Letting Go Is Hard
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46
In my early attempts at recovery, I planned vacations, when I knew I could use for a couple of days and then return to sobriety. I planned to live sober most of the time, with an occasional indulgence. It worked for a while, but the sober times grew shorter and the vacations grew longer, until they merged into one long vacation, which turned into a living nightmare.
What I didn’t get is that I couldn’t truly embrace the new life, while clinging to the very essence of the old one. Recovery doesn’t require perfection, but it does require that I abandon the thing from which I’m recovering. Using only once in a while isn’t sobriety. It’s a lie, and I’d say it leads back to active addiction, but using once in a while is active addiction. Completely letting go of the old destructive path is necessary . . . but really hard to do.
Jesus, in today’s passage, described the new life as a great pearl, for which the merchant seeking it must give up all he had. To attain the new, he had to abandon the old. Keeping both was not an option. It was one or the other, and as long as the merchant remained unwilling to part with everything else, he couldn’t acquire the treasure he’d been seeking.
We sometimes think of letting go as a passive process. Just let go, it’s easy! This is anything but passive though. The old life has metastasized, becoming part of us. Tearing it from ourselves then, is a violent and painful process. We don’t simply walk away from drugs, leaving everything else in life the same. We don’t abandon destructive relationships easily. We don’t simply transform bad eating habits without making uncomfortable changes.
Letting go of the old life, unfortunately isn’t a once-and-done process. It takes a lifetime, and we won’t do it perfectly in this life. I don’t mean we can’t abandon drugs or alcohol completely. I mean that once we abandon alcohol or drugs, God reveals other destructive flaws. Recovery is a daily process of continually abandoning the old life to follow God into the new one. This is faith and in it, we find joy, purpose, and life.