Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

How to Let Go of What You Want

How to Let Go of What You Want

I want so many things that I don’t have. As I write this, I feel the weight of how true that is – how frustrating and disappointing life can feel. As a twenty-something with so much of life still feeling extremely unsettled, but wanting life to be so grand and so magical, I look at my mental list of things that I have versus the things that I don’t and sense a temper tantrum, directed at God, rising up in me.

And on top of my natural inclination to think that God just enjoys holding out on me, we live in a culture where the ideas of “manifest everything you want” and “just visualize it hard enough and it will be yours” are everywhere. I do believe that God has given us so much agency over our lives and we really can make amazing things happen; but when I focus on all of the things that I want rather than on who God is, the quality of my relationship with God begins to absolutely tank.

I experienced this earlier this year. As I thought about what I wanted to happen in 2022, I thought I’d dream big. A trip to Paris, a thriving business, the wedding of my dreams. So far though, months later, and the needle has hardly moved on any of those dreams. And Paris is certainly not a possibility at the moment. I journaled about these big dreams and told God about them, but I just…never let go. I held onto them so tightly that they replaced any peace God was trying to give me.

But I am learning that God, at his core, is a good Father. And because he is a good Father, I can rest. I can look forward to what a future life could look like while simultaneously being grateful for what I have right now. Here are the steps that help me the most when I want something really desperately, but don’t want to lose sight of God as a perfect Father.

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Woman writing in a journal

1. Tell God about Everything You Want

The desires of our hearts are such precious, intimate things. And God wants to know about them. Desires are not wrong to have!

Let me say that again for anyone who, like me, grew up in a church environment that implied that all desires were sinful because our hearts are deceitful, etc. Desires are not wrong to have. God often uses our desires to make his great purposes come to be in our lives. (It’s just that sometimes, it’s in spite of our desires that God makes his great purposes come to be). But either way, the desire itself is not wrong!

So, take some time to journal and/or pray about what you really want out of life. Who you want to be, how you want your life to feel, how you want your purpose to play out in your everyday life. Any decent father would be delighted to hear what really is going on in his child’s heart. This is a way you can be vulnerable with God and give him a chance to show you who he is, too.

If you feel doubtful about your desires being good, or about God reacting positively to your desires, it might help to also look at Scriptures about how God wants us to have good things.

For instance, Matthew 7:9-11, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

And James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

It is so healthy to tell God what you want! Be bold in your requests because you trust God to hear you and answer you in the way that is best for you. But, if you’re having trouble surrendering this desire after telling God about it, take these steps next.

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five arrows pointing directions in blue sky

2. Disentangle Yourself from Specifics

Here’s what I mean by this, taking my desire to go to Paris for an example. I really wanted to travel to Paris this year. But what did I want from Paris? And how can God give me those good things, without the specific of it having to come from a trip to Paris?

When I thought about why I wanted to go to Paris, it came down to simply wanting life to be abundant.

Abundant with adventure, abundant with finances, abundant with beautiful memories that will last me a lifetime. I think of Paris and think of the good things I enjoy about life: newness, good coffee, beautiful architecture, and excitement.

These are good things. God created us to enjoy food, to enjoy fresh perspective, to get a lot out of new experiences. But…is God confined to providing me with good food only in Paris? Is a trip to Paris the only way God could show me his abundance? Absolutely not.

I can experience new places by driving 30 minutes away to a nearby town. I can marvel at beautiful buildings right where I live. I already know where the best coffee I’ve ever had is; and it’s just 10 minutes from my apartment! Abundance is everywhere already for me.

My desire is for Paris. But really it’s for abundance. And God can work through my “boring” life to give me abundance all of the time, no matter where I am, no matter what my bank account looks like.

So what about for you? When you ask God for your desire, what are you really asking for? What goodness would this desire add to your life, and how could God work within your life to give you that goodness now? Right where you are?

Gratitude will help infinitely with this thought process. Be creative! God is a big God.

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confident brave man fist pump on mountaintop at sunset

3. Identify the Worst-Case Scenario of Not Getting Your Desire, and Face It

When we want things, it’s partly because of what we want; but it’s also partly what we don’t want. What negative thing are you trying to avoid with this desire? And how can God help you face it, even if that happens?

The worst part of Paris not happening is that I feel like a failure. Being a big dreamer is part of my identity, so the fact that this big dream didn’t happen makes me feel like I’m not good enough. I feel shame about not having enough money in this stage of life. I feel fearful that now, without something to look forward to, my life is just going to be stale and monotonous.

