Necessary Endings

Necessary Endings

In the new year, we often say, “Out with the old and in with the new,” but do we really know how to do this in a healthy and positive way—especially if it involves a toxic situation or person? How can we welcome necessary endings for the betterment of ourselves?

Today we're going to discuss three main points. Number one, we're going to define, name, and normalize necessary endings. Number two, we're going to talk about why it's hard to let go and why endings can feel so uncomfortable. And number three, we're going to talk about the upside of ending. In other words, what happens when we let go and move forward?

Over the course of our lives change happens. Relationships end, we change jobs, we move somewhere else. Endings in fact are very, very normal.

What do we mean when we talk about this idea of necessary endings?

Life is full of things that start and stop. Things are continually beginning and ending. And there are things we have to choose to end. Sometimes we're in a situation or a relationship that’s not going where we want it to go or not leading to a destination that's positive or healthy. We have to choose to end it, whether it's a job, a relationship, a place you're living, or a circumstance. Maybe it's a bad habit, something that you know has to change. The first step is recognizing that and admitting sometimes things have to end so we can start something new, different, or better.

I grew up in Africa and there are a lot of monkeys. Often they will have their hand inside a little hole in the tree trying to get some nuts but they can't get their hand out because they're holding onto something. They're just stuck in this tree. I see necessary endings as being deliberate and letting go of whatever is in the tree so that you can get unstuck. And it's not just a toxic thing. It can be something that just doesn't serve you [like Amber’s relationship she recently ended].

Had I continued to stay in it, knowing that it wasn't going the direction I wanted, it could have become toxic. It certainly wouldn't have remained healthy. And I began to recognize that and I felt more and more uncomfortable with it. And that acknowledgement helped me end it more quickly and with more peace, more determinately, because if it's not working or it's not healthy, that can be a motivation to do that: let go, so that I can move on.

Do you think loneliness is especially hard for single parents in dating relationships?


I was talking to someone who knows that a relationship is not going anywhere. But she said, “I'm just staying in it until he ticks me off enough that I can walk away easily.” That’s tricky because the longer you stay in something, the more comfortable it feels and the more you come to rely on it. I'm speaking from personal experience, having just gone through this, and hanging on can make it far harder to let go. And you may miss out on opportunities that are right around the corner. That's what I told this person: “I get that it's hard, but there may be another situation where you are either stunting or stalling because you are not available and not letting go.”

For many single parents, loss and a sense of abandonment can come after a breakup of your marriage, or the loss of a spouse to death, or never having had a significant other if you're a single parent by choice. It's hard to let go of something and leave a void to be filled, whether it's because of loneliness or discomfort.

I'm thinking about the safety aspect too. My neighborhood, for instance, is very safe. It's not only a safe neighborhood, it's also very safe for us in convenience. I can see my son’s school from my front yard. He's built a community there. And if life changes one day and I get remarried, I'm going to have to uproot the safety of that neighborhood and his too. And that's a pretty big deal. Sometimes I feel like an ending is necessary in order for your life to move forward—and you have to step out and do the unknown, and that can make it feel a little less necessary.

It may feel like, “Well, I don't really have to do this” but you do if you want your life to move forward. I could have stayed in the cushy corporate job that I left a few years ago. I could have stayed and been fine. But I had to leave in order to propel to where I am now. If I had stayed, I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've had. But there was a lot of fear with that. There was safety in not only the paycheck, but the people and the way of life that I'd come to know from working there—but it was necessary.

Change is always uncomfortable. It can be exhilarating and exciting, but there's also some discomfort. [Solo Parent] has been growing pretty quickly this year. So I have been laboring over how we structure certain things and what our outreach looks like, and some of it goes counter to what I originally planned. I remember praying, “I feel guilty for wanting to do things a certain way because they should be done this way.” And I instinctively heard this voice in my head, “Why are you putting new wine in old wineskins?” I've heard this before but I decided to look that up. And it was actually life-changing for me because the principle of that phrase in those days was kind of sarcastic. It was so widely known that you don't ever do that. When you put new wine—grape juice—in a skin (typically it's a goat skin), it expands the skin as it ferments. Once you're done with the wine, you don't fill it up with new wine because there's no more room for it to expand. You have to actually throw that out. And the scripture says, if you put new wine in old wine skins, it will spill all over the ground. Just because something was done one way or you're comfortable in a situation (whether it be at work or a relationship), doesn't mean that it always has to look the same. You need to be open to new beginnings, but the only way to do that is necessary endings.

If endings are necessary and normal, why do they feel so hard?


When it comes to an ending, you might question if you made the right decision. If you live in any sort of regret hanging over you, it could cause you to later question any endings that are necessary.

When it's complex or nuanced, it can be harder to end something. It doesn't mean it's less necessary, but it can be more challenging. I looked at it like a learning experience. And that's really what I'm telling myself and what I believe—it was an opportunity to learn. This ending taught me I still have feelings of loss and I need to process those and not hang on to things for the wrong reason. I know that was a temptation for me. I hung on longer than I needed to because I didn't want to hurt this person's feelings. I didn't want to feel the hurt of no longer having someone to hang out with. And there's risk. Who’s heard the expression “Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?” If we let go of something, what if something better doesn't come along? Or what if something different doesn't come along?

