It’s been all over social media for years but I’ve seen it more this calendar year than ever before; the reminder to “let go of what doesn’t serve you.”
But what does it really mean?
The definition of the word “serve” is “to be useful or of service to.” So if we use that definition, the advice to let go of what doesn’t serve you ultimately means to drop anything that’s no longer useful to you.
Now, depending on where you are trying to apply this quotable bit, it could work out great. For instance, if you’re letting go of:
that old outfit you used to love that’s been on a hanger for a decade, just in case.
high expectations for the way your child should respond to your request to clean out all the stuff that’s accumulated under their bed.
moldy cheese that’s past its expiration date.
things you can’t control.
But most of the self help articles, books and t-shirts (yes, someone has created this in graphic tee form) don’t seem to be referring to the things on my bulleted list.
If you Google the phrase (at least on my Google - I’ve heard they are biased ;) you’ll see that letting go of what doesn’t serve you is normally referring to things that:
take away your energy.
drain you mentally or emotionally.
make you doubt yourself.
give you nothing in return.
I want to lean into this advice so badly. I mean, a life full of what only serves me sounds SO great! Seriously, taken at face value, who wouldn’t want a life filled with only things and people that are useful to you?
Sign. Me. Up. Right?
But… I don’t think this advice is sound.
In fact, I should just come out and say it - I KNOW this advice is crap.
It’s meant to tickle our ears and sound great - and it does just that. It looks alluring and feels exciting and shiny; Full of hope! What kind of person might I be if I just stopped caring about and let go of anything that wasn’t actively making me better, happier and more successful?
But following this advice won’t ultimately lead to your best life.
How do I know?
When I consider my daily life, I don’t think so much in days or weeks or even months, I tend to fast forward through decades. I don’t know if it’s because I lost my best friend when I was 26 or if I’ve always been keenly aware of life’s brevity. But, whatever the case, I consider my death bed. Me, lying alone in my room, remembering my life. What advice will I wished I’d followed more closely? What advice will I wish I kicked to the curb?
A life full of only the things and people that serve me, played out over decades, would be a pretty empty one I think. I don’t believe I’d have many visitors. Maybe in the years prior, I’d have had a best girlfriend (or guy friend - but it would have to be someone who didn’t challenge me or think differently than me or demand anything of me) to party with, a butler and a maid and a nanny and a gardener and a chef, all waiting on my needs as I did the things that served me. I’d have had surface level friends I suppose. But, I don’t think the relationships that count would be strong. In fact, I bet I’d spend less time with people in my last days if I lived that life and a whole lot of time with regret.
And it’s not just my imaginary future dying self that agrees… its Biblical too.
The world would have us believe we should cut loose the things that don’t make us better, that don’t “serve” us. Scripture tells us something entirely different. Namely that:
The hard things we face are the very things that end up shaping us into people of deep character and faith.
I remember how many people told me what a great wife I was when I stayed by Nick’s side through his cancer diagnosis, his surgeries, his in-home hospice treatments, and his eventual death. Did it serve me to change my grown husband’s diaper? Did it serve me to wake up in all hours of the night to administer his meds, in between feedings for our months-old baby girl? The questions are rhetorical and I hope the answers are obvious.
In my current life’s season, I’m buried in daily physical demands. It’s not easy. It wasn’t easy in Washington and it hasn’t been any easier in Tennessee (we just moved cross country - have you read The Big Move series on this blog yet?!). I am mother to four children - and they all need me. It feels like all the time and while that might be a little bit of a stretch - I can tell you, it’s terribly rare that I go ten minutes without a desperate bid for Mom! Mommy! or Mama!
Dealing with my toddler’s (I have 2-3 currently, depending on your definition) tantrum - doesn’t serve me.
Helping with unexpected and poorly timed (as if these things can be timed - ha! you get what I mean) surges of a family member’s insurmountable grief - doesn’t serve me.
Hearing my spouse out on a topic that’s important to him but doesn’t interest me in the least - doesn’t serve me.
I could very well check out of these things, or a vast majority of them, by simply going back to work. It’s easy for me to work. I love working. I long for hours spent making tangible things happen. In work, I can put in the hours and see the results almost immediately. With parenting… even with writing… the results are far from immediate.
(PLEASE NOTE: I am in NO WAY saying that parents who work are avoiding the hard work of parenting. I am just telling you MY story in which I have been given very clear instructions to tone down my coaching big-income-producing work and lean into my mothering, wife-ing, living and writing.)
It’s so uncomfortable to be in the middle of hard seasons and not check out. It’s so uncomfortable to sit in the hard and stay there. It’s so uncomfortable to not want to just leave, start over, change course… or at the very least dive into the screen and let our eyes glaze over while we escape the mayhem in front of us.
But, friends, escape is not what we’ve been called to.
In fact, what we’ve been called to is quite the opposite. It’s something the world and all of its technological “advances” have been trying to slowly take away from us without our noticing.
It’s presence. It’s real purpose.
This life isn’t a vacation. It’s not meant to be lived as comfortably as possible. Living that way can feel carefree and fun for a moment. Even a couple decades if you’re lucky. But, eventually you’ll realize that the shining prize and “gold” of the world, while beautiful to look at, grows cold in your hands.
This life is a journey, with a specific destination. For those of us who know Jesus, it’s a mission.
Do you hear me?
Your contribution is valuable.
You. Are. Needed.
You are on mission.
A life full of self-serving-ness sounds carefree and fun. I won’t lie and tell you that I haven’t entertained the idea of leaning into “letting go of all that doesn’t serve me” a time or two.
If it’s all about what serves me… I could easily send my kids to public school, go back to building a online empire and make more money, give up on helping others find solutions to their complicated problems, even leave my marriage when things inevitably get rough (cancer diagnosis or not, all marriages will face hardship)… but time and time again, I bring myself back to the truth:
We weren’t called to live a life of comfort.
Brothers and sisters… we are called to live life like Christ. And I’ve got a sobering question for you (at least it was sobering for me):
Do you think the cross served Jesus?
We aren’t called to be served.
We are called to live a life of service.
Let go of what doesn’t serve you?
It’s not cute. No one is going to put it on a t-shirt, but how about:
Pick up the cross you’ve been given… and walk.
Face challenges head on, admit your weaknesses, and pray for help from the Father because He is the only one who can help you.
Stick it out when all hell breaks loose, because of LOVE.
Even when it’s uncomfortable and messy. In fact, especially then…
We have been in our house for exactly two weeks today and I have SO much to share (good and bad) but it felt vital that I get this post out now. Not just to combat the onslaught of internet self-serving platitudes... But as a reminder for myself too.
This world is hard. We will all have trouble.
But even in the midst of tumultuous change and life seasons that feel like constant surrender of the life you planned - you can find peace.
You can take a deep breath wherever you find yourself today.
Because no matter how far from peace you’ve strayed, no matter how self-serving you’ve been, no matter if you’ve been useful to Him (or not)…
God won’t ever let go of you.
Okay… I’ve got more to share and I’d love to but I’ve got booties to wipe! So, until next week… Stay brave, my friends. We aren’t quite finished yet…
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Thank you Alyssa!
Good words, well written!