When it comes to letting go, we nearly always have to look at our concept of self. What I mean is, we cling to some things because they provide for us a strong sense of value or significance. Are you defined entirely by the label “caregiver”? Sometimes circumstances leave us little choice but to fill a caregiving role. But if we derive much of our self-worth from that role, then we will be less likely to give it up even if it becomes possible. Many families have a designated caregiver, although they might not be aware of it or might call it something else. For instance, in some families there is the sibling who takes charge of caring for elderly parents—and all the other siblings expect it. In fact, if she (yes, nearly always it’s a she) asks for help, she might get confused looks or various excuses. In everyone’s mind, Mom and Dad are her responsibility—because she lives closest to them, because she’s the oldest, or because she has always been the first to jump in and help them. This has become her role. And if the role is important to her sense of self-worth or her Christian definition of a good daughter, then it’s likely that no one else will ever pitch in. If, however, she looks at her life one day and says, “I haven’t had a vacation in five years—this is ridiculous! I’m not the only adult who can do this,” then she may just let go and give others the opportunity to love in concrete ways.
Please don’t misunderstand this example. We care for others out of our love for them, and most of the time the circumstances require it and give us little choice. But in dealing with interior freedom it is necessary to look closely at our own responses. It’s important to be attentive to what is going on within our own hearts and minds. More often than we would like to believe, we hang on to a role or to an idea of what it means to be good, and then the role itself grows in importance and gradually eats away at our spiritual freedom.
God desires that we be free to adjust according to need, gift, calling, and opportunity. Years ago I heard a story about a woman who was becoming too ill to work but kept working and did not care for herself, because her adult son was out of work and needed her. A spiritual advisor urged her to quit her job and tend to her health. Only after she stopped working did the son manage to find employment for himself, something he should have done long before. Mom’s willingness to let go of her responsibility to her son actually freed both of them.
Enough examples from me. What is your story of letting go? Some of you have shared so generously with us already. Let’s hear more!