There is a time for letting go, but that time is a process. It takes many of us a considerable amount of time to let go. It takes time and a process to let go of the sickness in me that attracts and tolerates viruses and infected people in my life as agents of harm. Many of us do not let go overnight; it takes extended time and a thorough process. I believe there are five stages in the process of letting go.

Letting Go Hurts
The first stage is the admission that letting go is going to hurt. When the reality of the destructive nature of love hits us and we begin to think about letting go, we also become aware that letting go is going to hurt. There is no way that one is going to get out of a chronic situation without an acute phase of pain. We realize that it is going to hurt to stay, and it will hurt to let go. There is no painless option. The only question is which option is healthy pain. When a medical doctor treats a chronic condition, the medical doctor will take the patient through an acute phase called surgery. Surgery is painful, but the acute phase is induced for the removal of the chronic condition. Letting go is accepting an acute phase of hurt.

Letting Go Means Risking the Loss of Important Things
The second stage of letting go is to accept the reality that you must risk the loss of things that are important to you. Letting go will involve sacrifice. We will have to lose something that is important to us. … In order to let go, we are going to have to give up a vision, a dream, a belief, a way of thinking that is dear to us.

Letting Go Means Doing Surgery on One's Self
The third stage of letting go is realizing that one must do surgery on one's self. In the first two stages, I realize how painful letting go is. In the third stage, I make the conscious choice to confront myself and go through the pain. I do not challenge the virus, but I challenge myself and induce the acute phase. I decide to risk many things that are important to me. I make the choice. It is the choice to confront one's self, to be honest with one's self, and to decide to do surgery on one's self. I make the choice to cut myself for my own healing. The work at this level can be so intense that we think we are going to die, but we continue with the surgery anyhow. We have made the choice to endure the pain to be free.

Letting Go is a Sojourn in the Valley of Indecision
The fourth stage of letting go is our sojourn in the valley of indecision. We are in the midst of surgery, and doubt creeps in. We are not sure that we will not die on the operating table. We are not sure that we can make it by ourselves. We are not sure that some love is better than no love. We waver. We contemplate going back. We think about accepting violence and hate masquerading as love. Sometimes we spend a long time in the valley of indecision, and we cannot definitively decide. We go back and forth. One day we have ourselves together, and we declare, "This is toxic, and I'm letting go." The next day we are back in it, holding on and clutching harder than ever. It feels like one step forward and two steps back. We are in the valley of indecision.

There is a Moment of Letting Go
The fifth stage of letting go is the moment of letting go. Little by little, we acknowledge that we are beyond the point at which we can return. We cannot always acknowledge the time and the place, but all of a sudden, quietly, from somewhere inside of us comes the resolve to give up trying to decide if it was a good decision or a bad decision. We decide that the decision has been made, and it is time to move on. The energy is not spent back in the past. The energy is spent making the most effective choices for a new future. The release has nothing to do with anybody telling us anything. The decision was made on the inside. It is time to let go, and we do.

What Tina Turner and the writer of Eccelesiastes did not say was, I believe the Holy Spirit directs this inner decision. The Holy Spirit is the power working in us that allows us to go through the process of letting go. The Holy Spirit is affecting the renewal of our spirits by helping us to let go.

Excerpted by permission from What's Love Got to Do with It? Love, Power, Sex, and God, copyright 2001 by Frank A. Thomas. Published by Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa., www.judsonpress.com, 1-800-4-JUDSON.

Frank A. Thomas is pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn., and co-executive editor of The African American Pulpit.

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