The Art of "Ungrasping"
Feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Feeling incomplete, like something’s missing in your life? Something you are lacking but can’t quite put your finger on what that something is?
There comes a time in everyone’s life when you know that something’s missing. You may not know what that something is, but you do know that you’ve got a hole in your life. If this describes you, then keep reading. If it doesn’t, keep reading anyway, because one day you’ll be in this situation, too.
The story isn’t unique to any of us. We can even find examples in the Bible, and I’d like to use one of those examples to begin this article. The man in the story was highly successful, even rich! Yet, he knew that even with all his power and position, he was still lacking something in his life that he desperately needed.
THE RICH YOUNG RULER (BUSINESSMAN)
There was a rich, young man in Jesus’ day that felt this same sort of lack you may be feeling. Life was obviously good to him, because he had great wealth and all the power, prestige, and position that comes with it. Today we might see such a person as a young, upwardly mobile, well-educated, and successful businessman or woman. Having it all together on the outside but feeling that something was missing on the inside.
You may have heard the story of Jesus’ encounter with this man. If not or if you want to refresh your memory, you can read one of the three accounts in the New Testament: Matt. 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-27, and Luke 18:18-23. Let me take you through it.
This young man had a question so pressing that he had to ask Jesus himself, not the priests, not the disciples, but Jesus. He sought Jesus out and asked Him, “What good deed must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus answered him by saying, “…if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
You can imagine the rich, young businessman getting ready to absorb every word Jesus was about to say so he could add Jesus’ instructions to his “To Do” list. In our modern analogy, we can see him taking out his iPad or smartphone to take notes. Then he asked Jesus, “OK, which ones?”
And Jesus started going down the list. As He did, the young man started writing:
• You shall not murder…. check!
• You shall not commit adultery… check!
• You shall not steal… check!
• You shall not bear false witness… check!
• Honor your father and mother… check!
• Love your neighbor as yourself… check!
And as Jesus pauses, the young man blurts out, “Wait a minute, I’m doing all of that, and there’s still something missing. What else do I lack?”
And Jesus replies, “If you want to fill the lack in your life, then…”
(And as Jesus prepares to speak, the rich young man prepares to listen intently again…)
1. Go, sell all that you have… who, me???
2. Give the money to the poor… what?? this is crazy!!
3. Come, follow me… Just like that????
The story says that the young man went away grieving, “for he had many possessions.” He couldn’t bring himself to do what Jesus had said he needed to to.
JESUS COMES WITH COMPASSION AND CHALLENGE
When Jesus comes to us, He comes first with compassion, but He also comes with challenge. In His compassion, Jesus saw that the young man was stuck in his thinking and needed a swift kick in the pants to get him unstuck. He challenged the man with His two responses: obeying the commandments and selling all that you have.
Obeying the commandments fully is an impossible task, but the young man thought he was already doing so, so that “kick in the pants” didn’t have the desired effect. Rather than correcting the man by showing him how far short he was falling, Jesus delivered His second kick, telling him to sell all that he had. That one definitely got his attention, because scripture says “he was very wealthy,” The man may have wanted to do what Jesus asked with all his heart, but he just couldn’t bring himself to act.
Jesus had clearly recognized that the man’s problem wasn’t so much his gold as it was his “grasp.”
Jesus had clearly recognized that the man’s problem wasn’t so much his gold as it was his “grasp.” Jesus realized that the man was stuck in life and felt that lack we all feel at times because he couldn’t let go of what was defining him at the moment: his possessions.
I think the man got the point, because we read that he went away sorrowful, and I think Jesus knew that the man got the point, because Mark’s account tells us that despite the man’s inability to follow through, Jesus in His compassion loved him.
THE ART OF UNGRASPING
We, too, can be like the rich young businessman at times. We cling tightly to possessions, power, prestige, and position. We hold on to concepts of self and others, of ways we are used to acting and behaving, and of ideas and thoughts long held without serious examination. All this clinging focuses our vision on the objects of our grasp to the point that we can lose sight of everything else, including God working in our lives to transform us into something new.
Jesus may not be challenging you to “sell all that you have” as He did the rich, young man, but I imagine He’s challenging you in some way! That challenge probably involves ungrasping something, whether our possessions or something else. That’s because the act of “letting go” is an important component of spiritual growth, and frequently that’s the piece that’s missing from our lives.
