Letting Go and Moving On

A Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship sermon

Rev. Amy Russell – January 6, 2008

Having moved between cities about eight times in my life, I am very familiar with the ritual of cleaning out your stuff before you move all your worldly goods across the country. Now when I was young and my dad was working for a major corporation, whenever we moved, there was a paid moving company who would come to our house and pack everything for us. Now this had its up sides and its down sides. Because on the other end after you have moved into a new house, and you try to figure out where to put all these things that you moved, you realize that you moved things that you have no use for and you have no idea where you are going to fit them into your new life. I can remember unpacking boxes with opened half-filled boxes of cereal in them, and out flew the moths that we had never been able to rid ourselves of in the last house. And here we moved them into the new house.

In more recent moves when I’ve been doing all the packing and much of the moving myself, I’ve been much more discriminating in my selections of what to move. That means there was a whole lot of stuff from my previous abode that was thrown away before the packing began.

Throwing away stuff is one of my favorite activities. In fact, my family would tell you that I’m not very selective in what I decide to throw away. That I will throw anything away, just because it’s in the way. Especially some family member’s most valued treasures, they will exclaim. Of course, they will fail to tell you that these valued treasures sat on the stairs or in the middle of the living room for several weeks with repeated reminders that they needed to be moved or they would be thrown away. But nevertheless, I have no problem throwing things away even if they have perceived value. If something is cluttering up my life, and someone else doesn’t take responsibility for it, then it goes. I hate clutter. Now one person’s clutter is another person’s treasure, of course. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when you find something in a closet and you haven’t used it in a year, my rule of thumb is it goes to Goodwill if it has any value to someone else, and in the trash if that value is questionable.

Now when it comes to throwing away non-material things in my life that I really don’t need-things like bad habits, or fear, or worrying-burdens or negative thoughts about something-then I have a much more difficult time letting go.

When I considered this service and I thought about what I would most like to let go in my emotional baggage, it was quite clear to me it was “worry”. I come from a long line of worriers. My mother learned it from her mother, and so on. My mother is an award winning worrier. She is now 85 and she has not stopped worrying about all of her five children despite the fact that we are all quite grown up and independent. In fact, when I left her house after Christmas to fly back here, she once more requested that I call her after I had arrived in Dayton, just to make sure, she said. Then she wouldn’t have to worry. I have to admit, I found I had to call my 29 year old daughter at 2:00 in the morning over the holiday when she had gone out with friends. I called her on her cell, and she answered, “What is it, Mom?” I replied that I just wanted to check and make sure she was okay and when would she return home. She sighed and said, “Mom, you never call me in New York every weekend when I’m out, why are you worrying now?”

It was difficult to answer that. I guess it’s just that I was taught that mothers worry. That’s their job.

But I understand that worrying is not only a needless activity, it’s actually a harmful one. When I worry, I create negative energy that I put out into the universe toward the person I love that I’m worried about. That negative energy doesn’t do that person any good, and could really be a negative gift since they are bound to feel that negative energy just as my daughter did when I called her that night.

So, I am trying to train myself to be a positive worrier. For me this means, I can imagine wonderful things that could happen to people I love. I can send my positive intention for their lives out for them to receive and this is a positive gift in their lives. My family can certainly hear my positive thoughts for them in my voice and respond gratefully instead of asking me please not to worry.

This is the difficulty with letting go of emotional baggage such as worries, fears, grudges, resentments, roadblocks, negative thoughts about ourselves-is that we often don’t know what to replace it with. We are often conditioned by our families and our society that it’s okay to hold these negative thoughts.

How often do you hear someone say, “I am feeling so good about myself right now.” Or “I am feeling that everything is going to go perfectly well this year.” Or ” I really appreciate the people in my life.” Sometimes you’ll hear these positive thoughts shared. But more often when standing around the proverbial water cooler, we tend to hear these kinds of thoughts shared:

“I am so worried about my kids. They are always getting into trouble, and here we go again.”

“Why is everything going against me? I just can’t win.”

“Everyone in this office is mean to each other. It seems like no one cares anymore.”

It’s not that we shouldn’t be realistic and call a spade a spade when it’s the right thing to do. We certainly don’t need to be Pollyannas and try to make everything look positive. Because everything isn’t positive. And when you’re having a difficulty it should be spoken. It should be named and thought about.

It’s just that when we get ourselves into the negative cycle, then everything looks like mud because we just get in the habit of seeing it that way.

And that’s part of what this New Year ritual is all about. Getting rid of emotional baggage that we are carrying around that we don’t need. I know I have whole garbage bags full of stuff I don’t need. Stuff like worry, jealousy, resentment, fear. Things that are very human and we’ll never be able to completely rid ourselves of. Many of these human habits we learn from watching our parents. And many develop as the result of human experience. We fear things about the future when we have bad experiences in the past. So ridding ourselves of fear or worry is not all that easy. They are natural reactions to learned experiences.

So, it takes a real intention to lose these natural reactions. An intention to look at life differently. A realization that carrying around negative baggage is making us heavy. We are laden down with these burdens. And we’d like to put them down. We’d love to let go of them. But it’s not that easy. Then how do we learn to re-think our negative thoughts?

There’s a Buddhist tale that I’m sure you’ve all heard. It’s about the farmer whose son had a horse that ran away. The neighbors all came around and said, “That’s too bad. You lost a horse and now how are you going to plant your fields?” The farmer said, “You never know.”

Then the son got another horse even better than the first and the neighbors congratulated him on this new horse. The farmer said, “You never know.”

Then the son fell off the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors said, “That’s too bad.” And the farmer said, “You never know.”

And then the army came through town to conscript young men to go to war, and the farmer’s son couldn’t go because of his broken leg. And the neighbors shook their heads at the farmer’s good luck. The farmer said, “You never know.”

The farmer had learned that we don’t know what to expect and not to predict whether something that happened was good or bad. Life just happens and the farmer learned that what looks like a bad thing could be seen in another light as a good thing.

Once a woman came to me and told she had just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. She cried a little and then she said, “But this is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I looked at her with surprise and she said, “I have always worried that I would have a terrible disease. I was obsessed about it, and worried about everything I did in my life because I was afraid it would cause this disease. And now that I know I have this disease, I don’t have to worry anymore. I know I can beat this, somehow. And I don’t have to carry around the burden of worrying anymore. It’s here and I can deal with it. The worrying I’ve done all my life is over. And the worry was worse than the disease.”

If we learned to take life as it comes, not seeing the upcoming view as either positive or negative, we would live even-handedly. We wouldn’t frame events with our negative lenses, but would live each event as it comes.

Letting go and moving on is a gift when we can do it. It means we can let down the burdens we carry, and move through life with more grace.