Letting Go

letting-go

“I’m done.” The thought began last week when I realized I might lose some of my client hours from my first internship. I called and emailed my former supervisor to ask her to sign the form verifying my hours, and her email had been deleted. Her phone number now went to another business.

Seriously?

43 client hours potentially lost if I can’t find another means to reach her. It could be so much worse. I was only at this location for two months, and I did very little counseling compared to my other internships and jobs. But for me, 43 client hours equals a month worth of work.

I’m a little surprised I’m not freaking out about it. I’m feeling strangely calm. I’m either in serious denial or coping quite well. I’m not sure. Denial. It’s probably denial.

But I feel done. I’m done holding on to plans tightly. I’m done envisioning how my future has to look like. I’m done taking control. Just done.

So many times I have imagined what my life will look like in the future. How many times have my imaginings come to pass? Rarely, if ever. It seems that things tend to turn out either much worse or much better than I thought.

I still have plans. I don’t feel defeated. I will still do everything within my power to get these hours back and do everything I can to get all the hours I need for licensure in time. But I’m done stressing. I’m done trying to perfectly control how life goes. I don’t want to feel anxious and stressed trying to make my life look a specific way. I just want to let go.

I had all of these thoughts last week, and then I didn’t think about it much. But these thoughts all flooded back when I curled up on the couch Sunday afternoon to read From Mourning to Dancing by Henri Nouwen.

The second chapter of this book is entitled From Holding Tightly to Letting Go. In this chapter Nouwen talks about how it is only through letting go that we receive. It is only through letting go that we find freedom. The more we seek to control our lives, the more our we feel the sting of loss.

“Our belief that we should grasp tightly what we need provides one of the greatest sources of our suffering. But letting go of possessions and plans and people allows us to enter, for all its risks, a life of new, unexpected freedom.

How can we live with greater willingness to let go? Another step in turning our mourning to dancing has to do with not clutching what we have, not trying to reserve a safe place we can rest in, not trying to choreograph our own or others’ lives, but to surrender to the God whom we love and want to follow. God invites us to experience our not being in control as an invitation to faith.”

In our chronic pain and illness, we realize that control of life is an illusion. We realize that the more we try to control our lives, the more fear and anxiety build.

“But the disciples of Jesus left their nets, the source of their economic security, and their families, the source of their emotional security, and followed One who promised to fulfill the deepest desires of their hearts. We know what uncertainty feels like. And yet as we let go, we sense that something new, something wonderful can happen in its place.”

Can I hold my plans lightly? Can you hold your plans lightly?

Can I hold my health lightly? My job lightly? My counseling licensure lightly? My friends and source of community lightly? My comfort lightly? My desires for the future lightly? Being ok with uncertainty, and letting go of fear.

What do you need to hold lightly?

This is easier for me to talk about now that my pain is more controlled. My pain does not feel unbearable every day. I am not homebound like others I know. I am able to work much more than I could in the past. I get to go to church every Sunday and have friends, family, and community in my life who surround me. I am able to enjoy things in life that felt impossible to enjoy when pain used to completely take over. Life is not all so bad. And in this place of less suffering, it is easier to think about holding plans lightly.

From this vantage point, I am more able to accept these words that are difficult, and consider how I might continue to hold on to them, even if life goes downhill. I feel more able to let go of control, and perhaps, I can carry that with me should the pain return with greater intensity or should life go down unexpected paths of suffering.

“Jesus says that maturity means growing willingness to be led – even to places we might not eagerly choose.”

Am I willing to go down paths I might not eagerly choose? Not completely. But more so than other times in my life. I am more able to think about this life as less about me and more about a greater purpose. I am more able to let go of comfort and grab hold of God’s plan, whatever it may be.

Oh, it could be painful. It could be awful. But it could be great and it could be glorious. I really don’t know. But that’s what it means to let go. To step forward, not knowing, in faith.

It means finding acceptance of this life we have been given, whatever it may be. Knowing that in the center of God’s will is the best place we could ever be.

Check out the first booklet in the Chronic Pain and the Christian Life series, But God Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy, on Amazon.com. 

9 Comments

  1. Another great post, Esther, apparently written specifically to me. At some point this winter I also said ‘I’m done’ and ever since have been struggling with letting go and stepping forward. That’s a hard place to be, but I know eventually I’ll get past it.
    Also, I firmly believe you are not in denial, rather you have been coping very well. Exceptionally well. The fact that you don’t feel defeated and continue to move forward speaks volumes. And in the midst of dealing with this in your own life, you are still reaching out to others, offering support and counsel to those who need your wisdom. You are incredibly strong.
    Thank you for this post. L

    1. Thank you Linda! You are such an encouragement to me. Thinking of you as you think through what it looks like to let go and step forward. I know the constant and severe pain you experience, so much more limiting than mine, and it is so much harder to get to a place of letting go when the pain is as yours is. Saying a prayer for you now.

