Letting Go With Love

By John Stoltzfus, conference youth minister

“When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18

This may not be the first verse that comes to mind when considering the Easter season we just celebrated. Yet, this speaks to my current experience with my father who has two debilitating terminal illnesses. As I sat with him this past Easter Sunday I couldn’t help but think that this may be our last Easter together. He delivered many inspiring Easter sermons while pastor for over forty years at Conestoga Mennonite Church in Morgantown, PA. Now he is limited mostly to nods of his head and a few slurred words.

Grant Stoltzfus (John's brother) shaving their dad. Photo credit: Zachary Stoltzfus
Grant Stoltzfus (John’s brother) shaving their dad. Photo credit: Zachary Stoltzfus

He communicates in a different way now–through a posture of grace and vulnerability. As his movements become more restricted, more intensive care is needed. Now the most basic and intimate tasks–to shave, to dress, to bathe–require help from others. He accepts this all with a quiet grace I can only hope to possess when my time comes.

My father and I did not always agree on matters of theology and church. At the same time, I learned much from him and received from him a deep love for the church. Recently, he pointed to an article in the Mennonite World Review telling the story of Lancaster Mennonite Conference cutting ties with MCUSA and simply said, “We’ll never agree on everything.” I know he has seen a fair share of church fights and splits in his lifetime. I wonder if a perspective and knowledge of our own ending can help us hold more lightly and with more grace the tensions of our current time. Might we be more willing to extend a hand of mercy and freedom knowing that we cannot control and hold tightly for all time?

I see some of the same dynamics in my work with youth and my role as a parent. Parenting is a journey of learning to give and let go. Passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation is also a journey of giving and letting go. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ. Our attempts to control what happens today are often an expression of fear that does not trust the ongoing move of the Spirit. Love does not demand its own way. Christ gave all in his journey to the cross and trusted the future into God’s hands. Christ chose to love freely to the end.

In the end and in our end, this Christ-like love is what remains and points most profoundly to the resurrection. A month ago my extended family gathered with my parents for a time of sharing memories of the past and making plans for letting go and the coming death. It was a love feast of laughter and tears. As we got ready to go, my father, who was engaged in the conversation but not able to say much the whole time, quickly got up and stood at the door to give each a loving hug as we left. I thought of Jesus’ most repeated words to his disciples following the resurrection, “Peace be with you.”