Tag Archives: letting go

God-hope-letting go

Holding on and letting go

A woman I know became sick a few months ago—suddenly. I learned about her illness through social media. Her family asked for prayers and said she was “gravely ill,” but it was not until they used the word “hospice” that I realized how gravely ill she was. In a matter of a few weeks, she went from posting pictures of her husband, children and grandchildren on social media—to dying.

Life is so fragile.

When death is near, what is happening in the rest of the world seems distant and unimportant. The passing of a loved one becomes the most important thing and offers great clarity about what really matters.

I try to remember those moments—the times when I had great clarity about what truly matters in life.God-hope-letting goThese thoughts came back to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if St. Mark had clarity as to what was really important, if he had a sense of urgency about spreading the story of Jesus’ life and message.

I thought of how God uses us to spread the Good News. Was Mark a writer? Or was he just compelled to write the story of Jesus? As I pondered Mark’s mission, I was reminded of some notes I received when my friend Jim was dying from brain cancer.

Several friends wrote to me during Jim’s illness reminding me that we were living the Paschal mystery—facing death and resurrection every day. It was true that we knew Jim would die soon and yet every day we found a way to laugh and every day we recited our litany of gratitude.

Jim was unable to read for most of the time he was sick, so I read his mail to him, and I also read any notes I received. One of the notes about the Paschal mystery sparked a conversation about the everyday deaths we faced.

Jim’s physical decline was an obvious death, but there were others that seemed as significant. We kept being faced with situations where we needed to let go so that we could truly live.

Holding on and letting go was part of our daily conversation.

At some point, I realized that it was not just at the time of one’s death, but that living the Paschal mystery was a continual invitation to see things in new ways, to look from different angles and to be open to change.God-hope-letting goAs I reflected, the words to Unsteady by X Ambassadors, popped into my mind.

Hold

Hold on

Hold on to me

‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady…If you love me, don’t let go.

Holding on can offer a sense of security and stability, but there’s always the question, What am I holding on to?

While our world may seem to be spiraling out of control, Christians are called to remain “steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:9), not caving in to popular culture or the “prowling Satan” but holding on to Jesus’ message of hope.

 

trust-compassion-God

Living the questions

As I lay on the massage table, allowing someone to tend to me, to help me release the stress I carry in my body, I started to relax.

And then these questions popped into my mind: What would it look like if I really loved myself? If I was truly compassionate toward myself?

What would it look like if I was able to let go of the expectations I place on myself, if I was able to let go of fear? What would it look like if I could see myself as God sees me and love myself as God loves me?

What would be different?

I imagine there would be inner and outer changes. My teeth would unclench and my stomach would unknot, although neither of those would be observable.trust-compassion-GodOutwardly, my shoulders would relax. My massage therapist in Pennsylvania used to suggest I place bricks on my shoulders in an effort to keep them from hunching up around my ears. (I imagine that when I am a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, I will be one of those dancers the judges repeatedly tell to, “Relax your shoulders.” Yes, I have a rich interior life—please allow me my fantasy).

At the end of this session, the Reiki Master said she got a vibe that I feel a need to get my house in order—figuratively or literally, she could not tell.

Definitely literally I told her as I thought of all the unfinished projects in my house.

Although I have been here for four years, three rooms still have no curtains. Hanging curtains used to be the first thing I did in a new place. It made me feel settled and at home. So, why no curtains? I have the fabric to make them and the rods to hang them, but….trust-compassion-GodWould self-compassion enable me to settle into my home? Or would it at least allow me to let go of my feelings of guilt for not having curtains?

My house has an enclosed porch overlooking the back yard. I created two new flower beds last summer that are blooming beautifully this year. Lavender and Echinacea fill the air with sweet scents, and black-eyed Susan, hydrangea and a butterfly bush add depth to the color palate. I feel at home on the porch and in the garden.

Perhaps I will reach the day when I feel that at home inside my house. Perhaps I will reach the day when I am that comfortable in my own skin.

Every time I get a taste of letting go and leaning into God, letting gravity pull me into a relaxed state, I know that is where I want to live. It is a place of mutuality, where God and I share a deep secret—that God has always loved me just as I am and that I can let go of my expectations that I be anyone else or do anything else. I can just let go and be loved.trust-compassion-God

 

expectations-family-letting go

Unmet expectations

So Abram said to Lot: Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. (Genesis 13:8)

“You have a perfect family,” my friend Jim used to tell me. Of course, he knew the quirks and dysfunctions of my family, but it was his way of reminding me to intentionally look for the good—and to be grateful.expectations-family-letting goI was reminded of this the other day when I was praying for the people on my prayer list—a hand-written list I keep in my Liturgy of the Hours book. Some people on the list are very close to me—family and friends—and others are people I have been asked to pray for, people I often don’t even know, but who have undergone some great suffering—divorce, illness, job loss, etc.