  2. What a thought provoking post, Esther. Love this line from you, “But I feel done. I’m done holding on to plans tightly. I’m done envisioning how my future has to look like. I’m done taking control. Just done.” Yes, stick a fork in us all, and call us done! Anxiety has gotten the better of me too many times to count throughout this journey of chronic health, as I’m sure many others can relate. As you mentioned, it’s all too easy to try to hold tightly to things, I will add, especially those that have the appearance of protection. And it’s also difficult to let go of our desires- especially when they seem good. Interestingly enough, I was enrolled in a master’s program to attain licensure as a counselor. I had an “office buddy” already picked out who was already in practice and who would share the costs of a building,etc.. But then my illness took itself full force in my life, and I had to sacrifice that dream as well as many others on my five-year & ten ten-year plan. I’m starting the writing process of a post on that topic, so it’s funny how yours compliments so nicely!

    Prayers are with you for your needs, desires, the peace that surpasses all understanding, improved communication on your supervisor’s end, and the perfect guiding light to illuminate what you specifically need to do next, Esther.

    1. Sarah, thank you so much for your thoughts. lol at “stick a fork in us all, and call us done” ! I can’t wait to read the post you are composing right now. I am sorry you had to sacrifice your dreams of being a counselor, and many others, I am sure.

      The anxiety part is still hard for me. It is easy to write a post such as this and feel this way in a moment, but I definitely still struggle with anxiety. Will I relapse? will that prevent me from finishing my hours? Will I get through work today? It is all a cycling process I have found. Better days and worse days in working through the grief of things that have been lost or may be lost in the future.

  3. Thank you for this excellent post! Thank you for your honesty and sharing with us what God is teaching you through your own trials. I too, can relate to the words, I am done. Having recently listened to the interview with Dave Furman and his wife on his new book, he speaks of how complex regional pain syndrome has affected not only his life but that of his wife and children. His wife mentioned in the interview how she needs to open the car door for him and put on his seatbelt due to the severe nerve damage in his arms. I cannot tell you how good it felt to hear a grown man admit his need and reliance on another human being for something as basic as being buckled into the car. I too from now on Will ask for help in this matter. I have soldiered on doing it myself, out of fear that people would think I was precious if I asked for help with the seatbelt. Instead I would experience a flareup for several days from this one thing alone. Sometimes, there is this perception that women may over exaggerate their need for help when they experience chronic pain or that we are too emotional. To hear a godly man who pastors a church in Dubai, speak with such raw honesty, and basically say that he too “was done ” was a true gift to me. I felt so thankful that the Lord has given this couple the confidence to speak up about a rare disease such as this. I don’t feel so alone any more.

    1. I agree with everything there. And we do need strong examples of people who are struggling and showing their vulnerability, especially for such rare diseases. And yes, there is certainly a perception in culture that women handle pain differently than men (Dan Ariely – the scientists and data analyst – did a great job in his books about dispelling that myth) and that ends up with women suffering more because they are given less pain killers. It’s really a social phenomenon and it’s ridiculous, too. -Cl

    2. Nancy, I am so glad that Dave Furman has been helpful for you. Yes, it is so liberating to hear of others who are asking for help, and realizing we can too. You are so right that the perception of women with pain is that we over-exaggerate! That does make it more difficult, as you say.

  4. Haha! Well, call me ‘done’ too with a side-order of overcooked fries 😉 I think everyone here seems to relate strongly, Esther. I am sending you prayers that you may find the person again soon through the network (they have to have her address for tax purposes somewhere) and get those hours back. You indeed touch on such an important subject: when we’ve had it, when is the limit? When can we really not give more? When do we stop caring and/or taking things more lightly? I wish I had more wisdom like you, who indeed, seem to be coping better with that big slap in the face. I admire that. I also like how you mention that where you are right now in your life, it is ‘easier’ than if you were more stuck and limited. That is a huge factor in how we feel we can deal with things, how trapped we feel, how much resources we still feel we can rely on. It’s so hard to let go…
    Right now with the new house, I don’t know where to stand. We’ve made it, but there is so much to do, so little help, so many changes, so many unexpected things that popped up that are health hazards or will make us worse if not fixed asap (again with no one to really help)… how to let go of even a modicum of control after such a leap of faith into buying this house? That’s what I’d love to hear from motivational speakers. “So, you said to take a leap of faith. Ok, yes of course I’ve landed somewhere. But Now there is many more mountains ahead. How can I go on with leaps of faith when the road is never clear? Constantly?”
    Chronic illness is all about that, trying, believing it will work, leaping from one thing to the other, being suspended in the air and getting that heart-stopping moment when you are going down and don’t know when your feet will finally hit the ground again and how bad it will hurt… Constantly. And how am I supposed to find the courage to take even more leaps after a huge one that left you ‘ok’ but with bruises and some broken bones all over you are still recovering from? ‘Time and faith’? Do these fix my house and urgent health hazards as I take things lightly instead of at heart? I guess the answer doesn’t appear to me because I’m still in the ‘smoking after being way over done” part haha Too much smoke in my eyes.
    And that is why I admire your courage and how you take this news so calmly.

    1. I think the constant part of it that you mention is so important. I feel like I have had a few brief breaks recently, which has broken up the constancy of it feeling so completely too much to handle. It makes such a difference. And I think back to the years when I never had even a little bit of a break, and it was so much harder. Thinking of you as you seek to fix up your house. I am so glad that you are there, but like you said, there is so much work to be done, and I will be praying you find the strength for that <3

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