And this disappointment easily turns inward and transforms into self-hatred. Why wasn’t I good enough to make this happen for myself? Why can’t I just be like so-and-so who travels all year round? They seem to be good enough.

But…is any of this really true? What lies can I identify amongst my fears?

For starters, I am good enough. I am God’s precious daughter who was worth sending his one and only son to die for just to be with me. So yeah. I’m worth a trip to Paris. Even if it didn’t happen.

I shouldn’t feel shame about my money situation. There are certainly lessons to be learned about being wise with my finances, which God can redeem. But I have also had many unexpected setbacks that most twenty-somethings don’t have to deal with and should have grace on myself.

And life is far from boring. I have so many wonderful friends, creative endeavors, and missions to keep me from ever getting bored. And again, God can give me abundance here and now.

Identify what is so scary about not getting what you want. And then see the truth in it. See how God can take care of you, even if all of those fears were to be true.

And above all, know this: that God really does work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

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Person looking up at the stars

4. See the Bigger Picture of God’s Kingdom

It’s true, you are a prince or princess in God’s Kingdom. You are worthy to be treated as such. You are worthy of being treated with abundance, favor, and treasures. But any good kingdom doesn’t just exist to serve the royal family. The kingdom all works together, in a beautiful ecosystem, using everybody’s strengths to compensate for everybody’s weaknesses so that everyone is taken care of.

We must see our desires in the greater context of the Kingdom of God.

Dallas Willard puts it this way: “It’s essential to have our understanding of ourselves redeemed. How do you think about yourself? If you are unable to see yourself living in the Kingdom of God, you will constantly be troubled by the things you wanted and the things you didn’t get. And you will be tempted to take things that are not good for you. When that doesn’t work, you will be disappointed and hurt and angry, and you will probably reject yourself and others around you. You will not be able to love those who are in your presence. You will be filled with fear because you are trying to run your own kingdom.”

I think I could just mic drop and leave it there. I relate far too well with this passage, but I know he is right.

My desires are good. But what is better is how God wants to use my life for the good of everyone. And he just simply knows a lot more than I do about how to do that.

When I focused too much on getting to Paris, I was sleep-deprived, stressed, and grumpy. It affected all of my relationships and robbed me of any peace to offer to others. I couldn’t see what others needed because I was so focused on my own needs getting taken care of.

But that is not how God’s economy works in his Kingdom. Jesus tells us “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:31-33).

It brings me so much comfort knowing that my heavenly Father knows that I need these things. That I need adventure, excitement, and things that feed my soul. He knows. So I can focus on the reign of his Kingdom and know that all of these things will be added to my life as well.

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man sitting against wall with Bible praying

5. Let Go

This is the final step, and it might take a few times to do it. That’s okay. Even Jesus had to pray three different times to get surrendered before having to suffer the cross.

Something that can get in the way of surrender for me is knowing that God really does grant us our desires after we surrender so often. I’ve had it happen so many times for me, where I finally got surrendered about a job offer and then checked my email and there it was, or finally surrendered about where I’ll live and the perfect apartment falls into place. I’ve seen it happen for so many of my friends, too. God is good.

But God is still good when we don’t get what we want, even after we’ve surrendered. I can equally think of many times where me not getting what I thought I wanted was actually so, so good for me in the long run. The romantic relationships that didn’t work out; the jobs that didn’t call back. God is good.

So, we can’t “surrender” under the false pretenses of God giving us what we want if we surrender. That isn’t surrender.

Instead, I invite you to simply let it go. It is easier said than done, but it is possible. Just let it go. Know that your heavenly Father wants to give you good things, but that he isn’t confined on exactly how that has to happen. And his vision for your life is infinitely bigger than your vision. His purpose for you is infinitely more important than what you think your purpose is.

You are a prince or princess. A divinely loved heir of heaven. But God just simply knows better. Know that, wrestle with God if you have to–and just let it go.

Author’s Note: This article was completed approximately a month ago before I really followed my own advice. When I did take one morning to sit down and really wrestle with both God’s love for me and his sovereignty, it made space for things not going my way but still being deeply taken care of. And guess what happened? My now-fiancé proposed that very evening! God is amazing and dream wedding here I come! But I am confident that had that not happened, I would still deeply trust God’s goodness and his involvement in my life. I just had to trust and let go.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White

Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.