Open Hands

I grew up in a church tradition where it was a common practice to raise your hands palms up during the worship service. In American Sign Language (ASL) this hand shape is often called a 5-hand shape. It is both hands open in a gesture of both of surrender (willing to give up what is held) and trust (willing to receive whatever is given).

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

After high school, I left home moving to another state to attend a Christian college. I remember vividly attending one of my first chapels there. I was accustomed to raising my hands during the worship service, but I couldn’t help but notice that no one else in the sanctuary was raising their hands and so I kept my own stiffly at my side… Until I glimpsed a man up front on the stage begin to raise his hands and relief coursed through me. I started to raise my hands as well. But froze half way when I realized in a flash of insight that the man up front was raising his hands not to worship but rather to lead the orchestra as the conductor.

I felt foolish that day for wanting to lift my open hands to God in worship when no one around me was lifting their hands. But I feel foolish no longer. I have learned through many hard lessons the precious value of keeping that simple posture of living with open hands before my Lord Jesus.

During my first few years out of college, I quickly encountered unexpected loss in relationships and loneliness and uphill challenges in my work. During that era, one of my close friends told me a pearl of wisdom that I have repeated to myself many times since – “hold all things loosely”.

“…you must learn to hold everything loosely…everything. Even your dear family. Why? Because the Father may wish to take one of them back to Himself, and when he does, it will hurt you if He must pry your fingers loose.”

~ Corrie ten Boom

In the following years, I was to move 14 times with several long distance trips per year and each time I packed up my bags, these words would echo faintly… hold all things loosely. Nothing comes with a true lifetime guarantee but Christ alone. Every time I have moved, I have lost something (usually a favorite dress or sweatshirt 🙂 ) Every time I leave a community, I lament the friendships I am leaving behind. Every time I start over again in a new place, I hold empty hands up to the Lord and ask Him to fill them anew. He alone knows why I have moved so many times. Why I have had to let go of so much that I treasured. He alone holds all the puzzle pieces of my life and understands how they fit together. He can take our fractured fragments offered to Him in our open hands and make something beautifully whole.

But the hard thing to do as we go through each day is to keep our hands open. It is so easy to start to close your hands around the treasured gifts He has given in order to protect them or try to keep them safe… and in doing so, calling them “yours” instead of His. Your home, Your children, Your spouse, Your friendships, Your career, Your expectations for the future, Your daily plans, Your possessions, Your time, Your health, Your reputation…

And yet, in truth, none of it really is “ours”. The wise sage of scripture, Solomon, once summed up our life in these words:

As he [man] came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; And he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand.

Ecclesiastes 5:15

James, in the New Testament, actually takes a harder line along this theme and says that to consider these things “ours” to do with as we please is to live without acknowledging who God truly is – The Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of our lives. James says: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’  But now you boast in your arrogance.” (James 4:13-16)

This sounds like a harsh word, but actually this is such a freeing truth. We feel a constant strain when we try to protect all the things we value in our life as precious, because we were not designed for that role. Our primary role is to be in relationship with God and entrust to His care all that we hold dear. As I moved from place to place, I began to realize I could not simultaneously hold on to the old life I had just left and open my hands to receive the gifts God had waiting for me as I stepped into this new life.

Living with open hands is a daily discipline of intentionally viewing all of my life as His and not mine at all. To willingly receive what He has chosen for me that day and offer thanks. As Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

So, you see, it is not foolish as I once thought to lift open hands to the Lord. It is the only way to live in full freedom and joy.

He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”

~ Jim Elliot

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