by Kristyn Komarnicki
It’s January again, and although I long ago resolved to cease the wearying (and ultimately discouraging) practice of making New Year’s resolutions, some habits are particularly hard to break, especially for a go-to-it, to-do-list-making person like me. This time around, I resolved to unpack that dreaded word—resolution—and get to the bottom of it before I launched into the new year with any more of those across-the-board vows (“I’ll make my bed every day”; “I’ll never yell at my kids”) that are doomed to future failure.
I enjoy unpacking words, but I also hoped that my investigation would yield some new insights and maybe, if I was lucky, some loopholes. I was not disappointed. The verb to resolve, as it turns out, has its origins in the Latin word resolvere: to unfasten, loosen, release. Well, loosening is just about the polar opposite of how I usually feel when I resolve to do something—abdominal muscles taut, teeth clenched, mind determined to change my behavior by sheer willpower. What would it mean—in my family life, my friendships, my work—if, instead of clamping down and pushing my way into the new year, I released my hopes, desires, and plans? What if I loosened my grip on the life God gave me and offered it back to Him instead?
A giddying thought. And, of course, a thoroughly biblical thought.
In 2006 I experienced firsthand a lesson in letting go. My colleague and I shared the daunting responsibility of organizing a conference to enlighten the Body of Christ about the rise in female incarceration and to challenge it to address the problem. Almost everything about the endeavor was difficult. We assembled a group of 17 speakers, many of them formerly incarcerated; none of whom we had heard speak before. We arranged a visit to a local women’s prison, and the bureaucratic logistics were daunting. The venue for our conference was still—in spite of promises to the contrary—undergoing renovation, and we didn’t have enough registrants to even begin to cover our costs. The possibility of failure was enormous—which is probably why, in the end, the conference was such a success, since the possibility of failure is inextricably linked to the likelihood of God’s grace showing up.
My letting-go lesson came from one of our speakers, a delightful nun by the name of Sister Elaine Roulet. Although well past what most people would consider retirement age, she is still devoting her life to loving, empowering, and advocating for women behind bars. She told us a story about a Tibetan singing bowl she once saw advertised while she working as a women’s prison chaplain. She ordered this bowl in the hopes that its ringing song, “used for centuries to assist in meditation,” would be a non-threatening invitation to silence and prayer, regardless of the prisoners’ faith backgrounds. When the bowl arrived in the mail, she took it out excitedly and followed the enclosed instructions, holding the bowl in her hand and striking it with the accompanying wooden stick.
To her disappointment, it emitted only a dull thud. She tried again and again, each time evoking nothing more than a lackluster clunk. Eventually she realized that she had been clutching the metal bowl so tightly in her eager fingers that the bowl was unable to vibrate. When she loosened her grip, the metal rang freely and sweetly, instantly becoming the stirring spiritual invitation she had hoped for.
Sister Elaine shared this metaphor with a room full of dedicated, godly women and men who, like her, have devoted their lives to prisoners. Many of them were weary, frontline workers who care much and are paid little or nothing for the efforts they expend in an arena where the need is greatest and Christians are scarcest. Many arrived at the conference with somewhat guarded gazes and shoulders sagging from the fight. But here was this beautiful, white-haired nun, reminding them that not only is it okay to lighten up and let go, but it is also essential.
Lighten up—or, as Jesus puts it (according to The Message), “If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms” (Luke 17:33). I think I can resolve to live with that this year. How about you?
Kristyn Komarnicki is ESA’s director of communications.