When I was in the midst of my divorce from Lance and in no mood for inspirational tales, someone told me one anyway about a woman who was hiking along a cliff (brilliant idea, always). She falls—but after tumbling and scraping down the hill, she manages to grab on to a branch. Dusk turns into night, and all the while she clings to this branch with everything she has. After hours of pressing her body into the rock face, cramping to keep meager toeholds, her strength begins to fail and her arms begin to shake. Fearing that she doesn't have much longer, she begins to pray. God's response is simple: "Let go." Feeling low on faith and high on frustration, she ignores the command and cries and aches until the first rays of dawn. And then, astonishing though it may seem, she looks down and sees the ground...about 12 inches below her feet.
Yes, she's an idiot. And truth be told, I have been the same idiot on countless occasions, holding on to pain and wearing myself out when relief is less than a foot away. Sometimes greater tenacity and steadiness of nerve is required to release than to retain. And never is this more true than when the thing you're clinging to is a relationship that's ended.
Whether the pain of lost relationships needs to flow loosely through our hands or be flung resolutely over our shoulders, there is no denying that there are times in life when we need to lighten our load in order to move forward. If we carry our emotional pain too long or too far, we risk being stunted. Like the roots of a plant in desperate need of repotting, we can become so tightly tangled that we remain bound in the shape of our former container, even after we transplant our lives.
When a relationship ends in death, divorce, or division of any kind, we may recognize the loss intellectually, but it takes longer to get the message to our heart. Maybe our inherently hopeful nature is a protective mechanism allowing us to endure grief in bite-size morsels—much as I suffered peas as a child, swallowing them whole, pea by pea, with a mouthful of milk.
But whether we expect a beloved soul to reappear and join us for breakfast or a former spouse to experience an epiphany that the grass isn't greener after all, it's all denial of some sort. We postpone the finality of heartbreak by clinging to hope. Though this might be acceptable during early or transitional stages of grief, ultimately it is no way to live. We need both hands free to embrace life and accept love, and that's impossible if one hand has a death grip on the past.