I can think of several things we cling to too tightly, such as our identity, our work, our family, and our past. Jesus might be challenging you in any of these areas or perhaps some others. Just think about what would be hard for you to give up, and you’ll probably find His challenge for you.
The most difficult thing for many of us to give up is what we possess, and that’s the challenge that Jesus gave to the young man.
UNGRASPING OUR POSSESSIONS
Ungrasping our possessions? Ouch! Even just imagining ourselves taking this radical action can send a chill down our spines, and that fact should raise a red flag that we grasp our “gold” quite tightly. I know I do.
But I’m learning! Letting go of my possessions has taken time, and if you decide to do so, it will take you time, too.
It began for me when I decided to start leaving larger than average tips to servers at restaurants. That doesn’t sound particularly dramatic, but in retrospect I see that the Lord was leading me step by step, using baby steps at first.
Other opportunities followed. A homeless woman who needed money for food. People who came up short at the end of the month and couldn’t make rent or pay their phone bills or were sick and needed money to fill a prescription. More steps taken as I continued to follow the Lord.
When one of my co-workers was about to be laid off, the earlier experiences enabled me to take a pay cut to save his job. Another step forward, this time a big one, in learning to ungrasp my possessions.
When the economy took a downturn in 2007-2008, my assets lost 40% of their value, and some of my “gold” was ungrasped for me. But that very substantial loss didn’t bother me as much as it might have years ago, because I had already taken those earlier steps in letting go.
The Lord will lead us step-by-step in letting go of our tight grip on our possessions as we continue to follow Him and respond to His lead.
But there has been one example that has been the most profound, and it has certainly brought me the most amazing joy in return.
A couple of years ago, I was led to send some substantial financial help to a disabled widow. This was new territory for me, but I felt the Lord’s leading me strongly, so I did so, and I’ve continued that support to this day.
I know the extra money means a lot to my friend, in fact, it means the difference between surviving and not surviving. But what took me by total surprise was the effect that my giving has had on me. I have seldom experienced such joy and happiness. It was like the Lord opened heaven’s gates, and the joy came raining down on me.
I know the extra money means a lot to my friend, in fact, it means the difference between surviving and not surviving. But what took me by total surprise was the effect that my giving has had on me.
I wish I had words to describe that feeling, but I don’t, except to say that this joy returns every time I send her another blessing. Not only that, the Lord has continually blessed me financially – without fail – as I continue to bless her and others. Those blessings are a huge affirmation and encouragement to continue ungrasping my possessions.
Ungrasping what we do have lets us have the openness to receive what we don’t have. And our Lord always has something better to give us.
You may be thinking that doing what I’ve just described is far beyond what you’re capable of doing. My point isn’t how much you may be able to ungrasp now but that you begin to ungrasp in the first place. I started by leaving larger than average tips when I ate at Waffle House: a five dollar tip for a cup of $1.50 cup of coffee; a ten dollar tip for a $10 meal. Let me tell you, those tips were hard at first. Very hard! But once I could ungrasp those, it was easier for me to ungrasp larger and larger amounts.
Just as I wrote at the beginning of the article, it isn’t so much the amount of our “gold” as it is the tightness of the hold we grasp our gold with. My widow friend taught me that in a very vivid way. You see, every time I send her a blessing, she uses 10% of it (a tithe) to bless others she encounters. And if a disabled widow with an impossibly tight budget can risk ungrasping her gold the way she does, how about the rest of us?
The act of ungrasping takes faith: real, genuine, active faith. Since the way we develop more faith is to take a risk, then ungrasping will always involve a risk.
THE UNGRASPING EXAMPLE OF JESUS
The best example we have of ungrasping is Jesus Himself. He knew exactly who He was and what His mission on earth was all about. He did not hold tightly to His physical life, willingly giving it up by going to the cross on our behalf as our Savior.
But what gives us an unsurpassed example of His ungrasping is what He willingly left behind when He came to this earth to carry out His mission. We read about it in Philippians 2:5-8.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
How’s that for ungrasping!
Christ ungrasped His equality with God to make Himself nothing.
He ungrasped His divine authority by taking on the nature of a servant.
He ungrasped His power over life and death to be obedient to death.
He ungrasped what others might have thought wrongly of Him when He was crucified as a criminal.
Oh, to be able to ungrasp like that!
