I’ve been thinking for several years now about getting a tattoo. Now in my 40’s, I still worry about what my dad will say. But my delayed ink is more the result of being unable to commit to something that will be with me until the day I die. Funny, actually, since I have real trouble ever truly letting go of anything. Why would a permanent mark on my body instill such hesitation?
I think the answer to that question lies more in the fact that I just get bored too damn easily. I’m afraid that I’ll choose something, look at it every day, and in time grow to hate it because it never changes or evolves. I’m afraid it will bore me. Last month, however, I purchased and wore a temporary tattoo that I think will finally inspire the piece I get inscribed on my skin. The design is a somewhat ornate depiction of two simple words: “Let Go.”
After a decade of more of just thinking about the idea of a tattoo, why would two simple words speak to me so clearly and convincingly? Perhaps it has something to do with a quote by Shannon Adler that I recently read and loved: “Your heart’s strength is measured by how hard it holds on. Your self-worth and faith is measured by finally letting go.”
Lord knows my heart is strong. I have held on to ideas, to things, to people – in many instances – much longer than they held me back. And with that deep urge to hold on, I have maybe sacrificed pieces of myself that I will never reclaim. It’s ok. They have made me who I am. And I believe my capacity to love is stronger and greater than it has ever been.
But it’s time to reclaim my faith and to remember my self-worth. When I pause to think about the things I’ve held on to for so long, I am prompted to question what motivated me to do so. I think in situations like that, we often romanticize the reason for holding on as love, as some once-in-a-lifetime connection, or as some duty we have to an idea or person. But fear is probably the more accurate cause for holding onto something that no longer serves us well. What if we let go and aren’t any happier? What if things change and I make a mistake? What if … what if … what if?
Instead of the viewing the “what if” as a negative and scary thing, I am motivated to take a good look at the “what if” as a completely positive possibility. This means, as the author of my quote suggested, taking those leaps of faith, diminishing my need to control every single thing, and being ok with not always being ok. Every chance we take is the beginning of something new; a chance to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. The greatest beginnings – as they say – are often found in the endings of something else.
What things have you been wanting to let go of? What chances might you take if you could relinquish the need to control what would happen? How much more satisfying might your life be if you could just “let go”?
The quote lead me to wonder which side of the coin is better: being loved deeply, or deeply loving another. There’s no question that the ideal scenario is one in which both things happen simultaneously. Certainly, deeply reciprocated love must feel the best. Through my faith, I know that is true.
But what if we had to make a choice? What if we could pick only one? Do you choose to love deeply? Or do you choose to be deeply loved?
The scenario, to me, is sort of like a Christmas present. As I’ve gotten older, my favorite part of the holidays lies not in the presents I receive. Rather, my joy lies in the giving. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Despite the fact that gift giving involves some level of risk (Will it fit? Will she like it? Is it the right color?), my heart swells with a certain happiness when I hand someone a neatly wrapped package. Imagine offering your heart to others in the same way.
Of course I am not ignorant of the risk involved in loving others. In fact, I’ve been told more than once that I love too freely; that I give too much of myself to those who don’t deserve it. My willingness to do so is a choice. I know that an open heart is a vulnerable heart. But I would rather drown in courage than flounder in loneliness. I also believe that in loving others, I come to love myself. And if my mother ever taught me anything, it was that no one else will ever love me if I don’t love myself first (even if on some days that is harder to do than on others).
And so as I think about the question I posed about loving vs. being loved, the choice for me is an easy one. I will love. And I will do it with passion and intensity and freedom. I don’t know how to do it half-way. I don’t care to exercise caution. And I won’t waste time building emotional walls that make it hard for others to love me back. I will just love…and love deeply.
Theologian William Shedd is quoted as saying, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Take your ship out for a sail; even have the courage to venture into deep water. When you do, I bet you find all the strength you need for quite an adventure!