Letting Go

Lasting growth and change requires letting go, surrendering, giving up control. The very first reading at each of my 12-step meetings is a reminder of this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” If this prayer is going to be answered—and if growth and change are my true desires—then I have to let some things go.

Surrender can have the image of me standing with a weapon over my head, ready to yield to an enemy. It implies defeat, capture, and a loss of freedom. But there is a positive side to this: the enemy that I am surrendering to may be better than the current ally that I am serving. It is said that in some wars, enemy combatants were surrendering in droves because they were fighting for oppressive regimes and knew that they were better off in the hands of their captors.

This picture is quite accurate in my relationship to God. It’s hard to comprehend being an enemy of God, but that is exactly the position I was in at one time: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled” (Colossians 1:21). Yes, I was an enemy of God, but by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I surrendered to Him and now I am His son.

Before I was saved I was worried about what I would lose if I surrendered to God: my friends, my reputation, the sin that I enjoyed. I was afraid to be on the other side of mocking and contempt and my desire to “fit in.” But my fear of death and what would happen afterward made me surrender those things and receive Christ as my Savior. What I gained turned out to be far better than my imagined loss.

“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).

Letting go becomes a vital skill in addiction recovery and healing. There is a lot to let go of! The core of the 12-step programs (steps 4 through 10) deals with the past so we can let go of it. Guilt and shame in the present indicates that there are things in the past we haven’t taken care of. It’s hard to live in the present and envision a better future, while still living in the past.

I used to get annoyed with other drivers: Look at that guy, no turn signals. Stretching the yellow into red. Speeding from light to light. Etc. But where did that annoyance get me? It didn't change the other drivers and just caused me unnecessary stress and gave me a bad attitude. So I let it go.

Politics and the news. So much negativity and corruption to make me mad and upset. But to what end? Strife and debate and an upset stomach. But nothing I can change or control. Another thing to let go of.

Sometimes letting go occurs in stages. I had hopes and dreams of my marriage being restored after divorce, but we both see that as highly unlikely as time goes on. As those desires and feelings come up, I have to acknowledge them, process them appropriately, and then let them go.

Processing my feelings means not ignoring them nor “medicating” them through unhealthy behaviors. It means trying to understand what “signals” they are giving me: is there bitterness or contempt creeping in? Are there things that I need to forgive? Do I need to make more thorough amends? Do I need to have more empathy and show more kindness?

As these things become clear, it is easier to let go. When I follow the process, guilt and shame become remnants of the past. Regret is acceptable—but only for a moment. I can’t change the past so the only sane thing is to let it go. The biggest insanity of addiction may be the illusion of control. And in recovery, it is insane to think that I can change the past. So I let it go. Again. As often as necessary.

There is so much freedom in letting go. When I do, the present seems to expand and I have time to enjoy my current blessings. In the present, there is room for gratitude and contentment and new growth. It is where I walk in the Spirit and enjoy the His fruit of love, joy, peace, etc. The present is where union and communion with God and other people happen. Living in the moment paves the way for a healthy, hopeful future.

Letting go is not loss. It is really an exchange for something better. When I surrender to my Father and His will for me, I receive more than I could ever imagine. Letting go is not always easy, but it is the place of trust, the place where I see God continue His work in me.

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