A helpful way of life has been making itself clear to me, and the more I chew on it, the more goodness I taste. Can I share this way with you? It’s bringing me a freedom from anxiety and a joy in the present that until now has eluded me. Just about every good transformation in my soul can be summed up in one practice:
The practice of holding loosely.
Of loosening my grip on what I know, what I need, what I hope for, what should have been, what might happen, who I am, the stories I’ve written about my life, and even what I believe.
“She who loses her life for My sake will find it,” Jesus promised (Mark 8:35-36). “For what does it profit a woman to gain the whole world and forfeit her soul?”
I’ve always been puzzled by these words, but now I’m beginning to see them connected not to suffering but to freedom. To everyday life here in my suburban house with 2.5 kids and a dog and a summer to plan and all the beautiful mundane trappings of living in a body.
Ignatius of Loyola coached his 16th century missionary Jesuit monks to let go of attachments so they’d be free to make clear decisions and do the work of God across Europe. When I first came across this Ignatian idea of attachment about four years ago, I had the same Mark 8 puzzled look on my face. Again this seemed far away, but something about it sounded like life to me, so I tucked it in my front pocket and began asking self-aware questions.
Around the same time I began studying the Enneagram. Once one figures out her “type,” the steps toward growth are actually NOT to identify more strongly with her personality tendencies (basically coping mechanisms), but to become aware of these tendencies so she can untie her identity from them. The journey here is to let go of my “four-ness” in order to make room for the truest version of myself and others.
Several transitions and challenging circumstances have filled my late thirties and early forties. When I look back and see what God was doing inside me, how He was working all these things together for good, I see how He just wanted me to let it go.
The letting go is painful, disorienting, not always voluntary, sometimes downright scary. It feels like wandering or falling or going crazy, but I see now it’s been His best way forward for me. Because continuing to hold on tight is hard and consuming work; it clouds judgment and steals joy. It keeps me in charge and in control, and that is no way to live. In the end, holding on tight is more painful than the letting go.
As I’ve battled with anxiety I’ve come to recognize its tell: a tight grip. So much of my mental health hinges on the practice of loosening.
I am a newbie at this practice. Each morning I wake and realize my hands have been clinched tight all night long. As I stir and take a few breaths, I stretch my hands open over and over, reminding my heart everything’s okay, hoping this message of peace and freedom spreads down to my subconscious fingertips.
Pause here to open your hands and look at them. A hand with fingers unfurled is a hand with palms facing up, ready to receive, able to make room. Not focused on getting or hoarding or fear or lack, but on openness and wonder. A clenched fist says I have to, You’d better or else, I’ve got the power, I know what I need to make happen for tomorrow. But God has this way of giving us just what we need for today – a small gift for our small hands will be gone by tomorrow so we don’t have to keep it so tightly. We’re free to spend today’s mercies fully and let God move our hearts where He will. This, to me, is what it means to be unattached from this world and free to be myself hidden in God.
Here are some of the things I’m beginning to hold more loosely:
- The Past
- The Future (and all its what ifs)
- My definition of success as a mother
- My definition of success in a career
- Being important/leaving a significant legacy
- Failure/not being enough
- Hearing God’s voice
- A 100% literal view of the Bible
- An either/or perspective
- Being right
- Identifying with a particular political party
- My tendency toward negative emotions
- The opinions of others
- What others have taught me about the Bible and faith
- A patriarchal faith and worldview
- Identifying with a particular denomination
- Having a “best friend”
- Being in the ministry/having a ministry
- A sacred vs. secular worldview
- Being completely understood
- Praying with words
I share this because I think some of us need permission to let go in a world that likes to hold on tight. I share this because if others in mid-life are being undone, as I am, I want you to know there’s freedom in the journey, and God really is working it out for your good, and the sun will still rise without you being in control of what’s in your hands.
I wonder what resonates with you or piques your curiosity? Is this a conversation worth having? Would you want to hear more about any of these? (Please comment!)