Friday, August 3, 2012

The Courage to Let Go

I think that one of the main reasons letting go is so difficult, either of a relationship, painful memories and experiences or people, is fear. Letting go is scary.  Even when holding on is tearing us apart, letting go can still be frightening.  We get used to the pain that we've lived with for so long, we know how to handle it, to manage it even if we can't get rid of it.  Letting go of the memories of a painful event or of a destructive relationship may leave us open to new challenges, new events, new relationships, and the potential for new pain.  And that is scary. 

Sometimes we use negative attachments and memories to remind us of the dangers we might face, to keep us "safe" by motivating us to avoid situations where we might get hurt again. 

The problem is that what we do to ourselves by not letting go is usually more damaging than anything we would risk by moving on.  We wall ourselves into individual little fortresses, determined to be careful, be safe, be protected.  We forget that the source of our pain is often locked into our fortress with us.  We may think that the pain that we feel today is caused by what someone did to us in the past, but whose voice is in our heads, retelling the story?  Who is repeating the insults, the hateful words, the lies, when the person who originally said these things isn't in the picture anymore?  If we were to listen, really listen, we would hear our own voices saying these things.  And we would be one step closer to understanding that the only way to stop those words is to...well...stop those words.  To let go.

It takes courage to let go and to begin again.  The truth is, we will be at risk of being hurt again.  Life hurts.  But if we allow the negative people, emotions, experiences and memories of our past to control our futures, we are not protecting ourselves from pain.  We are condemning ourselves to a life of sure pain, and resisting the hope, the possibility, the sheer wonder of new people, new emotions, new experiences and memories.  We wall ourselves off from joy, from laughter and love and the warmth of friendship and love. 

When Grace and I went to Burke camp in July, I had to leave the safety and aloneness of my room, my apartment, my life to enter into a world full of people and potential hurt.  I felt fragile, wounded, and fearful of being judged, rejected.  I was lonely, and I hated it, but people scared me. To be honest, sometimes they still do.  For some reason, I often expect everyone's first reaction to me to be negative, and am often surprised when the opposite happens. 

What I found, when I arrived at Burke camp, was love.  God's Spirit literally permeated the camp, the grounds, the people.  My frequent prayer lately is that God would give me the courage to be myself, and I was able to do that at camp.  I had so much fun, it was crazy.  I haven't laughed so much in a really long time.  I haven't given or received so many hugs, or enjoyed so many people in ages.  I received a new sense of who I am, in Christ, and I was encouraged.  It was glorious.

Letting go of the past leaves us open to love, and joy.  Just think, how wonderful it would be to laugh again, to be able to relax into a loving hug, to be comforted and cared for even as we care for and comfort others, to be silly and playful, to sing again, to dance, to welcome others into our world with freedom and courage, to be honest and real and to entertain the hope of wonderful things in our future.

My courage comes from God, who keeps picking me up again, and who uses the difficult experiences in my life to offer hope and love to others.  There is a line in a Steve Bell song that says, "It is Your (God's) reputation that makes me outrageously brave."   Courage is not a feeling, but a mental determination to over-ride what we are feeling and to move forward anyway.  James 1:4 - 6 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."  Courage doesn't make us stupid.  It links together with wisdom and God's guidance to move us forward in positive ways, to good places.  Yes, we may still find pain there.  Pain happens.  But having the courage to love, forgive, let go and ask for God's wisdom and guidance in the journey assures us a pretty awesome ride, even with the moments of pain. 

I find myself praying for courage often, to reach out, to love, to be who I know God is making me into, to live outside the prison bars of fear and condemnation.  Life is hard, yes, but it is also short.  There just isn't time to hold people and experiences at arms length until I can figure out if they are perfectly safe or not. 

I just don't have that kind of time.

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