The hardest lesson I’m grateful I learned: letting go
The title “The hardest lesson I’m grateful I learned: letting go” is a bit of a misnomer.
I am in a years-long process of learning to let go.
As the oldest daughter, of an oldest daughter, (who was a minister’s daughter), I was schooled in the politics of control and keeping a tight grip.
I learned to be over-responsible at my mother’s knee.
I’ve been in the process of stepping back from control for years.
However, when I get clear about what I can control and what I can’t, I experience tremendous relief.
The real lesson I’ve learned is that letting go is easier in the long run than clinging tightly.
I don’t have to make the impossible happen, like making other people make my decision or share my point of view.
I don’t have to fix other people’s relationships, or fix other people, period.
It’s a lot less exhausting than feeling responsible for everything and everyone.
Instead, I’ve learned to work to clarify my own perspective and to stay in relationship with those who have a different point of view.
I keep working to let other people have their own preferences and priorities.
Someone recently sent me this quote from Anthony De Mello: “Can you imagine leaving others free to be themselves: to think their own thoughts, to indulge their own tastes, follow their own inclinations, and behave in ways that they decide are to their liking?”
For those who have spent the pandemic living with other people, we’ve faced new challenges to do this (It’s really OK that my husband loves cat videos).
Letting go of control and leaving others free to be themselves does not mean anything goes.
Life in a family, a church, or in any organization means there has to be some structure and accountability.
In an organization, at times you have to request, “Please don’t act like that here.”
But you can do it in a self-defined way, without pressuring others to be different.
You can be clear about what you will and won’t put up with, and the choices that may mean for you and for others.
“If you want to keep this job, you will need to….” or “I am only going to respond to texts until 6:00 p.m.”
Here are some places I’ve noticed clergy hold on tight. I’ve done most of these (except the tech).
- Delegating then hovering to make sure someone is doing it right, as opposed to being lightly present so people get the support they need. This happens, for example, in program and worship planning and execution.
- Proofreading everything.
- Handling tech matters to make sure it gets done (and done right).
- Propping up a failing program either by frantic recruiting or doing it themselves.
- Being the keeper of knowledge (in whatever area).
- Being the hub around which all the spokes rotate. This happens even in larger churches.
- Needing to know everything that’s going on.
One blessing of the pandemic is the requirement to let go of control of so many things: the progress of the virus, decisions made by government leaders, what is and is not possible to do right now.
There’s nothing I can do about it except pay attention to myself and the choices I make.
Rev. Bob Lewis, a Leadership in Ministry participant, said to me a few months ago, “I’m letting go of being upset about people in the community who refuse to wear masks or social distance. I just focus on my decisions and what I can do to keep myself and others safe from Covid-19.”
Taking responsibility for myself is a full-time job.
My job reviews in this job, especially when I’m anxious, may not be as high as I would like.
When I get anxious I am more likely to want to try to take control, and over function in ways that are not in everyone’s best interest, including my own.
I try to remember to take a deep breath and remind myself that job one is me and how I’m functioning.
I can get back in my own lane.
The most important lessons are not linear.
It’s more like a spiral.
The lesson comes around again and again at work and at home.
Every day, there’s another opportunity to practice letting go.
Rev. Margaret Marcuson offers a way pastors can bring their best to their ministry without giving it all away, so they can have a greater impact and find more satisfaction. To learn more visit www.margaretmarcuson.com.