I do not know of a more important psychological skill than the ability to let go. We live in a fallen world. We have been kicked out of the Garden. The whole scheme is of course redemptive, so that in the harsh realities outside the garden, we will, we all humankind, will regain our senses!
It is supposed to work. The pain is supposed to send us back running to God, theoretically. My favorite book when we were in seminary was, All Our Losses All Our Griefs. It did a sort of inventory of all that we suffer in a fallen world – death of loved ones, house burns, miscarriage, cancer, bankruptcy, etc. and small ones like failing math, missing a plane, losing your favorite watch, etc.. It opened my heart and I realized how painful it was living in this fallen world and how much losses I have suffered, and continue to suffer.
I have not really paid attention to the daily losses I experience, nor to the fact that there are many losses I have suffered long ago that still hound me in the present, sometimes, even trifles and trivial offenses grip me like a pit bull, not letting me go (or me not letting go). I was unfairly crossed by another car as I turned a corner and he even stopped in front of me to delay me and to show me that he was stronger. That was a long time ago but each time I pass by that corner, I still feel the anger and the pain. It is this anger that wont let go. The anger is saying I wont let that offfense hurt me. I will fight back. Letting go is agreeing to be hurt, to be wounded.
I can never forget a dear friend, a nurse from California I worked with years ago who came to me one day who said such simple words: Can’t you let it go? It was the first time I heard those words. I was having problems with our staff and I was fighting mad. She spoke like an angel to me, straight to the heart.
It’s not really simple, this business of letting go. If it were, it would not obsess us this much. But it is mandatory that we learn to let go. The anger we feel burning inside of us or the rage that suddenly jumps out like a lion when provoked, points to losses, hurts, pains and offenses we have not released.
Then there are obsessions, drivenness, and compulsions that make us feel someone is running our lives, not us. An old book, about an IVCF leader who fell into adultery, actually a confession of sort, pointed to a small story about obsession. The man concerned was a businessman who worked so hard and reached the top but along the way he lost his son and his wife divorced him. He was later asked what made him worked so hard. He said, “It was his dad.” His dad said he was not good enough, his dad said he could not make it and he was obsessed since that time to prove to his dad that he was wrong! The guy asking him the question, again asked him, where is your dad now? And he said, he is gone, he died twenty years ago. All these years his dad was dead, and he was still occupied with proving him wrong!
We also have several strata of hurts, one on top of the other. Because of former hurts or pains, we also react wrongly to current things, like we react angrily at people who swerve across us in the highway or take our slot in the parking area by driving quickly into it. Our abnormal reactions comes from former hurts and this new hurts that leave us so dazed and confused are actually on top of the old hurts we never resolved.
You may notice that almost all my examples are about driving. I believe driving is where your real self comes out. I know several angelic males who when they sit behind the wheel suddenly turn into a demons.
How do we let go of offenses so we can forgive? And better, so we can forgive ourselves?
One mother kept her son’s bedroom intact, since the son died, twenty years ago. She could not let go of the fact that her son had died. When my mother died, I cried bitterly because I could not accept that she was gone. Because of that, I think I had a hallucination and imagined seeing her walking in front of me at National Bookstore, a year after she was buried. It was a signal to me that I had repressed something very important. I needed to look into my heart and see what I had swept there under the rug.
But to let go means more pain. We cannot really grieve unless we learn to let go but the pain of letting go is more unbearable than the loss itself. When we let go, we actually open our hearts to heaven and allow God to pierce our hearts with that redemptive purpose (of being kicked out of the garden). It is the same thing about being willing to go under the knife to let the surgeon take out a malignant tumor. Some of us won’t. Those who won’t let go will see their hearts slowly deteriorate. But those who do let go will find that they are able to love again, maybe as cripples, but nonetheless, still able to love.
The art of letting go is a mandatory subject in the school of life. I have known many homosexuals who were abused when they were young and it is a horror to even just begin to go through the list. For many letting go may never be possible that is why we believe our defense mechanisms and some of our psychopathologies are actually necessary and biblical. They are like crutches. When we remove them too early and too fast, the person may just simply break.
