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My town has a community forum on Facebook.  It is a great place to find out about free concerts and other community events.  Unfortunately, it is also where people go to complain, fuss and fume.

On Monday, one of the members put up a joking post.  “So what are you all mad about today?”  Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t get that he was joking and started responding with all of the little things that had already annoyed them yesterday morning. Soon it had gone from a joke to a community gripe session.

Me?  I try to limit my complaints online.  I post positive, inspirational quotes like the one above.  I post baby animals.  You can see both on my Facebook page. I share news about my friend’s books.  I post about the awesome things my local library does.

I’m not saying that nothing ever annoys me.  Lots of things do, but I don’t want to be that person.  So instead of complaining online, I get up.  I walk.  I weave.  I work on a puzzle.  I play a game with the boy.  And let me tell you, that boy is good at making me laugh. Comedy is definitely one of his gifts.  And last of all, I sleep on it.

If I still feel the need to post, I post.  That’s why most of my unhappy posts tend to be “big ticket items.” Social justice.  Conservation. The environment.  I don’t only see the positive but one of the gifts that God gave me is the ability to let things slide.  Sure, I saw what so-and-so was wearing.  And I too think the school superintendent’s message could have been better worded.

But once I sleep on issues like these and share a good laugh with the boy?  It just isn’t worth commenting on.

–SueBE

 

 

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They say there are two primal reactions to any situation: fight or flight. Let me suggest a third: holding for a moment, letting God make the decision for you. As fearful as you are, as stressful as the situation might be, God will hold you up. It is a moment I often forget to take, as used as I am to thinking I am in total control of my life (a laughable concept). But a necessary one. As usual, I illustrate in poetry:

Plunge in.
The water’s cold,
so cold it stops your heart
for a moment. And then
you come back into yourself,
all at once, water — wet, breath — held,
eyes — open, to clear blue impossibilities.
You will panic or be at peace;
it doesn’t matter which,
except in terms of long-term survival.
You will swim, after a fashion, or not.
It will be easier if you let your body go,
but that requires a yes you may not be ready for.
Try to say it anyway. The tide will lift you,
even if the yes is a lie.

The middle-aged among us are in a curious position: We are becoming caregivers to our parents. This is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it is more prevalent these days — in the past, people simply didn’t live as long as they do now. My longest-lived grandparent was in her early 70s when she passed away. My beloved friend Marcelline is 101 and still doing yoga.

This shift presents real moral and spiritual dilemmas, as grown-up children navigate the line between respecting their elders and celebrating their independence and wanting to make the path smooth for their parents in their later years. It is not easy.

My mother lost her mother when she was barely 20. I know it was traumatic for her. But it also makes it hard for her to understand my concern for her: She never watched her mother live into her 80s. But in this period of adjustment, I have stumbled upon an important piece in the puzzle of my own aging — letting go. Because that’s what getting older is — the process of letting life go, piece by hard-won piece.

I have to let go of my hopes and expectations for my mother’s “golden years.” Of course, I’d like to see her waited on hand and foot, tempted with fine food, made to do little more than recline while being fanned by palm-bearing attendants. That’s not going to happen. None of us gets to write the ending of her own story, let alone someone else’s. And there is my mom’s own tenacious will to contend with, too.

In the end, God will bear us up, as God must. In the meantime, there is poetry.

She never had to do it, so she doesn’t know
how it feels to touch the bird bones
of her hands, feel blood click a pulse
through ropey veins, the flat of her hand
a creased map of a strange valley,
each gnarled finger a beloved isthmus.
What to do with this hand when I cannot
take its lead, but equally cannot force it
to follow? I can only love it, seeing in it
my own hand marching quickstep, just
inches, really, behind it.

 

2016 — the year that was. It’s practically played out, virtually put to bed. Maybe it was a great year for you (Cubs fans), but for me it was largely a crapfest. We lost some good people, and I don’t mean just the famous ones. I lost three of my beloved cats. I lost my friend Mary. I am worried about the future when I look upon the wreckage of the past.

