Why this song, and why now? This isn’t “Does your Chewing Gum Lose its’ Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight.” On second thought, I rather like what that goofy song suggests about not being able to let go of something! (If you don’t know that golden oldie, you should! It’s a guaranteed ear wormer!) Find it here:
Social science types could have a field day for some time with the movie “Frozen” and its’ favorite song. From infancy to the nursing home, attachment and letting go are some of the most important psychological and spiritual tasks we have. Attaching and letting go are two sides of the same proverbial coin. Kenny Rogers’ old hit song “You Gotta Know When to Hold Them, Know When to Fold Them” could be in our hymnals and liturgies, following the order for Confession or Forgiveness, or preceding the greeting of Peace. Wouldn’t that mix things up a bit?
Learning when and what to let go is a life long quandary. I know about these things. My family has some history with hoarding and collecting. Hoarding isn’t about acquisition. It’s about attachment and letting go. Things begin to stand in for relationships we can’t let go of, to fix relationships and history we can’t change. Things become invested in meaning and memory. Granted, other people might not understand what these things mean to us or of what they remind. Others might even consider the keeping of them ridiculous. Utterly irrelevant. Moving and change bring crisis of near catastrophic proportions to the soul who struggles to let go. It’s not just about the stuff either. It’s about grief and loss. Control and loss of control. Forgiveness and Absolution.
Some years ago, in the midst of a move from one house to another, I knew I would have to face The Closet (sing with me: “duh-duh-DUM!) I put it off. I dreaded it with real pain. A friend volunteered to be with me. I will forever cherish this act of compassion. She “got it.” What fearful monsters inhabited The Closet? They were only things, right?
First out of the closet were my unfinished projects. Every one of them had a story of a something once cheerfully imagined, only to be abandoned because of a mistake I didn’t know how to repair or didn’t have the patience to undo. Sometimes projects were left unfinished because life changed between the planning and the finishing. There was the quilt begun for the baby who was never born. There was a quilt begun as a wedding gift, but I lost heart for finishing it when the marriage ended a mere ten days after the wedding. Then there were the clothes I couldn’t wear with weight gains that embarassed me.
Then there were the things that were memories incarnated in yarn and thread, stitches and broken pieces of things I somehow believed could be repaired. As my friend pulled out a homely, amateurishly crocheted purple scarf, I burst into tears. I didn’t know how to let that scarf go. I knew I would never wear it, but I also knew that I did not understand how I could part with it. My friend listened as I told the story. It had been a gift from one of my high school lab partners. We were three in that team–a pair of inseparable identical twins and myself. She made the scarf. Shortly after finishing high school, she was in a horrific car wreck with her fiance, and they both died instantly. I received the news while I was away at college. I could not distinguish the memories of the twins enough to know which had died, and which made the scarf and which survived. My memory of them was conjoined. The scarf was the memory of both of them.
And then…..there was the bag. A 13 gallon garbage bag whose contents had already been whittled down from a 30 gallon trash bag. I couldn’t even open it. I knew the things that were in there: baby clothes, baby toys, maternity clothes, nursing bras. Those are just things, easily replaced. What was really in there wasn’t a thing at all. It was my hope and dream for another baby. It was every time that hope had been rekindled with a positive pregnancy test and extinguished with the dreadful news of fetal death and miscarriage. I finally was able to whittle it down to a tote bag of the things I had sewn myself and a few of the more precious baby toys. Then all I could do was hold out the bag, close my eyes, and ask my friend to make it go away before I opened them again.
Deep within every creature that has memory learns to let go again and again. The good Lutheran question is the good question for all of us: What does this mean? What does letting go of this thing, this experience, this memory, this life mean?
My dog Ruby loves a game of tug, and the ending of every game is “Show them who’s boss.” After “Out” and “Sit” the next command essential to the puppy Max was “Spit.” Let it go. Not for dogs. Mine. Gotcha. He is now quite adept in bringing his contraband to my feet. He spits it out before I can say a word. He knows. Letting go is another way he acknowledges that I’m boss dog. Letting go is about repositioning and posturing. These are very important skills in the dog world. We don’t live so far from that kingdom. Dogs can just pee on it and move on, very content that I’m still the boss because I feed them and lavish affection upon them and it’s enough. People do not always hand repositioning as well because we reposition ourselves as though the One who hand gives us all that we need and loves us to the end and back again does not exist. We cling to the illusion that we who earn and deserve all that we have, that if we don’t take care of ours and ourselves no one will. Our love is diminished by selfish uses of power and extinguished by violence. We can’t let go because we might just lose the last shreds of our human worth and dignity. Letting go can only mean loss, as much as accumulation can only mean increase.
I am convinced there is decidedly more that is good to be learned from letting go. It’s been a journey from The Closet to The Curb and back again.
Letting go is about Choosing. When I hold onto a thing, I have to choose how I am going to keep it and care for it. If I never choose which things to keep, my things start to keep me and I run out of choices. When I hold onto pain or a thirst for vengeance, I eliminate the options for a preferable future in that relationship. “I can’t forgive…I can’t give in…I can’t stop…” No choice. Letting go is about making choices, hopefully the better choices that bring healing. Those choices take courage. This isn’t about passive aggressive namby pamby defeatism. That’s no choice. This is about boldly seeking a future with those who have hurt us that keeps both our choices and theirs open.
Letting go is liberating. “The Purge.” When I let go of that closet, I felt better-not worse. Surprise, surprise. My friend’s care and understanding certainly helped. Having someone to whom I could tell the stories helped me let go of the thing and cherish the stories. Telling stories is another way to hold things. It’s also a way to heal things and invite others into the healing.
Letting go is the first step to change. Inviting a future that is different from the present requires letting go of some things, some ways of thinking, even some cherished beliefs or relationships that we mistakenly think the future depends upon even when they are only keeping us trapped in vicious cycles of pain or dull lethargy.
Letting go builds Confidence. We let go and the world doesn’t stop. We let go and the unexpected good happens. We let go and pain stops. We let go and discover we are still being held and cherished in God’s hand. What’s more, we sometimes discover that our confidence doesn’t have to reside in ourselves and our own powers. We can place our confidence beyond ourselves, in borrowed strength from another who loves us. Gasp. Maybe even God.
Holding on is about fear. Letting go requires courage. Letting go is about hope for a future that changes what we have and are now. Most of all, letting go is about loving: our neighbors, our selves, and all that God loves.
The last year and some has been like climbing in the Himalayas for me. There are some spectacular views, if only I can let go of my death grip on the rocks in front of me. Letting go of relationships to which I no longer contribute has been like jumping over a crevasse, unsure of how much strength really resides in these weak knees. Letting go of a job that gave my family financial stability was as terrifying as stepping off a cliff without testing my ropes or the strength of my belay. Still I am finding vocation yet living –and growing–deep in my soul. My near-to-waking dreams are often places where I recognize that I am practicing letting go. In one recurrent dream I am driving the car with someone in the back seat. That person is someone whose love and friendship I mourn, or someone who has caused pain and hurt I cannot let go. We have conversations–shouting matches even. We come to an intersection and I tell them to get out of the car, and drive on. I am learning. I am not there yet, but I am on the way.
When we hold on to that which we do not need, we are confined to survival.
When we learn to let go, we discover our lives.
Hmmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?