…(Hmmm, have you ever made a list of what you need to be happy?)
Today I was re-reading an interview with the late actor Taylor Negron in which he said, “By letting go of what you thought was going to happen in your life, you can enjoy what is actually happening.” It made me realize my happiness list needs a #11: To be able to let go.
No one likes to give up, to feel like they’ve been defeated, but I don’t think that’s what letting go is. Letting go is more like shedding a skin (a situation/a goal/a desire) that just doesn’t fit anymore. Letting go is a phrase ripe with possibility; if you let go your hands are free to be refilled. My Pastor says (and you can see it throughout the Bible) that God never asks you to sacrifice anything without giving you something better in its place and I truly believe that, even if the “better” is simply a new perspective on a situation.
I’m working on letting go of having natural children, of getting married, of having a big publishing career with a huge readership. I realize this is the kind of thing that causes people to start patting your arm and telling cheery stories about their friend who didn’t get X until they were 50 or 60 or one foot in the grave. But letting go isn’t to me the same as giving up. For one, it’s an acknowledgement that there are just many things that are out of my hands. Letting go is also a bone-deep acceptance that not having those things–marriage, kids, whatever your thing is–may be disappointing and even, sometimes, heartbreaking, but there’s no checklist for a happy life that says you have to have all or any of those thing. I mean, as far as I can see, I don’t actually need any of those things to be happy and, quite honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well without them. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write a better list of what I need to let go of… maybe… cause who doesn’t love a letter that suddenly turns into a listicle?
To be continued…
Allowing yourself to be loved is scary. Last week I sent out an e-mail to a group of friends asking for their help with various tasks—grocery shopping, laundry—while I’m recovering from surgery. After hitting “send,” and waiting for what felt like a long time for a response, I had some terrible moments of, “Well, no one really cares.” “They have just said they want to help cause that’s what you’re supposed to say.” I had to remind myself that not everyone checks their e-mail every five minutes like I do, that my friends had to check their calendars, and that surgery was still three weeks away and some of the tasks I was asking for help with were even farther out than that. But it took a certain self-awareness—that I still look for any excuse to prove that people don’t really love me—for me to take a deep breath and realize the spiral I was allowing myself to fall into.
It’s almost easier to expect—and perhaps even to want—disappointment than it is to expect people to show up. With disappointment you get to eschew your responsibility to others. If they don’t love me, then I’m not responsible to be loving back. And if I don’t have to be loving back, then there’s no possibility of me disappointing them when I’m mean or cranky or thoughtless. There’s no possibility of me feeling unworthy of their love, their care, their tenderness.
Given that risk, I suppose the question is: Is being loved worth it? And I don’t mean someone loving you just when you’re your best self, but being loved head-to-toe, inside and out, through misunderstandings and misapprehensions, through mistakes and flaws and disappointments and disconnects. Is love worth letting someone close enough to you to see you as you are?
I suppose if you think there’s nothing in you worth loving, which is the story I told myself for decades to understand why my parents were so emotionally selfish, then you’ll always want to keep people at a distance. But the reality is, the only way to discover/embrace/ understand that you are worth loving, even in brokenness, the only way to see that there is no monstrous something lurking at the heart of you that disqualifies you from being loved, is to somehow find a shred of bravery to let people in. And to also be courageous enough to keep looking until you find those people who are quite willing and able to both see you as you are and to love you as you are.
There will be many false prophets, so to speak, along the way. My experience has been that brokenness attracts brokenness, and, in some ways, no matter how perfect the childhood, how loving the family, we are all broken simply by virtue of being human, and having “fallen short of the glory of God.” But if you can find the courage to let yourself be loved, I think, I hope, you’ll eventually start to see that while there are those who try to get a fingerhold on your cracks and crevices to break you further, to keep you in the club of the mean and the scared and the closed-off, there are also those who are willing to pour into you what they know of wisdom, of their own healing. There are those who will take from their own stores of the balms of kindness, of understanding, of forgiveness and deploy them in service of your healing. They are the ones who will seek out your cracks, your crevices, your jagged places because they know those are the holy places where love can begin.