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Why Relinquishment?

Why Relinquishment?

I wrote about the Season of Relinquishment the other day (thanks to my friend Jonathan who gave me the term), and it resonated with many of you. I’m thinking about that today. That resonance. Why do we need to hear about relinquishment so much?

I think, in part, we need to hear about relinquishment because we are a youth-obsessed culture. We valorize the time of life in which one takes up the wand of one’s powers. Whether that power is in the arena of home social life, education, or work, many young adults are viewed by their elders as “having their whole lives ahead of them,” or “being in their prime,” or “being full of potential.”

Our culture values the taking up of the wand of authority, the wand of expressive power, the wand of overt risk-taking, the wand of frontline leadership.

But relinquishment is just as sacred, just as holy, and just as powerful as taking up.

Relinquishing the power of the “front” of things, so to speak, and yet remaining available in community…that is a holy act. It allows institutional memory to continue and to be accessible to others. That memory continues while frontline leadership rolls over, as healthy leadership needs to do.

Relinquishing a standing-in-front-of-a-class teaching role is also a blessed activity. Again, we do not need to hold so tightly to the wands of expressive power that we die with them in our hands, with no one else behind us knowing what to do or how to do it.

I think, too, of my grandmother-in-law who had the wisdom to say, “I should not drive anymore. My family and friends must drive me where I want to go. It is unsafe for me to drive.” Her saying that kept herself and others safe on the roads, but moreover, it invited generosity and connection with others.

Certainly, these are good things about relinquishment for the community at large.

But there are also benefits to the relinquisher, the one who sets down the wand for another to take up. After activity comes repose. With repose comes reflection. And with reflection, seasoned by times of action, comes a deepening wisdom.

Depth and wisdom, meaning making, compassion emerging from understanding. These are wonderful fruits of the process of relinquishment.

While we work and lead and have the wand in hand, we must work diligently at making spaces for repose, for wisdom- and meaning-seeking. There must be spaces in our lives—at home, with friends, on retreat, with a spiritual director or companion—where we are not called upon to hold the wand of power. There must be spaces of relinquishment, always.

These spaces are not as evident, perhaps, as notable from the outside, but they are essential, especially for people in public leadership.

I know that for me, an important time of relinquishing my sense of control, for instance, is at my altar each morning. It is a time of devotion, of openness, of freedom, and authenticity. At least, ideally it is those things.

I commend to you the virtue of spiritual practice as a means of relinquishing. A means of resting your soul. A means of perceiving rather than actively creating. A means of listening with the ear of your heart.

Let us, even for a little bit, relinquish the wand, the staff, the scepter of power. Let us lay it down with love, with peace, seeking wisdom, seeking compassion.


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