Learning to Let Go

We can experience serenity when we learn to let go of the things we can't change.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” 
Ann Landers


I once heard the saying that a baby is born with its fists clinched tight, holding on to everything in life. When we die, we’re laid in the casket with our hands outstretched, letting go of everything in life. And, life is the process ofLetting go can give us serenity. learning how to let go. I think this rings true.

We have such an aversion to letting things go. Even when we rationally know that we can’t change a situation, we hold on to it. Even when we know that ruminating, analyzing, replaying, or gnashing our teeth about a thing won’t change it, we refuse to let it go. Even when others tell us that it’s killing us, we hold on.

We seem to have the belief that continuing to think about a past negative event, a mistake, a slight or a wrong treatment, will somehow make it go away. We hold on to our anger, as if being angry will magically fix the problem. Or, when dealing with our own mistakes, we seem to believe that holding on to our guilt or shame is going to help. We continue to replay the unfortunate action, as if one more review will change the outcome. It never does.

It all comes down to the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”


Letting go and accepting is a choice, but it has to be a daily choice. We first make the rational decision to let a situation go. We recognize that our only pathway to peace is to let go. We realize that holding on is not helping the situation, but only hurting us. We then have to remind ourselves of our decision, whenever we find ourselves obsessing about the event again.


Again, it is difficult to let go, but well worth the effort. A variation of Neibuhr’s prayer might be, “Lord grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, so that I can finally experience serenity.”

When You Get Off Track

Our response to getting off course makes all the difference.

Do you ever get frustrated with yourself? Of course, you do. We all have times when we want to accomplish some staying on coursegoal, improve ourselves in some way, or otherwise change something in our lives. We know what we want to do. We can see the outcome in our mind’s eye. We’re excited and motivated to change. We may even  do pretty well for a while. It looks like we’re going to succeed.

But, then we get off track. We eat that extra roll that’s not on the diet. We sleep late and skip the gym. We find ourselves doing the old behavior we’re trying to eliminate. We get sidetracked and put the project on a back burner. We fail.

I think Paul was talking about me when he said in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I think we can all relate to his frustration. I suppose the only way to not get off track, is to never set a goal. If we strive for nothing, we’ll never be disappointed.

But, I think there’s a better way. I’m a firm believer in setting goals and working each day to better our lives and the lives of others. I want to live my life deliberately, but I do get off track at times. The answer is in our response to those times when we get off track. How do we respond when we realize that we’ve gotten off course?

We have several choices. We can throw our hands in the air and give up completely. We can use the failure as an opportunity to beat ourselves up in our minds. We can brand the failure experience as one more proof of our inadequacy. Or, we can simply get back on track and try again.

To illustrate, I sometimes use the example of an old wooden sailing ship. The captain of the cargo ship has plotted a course from a port in Spain to a particular port in Wilmington, NC. He draws a long straight line from one point to another across the Atlantic.

They say that almost immediately after the ship sets sail, it begins to get off course. The ocean’s currents may wash it north of the designated course. Or the winds may blow it south of course. It moves off the captain’s straight line over-and-over.

The key is that every time it moves off course, the helmsman steers it back on course. The ship simply returns to the desired course, and keeps sailing forward. In fact, my understanding is that the ship is actually off-course more than it is on-course. And, eventually, after repeatedly returning, the ship docks at the desired port in Wilmington.

If we attempt anything, we will get off course. That is normal and okay. When we recognize that we’ve drifted off-course, we simply return. We don’t need to beat ourselves up. It doesn’t help and actually hurts. We just return, again and again, and eventually we get to our desired destination. Try it.

When You Can’t See the Way

Here are several points to remember when you find yourself in a painful situation.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

              Winston Churchill


Sometimes life is hard. At some time, you will find yourself in a place where you can’t see a way out. You may feel feeling hopelessconfused, lost and helpless. You may feel stuck and hopeless.

Your situation may have been caused by a bad decision, or a failure. It may have not been your fault at all. Because we live in a fallen world, bad things do happen. We experience the pain of a lost job, lost health, or a lost loved one.

When such things occur, our knee-jerk response may be to hide and lick our wounds. We may just sit and ruminate about our situation. We may want to stay in bed all day. We may feel emotionally paralyzed.

Instead, we may react with anger and frenetic activity. We may blame others or ourselves. We may instinctively jump into high gear, with the idea that it’s better to do something, even if it’s the wrong thing.

So what do we do when we experience the valleys of life? Here are a few point to remember when you feel you can’t find a way out of your situation.

  1. You’re not the first one to experience this. Of course, we know that everyone experiences pain in this life. We know it, but we tend to forget it when our pain is particularly strong. Recalling that others have experienced similar situations, or worse, and that they have made it through it, can help us gain perspective.
  2. You’re not alone. Even though we can’t see Him, we are promised that our Heavenly Father will “never leave us or forsake us.” In our pain, we may not feel His presence, but we are promised that He is always beside us, and carries us when we can’t carry ourselves. I love the line, “If we knew who was walking beside us, every step of our day, we would never be afraid of anything.”
  3. Let others support you. When bad things happen, we need to lean on other people. Talk to those who you know would want to be there for you. Don’t be afraid of bothering or burdening them. If they were experiencing a similar situation, would you want them to come to you? Would you be upset if they didn’t? Let them help you in the same way.
  4. Do one step at a time. We have a strong tendency to ruminate about the past or anticipate the future, and such ruminations create much of our pain. In reality, the past does not exist except in our memories, and the future does not exist except in our imaginations. We will never have the resources to deal with the past, because it doesn’t exist any longer. We will never have the resources to deal with the future, because it doesn’t exist yet. We will always have the resources to deal with the present moment. We are told: Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
  5. Be kind to yourself. Even when the valley is due to your own mistake or failure, it doesn’t help to beat yourself up. Beyond a healthy self-discipline, be kind to yourself. Try to show yourself the same compassion that you would show to a loved one who made the same mistake. If they would deserve such compassion, you do too.
  6. You don’t have to see the whole path. In the midst of our valley, we often can’t see the whole way out, but we don’t have to. We only have to see our next step. You can drive across the United States at night, even though your headlights only show you the next one hundred feet. You don’t have to see the whole route, only the next little bit. But by continuing to drive the path we are shown, we will eventually get to our destination.

Hopefully, these points will help you in your difficult situation. Just remember to keep moving.