In a society where we are bombarded with action slogans like Just Do It! many of us can feel a bit of disgust when someone says “let go and let God” or — even worse — “Jesus take the wheel.” I confess that this was my response to the song when I heard it. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let go of the steering wheel of your car while your child is asleep in the back seat.

But of course, this isn’t the point of the song. Although maudlin, the song brings up a good point with regard to the “steering” of one’s life. This approach to living is embodied in this well known quote from the Gospels:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Gospel of Matthew 16:25

For those who like longer explanations, here is one:

The more we hang on, the more we fail to live. The more sedulously we avoid death, the more certainly we avoid life. We are scared stiff to awaken to the truth that we are being swept along by the life of God as in a mighty torrent; that it sweeps us away from our possessions and our very selves to carry us out to the ocean of God himself. Therefore we cling desperately to floating logs or swim with all out might against the stream, not seeing that this effects nothing but our own discomfort and exhaustion.

Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit

This is also an important principle of Taoism. It’s called Wu Wei and it literally means “inaction.” However, it doesn’t mean “inaction” as in sitting on your couch playing Halo and eating potato chips off your chest — it means to not run around wildly trying to make sweeping changes in the universe. It almost never works.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.

It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 48 (Feng & English, trans.) (Bold added)

Each person taking small actions in harmony with the will of God is a lot more powerful than one person blustering and running around trying to change everything at once. You can see this in the way large business organizations sometimes try to make sweeping changes but often ending up with no changes at all because of the silent resistance from the line staff.

Again, this is not lethargy; it is taking strategic, intelligent, appropriate action calculated to have an actual effect, rather than butting heads directly up against the “mighty torrent” mentioned by Alan Watts above.

A truly good man does nothing,

Yet leaves nothing undone.

A foolish man is always “doing”,

Yet much remains to be done.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 38 (Feng & English, trans.) (Quote marks added)

This is in the same spirit as the quote attributed to St. Augustine:

God provides the wind, Man must raise the sail.

(Saint) Augustine (quoted all over the place but I can’t find the original)

It took me a long time to “get” this enough to start using it in my own life. Having done so, I find myself much more peaceful now, while those changes I was pushing for are quietly being effectuated. It’s true, you don’t end up getting credit, but maybe that’s okay.

When actions are performed

Without unnecessary speech,

The people say “We did it!”

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17 (Feng & English, trans.)
 Thue [Public domain]