DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Letting Go

Written by: on November 19, 2020

In “Not Doing,” D’Souza and Renner quote Hermann Hesse who is thought to have said, “some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”[1]

I will never forget an experience in my early adolescence in which a group of us had the opportunity to learn how to rappel down a cliff in the woods of Tennessee. A professional guide was helping us and we watched intently as he secured the ropes and made everything ready. We were going to rappel down the face of a cliff one at a time, approximately fifty feet, to a gathering area below. My father was the first of us to go.

Dad strapped into the harness and we all listened as the guide gave instructions. The right hand would hold a rope behind us that would be used to control our descent. The left hand would hold a safety rope in front that was attached to the harness. The guide explained that even if we forgot what we were doing and let go with the wrong hand, he had firm control of the safety rope and we would not plummet to the ground below. He asked us all if we believed him and we all nodded our heads. He asked my dad and dad said yes.

Facing the guide, dad placed his feet just on the edge of the cliff. The guide had him lean back just slightly. Once dad was at an angle of about 45 degrees, the guide told him to stop. The guide asked dad to let go of the rope with his left hand, the hand holding the safety rope attached to the harness. Dad was cautious, but he understood the concept. He tightened his grip with his right hand on the rope that controlled the descent and released his left hand from the safety rope. We watched in awe.

Then the guided smiled and said to my dad, “Okay, good. Now keep your left hand off and let go of the rope with your right hand.” Dad some mental calculations. Letting go of the rope with his right hand would cause him to freefall uncontrolled to the ground. He voiced his objection to the guide. The guide reminded him that he was in control of the safety rope and needed my dad to trust it completely before he could start down the cliff. My dad really did not want to comply, but there were a dozen teenagers watching and waiting to see what he would do. He had to set the example.

Reluctantly, dad released his right hand grip on the control rope and held out his arm. The safety rope held. Dad dangled precariously over the edge of a cliff, with nothing between him and the rocks fifty feet below, and only a safety rope attached to his harness holding him up. He felt both the terror of being close to death and the thrill of a new experience. The guide looked over at us and said, “Kids, that’s what faith looks like. Sometimes the only way to understand it is to let go.”

The guide made each of us practice letting go before he would let us rappel down. It was terrifying for us all, but an amazing experience as well.

Sometimes when faced with uncertainty, our instinct is to tighten our grip. We double down on what we know and what we can control, often missing the freedom, the power, and the joy of what happens when we let go and trust. When all there is around us is the unknown, and we find ourselves in that liminal space of not knowing what to do, it is often the more faithful choice to resist the familiar and the safe, and instead simply learn to let go.

[1] Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, “Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2018,) 174.

About the Author


John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

9 responses to “Letting Go”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Such a great imagery for letting go. How often in life does it feel like if we let go, there are no anchored ropes to keep us in place? My mother in law cares for my father in law. He has been having more challenging days than good. The decision to place him in a care facility gets closer each day. It’s terrifying. We are all scared. We all sense once he is placed in a facility, he likely will never come home. Ultimately, the decision is hers. I don’t know if she will ever really let go and trust he will be cared for well. How do we lead in such circumstances? How do we ask others to let go and trust when we aren’t the ones holding the ropes, guaranteeing all will be well?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      That’s a tough one, no doubt, but I think the concept is still the same. From where I sit, the safety rope is always there- just not always as visible and obvious. And in many cases, the safety rope is the unwavering support we get from those who love and care about us.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:


    Sometimes letting go can be quite hard despite the assurance that all is well. We tend to see invisible barriers where there are none. Everyone thought that a 4 minute mile was impossible until Roger Bannister broke it in 1954. Since then almost 1500 people have broken the 4 minute mile barrier. Once people know something is possible walls come down. Have you seen this happen in your church?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      We’ve had some good moments- every small win builds confidence. And confidence gives people courage to take another step. It’s a slow process, but it does work.

  3. mm Jer Swigart says:

    I was in a session this week with a team of leaders who are working on breaking the habit of triangulation. When I asked why they are so committed to seeking the input of another before they went directly to the person they had a concern about/with, one of the teammates responded, “Because I want to make sure that I’m prepared to enter into that direct conversation.” It’s a common sentiment that I hear frequently. But then I asked, “But what if you went into the direct conversation first without ‘feeling prepared’?” He said, “That feels scary…and also like it might carry more potential for vulnerability, trust, and deepened relationship.” This particular teammate was learning to let go of the safety rope and lean into the transformation.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      That’s a fine line- due diligence and preparation is both for our own peace of mind, but also a way of showing respect for the person we’re meeting or in conversation with. On the other hand, intentionally leaving space for the Spirit to work is an act of faith that cannot be scripted. But to your point, it’s one thing to do that interior work in advance of a tough conversation and something else entirely to “workshop” that conversation with someone else!

  4. mm Chris Pollock says:

    ‘Sometimes when faced with uncertainty, our instinct is to tighten our grip.’ What does the hero do?

    The ‘hubris’ and the ‘hamartia’.

    What exemplifies greater strength, pride to hold or humility to let go? And, if it’s not about strength, how about life? More so in the ‘holding onto’ or in the ‘letting go of’?

    And, trust 🙂

    Really, appreciate the story you shared. Love the analogy. What does mastery of ‘letting go’ look like? Who is this person? What of their ‘ego’ and influence?

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Mastery? I don’t know much about that, but I think it’s possible with practice.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Powerful metaphor! Do metpahors come naturally to you, or was this intentional to trying something new?

Leave a Reply