I got an email from a woman recently who wanted to know how to know when it’s time to let go. Of that job. That relationship. That friendship. That person. That old resentment. My first response was to wonder why she would ask me a question like this when I feel the least qualified to answer.
But I did what I often do when I worry I don’t have a good answer for something.
What I found were answers I didn’t know I had. So many answers. All of them equally true, I think, though also strangely contradictory.
How do you know when it’s time to let go?
Now. Always. Yes.
Letting go is not a thing we do but a way of being. We learn to hold things loosely. With open hands. Our stuff. Our life. Our loves. Because they were never really ours to own in the first place—this thing about ownership is a uniquely first-world presumption, anyway, so very capitalist of us. And because we learn quickly that if we can’t hold things loosely, they will get ripped from our reluctant grasps.
Change is the nature of things. Movement is the natural order.
If we do not get IN FLOW, then the flow flows without us.
Getting in flow means you let things happen at exactly the time they are going to happen. It means giving up this notion that we have control over everything anyway. We loosen the white-knuckle grip we have on our lives and we learn to let things come and let things go. We let people come and let people go. We let feelings come and let feelings go.
When lose something we are sad to lose, we let ourselves be sad. We cry and go to yoga and have dance parties in our underwear.
But we do not hold on.
Let go let go let go let go. This is the mantra I whisper to myself.
The time to let go is NOW. Yes. Always.
When you can’t hold on any longer.
You know when it’s time to let go because of that feeling. That deep, guttural I cannot-do-this-anymore feeling. It’s like I told the woman who asked how I knew I was ready to let go of my marriage. I said because I could have held onto my marriage—but first I would have had to let go of myself.
That last tiny scrap of myself I’d been holding onto like a life-raft.
That’s it. That’s how you know.
When the pain of holding on, of things staying the same, so far exceeds the pain of changing, that the choice makes itself.
Then you just…. do it. You have to. You can’t not.
When letting go is the only thing that will save your life….
Then, in one giant not-so-courageous but life-saving moment you exhale. A deep breath. A quiet, sorrowful surrender. To something bigger and stronger and more gracious than yourself.
When it lets go of YOU.
Sometimes we try to let go of things but they do not let go of us. Yes?
In a hotel room late last year, I called a friend for advice. I’d been trying to let go of a person I loved for a long time—too long it seemed to me—and for some reason, this person just kept showing up. Like a magnet. A ghost.
When I called my friend, I thought I knew what advice she would give.
To drop this completely. To BE STRONG. To never talk to him again. To ignore his texts.
To let go.
See sometimes, we use “letting go” as an excuse, a safe-guard, a strategy to protect our hearts against the the lessons that will not let us go until we have fully learned them, against the brokenness that ultimately saves us, to harden against the work of being a human—the showing up, speaking the truth, learning to love ourselves and someone else in the mess of all of this.
Instead of telling me to let go, my friend said something so unexpected.
She said: call him.
She suggested that, perhaps, there was something left for me to learn here. Something he needed to teach me. Something I needed to teach him.
If I didn’t learn now, it would come back to haunt me, she said.
I took her advice. And I’m glad I did. Because what I found when I picked up the phone was that there was more work for me to do. More mess for me to make. More answers for me to find, more forgiveness, a more LOVING version of me to come to being.
There are no shortcuts on this path called life.
What a miraculous thing that even when we let go of love, it does not let go of us.
What a grace to get to do this together.
What a grace.