Letting Go and Letting God

How often we have heard those words, "Letting go and letting God". It seems when we are faced with a crisis or an obstacle, or a loss in our lives, there is always someone who quotes those words to us. But what do they mean? Just what is "letting go" all about; and how does God (or our Higher Power) come into it? Sister Mauryeen O'Brien, writer and grief specialist, explains what it means to let go and let God. She shares stories of how people have implemented this approach to cope with crisis in their lives.

by Mauryeen O'Brien

How often we have heard those words, "Letting go and letting God". It seems when we are faced with a crisis or an obstacle, or a loss in our lives, there is always someone who quotes those words to us. But what do they mean? Just what is "letting go" all about; and how does God (or our Higher Power) come into it?

About a year ago, I received a letter from a woman who had lost her only son in death - too young - too soon. She wrote: "...even though losing my son has been the worst thing in my life, I think I will be able to go on. But now I must live with my memories; memories that will always be with me (my son will see to that!) And I know that I have a choice in living in a constant state of sorrow, of never letting go of my grief, or I can choose to let God carry this burden for me, and move on with my life. I've decided to go for God!"

I had the occasion several months ago of working with the parents of a young woman who was going through a divorce. They were well aware of the devastation their daughter was experiencing. And their hearts, as all parents, went out in anguish and love to their daughter. They spent the first half of our initial meeting trying to explore ways they could help her through this emotional trauma. They even discussed possible solutions to the financial problems that the divorce was causing. They admitted that they were "fixers" and wanted desperately to fix up a live that had been torn apart. And yet, they couldn't figure out how to be parents to an adult, when their only experience had been parenting a child.

We talked about the need of "letting go" of what we can't or shouldn't be doing ourselves, in order for the maturity of self-growth can bring. This was so hard, for these parents were hurting themselves. Their daughter, once treasured by her husband who had promised to be with her until death parted them; their daughter, who was once loved by him with the depth and understanding that they, her parents, had showered on her, was suddenly confused, distraught, broken and bitter. And they wounded because of her wound; broken because of her brokenness.

But you know, they could still be good and loving parents, if they supported her as she tried to get her life together. However, this could only happen if they let go of the "fixing" and urged her to let God work through and in her life. They would always be there, but in a whole new way than they were when she was a child. And this could only be done if they "let go".

A friend of mine has a plaque on her kitchen wall that says simply: "Whatever". She's learned that the best way to hand on is to let God's strength work through her. She said to me once: "When I try to control everything on my own, I often put energy into the wrong solution. But letting go of my own will allows God to communicate with me. I learn where God would like me to be."  The word "whatever" is a short prayer, but it relaxes us and allows us to work through difficult situations using God's strength rather than our own.

Certainly the process of letting go is painful. In a way, we have been raised with the attitude that we can be in complete control of our lives. But in reality, "bad things do happen to good people" (truly, ALL people). The acceptance of that doesn't mean forgetting what happened or pretending it doesn't hurt. But in the letting go we can begin to say good-bye to one dream and begin to design another. And letting God help us design that new dream can be a powerful thing in our lives. We will never replace the old dream, but new dreams can help cause new life for us.

One of the greatest healers of grief is to begin to reach out to others in pain. There's a story told about a little Chinese women who asked for advice on how to overcome the grief she had endured because of the death of her child. A holy man told her to take a seed from a home that had never known grief, and it would heal her. The woman searched but she was never able to find such a home. Instead, she found great tragedies. And she, who had experienced great sorrow was well equipped to minister to those people in their sadness; she was able to help them let go and move on. Gradually, her own sorrow diminished, and she realized that reaching out and helping others was the best way of healing for her. "We never honor the dead by dying with them", she said. "We honor the dead by using our memories of them to make us strong and able to let go of our pain."

The emotions that many times are so hard to let go of are anger, frustration, worry, loneliness, sadness and fear of the unknown - all feelings that have touched us over and over again. But how do you know when to let go of them? How do you know that you've done enough, all you could, and it's time to let your Higher Power carry the burden for you?

Perhaps when the particular emotion you're experiencing impedes you functioning, is keeping you depressed or angry, not allowing you to see any joy or happiness. Perhaps then it's time to "let go and let God".

Perhaps letting go means giving up control, and turning that over to God.

Perhaps letting go means being gentle with yourself and the negative emotions that create a distance between us, the rest of the world and our God.

Perhaps letting go at times can be like the balloon or kite that we need to let go of so it can do what it's supposed to do ... fly!

We need to let go of the anxiety and worry of our lives, those heavy emotions we carry around. Sometimes it's impossible to do this on our own so it's necessary to seek the help of a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual advisor to be with us to support us in the process of letting go.

Most probably in each of our lives we will walk a grief journey due to the fact that we have lost someone or something we love because of a death, or a separation or divorce, or a job that is no more...things and people who gave us live in many ways. But let us remember this: grieving is hard work that has to be done if we are to become healthy, happy, normal people. We must grieve, but there comes a time when we have to let go of what we are suffering and give the pain over to a God, a Higher Power, who lives us and will walk beside us directing our feet on a journey that can lead to new life.

Mauryeen O'Brien is a Dominican Sister who has devoted much of her life working with grieving individuals. She is a past president of The National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved. She is the author of several books and is coordinator for the bereaved at the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

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