Joy and Pain of the Unraveling

Letting go of what no longer serves you.

There is joy in the unraveling, but also pain.

For all of us there comes a point where the pain of keeping things alive that we have held on to and propped up in our lives to help us cope with pain, outweighs the pleasure of keeping that treasured coping mechanism. And we do, we treasure and hold those things close to ourselves to diminish the pain of living in a harsh world. But at some point, (sooner than later for some of us) the work of repeatedly performing desperate and ultimately ineffective CPR on our treasured coping mechanisms becomes too great of a cost.

Of course for a while it’s easier to emotionally hide, or overeat, or stuff our feelings, drink, or have lots of sex, or have a bump of whatever intoxicant happens to be available, or maybe we have prettier coping mechanisms, or more subtle ones. Maybe we gossip, or fix people, or have the perfect home, ministry, or business. We all have them. We have all picked our poison – whatever we need so we don’t have to face pain.

But sometimes we cope because it’s all we have at the moment. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival. I, for one, am for surviving. Daddy always said, “Sallie, it’s a cold, cruel world out there…” and he wasn’t wrong. So nothing is cut and dry. We do what we have to do because we don’t live in a black and white world where everything makes sense and can be filed neatly away. At times, we just survive it – the profound loss, the rejection, the sickness, the death of a relationship – and we keep on living. But what happens when you realize your life has been propped up by coping mechanisms that no longer serve you, and you don’t want to just survive anymore? What happens when you realize you want more out of life than those things can give you?

Well, then my friends, that means it’s time for the unraveling.

There is joy in the unraveling, but also pain. We get used to our coping mechanisms and it’s a little sad to let them go, regardless of how insufficient they really are. I have held on to my own coping mechanisms, the ones that kept me company in my solitude, but when I was really done with hiding, when I was ready to live intimately bonded and connected to others and not live for myself, I knew it was time to release them. Coping and fullness cannot occupy the same space. And a familiar scripture reverberates a deep “YES” through my heart…

But when I have grown I put away childish things…


and I want to but…

Not a lot of people talk about what happens when you start to say good bye to treasured things you held onto that kept you together after being shattered, or after a loss so profound that breathing in and out was all you could be expected to accomplish in a day. It’s scary to let go. I know I have been afraid to. How do I know that what is here to take it’s place is sufficient? How to I trust that I will get what I need? We choose our coping mechanisms on purpose, because they touch on something inside, something we desperately need and without it we are afraid we won’t survive. It’s normal to feel this way. It makes so much sense that we would be afraid to leave behind proven lifelines for untested territory. But I am here to tell you, friends, that we are meant for more than survival. We were created for more.

We are meant for more than living half, shadow lives. When the longing to be fully alive and grow into the person we have longed to be aches through our whole self, when the pain of the tension between where we are and where we want to be becomes greater than our coping mechanisms can ease, there is only one way forward. It is time to release those things.

I’ve been looking at the things I’ve held close in my own life that no longer serve me. Those things got me through, but now I want more, so I need to say goodbye. And say thank you. And not act like those things were shameful or stupid – they were my lifeline. It’s ok that I needed them to survive where I was. And it’s ok that I don’t need them anymore, and that it’s high time to move on. But, something inside tells me to honor what they gave me instead of dismissing them like naughty school boys. It’s that same desire I had to have ceremony around my old running shoes. I started running in them, it was a formative time of my life, but now it’s time to replace them with shoes that can carry me further and I feel a little sad letting them go. It seems silly, but I need to move all the way through this process. It’s why we smash plates, burn old letters and light candles to the new. We are creatures of ceremony – I don’t know why, but it gives meaning to what was, and lets you turn and go into the new without holding on to what no longer serves you. Let go of that which no longer serves you. However you need to do it. And then embrace what has come to take its place. 

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