Readers have commented on the usefulness of my blog posts that speak to accepting changes, moving with the seasons, letting go. Several authors have helped me understand this process: Richard Foster taught me about living simply, Ignatius of Loyola taught me detachment, Parker Palmer and Frederick Buechner added their wisdom about accepting my personality, James Bryan Smith, Dallas Willard, and Adele Ahlberg Calhoun showed me the spiritual disciplines that helped me make the changes I wanted to make.
Recently, an excerpt from Calhoun’s work was published on the Renovare website. It states so beautifully what I have been trying to say in my posts:
“Aging has always been about simplifying and letting go. Sooner or later we realize that we can’t manage all the stuff and activity anymore. We have to let go. The practice of letting go and embracing simplicity is one way we prepare ourselves for what is to come. One day we all will have to let go of everything—even our own breath. It will be a day of utter simplicity—a day when the importance of stuff fades. Learning to live simply prepares us for our last breath while cultivating in us the freedom to truly live here and now” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Practices that Transform).
A good friend of mine has shared the journey of letting go for years. During one class I taught, we were all asked to give up something we love the most to someone who really would appreciate it. Jayne chose to give up two precious things her mother had given her. One went to her sister and one to her niece; each accompanied by a loving letter. Letting go of these keepsakes was a huge struggle, but she experienced the joy of sacrifice that the spiritual discipline intended to teach.
Jayne was in the midst of a courageous battle with esophageal cancer when I was diagnosed multiple myeloma, a blood cell cancer. We shared a cancer doctor and our appointments and treatments were often on the same day. She was a constant encourager. Even as she lost her voice, her hair, and her energy, her strong faith gave me hope.
Recently Jayne’s cancer returned; she once again began the chemotherapy that made her so sick. Life became very difficult, but she never lost her faith nor the verve for life that made her Jayne. Jayne died this month. At her funeral we learned that in her last hours she said, “It’s time. It’s time.” Her practice of letting go made letting go of the next breath easier.
In The Spiritual Formation Handbook, Practices that Transform, Adele Calhoun shares several spiritual exercises that can help us learn to let go. Here are a few:
- Intentionally limit your choices. Do you need six different kinds of breakfast cereal, hundreds of TV channels or four tennis rackets? What is it like to limit your choices?Does it feel free, or do want and envy surface? Talk to God about this.
- If someone admires something of yours, give it away. Find out just how attached you are to your things. What is that like for you? (This is the one Jayne chose to do).
- Where have you complicated your life with God? Consider what actually brings you into the presence of Christ. Spend time there.
Living simply, detaching from our possessions as well as our want lists and our life experiences, and learning to let go are all spiritual practices found in the life of Jesus. (I encourage reading the four gospels looking for examples of these practices.) They are also the disciplines encouraged by “saints” of the church for centuries. We do well to take them seriously.