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In my counseling office and during my travels as a speaker, I frequently hear these kinds of questions from men and women:
"How can I let go of my disappointment?"
"How do I move on after the death of my dream?"
"How will I ever experience joy after the loss I've suffered?"
"Will I always be tormented by worries, or is there a way to find peace?"
These souls genuinely long for rock-solid answers in the midst of the conflicts and harsh realities of their lives.
During the last several years I've asked more than one thousand people this question: What are you finding difficult to let go of at this time in your life? Here's what many of them said:
I am finding it hard to let go of ...
... a friendship that went sour. ... a job I loved and lost to corporate change.
... my teenager who has gone astray.
... my shameful past.
... my spouse of fifty-two years.
... my reputation after I made a terrible mistake.
... my childhood dreams, which aren't realistic anymore.
... my son/daughter who recently married and moved away.
... my stillborn baby.
... my keepsakes that were lost in a fire.
... my expectations that things would turn out the way I wanted.
In every season of life we are faced with disappointments, anxiety, anger, and other disturbing emotions that we must learn to let go of for our own good. Letting go, however, requires us to confront many of the core values of our culture.
People today value competence, achievement, gain, accumulation, control, self-sufficiency, and independence. Capitalizing on our fear of losing these things, advertisers hit us from a thousand different angles, prodding and urging us to seek more "stuff" in order to feel satisfied. You've heard the messages over and over again. They say that the more you have, the more valued, powerful, sexy, and successful you will be. Of course, the flip side of that message is: "The less you have, the less valued, powerful, sexy, and successful you will be."
It's a deceptive, toxic thesis that sets us up for disappointment and undermines our sense of contentment. Although our culture conditions us to accumulate and hang on, peace and true satisfaction come with letting go.
Cheryl, a woman who came to me for counseling, told me that before she had quadruple bypass heart surgery, she experienced a pervasive feeling of emptiness. "I bought bigger houses and nicer cars, filled more closets with clothes, and redecorated every year. I wanted more, more, more to fill the hole inside. I kept thinking, If I just have more, the emptiness will go away."
But Cheryl's heart attack and subsequent surgery changed things. Life-threatening situations typically do. In preparation for her hospital stay, she packed a small, dark green suitcase with a few personal belongings. All the items fit neatly in her compact canvas bag-on-wheels. During her recovery she used the same robe, the same slippers, the same comb, and the same brush every day. She read from one of the two books that she had brought with her, selected from her library of hundreds.
One afternoon, Cheryl was surprised by the contentment she felt. "I was rummaging through my suitcase, which contained five or six items from home," she said, "and it dawned on me that the emptiness was gone. The surgery had gone well. The prognosis was good. God had granted me life. I had everything I needed."
A month later, Cheryl and a friend held a three-day garage sale at which she sold much of what she had accumulated over the years. "More isn't necessarily better," she concluded. "When I let go of all that stuff, I let go of the illusions that came with it."
Cheryl's physical illness had facilitated emotional healing. The heart surgery had been successful on two counts: It had given her another chance to live, and it had helped her release her grip on the clutter that was holding her hostage.
How about you? Are you hanging on to anything that might be holding you hostage? Are you feeling stuck and frustrated because where you are is not where you want to be? Are you tightfisted with anything that might be blocking you from emotional freedom and peace?
One evening, at a large women's conference where I was speaking, I heard comments like:
"I'm in a really good place right now, but I keep wondering when the other shoe is going to drop."
"My kids are having a great year-knock on wood-but I don't know how long that's going to last."
"Things are going well. But I worry about being too happy because I don't want to be disappointed again."
Fear had crept in, and it was blocking these women from enjoying the good times afforded them.
I have yet to meet a person who doesn't feel worried or anxious now and then. It's a prevalent problem in today's frantic, fast-paced, information-overloaded society. Harvard Business Review has reported that stress-related symptoms account for 60 to 90 percent of medical office visits. The media bombard us with ads for products designed to treat such ailments-Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, Excedrin, Tylenol, Advil-and many of us have these products on the shelves in our homes. Pharmaceutical companies spend huge sums of money developing and marketing medications to treat the physical problems resulting from prolonged anxiety. Tagamet, Zantac, Valium, and Xanax are among the most prescribed drugs in America. Some researchers have concluded that anxiety is currently the most damaging disease in America.
In the twenty-five years I've been a therapist, I think I've treated more people suffering from anxiety than from any other problem. This parallels national statistics. Anxiety is the most common complaint to psychotherapists and the fifth most common complaint received by doctors. One out of four Americans is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during his or her lifetime. One-third of the general population experienced a panic attack in the last year. In short, if you struggle with worry and anxiety, you are not alone.
My interest in this dis-ease is far more than professional. I have personally wrestled with it on several levels. It can manifest itself as a simple case of the butterflies before I speak at a large conference. In this case the worry is positive-it triggers just enough adrenaline to allow keen concentration and peak performance. But when anxiety takes a stronger hold and leaves me with racing thoughts, over-amped nerves, a dry mouth, a rapid heartbeat, and "brain freeze," it's anything but positive. It's a real nuisance. How about you?
Are you worried about your marriage?
