that pop out to particular words regardless whether that response is appropriate in this situation or not. We so believe we know what those people think/want/believe/are going to do that we come out yelling “NO!!!” without ever listening or acknowledging that we’re in defensive (and often offensive) postures.

Just saying “No!” doesn’t change addiction, whether it’s addiction to drugs or to our own beliefs or to being right or to our entitlement to have what we want when we want it or to oil or to other resources. Screaming “No!” at those people does not bring us the changes we want to see, just as telling Julia not to suck her fingers wouldn’t have brought the healthy respectful relationship I really wanted with her. Real change requires spiritual work, whatever language we use for it. It requires letting go my-will-be-done and opening to a larger Benevolence. It requires trust in something larger than ourselves.

We have so stayed God’s hands, even as we pray for things to change. We have bound ourselves in the push/pull of I want, I will have, I will make you, you will never, you cannot, you will not… it all sounds ugly, doesn’t it? That’s not Love. That’s not what Jesus taught or modeled. God has the best interests of all of us at heart and in mind, not just some of us. God wants all of creation to be whole. If we want to be followers of Jesus, we have to let go, little bit by little bit, insisting that our will be done.

My spiritual director tells me to pray for and into that which is eternal. Stop asking God to change somebody’s mind or move them out of the way, she told me; ask instead for my deepest desires and leave the how to God. If we’re struggling, for example, with someone we love—or an enemy we find very hard to love—we pray this person be the healed and whole person he or she was created to be. And we release God to move on our behalf. It’s much easier to complain or make snarky comments.

Now, like Julia with her fingers, even when we don’t bind the energy of a situation, it may still take time to be ready to change. But the more we invite God into the stuck places and truly make space for God to be there, the sooner we will get the deepest desires of our hearts. We will get the peace and joy and love we’re blocking by binding God’s hands.

When I first decided to pray, two one-liner prayers came to mind: “I trust you to meet my needs,” and “Your will be done, not mine.” I said them over and over. Whenever I pray these, they undercut any insistence that my will be done. I invite you to experiment with taking these or similar prayers into your week, saying it whenever you remember. I trust you God; Your will be done, not mine. May we all be amazed at the ways God opens situations we thought permanently stuck!