The art of letting go.
I’m knee-deep in stuff collected over many years of doing ‘life’. The task at hand is to discard the unusable, pass on the recyclable and pack the rest. It’s hard work because to sort it properly I have to pay attention.
With every item I pick up, I think about how often I’ve used it and try to judge how important it is. Is it necessary? Would my family even notice if it was gone? I can’t help but reflect on how useful an exercise this is. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t like it. Not one bit. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for this’, if you get my meaning.
The thing is, though, once I dived in and started the process, it became cathartic. It was healing to remember where things had come from and the people associated with them on the journey. It was liberating to let go of some things — including memories — that just don’t need to come along. It was expanding to make room in our lives. To make space. To have some ‘empty’ in our cupboards, drawers and lives.
I started wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. How much easier it would have been to live with the sorting done. And that got me thinking about all the packing necessary in our internal lives. Those places are at least as cluttered and unsorted as the things we see with our eyes. What if we took the time to sort through the unseen places with the same intention? What if we had the sorting bins out all the time? We could throw out old things, ripped things, nasty things — all the time. We could chuck all the unnecessary baggage in a bin labelled ‘discard’ and let-it-go. I have a hunch it’d be a much better way to live. A lot lighter. A lot cleaner.
What if there are things that have served us for a while, but we don’t need any more? Attitudes, perceptions, fears. What if we could recycle the good — pass it on to someone who’s now in the spot we used to be? I wonder if, like growing children, our attitudes and personalities grow, and the old clothes and playthings that were once essential are no longer needed. What kind of life would I have if I let those things go, too? What if I acknowledged the growth and packed up the old stuff and passed it on to someone who needs it right now? It’d be a bit scary. Am I sure I don’t need it any more? Is it still necessary? Might I shrink back and require that size again?
I remember trying to help a hoarder friend of mine. Her apartment was packed with garbage bags from floor to ceiling. There was only one way to get through the stuff, so we started with the first bag. I pulled out some clothes that were obviously not her size. She told me why she needed to keep them — she would definitely hit that size again in the future and what would she do without this bag of clothes? I guess that’s part of the problem for people who live in the future and not the present. It requires a lot of baggage.
I don’t want to live in the past. I want the past to spur me on. I want to acknowledge the faithfulness of God on the whole journey. I want to give the past a place. But I don’t want to live there. And I certainly don’t want to try to walk looking backward — that’ll only take me in circles. But I also don’t want to live a ‘what if’ life either. Always thinking the future could change, always looking forward to what’s coming without being ‘present’ in this moment, in this time.
Packing is about the present. What do you need to bring with you right now? What is required for this time? What is necessary? What is important? What is worth lugging around the world and unpacking on the other side?
When Jesus sent out his disciples (followers), he told them to take nothing with them except one bag. I think that exercise wasn’t a rule, but an opportunity to rely on the provision of God for the present time. I think it was about the sorting and the packing of our lives so we can reach out to others with open hands. Freely we give; freely we receive.
So, if packing is a metaphor for my life, I hope I have the tenacity to get the sorting done. To dive into the bags and boxes of my thoughts, attitudes and habits and discard — to really let go — the things I don’t need any more, and to keep the essential things. I hope I travel light into the future and rely on God’s presence in the here and now to meet my every need.
Come to think of it, packing might be required for any journey. All of us are invited to move. I pray that you enjoy the power of the packing process as you move along in your spiritual journey. The best way to start is with what’s in front of you.
Danielle Strickland is a justice advocate, communicator, peacemaker and spiritual leader. For more information, visit daniellestrickland.com