Monday, March 15, 2010

Holding On While Letting Go

Baby steps.

Don’t try to do everything at once.

Just do one little thing.



Filing books away in our small library, I notice a handled basket hiding in the corner behind a chair. An overflowing basket. Full of letters and cards that were sent to me following my father’s death.

After he died, life got out of control. Not just because he died, but because life does that sometimes. One major life event followed the next in rapid succession. Good and bad. Blessings and curses. Then a mini-crisis followed by a major-crisis, chased by a middling-crisis. Topped off by a health-crisis. Or two. (Actually, three or four.) Bam bam bam. No time for recovery in between. Just catch-your-breath-and-strap-on-the-seatbelt for the next wild ride of events. Everything just sped up. Way too fast for me.

I suppose I’d saved those cards and letters because I never really had sufficient time to savor them. I wanted to sit down some day and really read them. Soak in the kind words honoring my father’s life. Giggle at the reminiscences of his adorable eccentricities. Be touched by the stories of how he’d touched the lives of others. How he’d helped people to heal.

Seven years have gone by since his death. That basket has been hiding in the corner of what our architect dubbed ‘Kim’s little book closet’ for seven years now, gathering dust.

It is time.

In a fit of energetic resolution, I grab the basket and carry it to the kitchen. I place it on the counter next to a large trash basket.

I start tossing.

But then, I notice an interesting return address. I take a peek at the card inside.

One peek leads to another.

I end up standing there for well over an hour. But I get it done. The letter basket is finally emptied into the trash.

As I start to close the lid, a card on the top catches my eye. Digging it out of the trash pile, I read the front cover: “When we lose a loved one, God gives us the strength that allows us to hold on while letting go.”

Holding on while letting go.  Obviously, an oxymoron.

What does that even mean?

How can one hold on and let go at the same time?


I know people who are tragically imprisoned by the past. Attempting to re-clothe themselves with the tatters of a former life, they resist acquiescence to painful, but necessary, changes that might bring them freedom. They stubbornly hold on, even as the fabric of those non-existent lives unravels into nothingness. They refuse to move forward.

At some point, there must come a realization that one can’t go backwards. Some sweet times and places cannot be revisited. As much as we’d like for one to exist, there is no rewind button.

Life is forcefully pushing us all down the birth canal of transformation, and it’s impossible to climb back up into the warm, familiar womb. Its safety and comfort were just for a time. We must come out into the new, or be stillborn.

(Or die.)

In this sense, holding on is only holding back.

But, I wonder…

In which ways is holding on positive instead of negative? A blessing instead of a curse?

I think the meaning of the phrase on the card was “hold on” as in “hold on to your sanity,” “hang in there,” “keep on keeping on” during a time of grieving. But I’m examining it in other contexts. What is truly worth holding on to? Certainly, there are things that merit extraction from the garbage pile of discarded past experiences. Things worthy of a second look…one last, final, contemplation before the lid is closed on them forever. Even things to rescue and hold close. To keep the rest of our lives.

I find that they are mostly intangible.

Things such as the aura, the essence, the lessons, the evocations, the example…

of a person’s life.

The memories…emotions…

the words (their words) engraved upon my heart.

I want to hold onto these things with all that is within me.

As I want to hold on to the absolute certainty of reunion.

But I want to hold on to all of these things while simultaneously letting go of others.

Sometimes, letting go can seem like a wrenching away; a ripping and tearing. I envision hands being torn from each other’s grasp; I hear a splitting of skin at the start of a surgical procedure.

It can be is so very, very painful to let go.

Let go.

But then, there can be an intoxicating new freedom, like the way a good haircut can make you feel lighter…less encumbered…fresh and new. The way taking a load of junk to Good Will can make you feel absolutely euphoric.

Just as we must let go of the physical presence of those we’ve loved and lost, there are also intangibles we must release, or face deterioration and decay.

We need to let go...

Of the pacifiers of a ‘past perfect.’
Of expectations and assumptions.
Of resentments and bitterness.
Of burdens and bondages.
Of our crutches.
Of our grief.

Of control.


of the very visceral need to

hold on.

Just as, one day, we will let go of these feeble, fleeting, ephemeral bodies in order to to grasp hold of…

…to hold on to…




  1. Fantastic picture and message!

  2. Well, this message was certainly for me today. I spent much of my morning rehearsing the past in my mind, and wondering why previous days were better than now. Thanks for such eloquent words and reminders to let go of all that controls us in such negative ways.


  3. My Dad passed away on March 20, 2009. Today was the day he entered the hospital, to allow us to gather around him and show him our love. Alzheimers had stolen so much from him and we missed him so much. During those 4 days in the hospital he held on...while we let go. I miss him so much...I know you understand. Thank you for this post. I needed it.

  4. This reminds me of a line from a David Crowder song "Letting go gives a better grip"
    We can't really have anything until we let it go, the Kingdom is funny like that.
    Great message, thank you!

  5. Kim,
    Thank you for your posts. Please keep writing. My husband and I were Katherine and Jay's neighbors in Law School. I follow your and Katherine's blogs. Your posts are a great testimony. I have recently forwarded on your blog to a family member who needed your encouragement after surviving a tagedy (though much different than yours). Your posts are a great ministry. Your transperancy makes it so valuable to all christians on the journey to be more like Christ. Thanks again.

  6. Life is one big journey and you just never know what you are going to find or learn along the way.



Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

It helps to know we're not alone.