This story was submitted for Advent some years ago by a well-respected leader in our church. The story is derived from one that I read years ago. It’s a Zen Koan, a challenge for those who want to learn more about the teachings of Zen. The story goes like this:
Crossing the Stream
A renowned monk and his pupil were traveling to another town when they came to a swollen stream. There was a beautiful young woman, who was fashionably dressed, also waiting at the edge of the water.
The monk, named Tanzan, offered to pick the woman up and carry her across. When they reached the other side, he put her down and went on his way with the young pupil. After quietly contemplating his master’s astounding behavior for the entire afternoon, the young man finally decided to ask his teacher why he picked the woman up.
It was a basic teaching known to all monks. They were never to approach women. And to carry one in their arms was beyond imagining! And so, at dinner, the young student burst out with his question.
“Why did you take that woman in your arms?” Tanzan immediately replied, “ I left her back on the other side of the stream. Are you still carrying her?”
A Universal Teaching: Letting Go
This was one of the stories that was retold in our Presbyterian church during Advent. The Zen Monk had become a Christian one in the later version, but the story was the same. It is a universal teaching that we all must learn.
We often hear about how someone has taken up space and lives ‘rent-free’ in someone else’s head. If there is an incident, or a person that causes anger and resentment and you may have lost sleep for their actions or deeds towards you, you will carry that load as a far greater burden in your own life.
It’s better to resolve the issue in some way. Either through closure, or actions you take, or simply finding a way to shut the door and make your burden lighter. That is why, when Christians speak of their lightness of spirit, they know that Jesus was telling them he was the way, ‘the truth & the light.” He meant that by following his teachings, their burdens were automatically lifted onto the shoulders of Christ.
But letting go is much easier said than done at times. The hardest thing is to just let go of anger and sorrow and pain. But the tantalizing glimpse we see of how much lighter our burden is when we do let go is enough.
Your Holiday Challenge
This exercise or challenge is one we all need to hear. Start your holiday season off with a new promise to yourself. Let go of the heavy burden you carry! Leave the bundle far back on the road where it belongs. You will find the lightness in your step and the clear-eyed vision of your future is easier to manage without that extra bundle that drags you down.