Category Archives: letting go

Thorny nests, Dips, and Cul-de-Sacs

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thorny nests

photo by Mr. T in DC

I once read that birds actually build thorns deep into their nests. Apparently, it’s a parenting issue. When Mama bird finds herself with a too-comfortable fledgling, reluctant to spread wings and fly, she says, “I’ll fix this” and begins removing downy layers, one by one, to expose those thorns. Baby bird says, “Hey–ow! That hurts! Ma! What’re you doing?!”

Suddenly, the nest is not so cozy. The idea of leaving seems more inviting.

Is it possible that God himself builds thorns into our nest?  When we find ourselves in thorny circumstances, are we being prodded to leave because the nest has become too comfortable or, at least, too familiar? We refuse to budge, so God lovingly removes the cushioning, making it harder and harder to stay.

Maybe God just wants us to fly. Without exposure to those prickly barbs, though, we might never know the joy.

Over the years, when I’ve found myself in difficult situations, I’ve wondered, “Are these thorns? Is it time to go? Or do I still have things to learn here?”  Very often, I knew the answer deep down. Admitting it…well, that often takes time…and more thorns.

In his excellent little book The Dip, Seth Godin reasons that times of conflict represent either a dip or a cul-de-sac.  Every job, relationship, and circumstance has ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re just in a dip, and the right thing to do is to push through and grow from the adversity. But sometimes we’re in a cul-de-sac, doomed to endless driving in circles…unless we leave.

Dips. Thorns. Cul de Sacs. It takes time and a little cold, hard honesty for me to know when my struggle is a simple dip or a nasty thorn–poking me in such confounded ways that the idea of leaping off the edge sounds infinitely better than staying put. Seen in this light, I can let go of the struggle and come to a place of grace. No need to find someone to blame (though I admit I try).  Truth is, the thorns were probably always there. They were just covered by God’s protective grace for a time. But he sometimes he removes that protection so that I will have no choice but to brave right up to the edge and take a flying leap.

And I suspect that looking back is not a good idea when in flight.

A Time to Walk Away

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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”?