The freedom of letting go

Sometimes the path to growth comes through divesting and releasing.

Jan 08, 2022

By Karen-Michaela Tan

Sometimes the path to growth comes through divesting and releasing.

The final month of 2021 was a landslide, both literally and figuratively. The floods that felt almost out of the Old Testament saw me, and many other Malaysians, in deep water, rushing to the aid of our countryfolk who had lost homes, possessions and livelihoods in the devasting floods that followed heavy rainfall. My electrician, Mr Tan, was one of the unfortunate ones whose home was swamped with silty water four feet deep.

I hurried to offer help in replacing his damaged furniture and electrical appliances. He taught me a powerful lesson when he said, “This flood has shown me what was really important. I was lucky that only the lower floor of my house was under water. It was when my wife and I were moving things up to the second storey that I realised how much we did not really need.” Of the flood-damaged goods, he finally only replaced his fourburner stove and oven which was too heavy to be carried upstairs. In fact, he divested the kitchen items he was able to save, by offering them to other worse hit families.

It made me think of the quote attributed to Rumi, which says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” This runs parallel to 2 Corinthians 6:9, we were born to die, and we die to live.

More than anything else, this second year of pandemic has taught me the beauty, and in fact, the necessity, of letting go. In 2020, when the scourge of COVID-19 was first laid on us, I retaliated from the shutdown of societal norms by putting in place a vigorous regiment of planned activity: up at 5.00am for the Divine Office, laundry on the line by 7.00am, dogs walked by 7.30am, yoga before 9.00am, Zoom meetings and business calls until 5.00pm, then dinner, and evening Mass streamed from somewhere. In bed by 10.00pm. This structure was the only way I could stop myself from tail spinning in bewilderment at how life had changed.

In March 2021, when we marked the first (and dear Lord, let it be the last) anniversary of the MCO with another lockdown, my resolve crumbled. Without a definitive return to normal on the horizon, I spiralled into a lackadaisical whatever, whenever state of mind. Only the forced institutionalisation of my Parkinson’s, Lewy Body diseasewracked mother, and the subsequent overhaul of the parental home, gave me back my drive. But with that drive came again the need for control, for definitive timelines, and the rise of my internal slave driver.

One day, tired out, and nearly in tears because of some trivial set back, a distinct thought slid into my head. “Why do you need to control so much if you really believe in the God of all times and seasons?”

I have always been Martha. There isn’t a shred of Mary in me. My character type is one of constant service, and doing. But like Martha, many times I served with bitterness, huffing under my breath about lazy family members who couldn’t be trusted to help. In my need for control, I shut out people who wanted to help, because they had their way of doing things and I wanted things done only my way. Being unable to accept any way except mine cut me off from possible avenues of assistance, making me madder and madder that no one could be trusted to do things exactly so.

It was in morning meditation (or what passes for meditation in my gibbering monkey brain), that I had this revelation: even Jesus, the Son of God, and God Incarnate, couldn’t get the people around Him to do things the way He wanted. Because if He did, Judas would have been too micromanaged to have had a free hand with the shared purse; and the Apostles would have heeded Jesus when He told them to stay awake with Him in Gethsemane.

Jesus knew the outcome of His earthly life. His destiny was always before Him. He was aware of the weakness of character in so many of his Apostles — the covetous Judas, the hotheaded, shoot-his-mouth-off Peter, the aggressive Sons of Thunder, James and John, who were quick to want to call down fire on villagers unsympathetic to their master’s message. And yet, He went with the flow. He worked with the process instead of against it. And it is His genuine acceptance of the flaws of the men He had chosen to bring His Good News to the world that I needed to learn from.

Jesus divested notions about people. He accepted them as they were. The transformative love of that acceptance meant that to some, salvation entered their lives. The woman caught in adultery was not called a whore and damned. The haemorrhaging woman was not branded unclean and unworthy. Zaccheaus the tax collector was not labelled a lackey of Rome. Each person in Scripture who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus was accepted for what they were. And in the presence of that gentle acknowledgment of the Christ, they strove to make themselves into better people.

They divested behaviours, characteristics, jobs, mindsets, in order to avail themselves of the joy that comes from emptying out one’s self so that they could be filled with Jesus. So, this is what I strive to do this year. When confronted by another Shopee 2.2, 3.3, or 11.11 sale, I will stop and ask myself what I am in true need of. Chances are it is not my kitchen that needs to be filled, but my emotional needs. Before I check out, I will ensure I check-in with myself and my state of mind. Am I hungry for something earthly things cannot satisfy? The answer will probably be yes, because I, like so many of this over-consuming generation, have too long been medicating on stuff, when we should have been calling on the Spirit.

Therefore, this year will be a year where I divest in order to grow. Like branches that need pruning so the entire tree can benefit and channel its nutrients into the making of fruit, so will I allow myself to be cut back. It is my hope that when the Lord of the harvest comes looking for fruit in my life, He will find some that please Him.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action. You can connect with her at: karenmichaelatan@

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