Somewhere around the age of two or three, kids learn a word that often becomes one of their favorites. It's a word that defines people and things and places and life—and later, it can delineate or destroy a person's life: "Mine."
Mine seems simple, but it really isn't. There is an "I'm-in-control" attitude that comes along with that word.
"This is my career."
"I'm going to make my relationship with him work out."
"My friendships are going to last a lifetime."
We live in a me-saturated culture. The problem with this is that, not only is it self-centered and self-focused, in reality, this mine business is a false construct. It gives us a fake sense of security that leads to a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel of life. We hold tight to what we deem is ours.
Of course, we know in theory that everything belongs to God, but we still cling tightly to the idea that we can be in control of our own lives.
But in actuality, we can't control our lives. Friends walk away. Boyfriends leave. Pets die. Careers end. Families change. You can either be left with fingers stiff and sore from gripping so tightly, and a heart aching with the pain of treasures ripped away, or you can open your hand and let them go.
It's not that you should just hopelessly give up on taking responsibility for your life. But it's healthy to consciously reject the habit of holding so tightly that your desperate hands have to be pried away before you realize the gifts you've been given.
Of course, some friendships, careers and relationships are worth fighting for with every breath in your body. But not everything is. Sometimes you need to open your fingers, hold out your hand and let it go.
Learning to hold loosely is the key to living life well.
WALKING AWAY FROM RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships are one of the hardest things to hold loosely, especially after a breakup.
Sure, he may have walked away. Sure, she may have hurt you. But often, some part of you is still holding onto the way you used to feel about him, still replaying the memories. It is so easy to press those things close to your heart and never let them go. But refusing to let time heal the wounds doesn't stop time from passing.
Although it may seem like remembering will help the ache, it really only delays the healing. Let them go.
LETTING GO OF FRIENDSHIPS
Friendships can be this way too. You meet someone you like—someone who could be your twin separated at birth—and things get off to a great start. You hang out all of the time and really enjoy each other's company.
And then issues come up. They hurt you or you realize they are using you. You come to see that the friendship is unhealthy for both of you, and when you bring it up, your friend isn't willing to make any changes. Negative relationships don't add to your life. They detract. Sometimes you need to walk away, or let the other person walk away.
On the other hand, some friendships are only meant to last for a certain season of life—and that's OK. Often, you can drift apart with little or no explanation. It's great to try to keep in touch, but if you are repeatedly the only one initiating interaction, you may want to rethink this one-sided friendship. If they have chosen to walk away, it may be time to let them. Find friends who love you for being you.
CLEARING OUT THE CLUTTER
The other thing that is easy to hold onto too tightly is stuff. In our chaotic consumer-focused culture, it's easy to let things become our idol. There is a slow strangling effect to superstores, boxes piled high in attics and things stuffed three feet deep in dark closets.
I recently realized how much extra stuff I had when I was reading the blog Becoming Minimalist. The author has only 36 pieces of clothing in his closet? I have 26 sweaters/cardigans alone. That's not including all the other various articles of clothing. So out came trash bags, and I began to clean.
Often, the more stuff you have, the more time you don't have.
You don't realize it at first when you start collecting things, but you spend your life maintaining what you've bought and buying more. It steals your freedom and your time. This adding upon adding creates chaos, because it enables us to forget a crucial part of this life equation: giving.
Give up and give away.
I've been learning to let go over the past year. Last summer, the dog I'd had since childhood died of cancer. Two months later, I lost the friendship of someone I cared very much about. I watched something I had invested in and cherished disappear with a single email.
But I learned there is an art to letting go. It requires loving deep and opening wide. Holding loosely doesn't mean viewing lightly. It means seeing each person, friendship or opportunity as a gift.
If you live by this simple rule and let your hands hold loosely, you'll learn the secret of living life well.