The Gift of an Open-Handed Life

“Even if I lose it all.”

That was the message etched deeply into my heart as I sat in the backseat of the pickup, holding in the nausea as we winded our way through the roads from Mirebalais to Port-au-Prince.

I was six weeks pregnant when I left my home and my husband behind to help the poor and vulnerable in Haiti. It was only a ten-day trip, but each of those days carried with them a weight that I could not carry on my own. There are risks to traveling to a foreign country. As my doctor keenly pointed out to me before I left, there are significant risks to both a mother and her unborn child.

The risks could have made me stay home. They could have made me worry myself sick each day. They could have made me ineffective for God’s work. Yet I experienced freedom from all concern, even in my vulnerabilities—trusting that God would care for me “even if.”

Even if I lose my unborn baby.

Even if I lose my husband.

Even if I lose everything.

There would be great mourning in my soul for those losses, but God taught me during my ten days in Haiti that he alone sustains me. He alone is my strength. He alone is all that I need to survive the worst life throws at me.

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I placed myself in a situation where the only option was to surrender my comfort, security, health, and future to God. I had to trust him more fully than I had ever trusted him before.

I wish I could say that I still live with that same audacious faith, but truthfully, I’m still prone to worry. I’m still prone to wonder if God really is enough. I might not say it with my words, but I see it in the way I live my life.

My fists are closed tight around all the precious gifts God has given me: my children, my husband, my comfort, my security, my money, my intelligence. I profess with my mouth that I trust God, but my hands tell a different story.

The Goodness of God

I suspect that it’s a challenge for the affluent—particularly North American Christian culture—to release the grip of comfort and security. We believe that God has blessed us and given us everything we have. And we’re very grateful. We trust God to bless us, yet we fear giving him control over all he has given us.

I can’t imagine how many times I have missed out on something God was trying to give me because I was fearfully holding onto what I already had. We cannot take hold of something new when our fists are closed tightly around what we have already been given.

Job 1:21 says, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

We like when God gives, but we fear that he’ll take too much away. Yet Job lost everything, and he still says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Don’t you think Job was onto something there? Even if we lose it all—even when we lose it all—the name of the Lord is our blessing. The gifts pale in comparison to the Giver of all good gifts.

How can we tell if we are truly worshipping God or just the blessings? We see it in our willingness to recognize the gifts even in the losses we experience.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
— 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

Paul was given the mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul was also given great suffering. His earthly security and comfort were taken away from him, yet he rejoiced and recognized that he possessed everything because he had Christ.

Paul saw that what he thought were the gifts of living a good life were worthless compared to Jesus Christ. He was willing to surrender all the good things he earned through his righteousness to commit himself fully to the work of Christ in him.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:7-11

Paul’s stance doesn’t make sense in our culture but in Matthew 16:25, we hear this promise from Jesus: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

In a culture so focused on collecting and consuming, the message that Christ alone is enough can bring us a tremendous amount of peace. We must understand that there is nothing of this world that compares to knowing and following our Lord.

The Kindness of God

All the things—even the great things—in our lives cannot add up to the goodness of Jesus Christ himself. So why do we still feel ourselves holding back from him? Why do we still struggle to loosen our grip on the life he has given us?

In Annie F Downs’ book “Remember God,” she seeks an answer to the question our hearts ask: Is God kind?

“I know God is loving; I know He is good; I believe He is big and powerful. But I’m not sure He’s kind… What would it look like for me to be fully persuaded that God is at work? Fully persuaded that He is for me? Fully persuaded that He is kind?”

We know that God is great, and God is good (now let us thank him for our food…) but I think we often wonder if he is truly kind.

I think it’s our struggle with this question that keeps us from living a wide-open, abandoned life. When we allow ourselves to see the kindness of God, even in the hardship and the losses, we see what a gift it is to fully surrender ourselves to him.

When we believe that God is kind, we can hold loosely our pain and suffering and grief. When we believe he will take good care of us, we can hand him our fear and worry and doubts.

I often worry that God is going to ask me to do something I don’t want to do, which is amusing since I pray for him to use me and even expect him to do great things with my life. But I’d rather it be on my terms—something suitable to my schedule and my comfort. I expect that God’s kindness means that he won’t upset the delicately balanced life I’ve created for myself.

But that’s my false view of God’s kindness to be sure.

Ultimately, his kindness is for my good, not my comfort. His kindness teaches me, disciplines me, and leads me. It doesn’t eliminate resistance, it strengthens relationship. His kindness means that when I surrender my will to his, that I never do it alone.

When all seems lost, God is with us. When it seems like God’s way is just too difficult, he carries us. But that doesn’t happen without surrender. It doesn’t happen unless we open our arms and reach out for him.

Giving It All to God

When I made the decision to continue with my travel plans to Haiti, my only choice was putting my life and my child’s life in God’s hands. Such a big decision should have been difficult to make, but I felt such a profound sense of peace that it was a simple choice.

But the little, daily decisions? Those are a challenge for me. I like to be in control—I like to be the architect of my present and future life. Sure, I consult God, but it’s more like a semi-regular “check in” to ensure I’m on the right track.

This year, I’ve been working on that issue. I’ve been letting go of my need for control and surrendering more of my days to God right from the start. I don’t want to live my life on my own terms, with God filling in the cracks of my time. I want God to be front and center, the beautiful conductor orchestrating all the areas of my life.

I want to release the clenched grip I have on all I’ve been given, and instead, open my hands to receive God fully. As I’ve learned to let go, little by little, the hurried and frenetic pace of my life has slowed, and each day seems like an open, expansive opportunity to lavishly worship the God who gave everything for me.

Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A life with less can still be a life with more: more hope, joy, peace, and purpose. It all starts with letting go.