“THERE ARE FAR BETTER THINGS AHEAD THAN ANY WE LEAVE BEHIND.” C.S. LEWIS
Letting go is hard (unless of course you’re Elsa from Frozen, who seemed rather to delight in it). But sometimes we have to let go of one or many good things in order to embrace better opportunities and a brighter future that we can’t yet see.
Sometimes we’re given a choice; other times unexpected suffering or loss comes on its own and takes from us. Either way, we have to learn how to let go. Letting go is an act of faith; it is about trusting that God will repay a hundredfold what he takes from us or asks us to leave behind.
We usually view ourselves—or at least I do—as mature adults able to control our emotions, but often, like my three-year-old (see epic meltdown photo above), we have a hard time accepting the moments when whatever it is we want is stripped from our hands.
Sure, a toddler coming unglued when his brother takes his favorite toy—the one he forgot he even had until his brother picked it up—is expected, but we have similar, albeit more complicated, reactions when our plans unexpectedly fall through, our dreams come crashing to the ground, or we have to leave something behind and move on.
A personal story helps illustrate this truth. At one time I had worked at a certain job for several years, and though I learned a thousand lessons there, it was also an incredibly stressful environment. My bosses called or emailed about 15 times a day with mostly aimless requests or to hold random, unscheduled meetings, and I fulfilled the roles of what should have been multiple employees. At one point my boss told me, point blank, “We rarely promote and we don’t give raises. But what we give is opportunity. At other companies you might hire four people to do four different jobs, but we allow you, one person, to do them all.”
For several years I prayed and looked for a different job, while at the same time I worked diligently to grow where I’d been placed and to make the most of the time I had there. Finally, another opportunity came, and when it did, I had a hard time walking out the door. It seems silly, I know, but I kept thinking about all I was leaving behind. I was working for one of the top companies in that industry, and even though it wasn’t ideal, it was known.
Fear almost kept me from acting. I almost missed out on a great opportunity because I was scared to lose a good one.
Life is like that: In order to go after what’s most important to each of us, we have to willingly forego many other good things. Other times we aren’t given a choice; those things are simply but painfully taken from us.
When you first let something pass from your grasp, it often feels like death. You grieve. When I quit my job, I know I did. I thought of all I’d be missing. What I couldn’t yet see was all that I’d be gaining.
Many times we cling to things that don’t really make us happy, we just think they do, or someday will. I was worn down and stressed out by my job, even overwhelmed and sometimes depressed, but I still had a hard time letting it go. When I did part ways, I felt the release of chains I didn’t even know existed.
I focused on what I really wanted. I spent time weighing my God-given vocation, skills and desires. I made a conscious effort to eliminate from my life the things that took up most of my time but killed my joy and, in turn, made me miserable. More family, less time on the road. More emphasis on writing and editing, less wasted energy spent on tasks I hated. More time outdoors, less time in a cubicle. In turn, that helped clarify the direction I eventually took.
I decided the things I was gaining were worth the pain of what I was losing. I decided my life was too short to die in a cubicle without a spine, simply being pushed around by white-collar bullies who try everyday to convince you that you’re not worth very much, that you’re lucky to be there, that they’re doing you a favor.
I decided to hustle for years until I found a way to bring my life closer to where I wanted it, to bring my vocation more in line with my desires and skills, the things that make me come alive. I planned, prayed and labored. God brought an opening.
If you want to spend more time doing meaningful, satisfying work, it takes an insane amount of work and persistence. It takes prayer and relentless courage. You have to learn how to be like Hannah or Jacob, who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and wrestled with God until they received the blessing they sought. And you will be changed by it; you will come away with a few bumps and bruises, like Jacob with his limp.
You have to be committed to trimming the fat, the waste, the excess from your life. You have to take a long hard look at what’s weighing you down and be willing to throw it overboard. It matters less how well you start out and more how well you make adjustments and course correct along the way. There is no quick or easy solution.
But it is worth it. Big time.
I also came to realize that my own expectations about life were a huge setback. I thought I had to have a big house and car payments, for example, but those things only further tied me to a job I only sometimes mildly liked. Over several years we eliminated our debt, which allowed us to live on less and be less controlled by our possessions. We sold our shiny new car and bought used. To find more value in living, I had to become OK with less.
If you would lose your life, then you will find it. Jesus said that, and it’s true.
What about you? Are you happy with the pace and direction of your life? Are you satisfied and content knowing you’re using your God-given gifts to serve others, doing what makes you come alive?
Or do you feel trapped? Are you clinging to your own chains?
Trust me, there’s hope in letting go.
Sometimes you have to let go of your life as it was in order to discover life as it was meant to be.
God calls us, each in our own way, to let go. Unexpected suffering forces our old expectations about what life would be like to die. But God gives back more than he takes. He breaks in order to heal. Death, we shall find, and the many small deaths along the way, were actually what led to life in better ways than we could have ever fathomed. The plow made room for the seed, which received the rain and became a joyful harvest.
Shattered expectations and broken dreams aren’t the end of your story, not when Christ is your Redeemer.
In his mercy, God sometimes shatters the life we thought we wanted. And what he gives back is the life we really need.
It’s what we need to become more like him. It’s what we need to find true joy, which cannot come apart from being remade in his character. It’s what we need to become servants, givers and lovers rather than mere takers, users, thrill seekers or consumers. As we die to the old version of how we pictured our life, God rewrites in us a better, richer, truer story.
Like the Phoenix, we rise from the ashes of our broken dreams to experience true life. In death we find life; in sacrifice we find ascension and nearness to God; in nearness to God we find our purpose, our life, our joy.
So let it go, whatever it is. Trust that God richly rewards those who suffer loss for his sake.
“The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD” (Ruth 2:12).