Hold it Loosely

The Gentle Art of Holding Loosely: a 4 step practice.

Holding loosely

The post wasn’t very practical, for reasons I explained at the end (if you made it that far!), but this post will serve to bring those ideas into fruition more realistically in your life. How, in fact, do we adopt this open approach to life, especially when so often we don’t even realize we’ve been grasping or holding too tightly to something until the effects of that grasping are producing undesirable fruit in our parenting, marriages, spiritual, or relational lives?

Personally, I know that it’s time to loosen my grasp when I notice symptoms of anxiety, frustration, or tension rising up in me. Sometimes it’s a physical sensation like closed fists and shoulders living up near my ears.

Other times it’s that frantic inward feeling of striving where I get short with my kids and my husband because they’re getting in the way of all that I want to do.

And still other times, it’s the apathy that threatens to settle in and rob me of any semblance of structure or framework… for me, the throwing-in of the towel usually follows a long, not-tended-to period of striving or grasping. When I realize my grasping and striving posture is unsustainable, it usually results in an [unhealthy] full-stop.

So, I’ve tried to develop some practices of self-awareness so that I can get in front of that grasping nature of mine, and gently remind myself to “hold it loosely,” instead.

The first step of holding loosely is simply to notice.

The better we get at self-awareness, the better we will get at noticing our early signs of grasping. So, I recommend trying to check in with yourself at least once a day, if not both in the morning and the evening. 

Start with your body and notice any feelings of tension. It usually helps to move head to toe, as our physical places of tension usually feel so natural that we will skip them if we just try to feel it. Think about your face muscles, neck, shoulders, stomach, lower back, legs, and feet one at a time and just notice if there are any places of tension in any of those body parts. 

Then, work your way inward and pay attention to your emotional state. Try to notice whenever you’re feeling frustrated, short with your kids or husband, quick to tears, energized, or weary.

These feelings are not right or wrong, but they are generally useful pieces of information about what’s going on in our internal selves if we will pay attention to them as important. 

Recently, I had a long period of grasping and striving that completely flew under the radar for me. I got it in my head that moving out of state was the best option for our family. Looking back, I can see the signs of grasping clearly: I started to spend late night researching realtor.com, I was frantically trying to convince my husband of my position, and was uncharacteristically frustrated with people who weren’t agreeing with me.

I didn’t realize it then, but these were all symptoms of an internal sense of grasping that I hadn’t yet noticed or named. 

The next step to holding loosely? We name it.

After we’ve noticed the signs that it’s time to adjust our grasping posture, we can move to name the thing we’re grasping.

Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly:

What expectation isn’t being met?

What resources are being taxed?

What chaos is threatening to overwhelm my peace?

What needs do I or my loved ones have?

Allow yourself some space or time to try to put names to these things. Often times, the first thing that comes to mind is simply our method of getting at our desire, expectation, need, or conviction rather than the true root of the grasping. 

Remember my struggle from earlier? My conviction that we needed to move was resulting in fights with my hubby, late nights at my computer that made me too tired to parent well, and ultimately strong feelings of frustration toward my current situation. 

When I really sat down to pay attention, I realized that moving wasn’t “the thing” at all. After some heart conversations with the Lord and some trusted friends, I realized that my grasping at moving was motivated by a need for something much different. 

Once I was able to name the need behind the grasping and striving posture, there was more understanding, more effective communication, and ultimately freedom to release my frantic efforts to control the outcome.

Then, we choose.

We are going to try to get a little visual here because I think it will be helpful to adjust the shape of our internal posture of striving toward holding loosely. Start by imagining those things you just named as bubbles floating in front of you. There may be just one, or there may be many. 

Decide which ones are worth it. Is the expectation worth holding? Do you need to protect your internal or external resources? Is the chaos too much and you really do need to find ways to invite peace? Is that value essential right now? 

A slightly nuanced version of this question might be to consider: what would happen if you didn’t choose to tend to that expectation, desire, frustration, or need? What might happen if you did?

