Whether we had an argument with someone, an ex-partner that keeps popping up in our thoughts, or a co-worker that we need to forgive and keep working with, we all have parts of our past that we need to let go of.
I am betting that there are at least one or two things that pop up each week in our lives that cause frustration and exaggerated emotional responses. As we get older and we do not deal with these incidences, they compile on top of one another and we walk around composting years of bad emotions that been shoved down. We need to deal with these emotions and process them so that we can let go of the past and move on. Life has new situations that need processed each day and to be able to release the baggage of our past is a key to operating in peace for the future. Peace in our minds, peace in our souls, and peace in our bodies (which can be manifested as health), will allow us to keep moving forward in life with a hope that doesn’t have to record every wrong done to or by us.
When we REwind something what happens? We go back so that we can hit play again. We go back so we can go forward again. When we REpent we are going back so we can change direction and go forward again in the right direction. Taking time to go back and correct our thought patterns is the only way we can ensure we are moving forward baggage-free and in total peace.
5 Steps to Letting Go
1. REprocess the emotions so you can find the root belief
When our emotions seem magnified in reference tothe circumstance the first thing we have to do is step back and realize that our emotions are an internal alarm trying to tell us there is a problem. Even if something has happened many years ago, if we can’t seem to let go of it (an ex-partner, a dream we had, or something we feel was taken from us by someone else like innocence, education, or another traumatic occurrence) we still need to stop and think about how this makes us feel now. What triggers us to spiral into those feelings again? Write down those feelings or make a mental list because they will come in handy as they are indicators to you about your thought patterns.
Once you have determined the way a situation makes you feel you can decide whether or not the problem started where you think it did. For example, if you are feeling very angry and frustrated because there are crumbs on the countertop, chances are the problem didn’t start with someone leaving crumbs on the countertop. More than likely that emotion of anger is a symptom of something you believe. Do you believe “No one appreciates my hard work of cleaning enough to pick up after their own mess”? Now, you are exploring the root belief of the problem so you can process and move forward.
If the root is not clear when you stop and think about it that is ok. Taking mental note of how you feel in a situation is extending grace to yourself. Tuck it in the back of your mind and pray about it. I have never asked God to help me find the root of something and not received an answer eventually. Give yourself the grace to think about “why does this bother me, when was the very first time I remember feeling this way”. Finding the root of the problem and what you believe in your heart is key.
2. REcognize the root and your role and responsibility
Once you have found the root of where this feeling and problem started you can process and think about the ways this has impacted your life. In the root incident there is often a role that we were to take and a role that we perceive we were to take. Take time to step back and imagine a friend is telling you this story about him/herself. What would you deem his/ her responsibility in that situation? Are there areas where you maybe assumed responsibility that wasn’t yours? Are there ways that you maybe were responsible and could have changed the course of things? What caused you to feel the way you did? Family systems and upbringing often set up the parameters and looking glass for our thought systems. It is ok to question those thoughts and question whether they are true or not. A role we may have assumed as a child may not be the right responsibility or role a child should have. As an adult we can look back and decide what the correct response to a belief we have held is.
In the example of a toxic romantic relationship that you can’t let go of, recognizing the root of why you entered the relationship to begin with is important. Were you lonely? What do you believe about loneliness that would make you choose toxicity over being single? Why does singleness have to mean loneliness to you? As a child did you strive to please one parent or another and found them unable to appreciate you? If so, perhaps there is a lie there that has been believed that says “I must make others happy and be loyal no matter how toxic and unsafe they are to me”. Or perhaps there is a thought system that believes you are unworthy and unlovable. Our responsibility is not to make others happy but to grow and please God. Our responsibility is to keep ourselves safe and set boundaries that others must learn to respect.
Recognizing the root and our true role/responsibility helps prepare our minds for letting go. It helps set us up to form new thoughts and walk through new doors of freedom. Typically after recognizing the root and reason for my behavior I find soon after that I no longer am struggling to let that part of me go. God is pretty cool like that, he helps us see what is in our heart and once we are honest and agree with him about what we see he helps us to let go. Sometimes a year will go by and I will realize that the small pain of a memory is now gone, or I no longer freak out when I see crumbs on the counter (to be more practical!).
This is an important part of letting go of the past. It is something we oftentimes do not want to take the time to do. Even I am tempted to skip this part of letting go. We feel that if our emotions don’t send warm and fuzzy vibes towards someone that we can’t forgive them. That isn’t true. Forgiveness is a choice.
We must take time to look at the root cause of why we have an issue letting something go but just as important is the decision of who needs to be forgiven in the situation. Perhaps the ex-partner needs to be forgiven for abuse, but perhaps the parents do as well for allowing a child to continue striving without making that child feel loved. In the scenario of the crumbs on the countertop, perhaps the person leaving the crumbs out needs forgiven but so does every other person that has left you feeling like they don’t appreciate your hard work.
Forgiving from the root forward is critical. Remember, we are REwinding here, going back to go forward. Start at the root situation and move forward in forgiveness and bring all of those situations to God and say “I forgive X for X.”
