By Diana Trautwein
We have just emerged from the Spring of the Great Purge. For almost five years, Dick and I have been settling into this strange thing called retirement. Each of us enjoys a variety of rich and interesting things to do, and we have learned—much to our delight—that leaving the workforce does not mean the end of good work, not at all.
At the same time, we are facing the fact that old age is right around the corner. Along with the gift of years, a variety of aches, pains, and frailties have a tendency to show up at this stage of life. Some of those health compromises can make it difficult to maintain a family-sized home and large yard. So about eighteen months ago, we began to dream and pray about downsizing, and we began to look for a home with less upkeep. One month ago, we left the lovely acre of land that God provided when we moved here eighteen years ago and moved into a smaller home on a much smaller lot, located on the edge of a hill, with a lovely view of the city. That move meant cleaning house. Really cleaning house.
Everything we owned was looked at, evaluated, and set aside to move, give away, or throw away. That meant forty-five years of photo albums had to be disassembled, a career’s worth of books had to be sifted, sermon notes trashed, collectibles given to others. Great Purge, indeed.
As I surveyed the recycling bins lining our driveway, the enormous pile of boxes filled with giveaway items, and the growing stack of boxes-to-keep filling half of our garage, I have to say that my primary emotion surprised me. I expected to feel a little bit sad, or at least nostalgic, maybe even shed a tear or two. Yes, there was a twinge here and there, but what surprised me was a huge sense of relief, coupled with wave after wave of gratitude.
Much of what we parted with represented a lifetime of work of all kinds, from raising children to taking good trips together to researching and writing sermons to tracking expenses and investments. After an initial feeling of shock, it felt good to toss them away, and I tried to pause and say thank you over each category of things as I let them go. At one time, they were important, necessary, helpful. Now, that is no longer true, so I said goodbye with grateful recognition of their contribution to our story.
It’s such a hard thing to do sometimes, this letting go. What we’re relinquishing this year is the easy stuff, I think. Letting go of dreams that are not realized is much more painful, to say nothing of losing loved ones to physical or emotional distance or death. I think the goodbyes required by aging or by failing physical or mental health are near the top of that list, as well. And then there’s the letting go that comes from our core, the thing we struggle with most of our lives: our deep-seated desire to be in charge, in the center, the one with the answers, the one who is right.
That kind of letting go takes a lifetime. I may have turned seventy this year, but some days, I am a rank beginner! God invites me to be a junior partner in this life of mine, not the senior one. And God has given me a reasonably sound mind, a strong will, and a lovely picture of what a full and rich human life looks like in the pages of Scripture, most especially in the life of Jesus.
Can I lean into those gifts by letting go of my fears, insecurities, and need to be in control? Can I submit to God’s guidance and trust that whatever comes into my life will be used for my good, for my growth, and for the good of the small piece of the world that I inhabit? This is the greatest task in life, this letting go, this relinquishment of the reins, this settling into trust. O Lord, help me to let go well.