Letting Go: When We Enter a New ChapterAug 14, 2016 03:30PM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
I spent the past week packing boxes with dear friends of mine moving back East from the West Coast. We made many trips to used bookstores, donation centers, and the dumpster. We wrapped their lives into 11 categories—little compartments of 49 years of marriage rolled into newspapers, bubble wrap, and cardboard.
Waiting to be opened on the other side of a house sale and cross-country move, each box was evidence of life well-lived—together, real, and raw—caught within memories, fondly received presents, mementos from vacations, mugs for special occasions, and dated photographs. A mere song on the radio triggered a reflective wave of “remember when.”
We laughed ourselves silly going through shelves of books at 2 AM—how difficult it was to part with those pages from scattered memories and loved ones over five decades. We sobbed over discovered treasures from their childhoods. While not always easy, life had been good to them. I could see the value placed in considering each piece of it.
So, I asked myself: How do we pack a lifetime into one 12 inch x 12 inch x 12 inch square at a time?
And the overall decision awaiting us as we dragged packing materials into each room?
Keep, donate, or throw out?
My friend, the wife, had so much courage, incredible stamina, and amazing strength as she divided her life into categories and choices. How do you take a 49 year marriage and family life and split it into thirds? How do you give away your life? How do you decide what to save and what to let go of?
I don’t know, but as I watched her do it, I knew deep within me that it is something we must all do. Self-reflection and life sorting is not only healthy, but it also opens space. Sometimes we can’t move on from a chapter of our lives into the next one until we’ve given it away—heart, mind, and soul.
I had to move into a new chapter recently, one I really didn’t want: life without my father and the resulting change-up of family relationships around that loss. I reflect on the last chapter, and there are moments and conversations tucked deep within my heart, but a new season awaits.
My friend is doing the same.
What about you?
What do you need to let go of in order to fully grasp what’s ahead?
The Apostle Paul speaks of opening himself to continued growth: in faith, in character, and in obedience. In so doing, he encourages us that in order to move into “what lies ahead,” we have to move beyond the past, letting it go. Only in so doing can we have room for what is to come.
Philippians 3:12-14, ESV, Apostle Paul speaking
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul directly correlates this choice to move ahead with the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He states there is a prize ahead, and it motivates him to go further. It isn’t a prize he can tangibly see. He strains forward to push himself beyond the past and into what God has for him today and tomorrow. The King James Version puts it like this: “reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
See the connection? We have to obey and reach for it. The decision to enter the next chapter requires our active participation.
The LORD states this same idea as a promise in the Old Testament. Consider His encouragement to move into the “new thing” He is doing. Before that statement, He reminds us how important it is that we make space by leaving the past right where it is:
in the past.
Isaiah 43:15-19, ESV, the LORD speaking through Isaiah the Prophet
“I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King."
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
What a beautiful declaration, and it’s relevant to us today as well: “Behold, I am doing a new thing...I will make a way in the wilderness.”
I find the reference to a wilderness so affirming. Think of the many ways in which we feel shoved into a different direction, often not of our own choosing:
- Loss of loved one, job, or finances
- An unwelcome relocation
- A wayward child
- Broken relationships
- A new career
- A season of care-taking
Not one of these is necessarily desirable, and yet, in our personal wildernesses, He promises a way and rivers to flow through them.
What do rivers do? They transport. They lead us out.
We can hold onto every tree trunk or log in sight, but ultimately, we are going with the river one way or another. Before we can be released into the “new thing,” we have to let go.
My sweet friend is back where I left her completing her pack-up for her new life ahead. She couldn’t do that without shedding some of the past, making room for the new thing. She is in the wilderness right now awaiting the next step, but when that final item is loaded onto the truck and the keys are turned in to the new homeowners, she will board a plane with her beloved and follow the river where it leads to her new community.
Where does your river lead you toward right now? Have you shed the unnecessary baggage and placed your trust in the God who makes a way?
If that is scary for you, take His hand along with me. I’m learning too. My shaky hand is in His strong hand, a tenuous grasp at best on my part, and yet, He reassures us that where His river flows is the promise of His presence. It’s up to me—it’s up to you, too—to keep holding His hand.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.