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How not to let go…

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 08, 2023

Recently I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with a single sleepless thought in my head: Letting go of things is too darn hard. Of course, this stress arises from a perspective of responsibility, and I suppose there are those who find it easy to walk away from responsibility, disregarding the chaos that will typically follow. But I have discovered that legitimately passing on responsibility to others can be a challenging task all its own.

I am talking, as my readers may well guess, about the adventure of turning over responsibility for Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org to others. At age 75, I am well into that process, and we are fortunate to have willing and competent staff to carry the work forward. They are not the problem. Rather, each stage of the transition is like pulling teeth because of the difficulties in working with all the service providers a small organization like ours depends on.

Credit card processing is a good example. We have always processed our own credit cards, maintaining complete control over each transaction on our own website and transmitting it directly to an appropriate charging authority, while securely storing every aspect of the transaction in our own highly-protected databases. As head of Trinity Communications, I receive five daily charge reports from the credit card processor at around 1:00 am or so for the previous day. This gives a birds-eye view of what is going on financially. But I have already been working for nearly four months to change the person and email address to which these summaries are sent and, despite assurances, this has yet to be done.

It is all too easy to wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether I will have to manually forward these five emailed reports each night to my successor, whether I am alive or dead, for the duration of the existence of CatholicCulture.org!

Now this is just one of a dozen examples, and I do not need to tell any of my readers that it is a universal experience in our highly-impersonal big-corporation and big-government bureaucratic culture. Indeed, almost every change we make with any major organization is like pulling teeth, taking time and attention that far exceeds the energy it took to set up the commercial or governmental relationship in the first place. If you are having trouble visualizing the problem, try to recall the phone systems you have interacted with to try to resolve any problem or make any change with all but the smallest companies and agencies.

A strange sort of perseverance

I emphasize that I am not complaining because I think my sleepless worries are unique, but precisely because I am quite sure they are all but universal. The difficulties are only exacerbated if the problems, processes and systems you deal with have been in operation for a quarter-century or more, because most people working for the service providers you rely on are not familiar with how things were set up way back when, but with how they are supposed to be handled now. The conversations are often reminiscent of those we have with our youngest grandchildren.

Making changes to the original setup is a foreign process to most of each service-provider’s current staff. The upshot is that getting attention from the right person is difficult, and you must often beat your head against the proverbial wall until you wake up once again at 3:00 am wondering if you really have gone mad. Again, I am making observations which have many parallels not just in corporate or organizational life but in family and personal life. It seems like just about everything ends of being “harder than it should be”.

Speaking of credit cards, I encountered another very typical case in point when I tried to transfer control to my successor of the company credit card we use for our own purchasing—that is, to make another staff member “primary” for the credit card. First we were sent a paper form we were to use for this purpose, which turned out to be a form for changing our company name. Upon follow-up, apologies were profuse, and we were sent a form to provide proof that I had changed my own name. Finally, I found that we needed a different category of credit card to be able to change the primary cardholder on the account. We had to sign up for a new kind of credit card, change all recurring charges with umpteen companies to use the new card, revoke the old card, and then I could make another staff member “primary” on the new card.

This is now in process, and what do I find? As soon as I make my successor “primary”, my own new company credit card will be revoked, and my successor will need to issue me yet another new card. What could be simpler?

Anyway, multiply all this by the twenty-five or fifty things that need to be changed for me to gradually reduce my role in Trinity Communications (or for you to make changes to your own business or family lives) and you will find that each person who takes responsibility at all seriously needs a private secretary to carry the load, and no doubt each private secretary needs multiple assistants. The alternative is to awaken at three o’clock in the morning—or whenever the low point in your daily cycle comes—and wonder if it wouldn’t be a better solution simply to tear your hair out and be done with it.

Breaking up is hard to do

I emphasize that these are largely first-world problems for those who fit a certain cultural model. It would be childish to complain of such things to those who are poor, starving, seriously ill or without any significant “support systems” at all. But this very common experience does raise new spiritual questions. We already knew that it takes grace and perseverance to build something worthwhile, starting with a family, and on to the stable and spiritually sound jobs and enterprises we undertake and develop in order to assist our neighbors in everything that will help them thrive—from all the natural human goods to all those that are Divine.

What I am recognizing for the first time in my own life is that it is not only challenging to persevere in these good things, but it is also challenging to let them go. Will my fingers still be clutching at these good things when God calls me home? Will I be as successful at divesting myself of even such good earthly cares as I have been at acquiring them? When will I recognize that the world is not going to end when I cannot any longer pull any of the strings? What is the answer to the 3:00 am sulks?

It is not so easy to let go responsibly, and it never has been. But in the midst of doing so, the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the same as it should have been all along: Not my will but thine be done.

Unfortunately, I very much suspect that if I had always thought that way, I would not be finding it so difficult now.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: chady - Aug. 09, 2023 3:07 AM ET USA

    Thanks, Jeff. You have highlighted some of my own concerns, particularly about letting go of responsibilities. Someone recently told me about the 'Old Nun's Prayer'. It sums things up nicely and I have got into the habit of reciting it before I go to sleep at night. Thanks, again. (Old Nun's Prayer)

  • Posted by: till8774 - Aug. 08, 2023 6:15 PM ET USA

    This was a good reminder that we who are getting a bit older should be preparing for these types of things well in advance. However, even after you turn over the reins, I sincerely hope you will still be gracing us with your thoughtful and charitable commentaries on a regular basis.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Aug. 08, 2023 5:30 PM ET USA

    On a much smaller scale, I know the feeling. For the last couple of years, I have been trying to hand off my library of maybe 200 boxes of books. I have so far managed to donate most of the science and math books, but the religious ones are harder to part with. I am down to fewer than 75 boxes left. My brother has flown here 3 times in the last year to help ease the pain of parting with the library. He will be arriving in 2 weeks for Round 4. My wife says it's the responsible thing to do.