It’s been said that “getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Our current culture would persuade us that the important thing in this life is to grab, grasp, and accumulate. More is way better. But many are discovering the beauty of letting go. We’re learning that when we hold on too tightly, we can lose everything. The tighter we squeeze the things we’re holding, the quicker they slip right through our fingers, and we lose them anyway.

Of course, there’s an important difference between letting go and giving up. Letting go gives you an opportunity to move forward; giving up drops you clear off the monkey bars.

A very subtle temptation tricks us into thinking that always holding on proves we’re strong. But sometimes, letting go allows us to become the people we really wanted to become all along. In fact, history reveals that some of the world’s greatest battles have been won by those wise enough to let go and take a second strategic look. Alexander Graham Bell observed, “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

It’s especially difficult to let go of something we don’t even realize we’re gripping so tightly. And usually it’s pride that blinds us from recognizing the death grip we’ve applied. So don’t let your pride bully your wisdom into thinking it’s imperative to hold on when it’s actually the right time to let go and move forward. The exciting challenge of life seems to be the fine art of deciding when to hang on and when to let go.

Earlier in my life, I became involved with a local religious institution that later proved not to be a healthy situation for our family. I had to come to a place where I realized that it was prudent to quit allowing the strife and let go of the tension so we could move on with our lives in pursuit of other worthwhile and honorable endeavors. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Great good has come as a result of that choice. I discovered that you can lose only what you’re blindly clinging to, but strategic surrender is certainly not the same as losing. 

Strategically relinquishing our rights in certain situations, and to certain institutions, runs parallel to our relationships with the people who are closest to us. Most of us have heard throughout our lives that if we truly love someone, we’ll let go, rather than clinging on selfishly and possessively, in order to help that person achieve his or her potential. I’ve seen that work with remarkable results.

In 1994, Anna Marie and I witnessed an unusual story of love and relinquishment in Kenya. We were assessing the hospitals around Nairobi and throughout the enchanting Rift Valley. While there, we were invited to stay at Elsamere, the famous home of Joy and George Adamson, located on the shores of the impressive Lake Naivasha. While Joy was alive, she had gained international recognition after writing Born Free in 1960, a book about Elsa the lion that sold more than five million copies. A popular movie telling Elsa’s story was released in 1966 and won two Academy Awards as well as a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture the following year.

In 1956, George Adamson was a game warden for the local African region. He was forced to shoot a lioness that was attacking him, only to find out later that the shooting had left three lion cubs motherless. Two of the cubs were sent to a zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands, but Joy and George kept Elsa. It was their intention to raise the cub and educate her sufficiently in order to safely release her back into the Masai Mara, but in the process, they fell in love with Elsa. The book reveals the difficulty she and George experienced letting go of Elsa and actually releasing her back into the wild.

But at last, Joy succeeded. With mixed feelings and a breaking heart, she returned her friend back to the jungle, alone. Joy and George then traveled to England for a year before returning to Kenya. They were hoping when they returned that they would find Elsa. They did find her and discovered that she hadn’t forgotten them. In fact, Elsa brought along her three cubs to get acquainted. Elsa became the first lioness to be successfully released back into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known to have cubs. Loving Elsa resulted in setting her free. Love demanded letting go. 

It might be the better part of wisdom to consider the relationships and situations in which you find yourself today. Whether you’re trying to save a lioness or negotiating monkey bars, it just might be that letting go will allow you to move forward.