There are always two parts to letting go.
Whether it’s a person, an idea, a dream, or a relationship, there is the letting go of the thing (which is a book unto itself). Then there is the letting go of the emotions that accompany the letting go.
If you’ve ever gone through this, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then stick this in your pocket, friend, because some day this may help you.
The emotions of letting go don’t knock politely and enter one at a time. They tear down your windows and doors, blow off your roof, and attack your foundation. They come in waves, first as one feeling and then another: fear, sadness, anger, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, resignation.
Letting go of the thing without letting go of the accompanying emotions hardens your heart. You need to “let go in love” as author Melody Beattie has said. Otherwise the dark emotions become an unforgiving root within you.
The question is: how do we do this?
It’s not possible to push emotions away. Like the evil spirit who came out of a man and brought back seven other spirits more wicked than itself (Matthew 12:43-45), trying to simply sweep away emotions often causes them to get stronger. Instead, emotions need to be walked through.
There have been experiences in my life where writing a single letter regenerated my insides. More often, I am still catching a flare-up several years later. Emotions are like a red hot poker. I keep circling until it has cooled enough to grab onto and extract. In the meantime, every time I touch it, I get burned.
Every burn is a reminder that letting go is not a one and done process. And every burn is a reminder that I need to consciously ask God to help me understand what I need to learn from this emotion and replace it with a more appropriate fruit of the spirit.
I am learning that one way to extract a burning emotion is to grow a new one until it is large enough to displace the old. Here are some I am exploring.
Replace fear with trust. The more I learn to trust God, the less power fear has in my life. Building trust takes time and happens so gradually I can miss it growing. I need to pay attention when God cares for me, because the more I notice Him working in my life, the more I begin to trust Him.
Replace resignation with hope. By its very nature, resignation seems to be an embedded element of letting go – being resigned to the ending of something I once held dear. Yet the Bible says we have been given a living hope. Even when all else fails, hope remains. Maybe not hope in the thing which we are letting go, although God may do something there, too. More importantly, hope in what God will do next. No matter the situation, there is a burning in my spirit that tells me that out of this, even this, God works for good. God can bring beauty from ashes. Begin to think about that.
Replace sadness with happiness. It’s not possible to simply manufacture happiness. But I’m finding moments of contentment can be a close cousin. Expressing gratitude for the simplest things starts me down the path of appreciation and contentment; feelings of happiness aren’t too much further down the road, even if I don’t feel them yet.
Replace anger with peace. The coolness of peace is as slow to develop as the heat of anger is fast to flash. I circle that red hot poker like the walls of Jericho waiting for it to crumble. There is no shortcut. Anger is the emotion that tells us a personal boundary was crossed or an expectation wasn’t met. We may need to step through and identify those foundational causes while we cling to the peace of God’s promises to us. He will be our vindicator. He will teach us how to seek peace and pursue it. He promises to us that He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast upon Him.
There is a great exchange that God offers to us. It started with Jesus on the cross, but it continues into every thought, word, and action we express. As we grow the fruits of the spirit planted within us, He will help us to let go.
In letting go, we find ourselves clinging to that which we most need to cling: God Himself.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly, who recently passed away but is not forgotten. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.