by Kate Mendez
8th April 2020
I want to share with you something that I have found very helpful in these recent days and weeks, and that is the concept of ‘letting go’. Letting Go is a mindfulness tool which I learnt about when taking part in one of Eastgate’s connect groups – Christian Mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word in today’s culture and has taken on some ‘New Age’ connotations but this connect group was an opportunity to discover how being still and mindful of God’s presence in each passing moment is deeply embedded in Jesus’ teachings.
I have found practicing mindfulness techniques to be so helpful in these times of uncertainty. As the social distancing guidelines changed and became stricter, my idea of what this spring and summer was going to look like has had to adapt on a daily basis. There were some simple but important events that had to be cancelled, such as my oldest son finally having his fixed braces removed or the Mother’s Day treat my sister and I had planned for our mum months ago. As family we have also had to face larger challenges. My husband was awaiting some important medical investigations which have been postponed and, as I write this, my youngest child is quite unwell with suspected COVID-19.
In all these situations, I have had to practice letting go of the feelings of anxiety, worry, disappointment and frustration these circumstances have generated. ‘Letting go’ is an approach that involves being intentional about releasing ourselves from clinging onto unhelpful feelings and allowing things to be as they are. I have had to let go and accept that events may not come to pass in the way that I hoped or imagined I would.
A helpful metaphor which highlights the importance of letting go is the Monkey Trap concept. This idea comes from a traditional Indian method of catching monkeys. You take a hollow coconut shell which is tethered to a tree and cut a hole in the other end, just the right size for a monkey’s paw. Tasty food is placed inside the coconut. To get the food, the monkey has to reach his hand in through the hole, but the problem for the monkey is that the hole is too small for him to remove his hand whilst holding onto the food. There is nothing stopping or restraining the monkey from escaping – all he has to do is to let go of the food or he will remain trapped.
It is very tempting for us to cling fiercely on to our feelings of disappointment, fear, anger and worry. Clinging might give a sense of control but it is a false sense of control because without letting go, we can never be free. Jesus knows this and asks us to lay down our cares and come to HIM, saying “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11 v 28-30).
The idea of letting go also reminds me of the disciples who followed the call to literally leave behind their old lives and start a new journey with Jesus, and what an adventure they had before them (but they wouldn’t have known that at the point of choosing to let go). Only by relinquishing our old expectations can we open our minds up to new opportunities and possibilities.
We are all in a situation where we just don’t know what the next weeks and months will look like with regard to work, health, family, schooling etc… Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount seem so apt for these days of hoarding food and panic buying: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? So, don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”.
It can feel very challenging to let go of worrying about what might happen when we can’t imagine what tomorrow will look like, but Jesus specifically tells us not to worry about tomorrow but to take it one day at a time and he will provide everything we need (Matthew 6 v 31-34).
Mindfulness is about just that, being in the present moment and letting go of all the things that you might be trying to cling on to, control and change. Jesus knows that only by letting go of these fears and concerns can we really be free. Letting go is the opposite of clinging, grasping and hoarding. It is allowing things to be as they are, not forcing things to be as they are not.
In my work as a counsellor, we often help people to find ways of letting go of things that have happened to them in the past. In these uncertain times, we also find ourselves needing to let go of what we hoped or expected the future to look like too. It is a natural instinct in these kind of situations to (like the monkey) hold on tight to what we think we need, but we must let go otherwise we will remain trapped in that uncomfortable situation.
I am by no means claiming to have mastered the art of letting go. It is a practice I have become aware that I need to cultivate daily at the moment. We do need to be patient with ourselves as learning to let go takes practice and I am sure I am not alone in thinking I have given my worries over to Jesus, only to find I have picked them up and am carrying them along once again.
One practical way of experiencing letting go is calm breathing. We take a deep breath in, bringing oxygen and life, but we then need to let go of each breath in order to live! When it comes to letting go of our emotions, the first step is simply to notice moments of clinging or grasping on to something. This then presents an opportunity to practice being intentional about letting go.
So, my challenge to you is to ask Jesus if there is anything you need to let go of today and to ask him to help you let go and find rest in him.