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But When Do I Let Go?



Editor’s Note: Communications Manager Bridget Higginbotham reflects on how she found peace with the question: how do we know when it is time to hold on and when it is time to let go?

My appreciation for “letting go” has recently come from reading works by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, and Al-Anon, which all emphasize the freedom that comes from letting go of resentments, past hurts, anxieties, and the desire to be in control.

The idea seems to be that by not letting go, you become shackled, entrapped, and enslaved. But one night in prayer, I couldn’t help but think of other images for attachments. These images, like umbilical cords and lines that moor boats, were more positive in nature because I feel that I hold on to some things because they give me life or keep me from floating away.

I can admit that sometimes I do mistake my chains for safety nets. But in general, I thought, aren’t there plenty of “good” things I should keep holding on to? The world would be awful if no one remained fast to anything. I don’t think I should walk away from things like my relationships and my faith and my convictions.

Trying to wrestle with all these thoughts, I scrawled in my journal that night:

How can you tell the difference between life-giving and life-limiting? How do you know whether it is something onto which you should latch or something you should release? Surely not everything should be ‘let go.’ Complete detachment would result in apathy.

Sighing with discontent, I closed the notebook. As I tucked it back on the bookshelf, a folded yellowed slip of paper fluttered out and onto the floor.

I carefully unfolded the paper to reveal a Henri Nouwen quote that my grandmother had typed out years before and I had discovered in her stack of prayer cards after she died. 


Opening the note now, I was astounded and touched. It was exactly what I needed to hear:

“Perhaps the challenge of the gospel lies precisely in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. For the gift is the life breath of God himself, the spirit who is poured out on us through Jesus Christ. This life breath frees us from fear and gives us a new room to live. A man who prayerfully goes about his life is constantly ready to receive the breath of God, and to let his life be renewed and expanded.” – Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands

This helped me recognize the necessity of asking myself why I hold on in each circumstance.

Usually my unwillingness is motivated by fear – fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of vulnerability. Just fear, fear, fear. And these are the times when I most need to let go because tensing up in negativity cuts me off from God’s life breath and closes me off to all sorts of gifts and people.

Even holding on to “good” things for a “bad” reason could keep me from growing. Clinging to relationships that are no longer fruitful diverts energy that I could be putting toward maintaining or creating other, healthier relationships. Being too rigid in my beliefs and convictions keeps me from seeing and experiencing things in a new way.

Thinking back to the other images of attachments: even an umbilical cord and a ship’s mooring are temporary. Our lives would be so limited if we stayed in the womb or remained tied to a dock. There is almost always a time to move on.

If I prayerfully go through life with open hands, as the title of Nouwen’s book suggests, then I am ready to embrace, touch, feel, and catch all the good that comes my way. And by becoming more accustomed to keeping my hands in a state of openness, it will easier for me to break my grip and return to this openness after the good has served its purpose.

I need to let go of whatever is keeping me from truly accepting the gift God is presenting me in that moment. Day by day, breath by breath, I will continue on this journey to openness if I only learn to release my fears.

Reflection Question: What fears keep you from receiving God’s gifts today?

Feature image: adaptation of photo by Pixabay user gillnisha – labeled for reuse

Bridget Higginbotham came to Franciscan Mission Service as a Nonprofit Leadership Program associate volunteer in 2011. She went on to serve as our Communications Manager and the inaugural chair of Franciscan Service Network until July 2016. Originally from Orlando, Fla., she is a proud Girl Scout alumna and graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.