I just got back from a small group study through a book called Emotionally Health Spirituality, the premise of which proposes that it's impossible to be spiritually mature and emotionally immature. I think God is beginning to teach me some very important things about myself, how I relate to others, and how I relate to Him.
But one small theme that has continued throughout the year has been the title of the post: open, let go, receive. And trust.
Back in January, as I began a new year, I had an experience with a tiny hand motion that has proven poignant. If you didn't see it the first time around, here's a clip from that post:
Not long into the singing, my hand started moving. Both of them had stayed in the open, receptive posture of prayer. But without really thinking about it, the right one closed into a fist, then released again. Then it closed, then released. It wasn't until the third or fourth time - or maybe more - that I noticed it, and by that point I didn't know if it had been started by an itch or who knows what. But I let it continue. And then I continued it willingly, trying to listen and comprehend what this might mean, if it meant anything. Trust.
I'm not the first one to consider the parallel of a clenched fist of self-reliance and an open hand of surrender. I mulled over that thought in my mind as I clenched and released, asking God for clarification, waiting for whatever He chose to give. Not much came but the continued pondering of this repetitive close, release, close, release. Perhaps, and likely, it was just a sign that this coming year will be full of things that I'll want to hold on to as I've planned, but I'll need to open my hands and let God take them.
Let God take them? From my open hand? I remembered what we had originally opened our hands for: to receive. Yes, opening my hands can symbolize letting go of things in my life, but one of the primary purposes of the open-handed posture was something else: receiving from God.
I looked down at my hand, still opening and closing it, looking at the open hand and realizing that God doesn't just want to make my hands empty. No. He wants to empty my hands of things that don't need to be there - stress, worry, burdens, sin - so that my hands will have room to receive all the wonderful things He wants to give - peace, life, joy, hope. Those underlined words are ones I kind of came up with on my own just now; I don't really know if that's exactly what God sees me releasing and receiving. But it seems Biblical. It seems like Jesus. So I'll go for it. Why was it my right hand, not both? I don't know that either. Maybe there's a reason He'll let me know at some point. Maybe not. That's okay.
Wow. I’m seeing more tie-ins even as I re-read this experience from January!
To be honest, I’d completely forgotten about this moment, that hand motion, and even that “theme” of trust for my year. I forgot until May 29th, sitting on the living room floor, rubbing and petting my dog with her head in my lap as she slipped away from us. I couldn’t stop my hand from rubbing her, my fingers pulling in toward my palm over and over again. In that moment, even in the very moment she was breathing her last, I was struck with all the remembrance of what God had said back in January: trust. Not only trust, but even my right hand was moving in the same way, opening and closing. Letting go. Trusting. Harder than it seemed before.
And then up to the present, to the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality study with friends. In silence, we all journaled our personal answer to the question: “Finish the sentence: What I am beginning to realize about myself is….” Throughout the study thus far, I’d had a very hard time actually determining areas of my life where I might be spiritually unhealthy, or even any false selves or masks I might be subconsciously wearing. But there around the bonfire, prayerfully asking for vision into myself, I began to see areas of myself that are based around avoiding conflict. I realized that even the difficulty in beginning this study comes from the desire to stay away from strife, pain, or discord of any kind. I don’t want pain, and not in a sense of fear as much as I’m just sick and tired of it. I don’t want to cry any more. But I need to be sure that I am actually living authentically and interacting with genuineness. I realized that perhaps this ties into my chronic distrust of people’s care for me; maybe there is something here related to why I never think people mean what they say. I don’t know. I really don’t know at all, but all I really know is that I took a deep breath and decided to trust.
Someone closed in prayer, but whatever it was they were saying, for me it turned into a prayer of God, I want to go on this journey with you, but I don’t want to at the same time. Do what’s best in me. I will trust you. And in that prayer, I suddenly realized that my right hand was on Huck, the Australian Shepherd of the house, opening and closing in that same movement as I rubbed him while we prayed.
Open. Close. Let go. Receive.