Learn to Let it Go

Note: This post was crafted with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in mind. For those not of the Jewish faith, the underlying message of forgiveness and letting go as a way of moving forward should still resonate.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” Herman Hesse

Six years ago, I had hit rock bottom.

I was coming off a contract non-renewal from my school board in Atlanta, where I had served as Head of School.

Which meant that we were moving again.

It was our fourth move in four years. (Since each home we had rented there was sold, we moved at the end of each year.)

The “final” move was difficult, as was our adjustment to life in the northeast.

We purchased a home that desperately needed a facelift. That took much time and ate up our savings.

Our children were all transitioning into new schools. And us to a new community, one that was not as inviting as others we had lived in.

My new line of work was slowly – and I do mean slowly – coming together.

Resources were scarce.

All we had was each other.

It was easy under those challenging circumstances to point fingers.

👉 At the people who had made life difficult for us.

👉 To those who had clamored for change, despite the school’s growth and advancement during my tenure.

👉 To everyone who just sat by while we dealt with our uncomfortable situation.

But I realized early on that if I was going to make a success of my “next life” – which, thank God has continued to improve each year – I would need to let things go and focus on our future. And my family would need to do the same.

Letting go has freed us from the shackles of the past.

“They” have no control over us.

It’s no longer us against them.

It’s us in support of ourselves.

On Yom Kippur, we need to be able to let go of grudges. Of course, there may be situations where you have no legal obligation to forgive. But that should not stop you from trying to look past the pain and find room in your heart to move on.

I know that it’s not easy. I have struggled with these feelings plenty myself and sometimes still do. But I also know that it can and should be done, for you more than for them. Below are some strategies that can help.

  • Accept what is, then let go – The past is called that for a reason. We can’t change it, no matter how much we want to. So, there’s no point in reliving it. The sooner that we recognize that the faster we will come to a better place.

  • Recognize the Divine Element – Just because we don’t like what happened does not mean that it was not meant to be. We may not ever find out why losing that potential spouse, that job, that money or something else was in our best interest. But our belief in personal divine providence tells us that the outcome was nonetheless preordained.

  • Own your portion – While you may not have deserved the hurt you experienced, there may have been a part of the hurt that you are also partially responsible for. Ask yourself what you could have done differently and commit to that behavior moving forward.

  • Focus on the present – When you live in the here and now, you have less time to think about the past. When the past memories creep into your consciousness (as they are bound to do from time to time), acknowledge them for a moment. And then bring yourself gently back into the present moment and focus instead on all of the present good in your life and all that you have achieved since this hurt occurred.

  • Forgive wholeheartedly – We all make mistakes and will do so every day of our lives. We may not have to forget another person’s bad behaviors, but virtually everybody deserves our forgiveness. Sometimes we get stuck in our pain and our stubbornness, we can’t even imagine forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t saying, “I agree with what you did.” Instead, it’s saying, “I don’t agree with what you did, but I forgive you anyway.”

Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s simply saying, “I’m a good person. You’re a good person. You did something that hurt me. But I want to move forward in my life and welcome joy back into it. I can’t do that fully until I let this go.”

One last point to consider: On Yom Kippur we do everything in our power to loosen ourselves from our physical, corporeal shackles and become spiritually elevated. We want to become pure like angels, and in a sense, emulate God as well. He describes himself as merciful and compassionate and our sages direct us to follow in His ways. “Just as He is merciful, you too shall be merciful. Just as He is compassionate, so too shall you demonstrate compassion.”

There is little that we can do to emulate our Maker more than to follow in His ways. Consider for a moment what it must “feel” like to be Him. Every day His Word is violated innumerable times. People know what’s right and yet fail to live up to that standard. Regularly and consciously. Does God hold grudges? Does he block our attempts at repentance? Of course not.  And while we recognize that God is not trapped by the human limitations that often block us, we can still use His compassionate, merciful standard as inspiration for our own behavior.

Wishing us all a gmar chasima tova, a happy and healthy year inscribed in the Book of Life.