Gratitude and Letting Go

The second half of life can feel like it’s more about coping with loss than celebrating new additions. And this can make it challenging to be grateful. Joan Chittister (in her book The Gift of Years) remarks, “Life, it seems, follows a relentless cycle: in our early years we accumulate, but in our later years we divest. Both of them have a place in life. Both of them are a struggle. Both of them are liberating.”

In the first half of life, it’s easier to be grateful. There are significant milestones – graduations, career successes, marriages, buying a house, and the birth of children. These milestone moments usually provide dramatic reminders of how blessed we are and help remind us to be grateful. Strangely, it seems that just when we get good at the accumulating part of life, we need to shift in the opposite direction.

In the second half of life, it’s more about letting things go. Often these are things we spent a significant amount of time and energy acquiring! These may have been precious and hard-earned additions to our life. And now it’s time to let them go. How do we be grateful for that?

It helps to think of letting go as a process rather than a milestone. The process can begin when we question whether we still want and need some of our possessions. Then, perhaps a while later, we begin to investigate the logistics of removing these things from our lives (giving them away, donating to charity, etc.). After that, there may be a long wait before we feel ready to take action. We may struggle with conflicting emotions around some of our possessions. Hopefully, with time and discernment, we will be able to let go of the things that no longer serve us. Applying gratitude can help that process of discernment.

For years, I enjoyed canning jams, jellies, and pickles. I still have a large cache of canning supplies. Although I haven’t used these in years, I struggle with letting them go. I’m experimenting with applying gratitude to the process in the hope that it will bring me to a peaceful state where I can finally let these items find a new home.

I’m grateful I had years of joy doing canning – finding new recipes to try, learning the details about how to safely do the processing, sharing what I had canned, and having a stockpile of edibles for the winter. Savoring those memories helps me relive the joy I experienced and also reminds me that I no longer feel that way. Now, these activities don’t give me that same joy; they are more chore than passion.

I’ve moved on to other interests. And I realize that alone is something to be grateful for! I am happy to recognize that as I get older, I’m not stuck in my old ways of doing things. I enjoy learning new things rather than repeating what I’ve already mastered. As I get closer to being able to let my supplies go, I hope to provide precisely what someone else needs to learn about canning and add a new joy (and skill) to their life.

I also appreciate that removing things from my life means there is space and time for new things to arrive. Things that will be meaningful to who I am right now rather than just nostalgically reminding me of the person I used to be.

The letting go process does not apply only to physical possessions. There are non-tangible things we will need to let go of when they no longer fit our current lives. Our self-image, in particular, the specific roles we strongly identify with (like our job), can be put in this category.

How can we feel gratitude for losing parts of ourselves that we felt good about, that were part of our identity?

We can approach this process with curiosity rather than fear at what we’re losing. In our letting go, we discover what is meaningful at this point in our lives. We might even be surprised at what we learn! We can feel gratitude for finding out who we are now. And curiosity about who we will become.

In a previous post, I discussed how the daily Examen prayer helps me recognize and be grateful for things I’m likely to take for granted. The final step in the Examen allows me to apply gratitude to letting go. This step looks forward to the coming day, reaffirming our desire to recognize that God is with us and showing us how to be the person He wants us to be. Here is where I ask for help when I’m struggling to let go. I ask that I come to peace with letting go and that my act of letting go contributes to making life better for someone else in some way that I might not be able to see right now.

A Closing Prayer – For When We’re Clinging to the Past

I find it so tempting to cling to the past – my possessions, roles, and even memories of happy times. But I know that doing this denies the continued goodness that You bring to my life. It means that I don’t have faith that You, who have given me so much, will continue to provide many blessings in the coming years.

I ask for Your help in my daily struggle with this. Help me remain open and curious so that I recognize the new gifts that You bestow. Keep my heart filled with gratitude.

My head knows that a blessing of these years is the invitation to become someone new; help me also know this in my heart. Let me gratefully share the gifts from my past with people for whom these gifts can make a difference.

I’ve spent a lot of time and resources preparing for the future. Help me reap the benefits of that preparation with gratitude and curiosity for what will come next. Amen.

4 comments

  1. Don’t be sad that it’s over. Be happy that it happened.

    I repeat this to myself when I’m find myself grieving the loss of something or someone. Doesn’t always stop the tears but it does take a loss and turn it into a gratitude moment.

    I like the concept of emptying my life with things that no longer serve who I am today which allows for something new (and exciting?) to fit. As you purge your life of the things that no longer server you, Tacky, please don’t toss me aside. I am blessed to have you in my life, at my side, for almost 50 years. I may no longer need the disco ball that takes up space in my cellar, but your wisdom and guidance are timeless and precious.

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    1. I had no idea you had a disco ball in your cellar! Or that you ever even owned such a possession. Some things in our life are indeed timeless and precious – like our friendship (but I have to break it to you – not the disco ball). Over all the years, we’ve never had a lack of things to talk about and laugh about. I don’t see that ever changing.

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  2. and you share insights from all the reading you do (which is substantial) – that sharing too is also much appreciated!

    I think the shift to giving-away and feeling joy seeing the next generation appreciate what we previously did is another move away from self. This move is possible because God has grown in us a richer perspective of our journey back to Him.

    God told us through the prophet Jeremiah “for I know well the plans I have in mind for you … plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” – also applies to those of us well into the second half of our lives… that verse and the ones that follow never fail to inspire me.

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