Most frequently person that needs forgiveness is you. Perhaps there was a time when you drove a car intoxicated and potentially placed others in harms way. Now, whenever someone mentions a car accident due to intoxication your emotions go haywire. You feel afraid, anxious, upset. Your mind feels the shame of your own actions and fear of what others must think of you. After processing the emotions you realize that you believe what others think about you defines you. You find you believe that there can be no forgiveness for someone that makes a wrong choice. You have to forgive yourself. Yes, that was a bad choice; forgive you. Choose to forgive and trust that God will help your emotions to line up with that.
4. RElease (and possibly grieve)
We need to release and make the choice to let go. That may look different for each situation. For the “crumbs” example that may look like a conversation with other household members that lets everyone know that you feel unappreciated when others do not pick up after themselves. For a toxic relationship it may take removal of the relationship or at the least some very strict boundaries. An intoxicated driver may look up scripture about forgiveness and condemnation and remind him/herself daily that our sins are removed when we ask for forgiveness.
No matter what we are letting go of there may be a grieving process as well. We have held onto certain thought patterns for many years. We have allowed ourselves to keep connections that we shouldn’t have. We believed lies that we were or weren’t responsible and now we see the truth. So we are free to grieve. It is important to grieve. That looks different for everyone but whenever we suffer a loss it is important to grieve. It is sad that someone was raised feeling unappreciated and it is now time to think about the ways that affected an entire lifetime. How has feeling unappreciated your whole life defined you? What ways has that affected your personality? Are you reluctant to make new friends or do you strive to please everyone you meet? Meanwhile, walking away from a toxic person will cause grief and an acute sense of loss as we lay down the hopes we had for reconciliation. Losing is tough. Let yourself feel the emotions of the ways you have been affected by believing wrongly.
This process can take an hour, a day, or a year or more. There is no time frame on grief. When I go through this process and discover how I have wrongly believed something my whole life I often have the same scenario pop up again and again. Each time I feel the loss anew and see how my own life has been affected by assuming responsibility for something that was only in God’s control. Each time I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for how others take it when I say “no” I have to grieve a little bit because I naturally want to please them and go with the lie that I must make others happy at my own expense.
5. REthink a new thought
Having allowed ourselves to feel the loss and fully process the emotions associated with the root of our problems we are in a prime position to receive a new thought. God always has new thoughts for us. He always has a new way of thinking that is an upgrade from our past.
When something bad happens to us the neurons in our brains fuse together in our response. So if we have a wrong response to something, every time something similar happens in the future our brains are fused to automatically make that wrong response again. To rewire the grooves in our brain and to fuse new thoughts requires the power of the Holy Spirit to remind and help us consciously choose those new thoughts. New grooves in our thought patterns take time to form unlike the quick fusion that happens as a child.
Take the time to write down the lies that you believed in the root of your situation. Take time to write down the wrong ways you were viewing life, relationships, and your responsibilities. Then cross them out and write new thoughts. If you aren’t sure what the new thoughts should be, seek scripture, seek counsel from a friend, or sometimes it is simply the opposite of what you believed. If I believe I must please everyone and I know that is not true all I must do is realize the opposite: I do not need to please everyone at my personal expense. If I believe that I am a horrible person for driving intoxicated I must change that thought to the truth: As a person I committed a sin by driving intoxicated, but under the blood of Jesus there is no shame or condemnation. Think about the new truth and ways that you can walk in that truth in the future. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you so that each time your mind begins to think in an old pattern he will remind you and bring it to your attention. This may come as a small “aha” moment in your circumstances, or he may use a friend that you are walking with in accountability to bring it to your attention.
Thinking new thoughts is where we find freedom. Oftentimes I never get too far in this section purposely. It seems I will pray about it and tell the Lord “Jesus, I have no idea what that new thought will look like in my current life, but I give it to you and ask you to help me think this new thought in my entire life so I can be free from the past.” Sometimes it will be months later that I will then stumble across an old journal passage or a situation and it will just strike me that “oh, I have responded in the right way here, way to go!” A few times I’ve had a friend say “hey, you used to do x…but now you don’t!”
We all have a past. We all have had traumatic things happen to us. We all hurt others at one point or another and in turn have been hurt. We all have believed false things about ourselves, others, God, and the world around us. But why keep carrying around those burdens with us? The Lord’s yoke is light, His burden is not heavy. But we still walk around praising God, metaphorically “laying down our burdens” with no real victory. This is because as we “lay down our burdens” we are simply cutting off the weeds and not pulling them out by the root. We need to get to the roots of things.
I hope this article helps provide some guidelines and skills for you. I have followed this process as a guideline for freedom for over 10 years now and have found that God meets me in this every single time. It gives me skills for living in a world of wounded people, broken relationships, and sin. It allows me to truly lay down my burdens in a transforming way. Through dealing with root issues I no longer am impacted and blown about by every stormy wind but am anchored in peace.