let go

The Year of Surrender

If you have been around my blog for a little while, you might know that each January I seek a faith-based word to focus on for the year. In the past four years, I’ve gotten trust, give, patience, and then for 2018, I got surrender.

51k1v-ci0sl._sx357_bo1,204,203,200_To kick off the year, I bought this book on Amazon. It has one devotional to read for each day of the year, and I figured surrendering 5-10 minutes a day to read them was a good place to start.

I had tried this a couple years ago, not with a devotional, but with prayer each night before I went to bed. After hearing so often at church how important it was to set aside time with God, I decided I’d get down on my knees every night before bed and pray.

Initially I was very nervous. Praying out loud, to me, has always felt a little bit like public speaking—which I hate. I always get self-conscious that I’m not saying the right thing or that I’m not saying enough. Sometimes when we pray in groups at church I spend so much time worrying about what I’m going to say that I miss everything everyone else says.

After a while though, I got the hang of it. Each night I’d kneel down on a blanket and just talk candidly. Most of the time I legitimately started off just by saying, “hey,” like I would if I were talking to a friend, and then I’d just tell Him what was on my mind. When I would close out prayer—I’m not sure why or when I started saying it—I would always ask that He hold my hand.

Just hold my hand, please. Hold my hand and lead me.

I so desperately wanted—and still want—direction of where I should take my life, and I think I just liked the image of being led that way. It made me feel safe, the way a child might feel when their parent takes their hand to cross the street or when a friend takes your hand to guide you through a crowded room. It lets you know that even amongst the chaos, you have someone with you, guiding you forward, and I sought that kind of direction from God.

So as I started this year of “surrender”, I again approached it with that mindset.

I am here, I thought. Show me the magic of this word. Lead me.

As the year went on, I had my share of encouragements and reminders. When my mind would start to slip, surrender would make its way into my sights.

One particularly stressful afternoon, this song popped up on my Spotify:

And there was never a shortage of blog posts, podcasts, Bible verses, etc. that kept finding ways to remind me to let it go. Let it all go.

But perhaps the biggest encouragement, the biggest reminder that not only was letting go okay, but that it was necessary, refreshing, unburdening, and most of all safe, was found in my daily devotional. For amongst the passages—most of which I marked up, circling and underlining and making notes in the margins—I found one phrase over and over:

“I am holding your hand.”

I didn’t just find it once. I found it 32 times.

My own words. My own request. My own prayer handed right back to me over and over again.

I am holding your hand, it said.

And it was in reading those words over and over that I realized what it would truly mean to surrender.

I pictured myself walking up to the front door of my house with my arms riddled in grocery bags (because #onetrip). With the keys in my purse and the doorknob unable to unlock and open itself, I would most definitely have to set a bag or two down. I would have to empty my hand to get what I needed.

All these years, though I asked, pleaded for God to take my hand and lead me, and grew frustrated when I didn’t feel that presence, that hand, it wasn’t because he wasn’t by my side reaching out, it was because my hands were full. Full of everything else I was worried about or focused on. Even though I wanted to take his hand, I wasn’t willing to first let go of the things I was holding onto.

And so, 2018 saw me finally start to loosen my grip. No longer am I trying to win any awards for carrying the most weight all at once. No longer am I trying to balance one grocery bag on my knee and the other on my elbow as I try to reach in my purse to grab the keys. I’m setting the bags down, one by one, and I’m freeing that hand, because I know that His hand is right there, waiting for me to take it.

Throw Away Your Old Car Keys

I recently listened to Bryan Cranston’s memoir, Life in Parts, on audiobook. Not only does he have an incredible reading voice, but his stories are fun and fascinating and consistently engaging. I loved the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy read (or listen).

One particular story that stuck out in my mind was that of the passing of his aunt Sunday and uncle Eddie, and the process of his family going through their belongings afterwards. He noted how they found a box marked “keys to the old cars”, which turned out to be exactly that: keys for cars they previously owned.

As someone who is very sentimental, I can understand the act of keeping things that hold a special place in your heart. But as Cranston went onto explain, this box was one of many. The couple were definitely hoarders, finding value in keeping absolutely everything. As someone who hates clutter, I can’t really relate to this notion.

Or at least I thought I couldn’t.

Cranston noted, “None of the keys fit the car in the garage or the abandoned vehicles parked on the dead grass in the backyard. So. They kept keys to cars they hadn’t owned in years.”

That’s when I thought to myself: isn’t that kind of like holding on to grudges/pain/anger/etc. from the past?

When I thought about it like that, I realized we all probably have a “keys to the old cars box.” We are all holding onto things that will never do us any good. We are all keeping keys that belong to cars we’ve long stopped driving.

For me personally, I know I tend to hold onto things because in a way it makes me feel safe. Tangible things, like pictures or ticket stubs or knick knacks, make me feel like I’m keeping good memories safe, preserving everything I loved about that day or days in a single object that I can always go back to. Going off of this, my mind likes to pretend that holding onto anger and sadness and pain has the same benefit. It promises that remembering these things, these moments that still sting, will help keep me safe in the future. They will keep me from getting hurt or from failing or from making a fool out of myself. They will help me trust the right people and love the right people and stay away from the wrong people.

While this is good, as it’s important to constantly learn and grow and mature, there comes a point when this “protection” becomes clutter. Learning from failures is different than holding onto them. And working through pain is different than pushing it aside. For Cranston’s aunt and uncle, they were always going to have the memories of those old cars, even after they left their driveway. So while those keys might have promised to further those memories, in reality they were just reminders of the past taking up space in the present. And the same goes for all that anger and pain and sadness that is bogging us down.

It’s never easy to let go, but it’s necessary. I know for me, it might take a while. It might even be a one key at a time process, but that’s okay. As the saying goes, “the first step is admitting you have a box of old car keys.” After that, it’s just making room for the good things.