It was a cold January night and I was finally meeting with a new friend whom I’d met months earlier and neglected to contact. My life was falling apart and I needed a friend who shared my faith, one who I could gain wisdom from. As we sat and ate dinner at the neighborhood bar and grill, she asked me what I was still holding on to, what I hadn’t been willing to give up to God. I thought on the question for a few moments and she took the basket of popcorn from the middle of the table and began to use it to illustrate her point.
She explained that when we become Christians, we give up some of the things in our life to God, but we reluctantly hold onto others, the ones we aren’t ready to lose control of. She took a handful of the popcorn and placed it on a napkin, “Here, God, you can have these parts of my life, maybe I’ll worship you in music and praise, and I’ll come to church on Sundays and serve you [or whatever we’re willing to give]… and maybe this one – partying every weekend with friends, and this one – some of my money…” as she singled out a few more pieces of the popcorn. “But these – these ones are mine,” and she pulled the rest of the basket in close to her body.
As we become more willing to truly live for Christ, we slowly hand over more and more of the pieces. God gave them all to us in the first place, so He knows the best way to handle each and every one of the pieces. The problem is that until we’re ready to let them go and lose control of things (that we ultimately don’t have any control over anyway), God can’t do anything with any of them. He sees that we’re still white-knuckling that particular problem or part of our life and He lets us keep that one to ourselves. When we hold on to something so tightly, we aren’t allowing room for His grace or for His perfect plan to develop naturally – we’d rather have it our (broken and imperfect) way. We’re basically telling God to back off and butt-out.
Suddenly, my friend jumped out of her seat and told me to wait there. She darted away from the table and out of sight. I just sat, confused. When she reappeared at the table she had a small styrofoam container for leftovers and asked if I was done with my food and told me to grab my coat and purse. I put my coat on as she dumped the popcorn into both sides of the styrofoam container and closed it quickly to keep all of the pieces contained. She handed me the container, put on her coat, took her purse and then grabbed me by the hand and told me to hurry. I had absolutely no idea where we were going or what we were going to do – and I barely knew this woman.
A couple of blocks away, we finally stopped half-running as we got to the river and walked onto a dock that overlooked the dam. She asked if I still had all of my popcorn tightly in the container and I did. The water splashed and charged over the dam beneath us and the sound of rushing water was so loud we almost had to shout to each other. She told me to look down at the roaring water as I thought about how my life had been up to this point and the parallel was unnerving.
She asked what word best described both and only one came to mind: chaos. My life had been a chaotic mess, why did I want to keep holding on to that so tightly? Then she pointed down river a ways and asked me to take in that scenery… the river was calm, the water looked almost still. There were snow-covered trees on both sides and a slight glow from the street lamps above. She asked me to describe what I saw. Serenity, peace, a quiet beauty. I knew in that instant that’s exactly what I wanted my life to be and there was only one way to get there.
As we stood on the dock and looked ahead to the peace, despite the chaos happening just beneath us, she told me that I would have to let go of the rest of the pieces of my life in order to be released from and rise above the chaos and receive the peace that only God could give me. That thought settled in and some profound realizations suddenly became crystal clear. I didn’t have to try so hard. I didn’t have to be in control of every situation in every moment of every day. I didn’t have to worry so much about what other people thought of me. I didn’t have to stand tall in my own pride. I didn’t have to be full of worry and angst over life’s problems. All I had to do was give it up to God and let Him take care of it. That’s it. A shift in my focus. And then I could have peace.
She prayed over me briefly and then told me that she would walk away for a while so that I could talk to God and give Him the rest of my pieces of popcorn and gestured toward the styrofoam container. She said I could give Him one piece at a time or I could just dump the whole thing at once – that part was between me and God. For a minute I gazed at the rushing water beneath the dock and then at the perfect serene representation downstream. Then I began to pray. I told God that I was ready to let it all go, that I was ready to release my control to Him – my perception of control to Him. I told Him that I wanted Him to take it all away from me and use my life His way, not mine. For His purpose, not mine. For His glory, not mine.
I dumped the container of popcorn into the crashing water below. I watched as the pieces floated down to the water and rushed over the dam and were swirled and tumbled around and got lost in the turmoil. And I realized that was me in life. Everything that I tried to control ended up controlling me and I was caught in the confusion of this world, being tossed around and drowning in my own fears. I turned away from the chaos happening in the water beneath me and focused my attention on the peace ahead. I prayed again and thanked God for putting this woman in my life to give me an image that I’ll never forget. An image I’ll always be able to recall when fear starts to run my life and I can be constantly reminded to let go of all of my popcorn.