When the time comes though, everyone needs to learn the art of letting go. It begins with self-awareness. We need to see our losses. Then we need to see how we have been hurt, how we have suffered loss. We will need friends to help us through some very painful moments, someone to hold our hands. We have some people attend our silent retreats and through it they suddenly see again the hurts, some even become hysterical and need sedation. We do warn people that silent retreats can do that.
When we reach this point, we can vacillate between being aware and not being aware. The essence of being oblivious is precisely to keep the self from being harmed or hurt and in some cases, it is necessary to be oblivious, be numbed or be blind. So, it is not a surprise if people who have become aware of their hurts and losses suddenly become oblivious again (it is a normal defense mechanism).
With prayer, we can stay aware and move with courage into the loss and the pain. Some will cry for the first time as though the offense or hurt just occurred yesterday. But a steady commitment to want to let go is needed. The letting go is at the heart of renewal, forgiveness and redemption. I wrote a letter once to my papa, a long long letter listing down all the ways he had hurt me. I never got to sending it. After finishing it, I crumpled, in pain, and I wept so much, but they were good tears, not resentful or full of self-pity. It was the letting go I needed so badly. I came out saying, he is also a human being, he also needs room to fail, and he also has his failed dreams. I had to let go of him having to always be my dad, be there for me. I think the hurt was mostly because I had so much expectations of him to become the father I longed for deeply and who was not, could not.
It is impossible to provide an answer for all situations of loss and offense. They would each vary according to the situation and personalities involved. How does a person let go who suffered sexual abuse? It would differ from those who failed in college or those who lost their son.
There are many studies about this matter of letting go. South Africa is a study in miracles. Because of the government’s intentional work at reconciliation, the country did not dive into violent recrimination. Argentina and El Salvador went through a different path after the disaperados. Serbia and Rwanda both need to do serious work on the matter of letting go – of horrendous offenses.
As a nation and individually, we need to learn the art of letting go. It is this way that we embrace fully the redemptive purpose of being thrown into a fallen world. God wants us hurt! And He hopes the pain will be so great it will make us want to run back to Him like the prodigal son. Those who won’t let go are eaten up by their rage or become so driven they live like men possessed. Jesus was described in Isaiah as a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief. Perhaps, this is what godliness actually looks like down here on earth, outside the garden.
Letting go is at the heart of mourning. We are called to mourn. Jesus said, blessed are those who mourn. Those who do not mourn will not be able to love again. Their hearts will grow cold and soon become unbreakable, as C. S. Lewis said. Their hearts will not die.
The most painful part of grief is letting go. It is more than the pain of the offense or loss itself. When I realized I had suppressed the loss or pain of the loss of my mother, I went home, to her grave. This time instead of tears of anger and refusal to accept the loss, I shed tears of goodbye. I wanted to let go.
It is like losing a precious possession, a pen perhaps (MontBlanc gold fountain pen). After we lose it, we don’t buy at once another pen. We wait, hoping we will still find the missing pen. We look under the desk where we have already looked countless times. Then after a long while, we just decide, its really lost. At that moment, we say in our hearts, she is gone. I am now an orphan. Then we let go and we fall over the cliff expecting to die. I let go of my mother. They were tears of great and profound loss. It felt like an arm of mine was being severed from my body, torn violently.
And then instead of dying, I started to live again. I was wounded yes. Nothing could ever mend the hole in my heart except that she come back to life and she wont. Our loved ones who die, they are forever lost (although those who are saved, we will see them again in the day of resurrection). After such loss, we will walk this earth with a hole in our hearts, an ache that will be there till Jesus returns.
It is only in letting go that our hearts can love again, become warm and tender, full of hope, to again be disappointed and to suffer loss anew. Henri Nouwen said it well, we are wounded healers. I might add, we are constantly being wounded but we are incurable lovers. It is who we are, we were made that way.
I was sharing the gospel to my eldest son when he was about 4 years old. When I got to that part where people were going to hang him on the cross, he cried and protested. He said, why doesn’t Jesus just go away and leave? And I was struck dumb. For a while, it stayed with me, the question. Then it dawned on me. Love is like that, it was always meant to be given away. If Jesus walked away and left, his heart would have died. He would not be Jesus.