Jesus’ amazing example shows us the importance of ungrasping everything that could distract us from the mission God may have for us and anything that could displace Him as our Lord. In fact, whatever we refuse to ungrasp could easily become an idol. (I will have more to say about our idols in a future article.)
What we refuse to ungrasp could easily become an idol.
Our possessions are just one area that we can cling to tightly. There are so many others
Who we are, our image, and identity.
What we do, our job, our hobbies.
The past and the future.
Even the results of the recent American presidential election.
I’m sure you can think of many others. If Jesus isn’t challenging you to ungrasp your possessions, maybe His challenge is in one of these areas.
Before going on, let’s review the major points of the article so far.
1. What we refuse to ungrasp could easily become an idol.
I think you can see how this could happen, knowing that an idol is whatever we use to replace God or whatever distracts us from God. Ungrasping is an art, and it isn’t learned all at once: it takes practice. But when we find ourselves not being able to let go in one of the categories listed in this article, let’s be sure was are not violating the commandment that says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
2. The Lord will lead us step-by-step in letting go of our tight grip on our possessions as we continue to follow Him and respond to His lead.
This is the compassionate aspect of the Lord that always accompanies His challenges. Sometimes those first steps are baby steps, like with my Waffle House tips. They seem insignificant on the physical level, but unknown to us they are transforming us spiritually. Then, when we have mastered one challenge, the Lord nudges us up to the next level.
3. Ungrasping what we do have lets us have the openness to receive what we don’t have. And our Lord always has something better to give us.
Grasping tightly in some part of our lives inhibits us. It figuratively closes us up and shuts us down, because we are seeking to protect our status quo. But that closing up also prevents us from receiving new inputs, whether in the way of correction or in the way of blessing. And Jesus always has something much greater in store than we could ever imagine!
4. The act of ungrasping takes faith: real, genuine, active faith. Since the way we develop more faith is to take a risk, then ungrasping will always involve a risk.
“Fear, faith and risk” are three words that go hand in hand. We increase our faith when we decide to take a risk and step out into new territory. But we hesitate to take those risks out of the fears we may harbor. Fear of loss. Fear of lack. Fear of regret. Yes, there’s a risk involved in learning to ungrasp in every one of the six areas I listed, and for each risk, there’s a corresponding fear. A very real fear. Don’t try to minimize the fear, just recognize that the fear is there. But so is God! Focusing on God rather than focusing on our fears is the key to moving forward in our ungrasping activities. Ask yourself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
WHAT IS JESUS CHALLENGING YOU TO DO?
I hope this article has shown how easy it is to cling to our possessions, our identity, our wounds, our dreams, and I trust you have seen that holding on to them less tightly – “ungrasping” them – can help us find the lack in our lives we may be feeling. I’ve used some personal examples to illustrate the process.
But the most important question to ask is what is Jesus challenging you to do… right now! What are you holding on to too tightly? What are you having difficulty letting go of?
Jesus challenged the young man to ungrasp his possessions. He may be challenging you to do the same thing, or He may have a different challenge in mind. Whatever the case, please don’t ignore the possibility that Jesus is probably challenging you in some area of your life right now.
And what should you do when you meet up with one of those challenges? The rich, young man in our story wanted to “do some good thing,” and when Jesus told him what that “good thing” was, he was unable to follow through. That sounds so familiar!
I have found that as I follow Jesus, He challenges me in ways that stretch my faith and require taking risks to follow through. But those challenges come in small steps.
I have found that as I follow Jesus, He challenges me in ways that stretch my faith and require taking risks to follow through. But those challenges come in small steps. I think this is so I can draw closer to Him in the midst of each step, take a relatively small risk, then have Him turn that risk into increased faith. That increased faith means His next challenge can be even more stretching, building on my past experiences of trusting in Him and following Him in obedience.
YOUR NEXT STEP
Here’s my advice: take all of this to the Lord. Ask Him to show you what you are grasping too tightly. Ask Him what’s the next step you should be taking. Ask Him for the ability to overcome your fear to take the risk the next step may involve. Then, take a deep breath and step out in the direction He is leading you.
Above all, don’t forget His compassion when following through with how Jesus may be challenging you. It is boundless! His love for us is beyond all measure! He wants us to succeed when He challenges us, but His compassion is there when we fall short, as we will from time to time. Remember, when the rich, young man was unable to follow through with the challenge to share all that he had, Jesus still loved Him! He will still love each of us, too!
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