Money gets unexpectedly tight and I find myself feeling less generous. There’s a shooting nearby and I find myself becoming more leery of strangers. A fellow writer has above-average levels of success and jealousy creeps into my heart, making me feel cynical and on edge. A friend dies, and I find myself tempted to make my life all about me and my family, trying to hold on to what we have while we still can.
But holding tightly to things is not how we were created to live.
The wisdom of the world is the wisdom that says: “It is best to stand firm, to get a good grip on what’s yours here and now, and to hold your own against the rest who want to take it away from you; you’ve got to be on your guard against ambush. If you don’t carry a weapon, if you don’t make a fist, and if you don’t scramble to get what little you need – food and shelter – then you’re just asking to be threadbare and destitute…You open your hands and they pound in nails!”
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
Henri Nouwen tells a story of an elderly woman brought into a psychiatric ward. She was fighting desperately with the nurses, swinging wildly at anyone who came near. Why? Because in her clenched fist she held a coin, her last possession, and she refused to let it go.
“It was as though she would lose her very self along with the coin.” But instead of letting go and entering a life of peace, she fought and clawed to keep it.
I look at my life and I wonder, what am I clinging to so desperately that it’s causing me to injure those around me? What am I so fearful of losing? What is inside my clenched fists?
In those moments when I can let go of concern for myself, in those moments when I can trust, I feel my hands opening, and in that release comes an immense sense of peace and love for others. When I can lay aside my feelings of self-preservation and jealousy and fear, my hands can now be used to find and administer healing.
What are we clutching to? What will it take for us to let go?