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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "release"

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Release a movie...

Release an animal into the wild...

Release one's grip...

Release from prison...

Each is different, but the word has basically the same meaning - "to relax," "to loosen," "to set free." Which may be why it also gets connected with the idea of forgiveness, too.

When Jesus appears to his disciples on Easter evening (John 20:19-23), he tells them,

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

The word for "forgive" here is aphiemi - which literally means to leave or let go of or loose/loosen (i.e. release), and by extension, to forgive. It's contrasted with the idea of "retaining" or holding onto.

Risen Christ appearing to disciples (mosaic from National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.)

I wonder what it means for us to "retain" sins. To hold grudges? To deny forgiveness? To forgive but not be willing (or able) to forget?

We don't use the word "retain" much, unless we're talking about a retainer fee for an attorney, or (more commonly) one of these:

Retention pond

If you've ever been around one of these retention ponds, you know that they collect runoff water, which just sits and festers, often becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos and disease and nastiness. Which is also what happens when we retain sins - when we are unable to forgive others, or ourselves. But not only sins... When we are unable (or unwilling) to release anger or anxiety, guilt or grief, pride or prejudice, past hurts or crushed hopes, it can sit and fester within us, becoming a breeding ground for all kinds of nastiness. It can make us sick - if not physically, then certainly emotionally and mentally and spiritually.

So what do we need to release? Our need for and grasps at control? Our regret or guilt for past wrongs? Sorrow or anger at others for past hurts?

A wonderful habit to help us with this is the contemplative practice of the breath prayer. It's one we can all do, and can do almost anytime and anywhere. It's simple: as you take some deep breaths, breathe out and think/say what you want to release, and then breathe in and think/say what you want to take in instead. So...

Breathe out need to feel in control in every situation, breathe in trust in God goodness...

Breathe out oppressive expectations, breathe in grace ("I am enough...")

Breathe out anxiety, breathe in God's presence...

Breathe out anger, breathe in peace...

This practice will not change the circumstances of our lives that create guilt, grief, anxiety, anger, etc. But it can change us. In fact, it might just release us from whatever is keeping us from following Christ more fully.


P. S. And for your listening enjoyment, here's Wilson Phillips' classic 90s hit, "Release Me"

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