In 2012 I broke down crying in a Starbucks on Cape Cod. I was sitting before my Bible open to Philippians 3 and listening to heavy metal. The refrain of the song was, “Everything is hollow…” I realized that in order to walk fully in the Christian life, I needed to acknowledge that anything short of knowledge of Christ is empty and I needed to let it go. But I didn’t want to.
I didn’t want to admit that Christ could satisfy me more than a wife,
or that He was better than traveling the world
or having a great job and wild adventure stories.
One evening on the opposite coast, I was at a church in Los Angeles and the pastor was talking about how throughout the Bible, especially the Psalms, we see the worship leader giving instructions on what to do with your body while worshipping.
Raise your hands,
fall on your knees,
We probably read these things and assume he is just being symbolic. Yeah, I’m on my knees in worship! we think as we read those passages from the comfort of our recliner.
The body responds well to metaphor.
Do you think it’s possible God may have actually wanted you to bow down to Him? Or to raise your hands? The one that stuck with me the most, however, was the unclenching of our fists. The pastor in this LA church told us to picture something we are having a hard time letting go of and offering to God. As we do this, he explained, we should start out with our fists closed and slowly open them as we release these things to God.
I looked at the beautiful fashion designer next to me with whom I had come, and with great gravity initiated a conversation with God. I was torn about opening up my hands to Him and letting her go.
Think of it like this: Opening up your hands to God doesn’t mean He is necessarily going to take this thing away from you; it just means that you’re okay with whatever happens.
Want to know something scarier?
Marrying someone doesn’t cement them into your palms either. I once spoke with an older man whose wife had cancer. He was about to lose her to the vicious disease and he remembers falling to the floor and walking through the same exercise. He opened his palms before them Lord, forcing himself to be content no matter what happened with his beloved wife.
God, I love Sweet Sue and I don’t want you to take her from me. But whatever happens, my hands are open and I trust you more than my own desires…
It’s hard to do. Try it. Maybe it’s a job or a house or a car or a friend. I don’t know what season you’re in, but picture this thing your heart can’t seem to let go of and clench your fists. Don’t open them until you feel like you are legitimately opening it to the Lord; relinquishing it to His care.
The older man’s wife survived cancer and recovered fully. God kept her in the husband’s hands a little while longer. The fashion designer called things off with me.
Do you have an eternal perspective?
With an eternal perspective, we are able to recognize phrases like “till death do us part” for what they are: truisms that no matter how great or long your marriage is, you will depart from one another. What this means is that marriage is not the finish line, nor is it a promise of satisfaction. If one spouse dies before the other, does that mean the survivor is now doomed to a satisfaction-less remainder of their life?
It’s a trap most of us fall into. With an eternal perspective, we can welcome the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:11 which tells us that God has put eternity into the hearts of all humans. If that’s true, it means nothing can fill an eternal void which is not itself eternal.
God shakes everything and only the unshakeable remains.
Sadly, even the best spouses are shakeable—in this life anyway. It goes without saying that houses, fashion, cars, and jobs are easily shakeable.
What are you focused on?
In the words of Silent Planet, trade your certainty for awe.
How secure are you? Are you solidifying that savings account or are you content with the mystery of the future? How tightly are your fists clenched around the certainty of your own life?
I think the Christian life seeks to find a balance of being wise and making good decisions, but also clinging to trust in an invisible God because of our blindness to the future. You can have a swollen 401k, but what good is that if you’re crippled in a car wreck?
The wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us that everyone’s future is opaque.
Unclench your fists.
Open your palms before the Lord in regards to your future, your spouse, your desires and dreams, and whatever it is that your heart craves. Let go of that grudge you’ve been holding. Let go of your situational anger.
Do you believe God is better? Can you trust Him enough to open your hands to Him? No matter how tightly your fingers are wrapped around your idol of choice, He can still get it away from you. The only thing that will change is how you respond.
Will you be bitter or better?
The same mentor whose wife had cancer did lose one of his children to suicide. Because of his radical trust in God, even in such a dark situation, he could worship in the midst of his pain. His suffering was unable to shake his faith.
Walking through incredible suffering and loss with God can make you stronger, but only if you let it. Only if you are able to open your hands and trust Him with what He takes and what He leaves.
You know something else about open hands? You can put things into them. You can’t give someone a gift if their fists are perpetually clenched. This isn’t meant to whisper sweet notions of a prosperity gospel, but just a reminder that God knows what we need more than we do. He knows what to take away but also what to give.
This entire post, in case you couldn’t tell, has been me wrestling with many things I need to release from my iron grip. I’m learning how to open up, finger by finger, a life which is open to the things God has for me, both enjoyable and painful.
This is superb my brother. Your ability to be candid and transparent is a rare and wonderful gift to the rest of us—from Jesus Christ.
So beautifully written. Thank you. I sit with so many varying degrees of clenched fists…areas where my nails are digging into my skin to areas where my hands are completely open in surrender. It is a progressive process that I feel I am getting better at as my faith grows.
“Dying before we die” – Richard Rohr https://cac.org/dying-before-we-die-2018-11-22/
Thanks for your share Ethan.
I absolute love this post! Good job Ethan! Proud of you! Not too long ago God took something away from me in a very painful way. My faith since has been challenged and I had the hardest time letting go of the things that God had removed from my life. I am still learning how to accept the reality of my losses. But I trust that God did it for His glory and for my eternal benefit. But let me tell ya, the process is excruciatingly painful and it wasn’t pretty. Many tears were shed. And I questioned God and doubted Him like never before. But He is still sovereign and faithful and He has not given up on me yet. How can I leave a God who does not leave a prodigal son such as myself?