Several of the families lost children to drug overdoses or suicides. Others have been shattered by misunderstandings, betrayal, or some other dysfunction. Illness, accidents, drugs, alcohol, mental illness—the list of things that can go wrong in a family is long.

Four years ago, I moved home to be near my family. It was a good move for me, and I am deeply grateful for the way my family (both immediate and extended) has welcomed me and created a space for me in their lives. I feel blessed by my relatives, but I know that not everyone has that same experience.

Sometimes families are like Abram and Lot who “could not dwell together.” (Genesis 13:6) Abram was wise to recognize the issues and address them, but I am not sure that happens very often. More often, I think people hold onto an image of what they think a family should be.expectations-family-letting goA friend recently told me that her brother had manipulated their mother into taking $10,000 from the bank and giving it to him. It is, of course, not about the money—whether it is $10,000, $100,000 or $10—it is about the manipulation and sense of betrayal.

Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be so difficult, but holding onto them is much more painful. Wishing and hoping that people will act in a certain way is a set-up for disappointment.expectations-family-letting goBut it must be fairly common to have high expectations for our families, because I keep meeting people who are surprised by some relative’s actions—like my friend who expected her brother to keep his hands off their mother’s money.

My family was perfect in that it was a great training ground for me in letting go. As a young child, I learned that more often than not things were not going to turn out as I hoped, so I needed to readjust my expectations. Over time, I have learned to ask God, What is the invitation in this? What am I to learn when my expectations are not met, when I am disappointed?

The lesson is usually about my unrealistic expectations, and the invitation is to let go.expectations-family-letting go

 

 

 

 

Keeping things in perspective

Brain cancer became my reference point after my friend Jim was diagnosed with a non-curable and very, very aggressive form of it. While Jim was sick, any drama at work led me to ask, “Does anyone here have brain cancer?” It may seem harsh, but I did not have the energy to deal with what often constituted a crisis at work, and I would tell my staff to “work it out among yourselves.”

That brain cancer standard has served me well these past five years and has helped me to let go of things that might once have upset me. If nobody is seriously ill or in imminent danger, I can have a more realistic perspective on what really matters. I can step back and reassess most situations quite quickly.

calm

Last night at church, for example, a man came in terribly upset that one of the side doors was locked. He had parked near that door and had to walk to the next door (approximately fifty feet). “Someone has to do something,” he demanded. Another man standing nearby shook his head and said to me, “Some people.” He then told me that he had had a bout with cancer last winter and now he knew that a locked door was not really that big of a deal. I agreed, and I felt sorry for the man who was investing so much energy in such a small matter.

Recently, though, I have had two events in my own life that required me to step back and evaluate my reactions.

One was in my personal life and the other at work. Both involved unmet expectations.

One thing that can help me let go is to reframe the experience, to step outside of it and look at it from another angle. I am an extrovert and it helps me to talk through what happened in order to begin looking at the event from a different perspective. For both of these events, I called a friend who is an introvert; I find an introvert’s viewpoint opens up different options, often options I had not considered.

The personal event had made me angry because I had wasted some time and money. But no one had brain cancer, no one was going to die, and in the bigger scheme of things, wasted time and money are not that big of a deal. I asked myself, “Will this matter next month? Or in a year? Or at the end of my life?” Probably not. Let it go. I refocused my attention away from what was lost (time and money) to what was gained (the positive aspects of the experience).

perspective

The work event, though, has a broader impact and I needed to consider not just my unmet expectations and disappointment but that of others, too. I am still working on it.

Wise people throughout the ages have advised keeping things in perspective and maintaining balance—not holding on too tightly and not making more of something than it is. That is how I want to live.

balance

Find another way

I awoke this morning with the image of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz crying, “I’m melting,” as she dissolved into a puddle. “I’m melting” I said, and immediately the image changed from the wicked witch to an image of a thick coating falling away from my heart.

In another dream I had recently, I was kayaking down a river and the passageway was blocked so I had to backtrack a bit and find another way. Find another way was the phrase in my head when I woke up.

Dreams have a way of letting me know what is happening interiorly and offering direction and guidance.

Is my heart more open? Am I seeking other ways? My dreams seem to be saying yes.

It can be difficult to move away from old ways, though. Old habits and familiar patterns can easily drag me right back to unhealthy ways of thinking and relating. Fears can creep back in, no matter how many times I shoo them away.

But my dreams hold out a promise of something different, the promise of moving beyond my fears into freedom.

Three things I can do to respond to the invitations of my dreams:

Live in gratitude. Fear and gratitude are mutually exclusive for me. Gratitude leads to a greater awareness of abundance, whereas fear is about scarcity. There is no room for fear when I am conscious of all that I have—and grateful for all that I have.

