A Time to Walk Away

cast away

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” isn’t exactly a pensive song. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than a celebration of a perpetual drunk fest on some Mexican beach. But tucked in the lyrics is a slow, somewhat poignant, realization: As he considers his Margaritavile demise, the singer first claims it was “nobody’s fault,” then “…it could be my fault.” And finally, the epiphany, “It’s my own damn fault.”

Oi vay. I can relate this slow grind to humility, especially when it comes to knowing when to walk away. When I was a young teacher, I was surprised to so readily see among my colleagues the ones who had stayed too long. I remember telling Barry, “Please remind me to quit when I don’t like the kids anymore!”

But sometimes we are the last to see when it’s time to go, aren’t we? Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time to keep and a time to cast away.”

Wisdom is about knowing when.

When is it right to let go of whatever we are holding onto? A job? A person? A dream? A grudge? A personal war?  I don’t always know, do you?

I do know this: Hang on too long, and the misery that ensues is often my own fault because I’m only hanging on out of fear, comfort…even laziness. I may even have legitimate grievances to pin my frustrations to, but the truth is that I have outstayed the grace I was given to deal with them. Without that grace, the weeds in any human interaction eventually wind round our necks and choke the living daylights out of us.

Knowing the “when” is hard, though.  I’m often too close, too tangled in the weeds to see. I do know this much. It’s time to walk away if–

1) My only reason for remaining involves fear, laziness, or the desire to be comfortable

2) My “round” self just no longer fits the ever-tightening square hole of my circumstances

3) I’ve made a god of the thing or person I’m clinging to–and I’m trying to squeeze life, or affirmation, or provision from it, when I should be trusting God for those things instead.  Ugh.

I’d love to know how others deal with this question, though. As you think about letting go, what determines your “when”?

11 responses »

  1. Every time I read your blog I think “This is my new favorite of Kay’s posts!” …. This one though – for now – is my new favorite! 🙂

    Especially love this:

    “I may even have legitimate grievances to pin my frustrations to, but the truth is that I have outstayed the grace I was given to deal with them”

    Now the task of discerning where I am “outstaying grace”… Yikes!

  2. Great post, i’ve written a couple of things around this sort of thing before in the past with regards to relationships.

    But there are people who definitely wait too long and there are others that never give things enough time of day to manifest.

    I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

    I suppose one should stay long enough to invest enough time and devotion for it to hurt but not too long that it completely consumes you

    but sometimes complete consumption is a good thing because like a phoenix, you can rise from the ashes anew and completely stronger/different.

    But as a golden rule, walking away period should be no more than a third of the time invested. so if you’ve been with someone for a year and it has gone stale, get out of there by the end of march (but try and fight for it till then, dont just give up)

    great thought provoking post. if you want to read about my own versions, let me know.

    • I have to be honest. I was worried as I wrote this that I might be giving people permission to walk away from a bumpy time in a relationship, and that wasn’t my intention. I agree with you. Rough patches are often the VERY time to stay. And I like your point about staying even when it hurts or, sometimes, consumes you. There’s truth to that. Certainly when you have children, you experience this. Kind of like that weird paradox where Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38-40. And maybe walking away doesn’t necessarily mean you withdraw your love. Maybe it’s just about letting go of a need or right or illusion of control. (I have to add the disclaimer here: If anyone is in an abusive relationship and is reading this, staying is really not an option. Get help and get out.) Thanks for sharing.

      • I agree with the issue of domestic abuse for both men and women, the best way to help is not from the frontline. And there’s nothing to be ashamed about leaving on the first minor incident.
        That’s not to mean people can’t change though but it’s far harder to change if you stay and it makes it appear tolerable.
        And with kids you just stick through the whole shindig but then again, there is nothing wrong with not being able to cope and seeking help or passing them up for a short time, parents who do that get a stigma and it’s not fair. It’s far better than dragging a child through turmoil i feel.
        As for ‘normal relationships’, i generally look forward to the rough patch, it can feel a lil honeymooney right up till then and wading through a storm sucessfully (not necessarily unharmed) is a tell tale of a strong relationship.
        But there’s a difference of going through a storm and being dragged through the mud.

      • “wading through a storm sucessfully (not necessarily unharmed) is a tell tale of a strong relationship.” Love that. Yep, and this is where grace and forgiveness can keep things together.

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