7 Hard-earned Lessons in Letting Go
During the last six months or so the phrase “let go” kept cropping up everywhere in my life — in songs on the radio, in sermons, in inspirational writings, on social media — everywhere. It became so frequent and so obvious, I finally realized God was trying to tell me something about letting go.
What that something was, wasn’t so obvious. Over time, it gradually became quite clear.
Let me say up front that our Heavenly Father has great patience. He doesn’t force us to do anything. On the other hand, He doesn’t give up on us, either. He’s willing to wait as long as it takes until we finally get it or until we’re finally ready. He’s incredibly gentle as He reveals His plan to us over time and allows us to slowly remove one finger at a time as we let go.
Lessons Learned in Letting Go
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in the process of letting go. It’s not the first time I’ve had to let go, and I know it won’t be the last.
1. Letting go requires faith
“Faith is not clinging, it is letting go,” wrote L.B. Cowman in Streams in the Desert. Another devotional writer, Henri Nouwen, described faith with the illustration of a trapezist who must let go of one bar before grasping the next. When she lets go, she does so in faith that she will be able to grasp in mid air the next bar or the hands of her partner. She also has faith that a safety net is waiting below to catch her if she doesn’t.
When we know God is asking us to let go of something and grasp something new, we must exercise the same faith, trusting that He is leading us to something good. But there are always unknowns — unknows which require us to have faith.
Still, we often hesitate. What if we didn’t hear God correctly? Or what if we fail?
The truth is, even if we didn’t hear correctly or even if we fail, God’s still got us. He is our safety net. “I will never leave you or abandon you,” He promised in Deuteronomy 31:8 and in Hebrews 13:5. I love how the Amplified Bible translates Hebrews 13:5b-6:
“’I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!’ So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, ‘The Lord is my Helper [in time of need], I will not be afraid.’”
In the ancient Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written, a double negative strengthens the negative, rather than creating a positive, as it does in English. In this verse, the Greek not only contains a double negative but is followed by a triple negative, further strengthening the negative. With the quintuple negative, it could be translated, “I will never, no never, not ever, by no means, under no circumstances leave you or abandon you.”
If that isn’t a safety net, I don’t know what is!
2. Knowing who God is makes letting go easier.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” In the Hebrew language in which it was originally written, “be still” could just as easily be translated “let go.” Some Bible translations actually do. This verse could then be interpreted two ways:
- When you know who God is and all that He is to you, then you will be able to let go.
- When you let go, then you’ll experience who God is and all that He is to you.
I’d venture to say both are true. We don’t let go in blind faith. We let go because we know who our God is. And when we do let go, we experience who our God is.
Letting go not only requires faith, it makes our faith stronger.
3. Letting go requires leaving the old behind.
After the trapeze artist lets go, there is no going back. That forward movement has already been put into motion and she is committed to following through.
It reminds me of Elisha in the Old Testament. At the time the prophet Elijah placed his mantle around him, Elisha was plowing a field with oxen (1 Kings 19:19-21). Farming was what he had been trained to do, likely by his father, and was probably all he knew how to do.
But now God was calling him to be Elijah’s successor, asking him to let go of being a farmer to become a prophet.
So Elisha threw a goodbye party with his family and friends. He provided the food by slaughtering his oxen and roasting the meat over a fire built with the wood from his plow. That’s what you call burning your bridges behind you! After that, there was no going back to farming for Elisha.
Burning bridges is part of what makes letting go so difficult. Even though Elisha was willing to leave farming behind, there were likely aspects of it he had enjoyed. Slaughtering his oxen and burning his plow meant there would be no more of those experiences for him. There would just be memories from that point forward.
4. Letting go may trigger grief.
In the last several weeks, the Bible college where I attended and then served on staff for more than a decade tore down a building that held many memories for me. It was nearly a hundred years old and had been replaced by a new building with modern facilities. Rather than serving a need as it had for so many years, the old structure was now a drain on the school’s budget. It was time to let it go.
Each day of the demolition process, the college posted photos and videos on Facebook. Each day I grew more sad and even angry as I watched the building I loved being ripped apart by giant machinery. At the end of one thirty-second video clip, the roof collapsed. I gasped and burst into tears. It was so final, and I was grieving its loss.
