Careful Hands and Clinched Fists

She has always been a collector. (We try not to use the word “hoarder,” but yeah….let’s call a spade a spade.) Even now, as a more mature eight-year-old, she has boxes and baggies fully of miscellaneous treasures stowed away: leaves, tiny sticks, interesting rocks, beads. If it’s tiny, you can bet she has it squirreled away somewhere.

When she was very little, she treasured each little handful of odds and ends as though it were the only thing she had to play with. She would clutch them in her hands for hours. I’d ask her occasionally, “Whatcha got, honey?” and she’d uncurl her clammy fist to show me. Sometimes it was a handful of coins. Other times, a pair of shiny marbled rocks. Still other times, a ratty old necklace. I never knew quite what she was going to have. Sometimes she would take time to explain their meaning to her, or why she liked them, or why she was carrying them around: “It’sa snack for my naminals, Mommy. They getting hungwy.” “I dunno. I just like ’em, I guess.” “They’re pitty. I like lookin’ at ’em.”

Immediately, though, she’d tighten her little fingers around them again and continue what she had been doing. As you can imagine, though, she’d sometimes need to free her hands to do something else. And it was then that I felt like the most important person in the world, because she would give them to me to hold them. She knew she could trust me, 100% completely, with her precious treasures until she needed them again.

 

(Her strong will was evident even then. Even if I saw her struggling to hold them, it never did any good to offer to take the load from her hands before she was ready. It had to be her idea. When she was ready, she’d give it to me.)

It makes me smile now to remember how she’d say, “G’ma, Mommy.” (“G’ma” was her endearing way of saying “Here you go.” We interpreted it as a preemptive “you’re welcome” in response to the “thank you” that she knew was coming.) With those words, she would unclench her fist and place her clammy treasure into my hands.

As she released those treasures to me, I always knew that giving them into my care wasn’t easy for her. They were her prizes. They are the result of searching and hunting and, sometimes, many requests. They may not have seemed important to me, but they were of immense value to her…and at some point in the near future, I knew she’d want them back. She would ask me for them – “Monies, Mommy? Money?” or “Rocks? Rocks? Rocks?” – and when she did, my period of custody was over. I may have been holding it, but it was still hers.

Whenever she handed them to me – whatever they were – I felt a special sense of joy. I felt joy that she is trusted me with something she valued so much, and that rather than toss it on the table or floor, she chose to place it in the careful hands of someone she knew would care for them. She knew that the things that are important to her would be important to me, even if I didn’t really understand. (She has to know that they were important to me, too, and that I cared. Memory has a way of distorting things, but I am pretty positive that I spent hours scouring the family room in search of a lost rock or strand of beads. I certainly wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t important, I assure you.)

If I think about it, I can imagine that there is a similar thing going on in the spiritual realm, only it’s me who is hoarding and desperately clinging to things that are important to me. I clutch my worries close to my heart……..take careful care of my fears and my anxieties………keep my fingers tightly wrapped around the things that mean most to me in this world. I cling to them because they are valuable to me and if I’m holding them, I feel like I am in control.In my hands, I figure, they are safest. If I let them go, though…… Who knows what might happen if I release them?

But sometimes….sometimes I just can’t hold onto them any longer. Sometimes what started out as a tiny thing becomes a burdensome weight that is impossible for me to manage any longer. Sometimes instead of a cramped and sweaty hand, my heart is tired from carrying a weight I was never meant to carry. Sometimes those things – those things I have held onto so tightly and have been so afraid to let go of and have even made into a part of my identity – become such a problem for me that I can’t function. I can’t move. I can’t go on and I can’t imagine continuing that way any for another second.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that my first response isn’t to pray or ask for help. Instead, when I am buried under anxiety over the things I love the most, my natural tendency is to retreat into myself. The playlist of lies and self-defeat and utter worthlessness loops on repeat and before long, I’m lost in the vortex of depression.

I’m realizing that’s the pattern of my mental illness. Anxiety forces me to cling to everything that is important to me until I just. can’t. do. it. any. more. I can’t continue in that pattern, but I don’t know how to make a new one. The knots and tangles of thoughts pull tighter and tighter until every part of me seems to tremble, until – desperate for self-preservation – I become numb and depression takes over.

Eventually I come to my senses and realize what I have to do: “You carry it, Lord. I’m tired of it, and I won’t do it anymore. I can’t. I need my heart and my hands to do something else. I’m done. I just can’t. I’m done.”

What I am slowly learning, though, is that if I am willing to release things a little at a time, I won’t reach that inevitable breaking point. The tangle can’t get too big or out of control. It doesn’t have the chance to take over.

The release happens in a text to friends. A walk outside. A snack and maybe a nap. But always – always – the relinquishing.

“Here we go, God. It’s happening again. I feel it. Take this worry and anxiety from me. I don’t want it. You do Your part, and I’ll do mine.”

It looks very different when I hand things over that way. It’s not always a desperate, last-ditch cry for help anymore. I feel the shortness of breath and the tightness in my chest and the frantic scrambling of my mind, and I know it’s time to let Him take it. He’s been waiting for me to ask, after all.

The anxious, restless, thoughts won’t stop immediately, but I don’t have to lay down and let them have their way with me. I’m slowly learning to release my hold on the things that keep trying to hold me. When I do that, I think my Father rejoices. I think it pleases Him to know that I know my weakness and I realize His strength. I think it blesses the heart of God when I show that I know He can be trusted with what is most important to me.

It’s surrender, over and over, but not in the sense that I am giving up the fight. Rather, I am surrendering the things I’ve held so tightly so that I can fight.

The battle is on.

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We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

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