I also think there was a lot of safety for you in that relationship. And I know one of the things for you was your age, like, “Well, am I going to find someone? It’s harder to find someone these days.” There's safety in knowing this person's there. Maybe I can deal with some things to at least have a person in my life. Because there's risk involved, necessary endings require courage. It requires leaning in with faith and hope that there is something better as part of God's greater plan out there. But it doesn't always feel great at the moment. It isn’t something we get super excited about. But it needs to happen when it's like, “This is not serving me well—and it's not fair to other people.” Stepping into that discomfort is a sign of maturity, and it's important for others as well as it is for us. We have a responsibility to evaluate our lives and notice what's working, what isn't, what's healthy, what's not, what we may need to stop and what we may need to start. It's part of adulting.

I think it's hard for a single parent because when things have been so disrupted in your life, you don't want more disruption. You just want status quo. And so, there's a big reason that necessary endings are difficult for single parents. We have this desire to stabilize, but as we grow into different seasons of our life, it requires letting go of those things that tether us to the way things used to be.

What are the upsides of an ending? What happens when we let go and we move forward? And what are some things that we can tell ourselves to help us move in that direction of necessary endings?

Reframing helps me. Sometimes the healthiest decision we can make is to end things. It's not about failure. It's about making a solid choice for ourselves, our children, our family, our future that allows a different outcome. Elizabeth said this to me recently: “If you don't end this [relationship], it's standing in the way of whoever could be in your life next.” And that hit me pretty strongly. The longer I spend in a place where I don't want to risk change, the longer it prevents me from the opportunities that may be ahead. That's a big part of how I console myself: There might be something amazing ahead and I won't know unless I end this thing first.

To have a necessary ending doesn't mean that thing is wrong or that person is bad. And we can get stuck in that kind of guilt sometimes. But for me, the upside of necessary endings sometimes has more to do with creating margin for myself. It's not replacing a person or a thing with something else. It really is going, “I need to stop doing X” or “I don't have time to have lunch with this person every single month anymore.” Not because they're bad or not even because it doesn't serve me but it's like, “I need more margin.” Sometimes it's not about just waiting for the better thing to come along, it's about reclaiming some of the space that you need for your own mental health.

When [my ex and I] sold our house and split everything, I moved into a townhouse, put everything into my garage, and closed the door. I would go in there to put my bulk paper towels and toilet paper but didn't really go into the garage. I had this overwhelming sense that something was holding me back and I was just dragging a ball and chain along. I made the decision to rent a dumpster for a month, and every afternoon, I threw stuff away. It was the hardest thing. I didn't want anybody to help me because I knew that it was a time of grieving. I purged and it felt so good. It felt like a weight lifted that I didn't have the stuff hanging over me anymore.

We've had the guy from The Minimalists on in the past, and something they talk about is stuff and the overload of things that can just weigh you down. And that feels like an ending to me.

I've had a rocky relationship with my brother for a long time, and it was not a reciprocal relationship; he would call when he needed something. I had to make the difficult decision of letting go. I felt like I was constantly working on having a healthy relationship or trying to make things work. And the more I did, the more he took. I'm not saying he's a bad person at all. I love my brother, but it was necessary for me to end the amount I was putting into the relationship. Now, if my brother calls or he needs anything, I'll be there in a second. But the pursuit of that relationship had to end. It was hard to do. But for the last year or two, I have felt some freedom: I'm not worried about what my brother thinks or I'm not worried about how he's taking something. There's a freedom that comes with it. Usually when I think about him, there's a little guilt attached to it: How could you just forsake your brother? But I'm not. There was no confrontation. It was more of a boundary in my life that I made, and that has afforded me a lot of room to find health for myself and from a lot of codependent behavior that I've had in the past. It was necessary to end that relationship. Again, when we say necessary endings, it doesn't mean an absolute cutoff or that you’ll never see that person again. It also doesn't mean they're completely wrong, and you're completely right. It's more about inventorying and drawing some boundaries where we may not have had healthy walls.

As single parents, we need to remember this in so many areas of our lives. We need to know that what got us here won't necessarily get us there. We need to look at our patterns, look at our relationships, and realize that there is hope and possibility beyond what we can see. It’s on the other side of some of the things we are still tethered to.

Takeaways

Endings are necessary and normal, and they happen in many areas of our life. It's not just relationships, it's not just habits, it's all kinds of things, but their endings are necessary.

Letting go is hard. It is uncomfortable and it involves risk, but that's just the nature of endings. It's not supposed to necessarily feel good, but it is something we're doing because we know that it's the right thing to do.

When something ends, we make room for something better and new and we have more margin for things that bring us joy and life.

Listener Question: I'm noticing that my children are sometimes overstimulated and active every day of the week. What are some practical things parents can do to model quiet time, meditation, or Sabbath rest?

When my kids were young (they're now 19 and 21), I included them in prayer time every night before bed, just as an opportunity to get quiet and still before bedtime. Sundays were the day that we went to church and hung out at home, and it was our quieter reset type of day. Almost inherent in the question is: what can we do to model it? We need to notice if we're running ourselves ragged or have that tendency to and think, “I need to push pause here” and then verbalize it.

An important part is to intentionally verbalize it and the importance of what you're doing. For me, meditation and rest was important; I always talked to my girls about it. I always said, “This is the way I plug back in. This is the way I refill.” This listener is talking about her kids being overstimulated and active. The life of a single parent is always on the go. I think it's really important that whoever this listener is, they’re actually thinking about this. That's a first step in actually moving towards being successful at this and thinking like, “Okay, it is important for me to model what rest is and to verbalize it.” It doesn't come naturally in this culture. It's almost counterintuitive. We feel like we need to be busy all the time, and that's just not the way life is supposed to be.

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