One of the stages of grieving is bargaining. Even though I had no say in the decision, I wrestled with why the building had to be demolished. I came up with all kinds of reasons it should have been saved. But at the end of the day — or in this case, era — grief doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go. It just means that something that once held value to us is gone. It served its purpose and it’s time to say good-bye. But it’s also okay to shed a few tears.
5. Letting go is followed by a period of transition.
In the space of time after a trapezist lets go, she is in transition with her eyes focused on the next bar, but she’s not quite there yet.
Letting go is not for sissies. It’s for those willing to be suspended in time and space between the old and the new — temporarily. But don’t let the word “temporarily” fool you. The Bible says that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). God’s timing is not the same as ours. That “moment” of suspension and transition between the old and the new can be days, weeks, or even years.
Transitions can be some of the most difficult times of our lives. We’re no longer part of the old, but we’re not yet part of the new, either. We’re in no man’s land, and that can be a lonely experience.
And yet faith continues to carry and sustain us. Underneath us are God’s everlasting arms — the arms of the One who has promised five times in one sentence to never ever leave us under any circumstance nor for any reason. And He’s the One who has promised us a future and a hope.
6. Letting go may need to be repeated.
When T.D. Jakes’ son worried that what he felt called to do might not be “the thing,” T.D. counseled him, “Don’t worry if it’s not the thing. If it’s not the thing, it will be the thing that leads to the thing.”
How true! I have experienced just that in the last several years. Over three years ago God asked me to let go of something big. I did, expecting to quickly move on to what He had for me next. I did move on to something else, and then to something else, and then to something else. Each one turned out to not be “the thing,” but each one led to the next and to where I am today.
Am I now at “the thing”? I think so, but only God knows. I do know that I am willing to do whatever He says and go wherever He leads, even if it means letting go again.
A trapezist’s performance doesn’t involve letting go just once, but a series of letting go. Our lives are also a series of letting go of the old, being suspended in transition, grasping the new, and then starting that same process all over again.
7. Letting go leads to freedom.
Letting go is the only way of freeing us from the past to experience something new.
For my father, letting go of his childhood home and community to go overseas for three years was not easy, especially knowing he wouldn’t be able to see or speak to any of his family during that time. But it also freed him to have some amazing experiences during those three years that he never would have had if he hadn’t let go. You can read more about how God led him from a farm in Maryland to a remote town in Nepal and how that experience equipped him for God’s calling on the rest of his life, with one thing leading to another, to another, and to another in the book Eight Little Words.
Letting go is hard, but it is also freeing, allowing us to move into the new and fulfilling life God has for us!
Awesome stuff, Fern! Yes. Yes! Brought tears to my eyes. Right there in the “letting go” too. Love this.
Thank you, Wendy! I know you are, and am grateful we can encourage each other on this journey!
Time for you to let go and “Don’t worry if it’s not the thing. If it’s not the thing, it will be the thing that leads to the thing.”
Very good, Fern. Letting go of the past has brought us to where we are today. God still has work for each one of us to do.
A very nice write up. Very poignant and true. In fact your beginning paragraphs on how you heard from God is very enlightening. We must learn to know how God speaks to us. I have always maintained that He speaks to us in so many ways we fail to get it. What you experienced was truly one of the ways God speaks to us.
For me to even read this article also goes to suggest and confirm to me that God is also speaking to me. It’s time to also “let go”.
God bless you.
This is great advice to start off the New Year.
Yes, you’re right! Thanks for the affirmation.
You’ve been a great example to me. 🙂
There was a time I didn’t believe God spoke to us in those ways, but I’m so grateful He proved me wrong. 🙂 He seems to like breaking through our limitations of Him! And I’m so glad He does.
I pray you’ll experience His grace in what you need to let go of. Letting go looks so easy until it’s time to actually release our grip. Sometimes it’s only by the Holy Spirit’s empowering that we can let go. God’s blessings to you!
True, it’ great starting a new year with unneeded baggage. May this be your best year yet, Karen!
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