How to Let Go

“You have to trust me, Ellie.”

We are in the pool at swimming lessons. Next month my daughter will turn 3, which means this is our last round of parent/child classes; in the next session, Ellie will move up to swimming alone while I watch through the windows of the lobby. I’m secretly relieved—the pool water is not warm, and changing us both into dry clothes in the locker room afterward always ends as a bit of a wrestling match. I’m ready, and so is she … although she might disagree at the moment. She’s comfortable going underwater, floating on her back and climbing out of the pool. There’s just one last skill to work on—her “tall reachers,” as her teacher calls them. Ellie needs to learn how to extend her arms in front of her and, one at a time, pull them back through the water to propel herself forward.

This is proving to be the hardest lesson yet. Ellie is used to swimming with me standing in front of her, holding her firmly with her hands wrapped around mine. To work on her reachers though, I have to move to her side, where she can’t hold onto me anymore. She has no interest in letting go; at the moment, her hands are fisted around my fingers. She’s trying to compensate by kicking furiously with her strong legs, but it isn’t enough. Without using her arms, she’s not making much headway in the water. I flex my hands slightly in an effort to loosen her hold, but she only grips me more tightly in response.

It’s time for a pep talk. I lower my body so that my head is hovering just above the surface of the water. I brush her dripping hair back from where it sticks to her forehead and look into her eyes.

“Remember, Ellie. You have to trust me. You have to let go of me to swim. I’ll still be right here, even though you won’t feel me.”

She doesn’t say anything and her expression doesn’t change, but I can tell she’s considering my words. Is she remembering that every time she’s jumped in the pool, I’ve caught her? Or maybe she’s recalling the feel of my hands cradling her head as she floats on her back, while I whisper the count to 10 in her ear. I’ve been showing up for her each week; my arms have never failed her. Will it matter? I flex my fingers again, and this time she lets me loosen my hold. She tenses slightly as I move from in front of her to beside her; I’m just beyond her peripheral vision, and she fights to see me.

“Remember; trust me,” I murmur, and she relaxes once more.

One, two, three. She takes a deep breath and puts her face in the water as I gently propel her forward. This time, her arms and legs work together as she reaches for the wall. When her fingertips graze the concrete, she reaches up and pulls her weight out of the water. Gripping the lip of the wall, she turns her head and grins at me.

“You did it! Way to go Els!” I cheer.

“I did it!” At first, I think she is just proud of reaching the wall, and rightly so. But then she says it again.

“I did it! I trusted!

Something within me cracks wide open. I feel the prick of hot tears against my eyelids and I wipe them away fiercely, hoping everyone will just think I got splashed in the face.

She trusted. She let go. And only then did she get to where she wanted to be.


My own hands are full right now, desperately clutching the life I think I want, the life I insist I deserve. I have refused to let go of the dreams I believe will keep me afloat. The ones with another child, a successful writing career, a beautiful home. Where I always get what I want, conveniently overlooking the fact that when I always win, it means everyone else loses. There’s a whole lot of “me” in this dream life of mine. I can’t hold anyone else’s hand, when mine are already full. It’s lonely work, this burden-bearing, and I’m so very tired.

Trust Me. Let go.

I miss a lot, when my hands are full. I’m a clumsy person, you see, so I keep my attention on what I’m holding. I miss the beauty and wonder around me because I’m focused on my hands. I can’t throw them up in celebration when my husband lands the perfect job, and I can’t hold my friend’s hand in grief. There’s no room to add anything, and I’m afraid to let go of something, because what if it upsets the balance and I drop it all? I cannot risk dropping it all.

Loosen your grip. I’m still here.

I’ve tried valiantly to do things my way. I’ve been stubborn; I’ve been angry. I tried to medicate my way out of it, and that worked for a little while, but I didn’t follow the rules. The medicine was supposed to give me time to build my own safety nets. I was supposed to grow stronger, to connect with others. I didn’t. Now it’s time to stand on my own two feet, and I’m not sure I can.

I feel strong fingers coaxing mine to release all that I am holding onto—all that is holding me down. But I only tighten my grip. The irony, of course, is that what I’m holding onto was never mine to begin with. I can’t see the big picture yet, but I doubt it was painted by God based on what I hold in my hands. I am a child with a fistful of trinkets that are “treasure” today, but will be collecting dust in a corner tomorrow. I have lived for myself. I have lived small. I want more.

Remember, you have to trust Me. Let go.

I look up from my hands and, for the first time, I hear You. I remember: the people you’ve placed in my life at the right time, with the right words; the closed doors that You opened a window right next to; the truth that You have never, ever failed me.

I take a deep breath, and I let go.

The scariest part of letting go is the split-second after release. My hands are empty and, for the briefest of moments, it feels like I’m falling.


Hey love, I’ve been thinking. I always like to talk through the hard stuff in the darkness of our bedroom at night; he can’t see if my eyes well with tears, and whispering covers any voice cracks. I’m okay with shelving the talk of another baby. Will you pray for me though? Pray that I can really let this go and embrace our life as it is.

Of course, comes his reply. I hope you know how much I love you.

I do. That’s why I’m letting go. I trust him. I trust You. I trust us.


You were right, you know. It’s easier to move when my hands aren’t full, and swimming sure beats treading water. Now, I’m free to let the water slip through my fingers and I can reach for the solid wall when my arms are tired. It's scary to trust what I can't see—that part hasn't changed—but I remind myself that when I'm still, I can feel Your presence. Just because I can't see You doesn't mean You're not there. You might let me fight or struggle, but You won't let me sink.

I could learn many things from my wild-at-heart, fiercely independent daughter: how to climb, with sure-footed confidence; how to feel the rhythm hidden in the music and effortlessly dance without a care for who’s watching; how to pick out perfectly stylish shoes.

Today’s lesson was in letting go, learning to trust, and reaching for a Rock that’s sturdier than I.

Photo by Jon Batchelor.