Monday Musings…How Exactly Do You Let Go?

Well, last week I talked about how life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. Every day we’re faced with fork-in-the-road decisions. Most people have good intentions and they’re hopeful they make the right choice. They move forward in faith. But what do you do when you realize you took the wrong turn, especially with those big life decisions? Maybe your relationships haven’t worked out as you hoped; you’re stuck in a dead-end job; or you’re pursuing a program that you just don’t feel is right for you. Life’s giving you more questions than answers and yet you feel stuck, or maybe obligated to stay on this path, even though you know, and likely people around you have told you, that it’s not healthy.

My suggestion to you was to accept reality, surrender your pride, and let go. And you probably walked away and said “easy for you to say, but how do I actually do it – in real life?”

Let me start with a story of something that happened to me a couple of days ago. I was out for a quick jog, earbuds in, mind in the clouds, when I noticed a truck driving towards me. He was going pretty slow but I chalked it up to his being out for a leisurely drive. As we got closer to each other, I noticed what I thought was a skinny dog, running on the other side of the road, keeping pace with the truck. I thought maybe it was lost, and the truck driver was trying to catch it. Suddenly, the animal caught sight of me and started to dart across the road in my direction. I stopped short and realized this wasn’t a dog at all! It was a young fawn, and it was terrified.

The fawn, like you, was in a place, it didn’t want to be. And worse yet, it didn’t have his mother to protect him. The fawn had somehow got separated from his kin. Maybe it’d wandered off to what it thought was a greener pasture, only to find itself alone. Or maybe the fawn and its mother were crossing a road and the mother got hit, leaving the fawn to run for its life. Regardless of what happened, the adventure the fawn set out on that day, didn’t evolve into the plan it hoped for. Now what?

When you find yourself in unplanned or unknown territory, all you want to do is find somewhere safe. You want things to work out; you want that happy ending to your adventure story, not this. You’ve been trying to figure out a better path forward, from all of the disappointments, the distress, and disasters you’ve faced, and magically be whole again. You want to let go of that pain and be free, but it seems impossible. And like the fawn, you’re running scared and have no idea how you’re going to survive.

The main stumbling block to letting go is fear. Your fear is generated not so much from the ‘what if’s’, but rather from the ‘why did I choose this in the first place’. It’s the fear of misplaced intentions. When you think about what you’re going through, you need to realize that how you got there was likely from a series of choices, not just one. You were hopeful that this person, this career, this opportunity would work out. No one sets out planning for things to end badly. But there is something important to consider in how you made your choice.

When you make a choice, you are trying to fill a need. Needs are personal and subjective, and they are closely tied to what you value and decide is important in your life. Whatever you value, will create a need, which will propel you into action. So, think about your choices. They may have been based on your need for friendship, love, trust, financial security, proof that you are intelligent - it could be for a whole slew of reasons. And note, these are not bad reasons. But whatever your reason was, it’s because you were hoping to move forward in life in alignment with your values.

The first step then, in letting go, is to think about what it was that you sought after, and what it was that you value so much. Let’s take a deeper look at our values. Social psychologist, Milton Rokeach considered a person’s values to be an internal reference point from which all attitudes and behaviours are formed, like a compass. In other words, your values determine your choices. His theory suggests that we have two kinds of values: terminal (what we want to achieve in our lifetime) and instrumental (ways in which we want to live each day). Take a look at his lists and see if you can pick out what you value most (look at the terminal list) and what values give you the most pleasure in your day (the instrumental list).

When your life adventure isn’t going as you planned, you’ll notice first, that your instrumental values are off. You’re acting the opposite of what those values are: you’re finding that you’re no longer ambitious, or cheerful or helpful or honest or whatever values are important to you. Then, you ask yourself, why. The answer is found in the terminal values. There’s a fear in the current situation that you’re going to lose not only the people, positions, or possibilities, but essentially what you value most in this life: family security, self respect, true friendship, sense of accomplishment, or even salvation, your walk with the Lord.

Recognize your terminal values, and then realize the current situation is challenging you to believe that if you let go, these values will be gone. They won’t. This is a wake-up call to help you identify that pain and confusion that you’re feeling and to know they are rooted in your values.

Next, face your fears. The pain in your present circumstance has come because you believe that you’ve lost or are on the verge of losing, all of those things, those people, those dreams…. You doubt that you can ever recover if you let go? This fear is the barricade and the reason why people stay in their unhealthy situations.

