Life is a game of catch and release: catching the new things and letting go of the old. I like to think of it as living with an open-hand policy. Being able to live within this open-hand policy is extremely freeing and empowering. The more I embrace it, the more my life is filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement at the new things God is doing in my life.
Just like in nature, our lives are comprised of beautiful seasons that come and go. And when we reach a new season, things always shift. Things change. But so often, we don’t like change and so we try to hold onto the old ways, the old methods, the old friendships. However when we do that, we usually don’t have space to catch the new things that are blowing into our hands.
Honestly though, if your hands are already full of stuff, how can you catch new stuff? Answer: You can’t.
Every busy parent understands this. When your hands are already full of grocery bags from the store, and you try to grab that last bag from the car thinking it will save you a trip, what happens? The bag breaks. You lose your grip. And it all comes crashing down. Or you actually make it to the door, but it’s then that you realize you have no way to open the door, because you have all this stuff in your hands. Our hands can only hold so much.
That’s a great anti-open-hand-policy metaphor actually. Doors represent new opportunities, and so often it’s the things we are holding onto and refusing to let go of that keep us from opening those new doors in our lives. And the things in our hands don’t have to be emotional baggage—although that’s often true too. Often the things in our hands are commitments, friendships, jobs, routines.
Sometimes we try to do both simultaneously: hold onto the old and catch the new. This is typical Type A MO. I’m quite familiar with this MO myself. I can swing it, I think. I try to keep my hands in both pots: old and new. And then I become ridiculously tired because of all the energy that it takes to maintain. If I try to hold onto the old while also catching the new, I become overloaded and stressed, trying to micromanage everything. I want it all.
Why can’t people have both? We want the new, but we are often comfortable in the old. We may not even have liked the old, but we are fearful of what will happen if we let go of it for good. Like the Israelites on their Exodus. The Israelites left Egypt and were excited to go to their Promised Land, but they didn’t know how to let go of their old ways, their old mindsets, their old tools—because those were all that they had known. They were stuck in a slave mentality albeit free. And when the going got tough, the Israelites even wanted to return to their life of slavery. At least then they would know what trials to expect. The uncertainty of the desert experience was driving them nuts.
I’m one of those who loves to embrace the new but has difficulty releasing the past. I want it all, I guess. But there is also that fear hidden underneath it all that if I fully embrace the new and it doesn’t work out, I will have nothing to fall back on. I’ve experienced this with friendships, jobs, new communities, you name it. Uncertainty is a huge source of anxiety for me.
I had this happen a while back with a counselor who was helping me with some inner healing. The relationship hit a major snag that I couldn’t get past. There was a betrayal, a conflict, a loss of trust in the relationship. At first I thought I could get past it, but then I realized it was time to move on. I followed God’s leading on how to forgive the offense and walk that part out, but I knew I couldn’t continue on in that same counselor/ client relationship. But I didn’t have a backup, I thought. I didn’t have a new route to take. Yet I closed that door anyway, even though I didn’t know when the next door would open. It was a tough four months in between doors. But the new door eventually did open in one of those divine-appointment kind of ways.
The main problem with holding onto the old, while we are also trying to capture the new that God brings us, is that we can’t fully walk the new things out. We can’t fully embrace the new. We can’t fully engage in the new opportunities and seasons, when we already have our hands stuck behind us in the pots of the past.
For me, I think of my time and life in terms of a principle of investment. How well can I invest in that new commodity in my life, if my money and time are already spread thin? If my energy and time are thrown into multiple different pots and they are all boiling over at the same time, which one do I attend to? Something has to give. I only have so much time in my day. I will either fall flat in one or more areas or I will do a marginal job in all of them. Marginality is not where I want to live.
I tricked myself into thinking that I could do both: old and new, when I chose to homeschool my 3 children four years ago. Since I’m a pretty capable multitasker, I thought, “How hard can homeschooling be? I’ll just shuffle it into my already busy days.” (I have been known to be overly optimistic on what I can accomplish in a certain time bracket.)
What ended up happening though was that I became a stressed mess, with kids who were stressed messes, because none of us knew how to integrate this new way of doing school into our already overmaxed days. Piano and gymnastics lessons, mom’s group outings and field trips, my side business that I conducted from home, not to mention maintaining the regular household chores and family activities were already enough. We literally didn’t have time for school.
The end result of that spasmodic homeschooling endeavor was that I put two of my three kids back into public school. I ended up finishing my kindergartener’s homeschooling, but that was only because she was attached to my hip and I also knew if I completely biffed it up—that kindergarten was the year to do so. Kindergarten wasn’t required after all.
That whole experience was a wake-up call for me. It was a good mistake aka learning experience. I realized I am not Wonder Woman. I realized I can’t dance with the old and new at the same time. I realized I had to let some things go.
In the last few years, I’ve made lots of these hard decisions and let go of past friendships that were pulling me down, past mindsets and coping mechanisms that were becoming obstacles in my life, and past communities that filled my need of self-worth by enlisting me into performance mode.
I’ve opened my hand and said, “Father, please edit my life. Remove the people and things that need to go and bring me the new tools, people and communities that I need for this season of my life.”
Living with an open-hand policy:
It’s amazing what God does when a person chooses to partner with Him in this way.
I hope you make the choice to open your hand too.
Just watch and see what happens…
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).