Remember, these things are not wrong to choose. The goal of holding loosely is never to just give up on all of the things driving us. As you engage in this process of choosing, I encourage you to pray for guidance from God. Ask Him to give you peace about the things you choose to tend to, and ask Him to remain present to lift the bubbles that need lifting or add new bubbles that we’ve missed.

For me, the bubble driving my frantic behavior was necessary to tend to, and not worth letting float away in this season. Other bubbles I’ve considered, and let go. Things like limiting screen time for my kids, the proper structure of a dinner meal, expectations about housework, my values about church, community, and some of the “shoulds” of my spiritual life.

It’s important to note here that you are not necessarily choosing for a lifetime. You’re just choosing for right now. The beauty of a bubble is that you may choose to let it float on by for now… It may pop and never come back, but it may float around for a while and come back in front of you on a different day, in a different season, or a different time of day. Don’t get bogged down by choosing for your whole life. You’re just choosing for now. 

My value of limiting screen time for my kids pops up on my radar daily. Sometimes I choose to hold it, denying my daughter’s requests to “watch tv.”

Other times, I find that another bubble takes precedence and that it’s OK to let that value float by for that day. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on it for good and letting her launch headlong into a screen addiction, but it does mean that sometimes I can let it go for the benefit of something else.

Finally, we start holding loosely.

Look at the bubbles you’ve chosen as worth holding onto for right now. Imagine yourself reaching out and taking hold of them. Imagine the posture it would take to keep the bubbles intact. Let those needs, expectations, desires, or convictions rest gently in your hand. 

As you go about your day, they will be there, guiding your decision making, priority setting, and open-handed conversations with friends, spouse, or kids. 

But, instead of grasping them and letting the tension rise in a posture of striving effort, we instead will be open to the events of the day, changes in our needs, and perceptions of the needs of others. 

We leave our palm open, and allow for the Spirit of God to lift those things from our hands when they become too burdensome, too distracting, or too self-serving. We remain open for the bubbles we choose to be replaced by those chosen by our Creator for that moment, that day, or that season. 

The need that I named surrounding my moving question from earlier was the need for margin. I realized that my life was starting to feel suffocating, and the pace I was moving at was unsustainable. I had grasped onto that need and convinced myself that moving away from all that felt crushing was the answer. 

After naming that need, I’ve had more success at holding loosely. Some days, I realize that God has given me more capacity than I thought and that I am capable to operating with less margin than I might selfishly desire.

Other days, though, I find myself needing to open my palm and receive that bubble that tells me, “Create some margin.” On these days, I pile the kids in the car and drive to Chick fil a for lunch, I allow two episodes of Daniel Tiger instead of one, or on the really tough days I ask my husband if he has the freedom to come home a little early from work.

Now that I know that my need is for margin, I don’t have to grasp it in a dramatic way, but I can choose to hold that need loosely and reasonably.

I am prayerful that this process will be helpful for you in your pursuit of approaching life with a more open posture.

Personally, it’s not easy for me. In this chaotic season of life where I feel like I’m juggling so much, a posture of grasping and striving is more natural. I fear that holding loosely will result in everything coming crashing down out of my hands in a cathartic crash, and so I clench onto desires, needs, convictions in an effort to control my life away from chaos. 

On the days I find it most difficult, I find that it’s helpful to have a couple friends who can point it out in me. These friends spark the “noticing,” and from there I can engage in some reflection to shift my posture again.

This is not a “one and done” approach, but rather a lifetime of learning ourselves and our God. As our kids’ needs change, as our lives change, as we grow and adjust emotionally and spiritually, the bubbles we choose to hold loosely will also naturally change and shift.

Stay in step with the Spirit, and as always ask for His guidance.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3

“LORD, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you.” Isaiah 26:12

I’d love to hear from you: what are the signs that you’re grasping too tightly to something? What things are you struggling to hold loosely?

As always, in the thick of it with you,

Mothering by Faith Signature

(2) Comments

  1. This is so good! I love the naming step. But I’m curious: what was the need that you identified??

    1. Hey Mara! It was the need for margin. I just felt like life was kind of caving in on me and I wasn’t able to find space to breathe. All of the resources felt like they were taxed to their limits.

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