Letting Go: Why it's hard and Why we all have to learn to do it

dandelionEver since we were born, we knew we had to grab, hold and cling. From our mother’s breast; to clinching our toys that we enjoyed, we all learned to hold on to what mattered to us. We all learned to hold on to what we thought would give us life--what did give us life.  As we grew and matured, our sense of holding, clutching, and grabbing did not seem to develop. It seems to be something we all do to survive—or at least we are shaped to think we must cling to live.We held on to our positions.   We clutched possessions. We did not let go of unhealthy relationships. We hoarded experiences. We amassed a lot of stuff. Yes, we’ve got the holding on to thing quite down.Through life and in life, we learn that-- [tweetthis]The key lesson all of us will learn is this: We will all learn that we have to let go.[/tweetthis]Parents let go of their first grade child feeling that life has somehow shifted when school began. The memory of me taking my first born son to university and dropping him off is forever etched in my memory bank. I vividly remember holding back my tears as we made trip after trip to the car taking what he was holding on to—what he felt was necessary to clutch as a freshman. When the last load was delivered the deathly sense of dread overwhelmed me. I said to my son, “Blake, I need to get out of here. Let’s make this quick.” We hugged. I kissed his forehead and we waved. That was it—until I closed the door of my car to drive off. Then the tears came. Not just a tear mind you but deep waves of rolling emotion that I had so far successfully manged to keep down, deep inside. I let go of my son and to be honest in that moment of letting go—nothing has been the same. That rite of passage became a season of transformation that changed him and changed me.We let go of our health. An accident might take a limb. A disease my take a lung. A cancer cell my have lodged in a vital organ. A hip or some other piece of us might break and need to be laid aside.Every letting go is a letting go of some part of us that is necessary to let go of in light of the next step on the journey.I’ve seen people hold on to their status and position and use every principle available to tightly grip what seems to have given them significance in their life. I’ve seen pastors hold on too long. I’ve seen CEO’s hold on too long. It takes a lot of inner work for someone to let a position go that has defined them; shaped others and provided for them in life. Some of us may hold on too long. We can’t let go. I’ve seen this played out with powerful executives who try to retire and then put their power at work in Home Owner’s Association. It happens all the time. I’ve sat with women who have lost their possessions in a fire or learning that all their possessions were lost at sea due to storage unit falling off a tanker in the Atlantic Ocean. What seems devastating to us at the time of such a loss helps us realize what is really important in this life and the next. We learn this if we are curious, open and as we learn to hold lightly what needs to be held lightly and to hold tightly what needs to really be held on to in life.If we live long enough, life reveals to us that we can’t take anything with us as we pass through the doorway into the Kingdom that awaits us. At that door—the door of death—we lay down everything—even and including our final breath. The Hebrew word for breath is “ruah.” It is the breath God gives to us when our butts are smacked by a doctor to make us cry—to breath. In the end---and for some of us, our end seems far, far too abrupt and sudden—our breath is laid down. It is given back.When I turned 60, I was struck like a slap in my face that my time was going to be short on this planet. Before that particular birthday, I never gave much thought to my life line. But somehow that day marked much of my thinking now about how I need to live my life now; what I need to let go of and how to live lightly and freely for the time I have remaining on this planet.I am learning at 62 that evey act of letting go is really this---it is practice for me to learn to let go of everything until eventually I will have to—need to and want to—lay down and give back to God the “ruah” he gave me in the first place. For me to learn this lesson, I’ve had deep spiritual conversations with a wise, sage 10 years my senior, whom I go to for monthly conversations about what I’m really thinking and what is really consuming my head these days. Those conversations are now like cairns which are marking my trail and the trail behind me of how to lay down much in life as I continue my long obedience in the same direction. I have had to lay down this big thought: I can’t do this by myself. I am not wise enough. I need help. By laying down my independence, I am finding a new freedom that I simply am enjoying.I have had to practice this letting go thing recently with a possession I valued so incredibly much. I lost my journal. I kept my journal in a gray backpack and took it everywhere. In that journal, I recorded my thoughts—my inner world markings that were etched on my soul. I wrote about my grandson’s death. I wrote about my marriage with Gwen and the biggest fight we ever had two years ago. I wrote the outline for a book that I felt God had given me a new message to write about. It was lost. I felt lost. I had to let go.It’s interesting that I as I was lamenting over this most recent loss and my efforts to let go of it and to lay it down, my journal showed up. The story of how it showed up is another story. But suffice it to say, I remain happy and thrilled to have back what I thought was so important to me. Sometimes, this happens. We seem to get back or to be given what seemed lost. This happened to the father in Jesus story of the prodigal son. The father got back one son---yet in some ways he lost the son that had been sort of with him all along.There are many levels of letting go. Letting go is probably rooted in each of us at a cellular level. Attachments form early in our life and for some of us we never really quite seem to work through being hooked by what doesn’t really matter at all in life. This letting go thing is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. God let go of his only son. The son let’s go of his closest associates and friends. All of life, when properly understood is deeply grounded in this birth, death and resurrection—this life, laying down and finding what really matters through life revelations.Here are some practices that might help you let go and begin and continue to let go in life. 

  1. Hold every thing lightly in life. Things are things and all things can be replaced. When things grip our hearts, we find we have too much clutter but inside and outside.
  2. Hold the people you love and value tightly. When people die, no one ever asks to hold an antique; an heirloom; a book or checkbook. When we pass into our next home, we want someone’s hand. We all want to be held at life’s most defining moments. That hug, embrace, kiss seems to mark those times as sacred because people are sacred—things are not.
  3. Become curious about your attachments. What would you grab in case of a fire and run out into the streets with so thankful you saved this thing from loss or destruction. Who are the six people that will carry your casket to the final resting place? Who matters most in life to you and why?
  4. Embrace letting go as a new spiritual discipline. The new book Essentialism has helped me think this through though a Bible verse or Jesus is never mentioned in the pages, it is filled with a challenge our generation needs to hear. Some of us need to let go of the boxes of our faith to experiences in life that is beyond our  boxes, we have constructed doctrinal statements we have written and more.
  5. Mark times of letting go with words, rituals and ceremonies. Find songs, poems, pictures and rituals that help you know—without words—what is really happening inside of you---inside of “us.”