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The Victory of Living Open-Handed

November 14, 2017

I’m a firstborn, and as such I seek to please, strive to achieve and live purposefully, always put my heart 200% into things that matter, and not only feel failure and rejection acutely but also tend to see the two synonymously. Sound familiar? You don’t have to be firstborn to approach life from this perspective. In fact, you might just have to be an American (man or woman) living in a culture driven by perfection. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Victory, as we will see, is an amazing part of living open-handed.

Our culture thrives on the idea of perfection. Perfect homes, perfect jobs, perfect families— every sphere of life, as Pinterest so clearly shows, is a sphere to be perfected, a badge to be worn. We pursue this perfection with reckless abandon, and then one morning wake up to find that our house is a mess, the car needs new tires, our family is full of stress or maybe even falling apart, our job—well, let’s not even mention that cauldron of stress. From our perspective, we see each area of unattained perfection as a failure. Before long, our thought process shifts, and not only are those things failures but in our minds we are also failures.


A Little of My Story

The day my dad passed away opened the door to a very difficult three and a half years at my house, and even more so in my heart. Life all crashed down around us, and somehow we were meant to survive. Surviving is hard when you can barely breathe through your tears. We knew the only thing to do was to commit things into God’s hands and follow His direction—and I thought I had.

Day after day, I cried out to Him for guidance and provision as I took on the new tasks that now belonged to me. In my head, I was giving each of those things to the Lord, but in my hyper-responsible, perfectionist heart I was watching myself fail to meet needs, reach goals, accomplish tasks, or help others in the way I felt I should. My earthly father was gone, and I felt, in all honesty, that I would never please anyone on this planet ever again. The harder I tried to get everything right, the more I saw my failure.


Damaging Relationships

Enter “well-meaning people” whose job it was to “help” situations. Some of them really were well-meaning people, others were self-seeking (another fruit of our drive for perfectionism). Some of them both believed and even perpetuated lies. Others always found a way to underscore my failure even though their job was to help me out of it. By His great mercy, God removed some of those relationships. He also allowed me to see my need to end other relationships.


The Deeper Problem

Removing the relationships alleviated the constant browbeating and anguish of the external reinforcement of my perceived failures, but it did not change the internal battle. As more failures piled up, a big empty spot grew in my heart. It ate away at my energy, my joy, my hope, even my purpose. It was destructive. Then I was reminded of the freedom of living open-handed, and the strength of living open-handed. But as I opened my hands in surrender and worship, I didn’t realize that something else still lay in my palms, unreleased—my failures.

Why, oh, why would we want to hold onto our failures? What a miserable piece of life to cling to! And yet, we do. We are so set on fixing our failures that we don’t see God holding out His hand, waiting for us to let Him fix them.

I realized this late one night after a day of beating myself up about all the ways I had failed. I realized that in every area where I felt I had failed, no other human bore responsibility. It was all on me. That in itself was the problem. I had failed because I had taken the responsibility on myself.

God has promised to provide for His children. He has promised to guide us with His eye, to teach us to profit, to uphold us, to carry us, to help us in our relationships, to be all that we need. And yet, in my struggle to be responsible, dependable, and everything else I thought I was supposed to be—I saw only my failure in each of the areas where He has promised to be faithful.


The Solution

You cannot walk under the shadow of failure long before it discourages you. Realizing why my heart had been so heavy, and that God wanted my life to succeed in all the areas where I felt I had failed, I decided it was time to empty my hands of that burden.

In I Kings 19, King Hezekiah received a letter from his enemy. The letter was designed to discourage the King and his people. It was designed to convince them that God’s power would not be enough to save them. But Hezekiah did something very wise with that letter. He took it to the house of the Lord, spread it out before God, and said essentially, “Please look at this! This man is seeking to dishonor you. Come to our aid, save us, and do it in a way that all the nations of the world will honor you.”

Hezekiah was dealing with an enemy, so it may be tempting to say, “How does this apply to me?” Simple. When we hold our failures over ourselves, it’s no different than allowing an enemy to live in our heart. The devil doesn’t want us to overcome. He wants us to live in discouragement and failure.

So, like Hezekiah, I only saw one thing I could do with my failures. I grabbed a piece of scrap paper, and I wrote down the areas where I felt I had failed so drastically. Then I presented them to the Lord. I read through them in prayer, confessing that I had messed up because while I was trying to trust, I was also trying to do it all. I gave each of those things into His hands and asked Him to fix it.

What a release! What victory!

I’m not going to tell you that everything instantly changed to the level of perfection I had been seeking. It didn’t. But my heart changed. Light began to creep back into that dark, empty space. When the tempter came to say, “But you didn’t do this. You failed again.” I could say, “No, that is no longer my responsibility. That’s on that paper. I gave it to God. He will see that it is accomplished if it is part of His plan.” This does not mean that we take no responsibility for things. It simply means that we do what we believe GOD wants us to do, to our best ability, and where we are not able to accomplish all that we thought should be accomplished, we rest in the knowledge that HE is far more capable of finishing the work. It might just be that our insufficiency is His way of opening the door to show His great sufficiency.


All of our Struggles

Often, when we are ministering in the women’s prison or the rehabilitation center, the women want to sing He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. Recently, as we sang it with the ladies, I thought, “This needs another verse. It needs to say,

He’s got all of my struggles in His hands,

He’s got all of my struggles in His hands,

He’s got all of my struggles in His hands,

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

And I had to ask myself, how often do we stop and consider if we’ve put our whole world in His hands? Not just the things we talked about in the first blog of this series: the people, the situations, the wants, dreams and desires but also our struggles, our failures, our shortcomings, and our sins. That is where we find victory in living open-handed.

Have you passed through a time of struggle when you found victory in putting it in God’s hands? How did He show Himself strong on your behalf? Please share in the comments below.

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