Are concerns about your children keeping you up at night?
Are fears about the stock market or debt sapping your energy reserves?
Are you anxious about your health? Are fears about death ever present?
Are you fretting over whether you're going to be rejected by the college you want to attend or the person you'd like to date?
Are you obsessing about whether you'll be able to get a new job or hang on to the job you have?
Is your imagination running wild with what ifs?
Don't be surprised. Anxiety and strain are in our very airwaves in this culture. (Just think of all those invisible, high-stress cell phone calls zipping through the atmosphere all around you!) Because we live in a world filled with unpredictable, threatening situations-so often beyond our control-it's virtually impossible to completely eliminate stress. But there are time-tested truths and clinically proven strategies that can greatly increase our peace of mind and our ability to enjoy life. We'll talk about some of these effective tools in this book.
But here's the best news of all: Finding fulfillment and freedom from stress is not all up to us. We don't have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make the good stuff happen. God is waiting in the wings, ready to resource us seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Are you ready? Are you willing to risk opening some new doors in your heart to God? Are you willing to explore your core values and consider some new ways of thinking?
We all have problems without remedies and questions without answers. We all have holes in our souls. But acknowledging this takes courage, because we don't easily accept and embrace weakness, need, loss, or suffering. For the most part, we harbor a subtle contempt for the weaknesses or deficiencies we perceive in ourselves and others.
And the result? We end up rejecting key parts of our own humanity. We gloss over our needs rather than admit them. We deny, minimize, or at least sidestep many forms of suffering.
That's what gets us stuck! Stuck in our pain. Stuck in our depression. Stuck in our need. We lose forward movement and become victims of our own faulty thinking rather than survivors who experience firsthand the power of letting go and moving on.
In the following pages you'll meet many people who, like you, have struggled to let go. I pulled some of the stories from my personal journals. Others came from people with whom I've had the privilege of crossing paths, people who have taught me about holding things loosely.
Please understand this: The tragedies you have suffered-the troubles you have endured-do not define who you are. Nor do they hold your future hostage. I firmly believe that no matter where you are in life right now, the best is yet to come. Your best years are ahead. Your biggest joys and God's greatest surprises are still up ahead, around the corner, just over the horizon. God is standing in your future, saying, "Come on! Let's go. There's so much for you to look forward to. I've got great plans for you. I know everything you are enduring, and I care. Your worries matter to me. I am with you in your heartache and have not abandoned you. Your pain is not an obstacle to Me. My miracles always begin with a problem."
I firmly believe that the weak and broken places in our souls are the very places where God moves powerfully in divine visitations. He makes this promise: "If you return to me, I will restore you.... I will give you back your health and heal your wounds" (Jeremiah 15:19; 30:17, NLT).
God is on a mission to restore you. He is well aware of the problems, challenges, and heartaches that are an integral part of our human condition. And God is a gentleman. He will not force Himself on anyone. But when we extend an invitation, God delights in releasing His healing power right into the center of our pain. Our wounds don't have to limit us. They can become the springboard that launches us into a deeper understanding of ourselves, a more fulfilling relationship with God, and the joy of being a woman who leaves an eternal mark in this world.
That's what this book is all about: letting go of what doesn't matter and opening your hands to what does.
In the pages ahead I'll nudge you to consider the following questions:
"How can I let go of the life I thought I wanted so I can receive the very best God has for me?"
"What is God's part and what is my part in the equation that leads to freedom?"
"How can I embrace today, release my yesterdays, and prepare for my tomorrows?"
I'll also encourage you to take an honest look at the issues that trigger your frustration and anger and consider how these emotions can be used for good. We'll review helpful strategies for restoring emotional balance when life blindsides you and consider various ways God heals us from the inside out.
Through various sufferings, I have learned that the empty places created by letting go become the places God fills with His richest blessings.
He replaces our weakness with His strength.
He exchanges our confusion for His wisdom.
He takes our anguish and leaves His peace.
As we let go of our self-sufficiency and wildly abandon our hearts to God, His Spirit accomplishes what we cannot. He renews. He refreshes. He restores us. He resurrects the dead places in our souls, and we experience firsthand the healing power of letting go.
Reclaim Your Life
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I know these feelings: worry, anxiety, fear. Too often they feel like constant companions. More than anything I want to let go of my anxiety, my fear, my disappointments, my anger, my frustration. I believe that You have wondrous things for me on the other side of letting go. Lord, please help me to step boldly onto the path of letting go that You lay out before me through this book. Thank You for the power to do it. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.
STEPS TO TAKE THIS MONTH
What values or beliefs are blocking you from letting go? Ask God to reveal them to you, and write them down as you discover each one. Meditate on each of these beliefs and then praise God for the freedom you will experience as He equips you with the power to let go of them. Are you ready for the serious work of letting go? If you are, make a commitment today that you will work diligently and seek the Lord persistently throughout this journey. Ask Him to be with you.
Excerpted from THE POWER OF LETTING Go by PAM VREDEVELT Copyright © 2005 by Pam Vredevelt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 10, 2012
I read the book the first time and did find it helpful. However, I was very distracted and did not read the book as thoroughly as I would have liked. I do plan to reread it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2009