I have watched a few of my spiritual elders pray with palms up, hands open. It is a posture of relinquishment of the thoughts, ideas, expectations, assignments, outcomes – the good along with the bad – that one holds dear; and of openness to hear and receive the will of God in exchange.
When I myself pray hands open, I notice that my body is not comfortable here. There is a tightness in my forearms and my fingers have a mind of their own to curl up into the doubled fist I’ve prayed with for much of my life. It is more comfortable to clench my hands together and bend inward than it is open up my body, which is to say a lot more than words could about how I have approached prayer for much of my life.
I am more comfortable to entreat than to release; I’d rather be knighted by God than available to him.
God in his goodness has accepted my prayers, no matter my pose, but it has occurred to me that there is perhaps a maturation process in our posture of prayer just as anything develops with time and practice. It is the new believer who is just coming into the knowledge of God’s loving kindness who might brace herself in prayer, heart and hands. She may not yet be sure how she will be received. The believer who knows their Lord can anticipate a joyous and eager reception every time, no bracing needed.
Here’s a problem and why I haven’t slidden so naturally into relinquishing prayers though I’ve been a pray-er for decades: I like my own goals and plans. I get a high off envisioning outcomes and impact (and must be a sucker for punishment as I experience disappointment in equal parts).
Over the last few years, there have been a series of unfortunate events with those close to me, of which COVID has been a nasty post-script. A couple of which you may know – my mother’s illness and John-Mark’s breakdown – because I have or J-M has shared with you. There have been others that have necessarily remained private, but are no less concerning and wearying.
I have done a lot of pleading these past few years. Help me! became a well-worn phrase. At a point, I couldn’t clench my fists anymore, I was too tired, laid out. That’s when I experienced the Lord as the “lifter of my head.” He graciously invited me to take the weight off and put it all, everything on him. I was out of options and drawn to his beauty besides. I surrendered.
I soon came to treasure the gorgeous rest of giving things over to him – all my weariness, my pain, my confusion. I ran to him in prayer for more and I was delighted to discover there was no expiry date or time limit on his goodness. It remained an open invitation to unburden myself. A most surprising discovery was that the world did not fall apart when I did. I really took advantage of this. I started to get uncomfortably real with my emotions. I was off-script and unhinged and often there were just groanings. And would you believe the Lord was not only permissive about all of this, but His Spirit was groaning with me. This was Holy work.
As healing and wholeness were inevitably restored, I fooled myself into thinking that we would return as things were between God and me, that I would, once again, dutifully bow my head and grasp my hands and start to make my petitions. I thought my healing meant that I was strong enough to go back to old patterns, without fully understanding some of those patterns are what had contributed to my burnout – to take things on myself, to set the agenda.
Gently, the Lord has been nudging me to keep returning and even lingering in the place of surrender, to develop those muscles of open-handedness, to have confidence in God with the assignments and the outcomes. He has been faithful in the most difficult of times, might I trust him with all?
My one word for this year is surrender. In past years, when I picked a word I’ve thought long and hard about potential personal transformation and possible impact, set complementary goals and resolutions. This year God placed the word in my open hands.