I wrote this post sitting at a picnic table in exactly the right amount of shade, looking out over a classic rock fire pit on a sandy bank of the Hood River. By sandy bank, I mean an actual beach.
I was camping with my family at the best campsite we’ve ever seen. It may be the best camp site in Oregon–at least for a family with small children and a pop-up tent trailer.
The site was surrounded by giant pines with enough low trees and undergrowth to block out any other campers in the park. Our campsite sat on a gentle bend in the river. Families before us had moved rocks to create a kid-safe wading area at the bottom of our private beach. We fell asleep each night to the sound of the river. The biggest surprise? With all this natural wonder the site still had water and electrical hook-ups. Like I said, perfect for our needs.
We very nearly missed this campsite.
Our plans took us to a different camp ground about twenty minutes away. We drove through that park twice looking for a good site. We set a folding chair on the best site we could find, but drove around once more just to be sure. We just weren’t feeling it.
Picking a camp site has a certain energy to it. If you’re a camper, you know this. You want a good site. One that’s safe for the kids, that doesn’t feel claustrophobic with unruly neighbors right on top of you, one that’s beautiful. When you do drive-in camping, there’s always the feeling that if you let go of a site, it will be gone by the time you drive the loop again.
You think that maybe this is the best you can get.
That feeling creates a heavy motivation to settle. This site looks good enough. If we don’t take this one, someone else might get it! Let go of this and we’ll end up having to camp on that dried out, no-tree, parking-lot looking site. How much fun will that be?
On this trip, both Christina and I were feeling that tension. The sites we were looking at just weren’t what we were hoping for. And yet, we didn’t want to end up with something worse. We very nearly settled.
Would You Settle?
I’m so glad we didn’t. We let go of the dusty site we had. We decided to drive to another cramp ground on the chance that they still had open sites. It’s a more popular location. We expected all the best sites to be taken. But the one I wrote this post in–the perfect camp site–was just sitting there open. Christina actually jumped for joy when she saw it. We ended up spending three nights there. We’ve already called in a reservation for a week next summer.
There’s an enormous tendency in life towards settling. The thing we have right now may not be the thing we really want. But it has one benefit: We actually have it. That means we know it. We’re comfortable there. We can imagine something better, but why let go of what we have?
Letting go with only the hope that there might be something better out there is incredibly hard. It means, at least for a moment, that we having nothing. It means that we have to go through change. And change–even when it’s good–always means loss.
Your Brain Isn’t Always So Smart
This feeling isn’t just an emotional hang-up. It’s a function of how your brain works. Your brain values avoiding immediate loss over the possibility of future gain. For example, making a choice that would cost you $200 immediately creates a certain amount of mental anxiety. Making a choice that would earn you $500 in three months creates a certain amount of mental pleasure. On paper we can see that gaining $500 is better than losing $200. It more than twice as good!
But here’s the problem: To your brain the pain of immediately losing $200 is greater and more motivational than the pleasure of a future gain of $500. This neurological reality impacts your behavior. Most of us have an emotional drive to protect what we currently have. If we somehow lose something we currently have, we have an immediate emotional drive to recover it, or to replace it with something equivalent.
We’re all wired to avoid losses. Most of us experience that as stress or anxiety when we think about letting go of something we currently have.
This neurological and emotional tendency is a real problem when it comes to personal growth or even faith. To move into a better future you have to let go of something. Your brain (and maybe even a good chunk of your family and friends) will tell you this is a bad idea. It’s too risky. What happens if you end up with something worse, or nothing at all?
Can you see how this message can get in the way of your goals?
If you can’t let go of what you have now, you can’t move forward toward what you could have.
What Do You Need To Let Go Of?
Here’s a personal example. I’m actively learning new ways of leading and relating. I’m practicing being more relational. I’m strengthening my emotional intuition. I’m working hard at letting go of controlling behaviors. This is going against some deeply rutted neural pathways.
This takes practice, (sometimes painful) feedback, trying and failing, and self-reflection. I’m growing my character. But I’m also re-wiring my brain. There are times when the process is deeply uncomfortable. It would be easier and more comfortable to just accept my skill set for what it is and not make the effort. But I want the outcome of the growth. I want better relationships. I want a stronger family bond. I want a wider kind of positive influence. These things require change on my part.
I have to let go of what I have now in order to reach for the better life I desire.
For you it might be something different:
- Letting go of a job that supports you financially but is killing your soul.
- Letting go of a friendship that is keeping you locked in negativity and fear.
- Letting go of control so that you can experience greater joy.
- Letting go of a comfortable box you’ve put someone else in defining who they can be, and allowing them the space to be different. Letting go of one long-held dream in order to succeed at something else.
The Invitation of Faith
This all brings to mind the Biblical story of Abraham. He was comfortable there in his life in Ur. Old enough to retire. Surrounded by his extended family. He knew what to expect. Then this unnamed God showed up (See Genesis 12) and invited him to let all of that go. Leave the family. Leave the homeland. Leave the comfort. Let it all go. And for what? To travel to an unknown place, with only this unknown God’s promise of blessing.
Abraham became an iconic symbol of trust and faith in three different religions because of what happened next. He accepted the invitation into the unknown. He got up and let go of the past. Every other blessing God could bring to him, but God could not do this one thing. God could not make him get up and go. That was Abraham’s task alone.
You have the same invitation that Abraham had. Will you let go of what you have now so that you can move into something better? Will you take the risk of loss so that you can open your hand to receive an unexpected gain? You can’t go and not go. If you are going to moving into the future you have to go, which means letting go.
If we had settled for that dusty campsite at the first camp ground, we would have had a fine time. We’d never have even known what we were missing. And yet, looking back now, I am so glad that we chose not to settle. We would have missed the best camp site in Oregon, and the best camping trip we’ve had yet.
What’s your story about settling? Are you settling now?