I was at Goodwill last weekend trying to use my 50% off one item coupon. As I walked down one of the aisles I heard a bang, bang, bang sound – the sound of metal crashing against metal. When I turned around I saw a little boy with a toy on the floor. It was some sort of metal tool box with little compartments and little metal drawers. He lifted up one of the metal drawers and crashed it down, trying to force it into the space over and over again to no avail. Yet on he tried, bang, bang, bang. Perhaps the drawer used to fit but it was clear it no longer did. None of the pieces would fit into the hole. Did he think that he could make it fit if he exerted enough force?
I find that I keep trying to fit the new life God is calling me to, into the same old space that I have constructed for what my life should look like. There are clear-cut little compartments for each component of my life and try as I might, I keep meeting with frustration, because this new life just doesn’t seem to fit my categories for what I want my life to look like. It is beginning to dawn on me that this new life simply does not fit into the space allotted for my old life. The question is, which do I abandon? The two will not fit with one another no matter how hard I try and the trying is so exhausting and frustrating and maddening. It is beginning to dawn on me that I might have to let one of these lives go. The thing is I want both of them. I want them to work together. It comes down to this: I want the life that I imagine for myself to be the life God imagine’s for me. I want God to give me what I want. Wow, when I put it like this I really do sound 2 years old. But really, this is the truth. I want this perfect life I conjure up in my mind – I want it all – I want health for everyone I love, I want financial security, I want a beautiful happy home in a beautiful happy place, I want freedom and ample time for fun activities and adventures, I want satisfying work, I want to be beautiful, I want to be loved and well liked. And the other truth is that I have parameters for all these little categories that define if my life has matched up to my desires. I say no to this and yes to that in order to progress toward what I want. The Lord has given me an image for this sort of life. It is a grasping of the fist sort of life. It is a life in which I grab with all my force to get what I want and when I have something I want, I hold onto it with all my might. It is a narrow life, that says this small space of possibilities is the only thing that will make me happy, the only thing that will be satisfactory in my life. Anything that does not fit into my vision is unacceptable and rejected.
God is tugging at me. Tugging and tugging. He’s wooing me away to come walk with Him. He’s extending His arm and offering me His hand. He’s asking me to consider that perhaps, there is, not just in words, but in absolute reality, in absolute truth, only one thing to chase after. It is He. He is asking me if I will release my grip; if I will allow the muscles in my fist to relax; if I will allow my palm to open. “What if you lived an open handed life?” He is asking me. Friends, I am not just saying this, I am not just coming up with some lovely words to describe a lovely life. I really hear in the core of my heart God asking me this question. He keeps asking me, Jai, will you live a life where your palms are open and ready to receive whatever it is I have for you and ready to give whatever I ask of you? Can I tell you how terrifying this is? I want to turn around and run. It is too scary what you’re asking of me I cry back. I don’t know how to do that, I stomp with my foot. I suddenly think of Lot’s wife. God told her not to turn around and look back on the wretched place that He was about to destroy. He had spared her life and offered to lead her away to a better life, but she turned around. She looked back because she longed for that wretched place. But even in it’s wretchedness, it was known to her. To turn away from the known and walk out into the wide open space where anything, literally anything, can happen – it is a frightening proposition. It comes down to this – do I actually believe God is in control and that God is good and loves me and will provide for me? Can I really, really entrust my future to this God? Why do I struggle to wait? Why is it agony waiting to find out if we get to go home yet or if Allistaire’s bone marrow test comes back good, or if she will relapse one day or if she will eventually have to have a bone marrow transplant or if this or if that? Waiting is not static – it absolutely replete with activity. My waiting is characterized primarily by worrying, running different scenarios over and over in my mind, trying to problem solve the many different possible outcomes. What I am trying to do is to figure out how I can exert my wee bit of force to push things in to turning out the way I want them to turn out. I set my hope on this one thing and all my energies go to trying to make this one thing happen. And this might be okay to some degree except that I only allow in my heart for one version of reality to be okay. Nothing else will do. I want Allistaire to be healthy and I want it now and I never want to go through anything like this again. It’s not that this is an unreasonable desire, but what would it be like if I held my hands open. What if my outstretched palms were in submittion to whatever the Lord has planned for me. What if I held Allistaire’s life with open hands – thankful to have received her and willing and ready to entrust her to the Lord. This is a very different posture than a grasping fervor with every muscle in my body clenched from exertion. Can I entrust Allistaire to God? Is He trustworthy? What about my finances? What about my own flesh? What about my relationships? Can I say to God – Father, all of these are yours and they are in your hands. I don’t need to grasp and clutch like a starving child, you will feed me, you will provide for me. What if I were to wait with open hands? This is all so utterly foreign to me. I really don’t know how to do this. All I’ve ever known is to work hard, to do, to do, to do, to exert, to exert, to exert. The laughable question, is really, what as all of this ever accomplished? The truth is the very best things in my life have been simply given to me – they have been things almost entirely beyond my control. I think of the gift of my parents, my brother, my husband, my two girls, all my lovely in-laws, my home, my health, my faith. It has all been given to me.
