I entered Christian ministry twenty years ago after one of my closest friends died by suicide. Rather than allowing allow myself to experience the grief of her passing, and how that might change me, I jumped straight into service as a way of dealing with her loss.
I've been reflecting on this decision a lot over the past year, and I've come to think that I responded the way I did because I blamed myself for my friend's death. Being the firstborn that I am, I assumed full responsibility for the situation. Deep down, I yielded to the idea that I had failed to be there for her when she needed me most. So, to avoid the pain of ever feeling that way again, I committed myself to the way of Christ. I became driven by a desire to always be there for people when they needed me, no matter what the personal cost.
Now, I'm working through all the unresolved grief I've been carrying over the past twenty years. Not just for my high school friend, but for other losses as well. The loss of my dad, for instance, who died at a time when I was not yet able to deal with certain challenges I was facing in life. And also for other relationships that I've lost along the way, up to and including my relationship with the church.
I've fought long and hard to stay close to the religious tradition in which I came of age. God knows I have. Yet at the same time, I've always been held at arm's length by most of my peers, especially those who consider themselves to be the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. To be honest, it's been like paddling against the stream. Although my spiritual gifts always held out a place for me at the table, the cool kids have never really wanted me there.
And so, I relent. Deep down, I knew it was just a matter of time. While I’m not interested in renouncing any aspect of the faith which has so long sustained me, I do feel the need to pick up and move beyond it, including yet transcending all those painful and precious experiences I've had within the fold.
Letting go is hard, especially when you've so identified yourself with a certain aspect of your person that it almost seems a loss of self to move beyond it. Yet, that is where I find myself. The spiritual undercurrent is stronger than ever, and as strange as it may sound, I feel its strength to be of God. After many years of resisting its pull, I feel like I'm finally ready to surrender and let it take me.
And so I grieve the past twenty years of my life. Not because I regret my time in Christian ministry or would choose any differently if I had it to do all over again. But simply because all change is hard. As Anatole France said, "All changes, even those most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter another."
Yet there is hope, for in the more ancient words of Lao Tzu, "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." The trees, after all, are never more beautiful than when they are embracing death and letting go.
Seasons come and seasons go. Relationships begin and relationships end. Why do we fear such change?
I guess I can only speak for myself. I’ve always had a hard time letting things go. People, places, ideas, beliefs, opportunities — you name it. If it’s something I love and feel attached to, I’ll hang on to it until the bitter end. But this refusal to let go has short-circuited the grief process so many times in my life. Now, I see that it arises from my fear of death.
We all possess this fear at some level. In my mind, I understand how it works. But I’ve been lacking a healthy experience in this area. For a long time. So, it’s beautiful to me that my inner path has brought me to this point of healing. With joy, I am looking back and letting go. Accepting my losses. And though I feel the melancholy of the season, I also see the beauty and sense the rich transformative value of my long-held grief.
To everything there is a season, I suppose, and a time to every purpose under heaven. That's what the old sage said. Following this logic, there's a time to hold on and there's a time to let go. For me at least, now is the time to let go.