And so we hold on so tightly, straining to be what we desperately believe we must be; defending and climbing away from any indictment or circumstance that makes us what we must not be.
The limb looks like a sentence.
"I must be ________ in order not to die." OR "If I am ________ I will die."
Most men fill in the blanks this way: I must be strong, dependable, trustworthy, handsome, a leader in my home, church, or job, as well as a provider for my family. I must not be weak, puny, perverted, ugly, small, or insufficient. If I am not the former, or, if I am the latter, I will die. People will laugh at me, detest me, cast me into the dungeon of social shame, and reject me forever.
Most women (I tend to think) fill them in this way: I must be beautiful, desirable, and sexy. I need to be a good, loving, and caring mother, wife, and friend. I must be a good home-maker and parent, keeping things in order. My children must behave well. I must not be ugly, gross, or lazy. I must have things in control in my relationships, home, and family. If I am not the former, and if I am the latter, I will die. My social life will spiral out of control, people will think bad thoughts about me, and I will be rejected forever.
Navigating the limb is tough. It is exhausting, constantly strategic, and filled with anxiety, fear, and unrest. One wrong move, slip of concentration, or even a small nap and down we go. Unbearable shame, scorn, chaos, rejection, and ridicule are soon to follow.
Therefore, other people are dangerous. If they were to reveal one of our inadequacies, that'd be like pealing a finger away from the limb. If they find us out, we'd surely fall. They may even be so clumsy as to cast their burdens upon us. We'd become heavier. Our limb would flex. Our grip would surely fail. So we become angry, anxious, and judgmental. By becoming safer from others, we become unsafe to others.
Not only is this life dangerous, it is completely unnecessary.
Because we are so focused on ourselves (the person we must or must not be) we fail to realize the safe foundation just below our feet. His name is Christ Jesus the Lord. When we let go of the limb, when we "lose our lives", we can live in the safe pasture of our Good Shepherd. There we can run because we are ransomed. We can hear criticism because he has been crucified (Gal 2:20).
Letting go means coming to terms with, and confessing the truth about, ourselves. When indictments about our looks, character, and/or abilities come, we can resist the temptation to cling to the limb of our own over-desired identities. By the power of the Spirit, we can humbly consider the possibility of truth in their words.
Most of the time people are right about us, regardless of their motives or reasons for confronting us. If they call us a jerk, we can say, "You know what, you're right. I am a jerk. I'm sorry." "If they say we are irresponsible or inadequate, we can say, "You are right, I am those things. Can you help me?"
What if they are wrong about us? This just means they aren't seeing us clearly. They need help - Gospel help. Rather then worrying about ourselves and our identity, we are free to love even those who [wrongly] accuse us.
This is letting go of the limb.
The Good News of the Gospel is that "letting go" is completely safe if our foundation is Christ. Because he died, we won't die. He is just below our feet. It makes no sense holding on. We must daily fall upon the One who is perfect in character and ability, who is completely sufficient, responsible, and good. He is sufficient for us. As we rest in him, his identity is freely ours by God's wonderful grace.