Let’s explore this further. Identify what, not who, it is you’re afraid of losing? I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of losing respect from my family. I’m afraid I’ll always be dependent on others for support when I should be able to support myself financially. That person really let me down, I don’t think I will ever trust anyone again. I don’t think I’ll ever amount to anything. I don’t even know who I am or what I want... You put your own statement in here.

It’s the fear rising from these personalized statements that will prevent you from letting go. Fear convinces you that it’s better to stay on this path than to let go. You’ll say things to yourself like: “At least I have someone. At least I have a job. At least I’m in school and not on the couch. You’ll persuade your mind to believe that you’re doing the right thing by taking a positive outlook on a bad situation. Or when really pressured, you’ll ask: well, if only I had a sign to show me otherwise, then I’d know for sure to let go.

What are you waiting for? If you’re in the position where you’re questioning why you’re in the predicament you’re in now, you’ve already had more than a few signs. No doubt you’ve seen the red flags but willfully chosen to ignore them. The terrified deer knew he was on the wrong path, the signs were all around him literally, and the same is true for you. You know your mind is unsettled and aware that this is not a good adventure! And yet you choose to keep on the path that’s going in circles of hope then despair, hope then despair.

If you want to let go, you must face the truth in front of you. You must accept that what you envisioned your journey to be, hasn’t turned out that way you wanted it to. In fact, it’s been the wrong path. And yes, you can call it a failure. And yes, you may not know who you are or where you’re going. That is scary, but as long as you have breath, you can recover. I heard it said once that life isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about winning and learning. There’s truth to that! You have learned what your values are and therefore, why you made certain choices. It wasn’t that you were valuing the wrong things, it was that you were meeting the needs in the wrong way. You simply took the wrong path. It’s left you in mental anguish wondering how you can ever heal. But knowing the truth and facing it, will help you let go and be free.

If you want to let go, learn to forgive. Now that you’ve faced the truth of the unhealthy situation you find yourself in, and you know what your core values are (instrumental and terminal), you need to release the guilt, shame, anger, or resentment. That’s what forgiveness is. This is where you need to have a real heart to heart with yourself, and if you are a person of faith, with God. Like many people, you may beat yourself up every day wondering why you did X or said X. You’re spending a lot more mental energy trying to figure out the situation, while the other person, the boss, the parent or whomever, is likely carrying on ‘as normal’. You see, when you strip away the events and circumstances and even the other people, it boils down to those core values. You now know your why. The pain of not achieving what you value hurts. The harsh reality from making poor choices is hard to admit to yourself, let alone others. That’s where forgiveness comes in.

When disaster strikes, you feel like you’re going to break. And the human heart is stubborn. You’ll say to yourself: “how could I have…”, when you need to say “I made a wrong choice. I let my fear, my pride, my desire for X get in the way. I thought I was following my core values, but I chose to ignore the warning signs, those red flags, believing I could make things better. I acknowledge my failure to see the truth. I let my heart rule my head. I confess I am undone and I want to let go of this pain.” And as a Christian, you would say, I confess that I ignored your plan, Lord. I strayed off the path, and put my sinful desires above yours. Forgive me and take the pain from me. This step is what I call soul work, regardless if you’re religious or not. This is true surrender. Forgiveness propels you forward instead of keeping you trapped emotionally.

Forgiveness is about facing the truth, owning your choices, and seeking that restoration to get back on the right path. Let go of that fear. Let go of that pain. Let go of that dream. There is a whole other world, a better world, waiting for you around the corner.

Well, when the fawn figured out I was human, it leapt back to its side of the road, and started frantically looking for an exit from this terrifying situation it had put itself in. The fawn threw its body into the chain link fence; then tried to leap over it to no avail. Both the truck driver and myself were frozen in place now, feeling rather helpless, bystanders in this poor fawn’s predicament. We both knew though, that there was an opening to a field about 50 feet further down the road, if only the fawn could regain focus and keep running forward. Sure enough, the fawn found it!! We both looked on with smiles on our faces as the fawn pranced off with confidence that it was on a better path now. Where the fawn would end up, I cannot say. But I do know that when it found the field, it let go of the terror that it felt trapped in.

Letting go can only come from accepting reality, facing the truth, examining how the circumstances relate to your core values, and surrendering that pain by seeking forgiveness. It's then that you'll find true release and relief.

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