But enough about what is practically last year. We’ve got a whole new one stretching in front of us, and lots of people are doing lots of thinking about what might happen in it…or what they hope might happen.

Think about 2016 as a suitcase. You’ve arrived home. What do you want to take out of your suitcase and discard, and what would you like to carry on into 2017? Sure, most of us would like to stuff our suitcases with money, but realistically, unless we all hit the lottery simultaneously, that’s probably not going to happen. So deal with what you’ve already got packed: your job, your relationships, and — most importantly — your spirituality.

I would like to unpack lingering bitterness toward others. It’s heavy, and it’s weighing me down. I would also like to unpack the past…not forget about it, but stop feeling the sting of regret. I would like to add to my suitcase hope, focus and direction, especially vis-à-vis my relationship with God. I’d like to know that I’m on the right path, that I’m heading toward God in the most direct way possible. Inasmuch as a person can know her intended purpose on earth, I’d like to know that I’m at least hovering nearby it.

I’ve got a few things for your suitcases, too. I wish you peace of mind and heart. I wish you honest conversations and open hearts. I wish you closer family ties and better days ahead.

And you? What will you pack in your suitcase? What are you willing to leave behind? Are you certain you need everything you’ve packed? Or are you willing to walk into the new year with an empty bag, and wait for God to fill it? Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best in 2017.

 

 

The news I received this morning demolished all possibility of the post I was going to write: My friend Mary is dying. I heard it straight from her daughter Tracy, one of two foster children Mary raised and later adopted. She was a “single mother,” in her own inimitable fashion. Mary never wanted to get married. She is too feisty for that, too independent, too…Irish.

I met Mary at church. She walked right up to my husband and me (we’re not the most social types), introduced herself and started talking, drawing us out. Why? I’ll never know. Pretty soon, we were meeting for dinner after Mass, on the regular, chatting on the phone about our cats (she has several, all strays, like ours were) and life and her ever-expanding rock collection. Mary’s a storyteller; you can’t help but admire her gift of gab. It’s a gift I lack, and appreciate in others. Mary has it in spades.

It seems like just a few days ago — and it was — that we were last talking on the phone, making plans for a long overdue dinner together (the holidays had gotten in the way). She was regaling me with the tale of how she foiled a break-in at her house. She’d been sleeping when someone broke her bedroom window. I was aghast, terrified just listening to the story. “Oh, don’t worry,” Mary said. “I sleep with a gun under my pillow.”

Mary may be petite, but she’s no delicate flower. It took cancer to knock her down — suddenly, and with great ferocity. The results of her biopsy aren’t even in yet, but she is fading fast. I want to be there with her, but I am battling an upper respiratory infection (again). Her daughter told my husband that her hospital room is like “Grand Central Station.” Everybody knows Mary and loves her. Her flow of visitors bears that out.

A light is going out of this world with Mary. It’s the kind of light that turns a group of parishioners into a family. This sort of light is badly needed in the Church now — in all churches. Young people are turning away from religion, not finding what they need there. Maybe if they could meet someone like Mary, a Catholic through and through, living by example what the Church teaches, they would begin to see that their faith can find a home.

Maybe one day I’ll be inspired to walk up to a couple of newcomers at church, introduce myself and invite them out to dinner. Mary would like that, I think.

 

 

My friend Maria, who grew up in Taiwan, tells the story of how she learned the complex process of writing in Chinese. Her mother, a woman who greatly valued education, stood behind her and, holding her daughter’s hand, directed each stroke of the pen, painstakingly forming each symbol in all its individual beauty. Her daughter learned through muscle memory, through the act of someone else directing her movement.

It is the same way, Maria says, that she learns from God. “All God wants us to do is submit to Him and He will take the ball and run with it.” It’s true. My friend’s writing lessons would never have succeeded if she had tried to form the letters on her own. She had to let go and allow her mother to do the work. It is the same way with God. The harder we try to direct our own spiritual path, the more we fall away from God.

