Learning to Let Go


Do you sometimes feel as though you’re carrying around a rucksack full of rocks? Yeah, that’s been true for me, too. Perhaps it has something to do with being a Type Two on the Enneagram. Perhaps it has more to do with being a female of “a certain age.” And maybe it has a heckuva lot to do with being something of a control freak.

If I am really honest with myself, I must own all three possible causes for that persistent feeling of fatigue, the far-too-familiar exhaustion that comes from trying to carry All.The.Things. Who, in their right mind, wants a rucksack full of rocks anyhow? With the possible exception of landscape designers, stonemasons, or anyone trying to bury something at sea, I can’t think of a single reason why any of us should ever carry such a load. Learning to let go of it—one rock at a time—is a lifelong journey for most of us. It certainly has been for me.

I was born the eldest child and only daughter of a mother who was herself the eldest daughter of an alcoholic father. My father was the middle child and favored son of an exceptionally uptight, but highly intelligent, southern schoolteacher who married later than her peers. The man she married, who died when I was six, was a strange, severely depressed accountant. Neither of my grandfathers were “easy” men. Come to think of it, neither were my grandmothers!

My own dad and mom were intentional in trying to create a home very different from the ones in which they were raised. They made a brave effort and succeeded in so many ways. However, all of us carry around some form of our parents inside of us, both the good parts and the hard parts. The pain and poignancy of my parents’ upbringing showed up in all kinds of ways in my own early story. All those personalities “living” in my childhood home helped to mold me into a person who matured rapidly, carried responsibility willingly, and worried incessantly.

In other words, a person who, as my therapist told me many years later, had “all my radar turned outward.”

That’s a dang heavy rucksack, friends.

And yet, I was accustomed carrying such a heavy load. I have spent most of my adult life as a “big” person, trying—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—to manage all the rocks of care and concern I have felt for so very many people. All that psychic weight transformed itself into actual pounds on my tall frame. I think I wanted to be big enough to manage the load, all on my own, thank you very much.

But guess what?

I couldn’t do it. (And neither can you.)

Due to several health crises—some of my own, others within our immediate family—I made some changes in my eating and exercise habits, which helped with the outer “stones” of all that load-bearing I’d been doing for decades. Therapy and spiritual direction, plus my own reading about and practice of various spiritual disciplines, have helped me more effectively unload the inner pieces—the psychological stones of hyper-responsibility, excessive anxiety about others, and that driving need to interfere, “suggest,” direct or otherwise carry other people and all their problems.

Here’s what I know today: It is a good thing to be a companion to those in pain; however, it is not possible for any of us to “fix” another person.

I cannot do it, as hard as I try and as deeply as I wish I could. I cannot absolve them of the results of their own bad decision-making. I cannot push them down the path of maturity. I can only show them the way. Learning to parse out those differences has been a primary part of my journey for the last thirty years or so. I do it imperfectly. But I do it a lot better than I once did.

Walking more closely with Jesus, and the shared yoke he so kindly offers, has been life-changing on many levels. I am learning to be present, to offer kindness and consolation, to make suggestions only when asked, and to pray my way through every single encounter of any kind with a troubled other. I am learning not to carry all that pain on my own back, but to entrust that job to the only One whose back is broad enough to manage the load.

I cannot tell you that the rucksack is empty these days, but I can report that it is a dang sight lighter! Thanks be to God.