Health & Spirit

Spiritual Life: Learn how to let go

Timothy J. Ledbetter, Tri-City Herald on

Published in Religious News

Given the myriad self-storage units around our community, you might agree that we have a problem letting go of things. In drawers, closets, garages, shops, sheds and the above-mentioned units we keep, collect, hoard and store far more stuff than we will ever need or use.

It's not just stuff we can't release, but experiences, memories and life itself.

We joke that "you can't take it with you." Yet we seem to want all good things to last for all time and eternity, including life on Earth. Some such desires are built into so-called "permanent" structures from pyramids to plazas; others are codified into deeply held religious convictions.

If you read the not-so-whimsical book by Robert Fulghum, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," (2003, Ballantine), you probably chuckled when recalling the innocent wisdom gained in childhood. You may also know of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" or now, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (2009, PBS & Family Communications), as they gently teach children about what matters, including how to let go of things in life.

Children do their "work" in playtime. Part of that work is learning how to stop without whining, clinging or prolonging. I've witnessed a vital lesson through a little ditty shared with a child prior to the end of a playtime activity: "It's almost time to stop, choose one more thing to do"; then afterward, "that was fun, but now we're done." So effective for children and so essential for adults!

"It's almost time to stop" and "now we're done" are statements that teach how to accept limitations and boundaries in daily life. "Choose one more thing" teaches autonomy and agency, that the child is not without choices even if they are now limited. "That was fun" honors the natural delight of celebrating and appreciating what was experienced.

You probably see where I am going here. This parental saying is a powerful, necessary parable for living and for dying. Learning -- now more than ever -- how to honor that "it is almost time" and "it is done." Limitations and boundaries are built into the created order, including our being, belonging and doing.

Accepting restraints is part of adulthood and of being mortal. Also, learning to honor self-determination -- the opportunity and ability to choose what ultimately matters. And learning again to honor that "it was fun" (life's events and experiences) -- I don't think we celebrate and appreciate enough; we are too serious and busy.

In my hospice work, I'm acutely aware of this problem with letting go.


The grossly disproportionate demands and resources expended in the face of frailty and dying reveal our whining, clinging and prolonging tendencies. Even devout people of faith seem unable to release what is a short-term gift from the Wise Beloved One.

My prayer is that we will receive the joys that grace our lives, lean into and learn from the sorrows and disappointments, and respect and accept the limits and endings that will come. In this light, may we choose what matters most before we go home.

And none of this will be found in a storage unit.

About The Writer

Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC serves as a Board Certified Chaplain helping persons in crisis effectively cope and find their hope in hospital and hospice settings and is a Tri-City Herald Spiritual Life contributor. He is married and delights in their children and grandchildren. He also enjoys camping and boating. email:

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