When I was thirty years old, I had a total hysterectomy. The six months that followed were some of the worst in my life. I was emotionally and physically unbalanced. I had never felt more "un-me." I have told people it was like an alien had taken over and I was watching my life from the sidelines. Finally, my body adjusted and I began to settle into a new normal. But this imbalance remained. I remember praying for the first time in years.
I had grown up in the Church; I had a relationship with God. I had even gone to a Christian college. But like many young people, I did not practice my faith as an adult. I would go to church now and then. Ken and I went for a few months after we were married, but I never cultivated an adult relationship with God.
After these months of chaos, there was comfort in that prayer. I tentatively began rebuilding my faith. For the first time, I felt like my faith was indeed mine. I had fought for it. My relationship with God became more personal, more in-depth. Through this, I began to examine my life. I felt God was leading me to get rid of some of the things that were causing some of this turmoil. This was the first time I purposefully took the time to investigate what in my life was working and what wasn't. I let God lead me to areas of my life I hadn't thought about in years. Suddenly past hurts, unforgiveness, unhealthy relationships were brought to light. So many things I needed to let go of but was stubbornly clinging to. I was holding on to these things like a hoarder. I allowed God to do his work. It was not overnight, and it was not pretty. But it got done.
Throughout the years I began to notice the signs when I would need to sit down and go through the process again. It's like a garden that always needs weeding. Any time I ignore these internal signals and nudges from God that it's time for one of these weeding sessions, the consequences have been disastrous. Last week I had a conversation with a friend. In looking back, I realized I was not acting very Christ-like in our discussion. The next morning during my quiet time, I was convicted of my attitude. The signs were there. I had been ignoring them. It has been a stressful few months, not just for me but for others I am close to as well. With so much going on, I needed to take some time to sit down and see if there were some things I needed to let go of. I spent a lot of time with God that morning. I later messaged my friend and apologized.
Letting go of things in life is not easy. In fact, sometimes it's hard even to know where to start. I usually open with the big stuff and go from there. Here's a list of where I typically begin. It's not exhaustive, but a good starting point. I try to ask myself questions too. Is this from God? Is this beneficial to me? Does this bring value to my life? Is this hindering me?
One question I don't ask is "does this make me happy?" I think a lot of times we are fooled by happiness. Things can make us happy and not be healthy for us. For example, Ben and Jerry's makes me happy. But if I indulge in it too much, I will not be healthy.
When I am feeling an imbalance or "drain" on my emotional energy, this is the first area I examine. Outside of family and significant others, these are some of our most important relationships. People define friendship in many ways from those in our "inner circle" to casual acquaintances to Facebook friends. Most of my friendships are somewhere between a step above casual acquaintances and an inner circle. I purposefully keep my Facebook friends less than three-hundred. I can't imagine needing more than that knowing what's going on in my personal life. I keep my inner circle small for the same reason. Although I am a pretty open person, there are still those things that are private or sensitive that I will only trust a handful of people with.
I read an article once about how hard it was to make friends as an adult. Maybe that's one of the reasons that people hold onto friendships that are no longer healthy. I met one of my best life-long friends in the 5th grade. That friendship has evolved over the years as our lives changed. There are times when we communicate all the time. There have been months when we haven't texted. But we both know the other one is there. In fact, most of my friendships are this way. I'm not good at texting all the time or making plans months in advance. But I am always up for a spur of the moment "catch-up" lunch, and I am a pro at listening to a 2:00 AM crisis phone call.
Here's the point I'm trying to make about a healthy friendship. There might be someone that I am friends with that looks at my view on friendship and not feel valued. Their idea of a good friend is someone they make weekly plans with or someone that is always going snap them a hundred times a day or text back right away. I would drive a person like that crazy. Even though I am a good person, and not intentionally hurting anyone, I would not be a healthy friend to that person. It is more than okay for that person to reduce my space in their life. They can still like me. I can still like them. There doesn't have to be drama or hard feelings.
Other unhealthy friendships are a bit more obvious. If someone is continually getting you into trouble, or if you are making all the effort to keep it going, then it's time to let it go. Again, it doesn't have to be some over the top, stressful moment. It's just letting go. Let that person go and do their thing. You go and do yours.
I may take some heat for this one. Everybody talks about following dreams and the power of positive thinking. We tell people that they can do anything they set their minds to. This is a lie. You can dream about singing opera at the Met. If you can't carry a tune in a bucket, that dream is not coming true. What if we are spending all our time following unattainable dreams and are missing the thing we can be even more passionate about? The thing we can be exceptional at? The thing that will bring us fulfillment and purpose?
Another thing to question is whether it's a God-given dream or a self-made one. If God has placed a dream within your heart, he will make a way to attain it. Sometimes the dream needs a little fine-tuning. Maybe you'll never be a prima ballerina, but could you teach ballet to someone who could be? Maybe you'll never race in the Indy 500 but could you bond with your child over the love of racing? Maybe it's an old dream, and you need a new one. If you keep holding on to what can "never be" then how will you find what can be?
We cling to "shoulda, woulda, coulda's" like Rose clung to that door in the Titanic. So many of us get stuck here; we can't move on. And it's not just the bad stuff. Have you ever talked to "that guy" that can't stop reliving the glory days of high school or college? No present success can live up to that game-winning touchdown pass or that wild keg party. That's just sad. Or worse, we get mired down in the mistakes and the regrets and feel like that was the end of our story. Stop it!
Whether you are reliving the "good ole'days" or drowning in self-pity because of past failures, just stop. Let that junk go! Be in the present. Be who you are now. You're going to have new successes. You may even make new mistakes. But you will learn, and you will move forward.
When I began searching my heart this time around for where I was stashing my junk, this is where I found it. Sometimes, we think we let go of things. We think we've forgiven, gotten over it, moved on. I was just swimming that river of denial. Have you ever dug your heels into the dirt and refused to move because you were right about something? This was where you were going to make your stand and come hell or high water you weren't moving. You were right. And you were going to stand right there until someone validated you and all your rightness? Yeah. That's where I was. Clinging to my "rightness." And do you know how I know I was wrong? Because when God asked for it, I held it a little tighter and whispered, "I can't. I'm right."
Why do I have to be the one to forgive? Why do I have to give grace where it's not deserved? Oh yeah, I get on my soapbox all the time about how no one deserves grace, but God lavishes it on us. Who are we to withhold it? Apparently, if I'm being honest, I think I can. Friends, I tell you, I needed more than an attitude adjustment, I needed a hard kick in the pants. Here's what finally made sense. I could stand there holding onto my unforgiveness, withholding grace, and defending my right to be right. And if I did, I would be stuck on that piece of dirt forever. There would be no moving forward. Just me, up in arms, fighting a war I was the only one participating in. OR, I could hand my hurt to Jesus. I could release my bitterness, my anger, my pain. I could move forward. I could get out of this rut I had found myself in. I chose freedom. I have come too far in this journey to get sidetracked by pride.
I know it's hard to forgive, to practice grace, to bless those that hate you. But forgiveness is not for them; it is for you. It is so that you can close the door on that part of your life and move forward. When we can't, we get bitter and judgemental. We put up walls and isolate ourselves from others. But it is in the letting go that we gain freedom. We can live free or be chained to our pride.
There are a hundred things we can be hanging on to that keep us from moving forward in our lives. These four are just a good starting place. I believe the best way to practice letting go of the garbage in our lives is to examine our hearts with God. There are so many ways we can hear Him if we listen: a passage of scripture, wise counsel from a mentor or friend, a song at just the right moment.
Why hang on to the things that are holding you back any longer? Just, let go!