An open handed life is an expectant life. It is a life in which you expect to receive and you look for it. But it is a receiving, not a grabbing. It is a life in which everything is a gift. It is a wide-open, expansive life that acknowledges, accepts, yearns for the breadth of what God may do. But let’s be real, when you open wide the realm of possibilities, it feels as though you have invited in all matter of wretched possibilities, of horrors and griefs you think you cannot possibly bear. I was recently remembering how many hours I spent in the ski lodge up at Bridger Bowl in Bozeman the winter I was pregnant with Allistaire. I was embroidering a crib skirt for her room while the rest of the fam were skiing. If someone were to whisper over my shoulder that the child for which this was being lovingly created would one day, not so far away, fall ill with cancer, I don’t know how I could bear the weight of it. The thing is, we find ourselves quite able to imagine the worst because we hear all about the frightening options all around us. Just yesterday, a neighbor who has not seen us in months told me about his cousin’s child, who was 2 years old, choked on a peanut this summer and died within minutes. The awful possibilities go on and on without end. What we are far, far less able to imagine is the way in which in the very midst of the woe, we may see the very face of God. As we sense ourselves falling down into the blackness of our fear of our situation, we may just sense the strong grasp of God’s hand as it wraps around our wrist and draws us back up into the light. I can say in truth, that I have known peace that passes understanding; peace that doesn’t make sense, that is unreasonable, that seems outlandish and at times absurd. I have known peace that surpasses the quantity and quality that I had yet known and that does not seem to fit with the “facts” of my situation. I have had plenty of reason to fear. Fear has been reasonable. I am not just talking of things with Allistaire, though this is of course the most recent and the most immense. God has met me in these places. But the truth is, as I sit here at 2:30 on a rainy afternoon at my kitchen table, awaiting the call of all seeming calls, waiting for the results of Allistaire’s bone marrow test, I see the awful possibilities and I find myself going down the road of fear again. My relentless Father keeps tugging, keeps drawing me back, keeps exhorting me to trust Him, to dare to live an open-handed life. I don’t know what I will know in a few hours, or perhaps as late as Monday. But part of this call to an open-handed life is also to be here now. Right here in this very place and know that right now is my life. I cannot wait to live my life until much-hoped for good news arrives. I am being called to be present to this moment and rejoice in what has already been given to me.
There is a passage in scripture that has long caused terrified delight in my heart, a giddy glee that such a thing is possible and an absolute desire to clamp my hands over my ears, all at the same time. Isaiah 43 says this: “But now, this is what the Lord says – He who created you Jacob, He who formed you Israel: Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you; when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel your Savior.” Such provision is hard for me to comprehend and yet the thought of it makes me literally full of joy. At the same time I see that I am not promised that I will not have to walk through swirling water or blazing fire. I’d much prefer no threatening river and no burning fire. I’d like to just go around that – okay God. That would be better right? Why don’t we just go this other way instead and avoid the whole fire and flood thing. God does not promise me an easy life. He promises me He will be with me and He will provide for me. Why? Because He has pursued me – He created me, He wants to be with me, He knows me personally, He has gone to great costs to redeem me – to lift me up out of the ultimate pit. How can I actually know He is trustworthy unless I experience times where I find I need to trust in Him and He can show Himself able? I want the phone to ring right now and I want to be done waiting and I want to hear that they found 0% cancer once again. This is my wish. But I cling to the promise that He will be with me, come whatever fire or flood.