Live in trust. Trust shatters fear. Trust is about hope and receptivity. A trusting heart is an open heart.

Let go of negativity. Freedom comes from letting go of old hurts and negative messages. Only by letting go of the past can I be open to the promise of the future.

Looking ahead to the New Year, I want to be more open to another way, living in greater freedom and loving with an unguarded heart.

Scar tissue

“Say only the good things people need to hear, things that will help them…” Ephesians 4:29

Last week, a friend who is a cancer survivor thought her cancer might have returned, but, thankfully, it was only scar tissue that was causing her discomfort. Her doctor said it should be a relatively easy fix.

Thinking of physical scar tissue reminded me of the other kind of scars, the invisible kind left from emotional hurts, heartbreaks and betrayals.

If only emotional scars were a relatively easy fix! In my experience, they are not.

Over the years, I have done a fair amount of work on healing my emotional scars, and I have made progress. But, new hurts still happen and sometimes a new hurt can re-open the wound of an old one, a hurt I thought I had healed and left behind.

If I were able to trace my bad behaviors, I am fairly certain they all lead back to some emotional hurt and its scar tissue.

Usually, I am not aware I am carrying scars—until I say or do something hurtful or at least not helpful. My scars can blindside me and leave me somewhat bewildered. “Why did I say that?” is the question that often opens a pathway to scar tissue.

A while ago, the job I thought was permanent turned out to be temporary, when the person who had quit changed her mind. There were early signs of her change of heart, so I was prepared. But I was still disappointed and felt a sense of betrayal. I had no say in the matter, leaving me feeling vulnerable and disempowered—two things I am not particularly good at dealing with.

I accepted my fate, though, and moved on to a new job, which turned out to be a great fit for me.

I thought I had dealt with my hurt feelings, that I had let go and moved on. And then, the other day, I found myself making a point by using a story related to this old job. While the story was true, it was not helpful. I could have made my point with another story, a more neutral one, but I chose this one. “Aha,” I thought. This issue is unresolved; the scar still itches, and I scratched it.

If I were honest with myself, I was aware of a tinge of remorse even as the words were coming out of my mouth. By the time I finished, I felt regret filling in the spaces where those words had been. Within hours, I knew that my story was pointing out to me an emotional scar; I was not completely healed. I had not let go. I had spoken out of my hurt.

I remember learning that pearls come from sand inside clam shells, irritations that are transformed into something beautiful. I pray for the same transformation for my scar tissue, that my hurts and scars can become the gift that helps me to be more forgiving and compassionate.

The Lord’s promptings

In most situations, I have been reluctant to follow the Lord’s promptings, fearful that I would make a mistake or not measure up; convinced that I was mistaken in my interpretation of God’s call—why me?

Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah have been my brothers in questioning the call, and like them, eventually I give in and try to do what I believe God is asking. I let go of my fears—or push through them—to take the first step on the path before me.

Becoming a religious sister was one of those paths.

After college, I explored the possibility of religious life. I was fine with the exploring stage; I even enjoyed it. Having a spiritual director was a requirement, and that step has proved to be incredibly beneficial. But then one day, about three years into the process, the Novice Mistress pushed me for a decision. Was I going to enter or not? I said “yes,” and as soon as the word was out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong. I knew I could not go through with it, and I changed my “yes” to a “no.”

I stepped away, but with gratitude for the discernment process, which had revealed insights into my relationship with God and my spiritual journey.

My time with the Sisters deepened my desire to live the Gospel more radically, and l’Arche was the next step on my journey. That, too, proved not to be a good fit. But, it was also a great learning experience and helped me move further along my spiritual path.

Life post-l’Arche put me in a suburban parish with people who had heard of l’Arche but not seen it. They were curious, and their curiosity made me feel odd.

What was it about me that I was willing to leave everything behind and try something as different as l’Arche? And how could I explain that something that was so difficult, something I had failed at so miserably, was also a great gift? It was not logical.

Like Jonah, I wanted to hide, to be left alone. I wished a fish would swallow me! But, no such luck.

When people asked about my time in l’Arche, I demurred and suggested they go visit a l’Arche community to see for themselves.

God has continued to prompt me, and I have learned to narrow my path. I now know that everyday living has plenty of opportunities to live the Gospel in very radical ways. Small acts of kindness can make huge differences in the lives of people who are ill or confined. Practicing forgiveness and letting go can fill my days.

Where I believe God is prompting me now is to claim what God has taught me on my journey and to share what I have learned. I still have to push through doubts and fears. And I remind myself that in the spiritual journey, it is God who leads the way; my part is to show up and be open.