We Don’t Have to Stay

I lay the project down, fingers outstretched to relieve the cramping in both hands. The yarn wrapped tight along my size 10 needles. There are “tight knitters” and “loose knitters” I’ve been told, and I happen to be a tight knitter. A very tight knitter.

I could barely get the needle beneath the yarn to create the next row. This was my umpteenth attempt to create a scarf, but my efforts had produced little fruit. My mother is a knitter, and my grandmother was a knitter, too. For most of my life, my grandmother rarely strayed from her reclining chair, but she always had a basket of yarn and her knitting needles close by – creating sweaters for children and blankets for babies, she was always working on a knitting project. Even in her later years when her eyesight failed her, she could knit by memory – my mother, roles reversed, helping her fix any mistakes.

When I started homeschooling my daughter three years ago, we thought it would be fun to learn a new handicraft. When we saw that the local library was hosting a knitting group, we showed up with eager hearts. The older women were gifted and skilled artists, far beyond our novice abilities, their years of experience on display in the intricate details of their work. But they were so generous with their knowledge, and patient with us as they taught us how to cast the yarn onto the needles and knit our first rows.

Of course, COVID hit soon after and those group classes were put on hold. Luckily one of the grannies in the group armed us with a book title. After class, she approached us quietly, as if on a stealth mission and whispered, “Stitch ‘n Bitch. You need to get your hands on a book called ‘Stitch ‘n Bitch.’ It will teach you all you need to know.” So naughty, this book. It was Stella’s delight to be able to try out the word “bitch” since it was, after all, in the book title. This is the bible of beginning knitters, and it indeed walked us through the steps of casting on, knitting and purling, and casting off. We pulled it out each winter, thinking that it would be a fun project to pursue on those long, dark, cold days.

For the better part of three winters, I attempted to knit this beginner scarf from the Stitch ‘n Bitch book, with varying degrees of success. The problem wasn’t the book, or the needles, or even the cheap acrylic yarn that splits with each stitch. The problem was me. I just don’t really enjoy knitting. As I wrestled with the yarn on that final day, I realized that I’m never actually going to wear this scarf, and I wasn’t enjoying the process. I realized that I could appreciate knitters and their craft, I could even support their work by purchasing their lovingly handmade items, but I was not actually a knitter myself. I bagged it all up, posted it on my local Buy Nothing page and said good-bye to it forever. It was a relief, really. This bag of yarn, this unfinished project taunted me each winter – an unfinished project that remained…unfinished.  I was happy to release it. Sometimes we try something new, to see if it fits, and then we realize that it doesn’t. Or maybe it once did, but it doesn’t anymore. It was liberating to come to the realization that I didn’t have to stay.

So, in case you need that reminder, too:

We don’t have to stay…
with that activity that doesn’t bring us joy.
with that relationship that threatens our peace.
with that social media page that causes us to compare.
with that habit that is having a negative impact on us or those around us.
with that “good” thing that is consuming too much of our time.
with that institution that feels unjust.
with that belief that we no longer hold.

We don’t have to stay.

Maybe there’s something we are being called to release? (Or at the very least set some boundaries around.) What is your spirit prompting you to leave behind?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in staying. I pride myself on seeing things through and persevering – I don’t believe in abandoning things too soon. I don’t think we should just get up and leave when things get hard. After all, there are many hard things that are beyond our control. There are some hard things that simply cannot be set aside, they are knitted into the fabric of our days. I’m not talking about those things – I’m talking about the things we can control. Sometimes, as we grow and change and transform, things that once felt like home no longer feel right in our spirit, you know? Maybe that’s why yoga is really resonating with me this month – it reminds me to breathe, and to use the exhale to let go of what no longer serves. As my online yoga teacher says, “On the mat we move, we shift, we make adjustments. So it goes with life.”

I’ll admit that sometimes I’m slow to let go of things that perhaps should have been released a while ago. Sometimes I have a habit of staying too long, if not in presence, then in mind.  Is it stubborn hope? Pride? Fear? Maybe all of the above. I admit it’s hard to let go and a bit complex. It can be scary to move on to something new, to move into something perhaps completely unknown. And it’s often painful and disorienting to see the end to things, to lose the comfort of familiarity, particularly if some of those things were so special and sacred to us. But I think it’s okay to express gratitude for a season and then gracefully release it when that season is over.

Lately, I’ve been trying to shift my perspective to ask the question, “What is God inviting me to?” What could be next for us if we listened to the still small voice and left behind the things that are no longer serving us? What if we were brave enough to leave the comforts of the familiar to embrace something new? What new things could we learn? What new people could we meet? What new perspectives would challenge us?

Maybe we would take that class or learn a new skill.
Maybe we’d meet new people with new perspectives.
Maybe we’d exchange healthier habits for unhealthy ones.
Maybe we’d find more time for reading, walking, deep conversations, or yoga!

There has been a lot of loss these past few years. I don’t think anyone has been left untouched by it. But each new day is an invitation to live into something new, if we can just get quiet enough to listen to where God is leading.

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