As anyone who has tried — and failed — at a physical task knows, our bodies cannot be forced to do obey us. You may want, mightily, to return that tennis serve, to catch that soaring orb, to hurl your body backwards through space, and still be unable to do so. And doing a back flip is a cinch compared to controlling our destinies, spiritual or otherwise. It is when we admit that we are not in control, that we really shouldn’t be, that we can allow God to truly move us, to form the letters that spell out our spiritual journey.

Submission to God may be the hardest task we’re ever given. Oh, it’s easy enough to say, “I submit my will to God.” Then we instantly wreck it by going on our merry way, making deals, bartering, demanding, trying to make something of ourselves, when God could be doing all the work for us. And what’s more, God’s plan is infinitely better than our own.

I will admit it: I am a do-it-yourselfer. I am a trier. I believe in results garnered through great personal effort. I am uncomfortable with the idea of allowing transformation to happen in its own time. I’d much rather it happen in my time. So much for submission.

It sounds oxymoronic to try to let go, but that’s just what I need to do. My effort needs to go into relaxing into God’s guiding arms. No timetables. No expectations. Just a willing hand, holding a pen. And maybe, just maybe, through me, God will create a thing of beauty.

I wish I remembered what led me to take up this challenge, but I’ll be honest. I simply don’t recall.  In spite of not remembering how it all began, I decided to write about my project anyway after reading Lori’s post on letting go.  

Each and every day in 2014, I have made a point of letting go of something.  Sometimes it means cleaning off a shelf in the pantry and tossing out all those stale crackers no one is going to eat.  Why hang on to them when every time I see them I simply feel guilty for letting food go to waste?

This afternoon I sorted through a pile of papers on my desk and recycled six articles I read for the paleoanthropology class I took. Why save in print what I have access to online? Besides, when my desk is cluttered, I’m distracted and anxious whenever I sit down and try to work.

Yesterday, I helped my son clean out a dresser drawer.  Three pairs of too-small shorts went into the stack for the church rummage sale. In addition to benefitting someone who can actually wear them, an organized dresser gives him space for the clothes that are stacked on the floor so I can stop nagging.

How does recycling, donating to a rummage sale or otherwise getting something out of my space make room for God? Clutter distracts us. It weighs us down. When we are crowded by things, especially things we do not truly need or use, they are what we think about. They become our focus.

When I let go of clutter, there is more space in my home and in my heart. My home is more God-filled and ready to welcome whoever He sends our way.

–SueBE

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lori’s post, The Care and Feeding of Sunshine. In this post, Lori discusses happiness and whether or not we should expect to be happy 24/7.

I’ve also been thinking about Mary and Martha – the topic a friend is preaching about today. Normally when you hear the story of Mary and Martha you think about Mary sitting at Jesus feet while Martha does all the chores, working herself into a lather simultaneously. Christ chastises Martha.

I’ve always disliked this passage. Why? Because I want to be Mary – comfortable soaking up the presence of God while some poor wench does all the stinking work. But I’m not. I’m Martha all the way – not only do I end up doing the work but I often end up resenting it.

And this is what I’ve come to wonder about. Was Martha’s only fault that she was working vs listening? Or was she also to blame for making herself into a victim? Read the passage. Nothing is said about her being told to do all the work. These men would eat loaves and fishes that had been laying around in a basket all day. (Need I say yuck?) Something tells me that olives and figs would have been acceptable and a whole lot less work. But it isn’t the path that Martha chose. And it doesn’t say anything about her asking Mary for help either, so picture her heaving great sighs and baying around in the kitchen trying to get someone to feel sorry for her. A professional martyr.

I have to wonder if this is part of what Christ was getting on Martha about. Mary was not responsible for Martha’s happiness or lack thereof.

Don’t be like Martha. Happiness may not be available 24/7 but that isn’t an excuse to go out of the way to make yourself unhappy. If you revisit old slights and hold them fast, your hands will be too full of grudges to raise in Praise.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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