Saturday, February 27, 2016

Emptying Our Hands

“I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”
Psalm 143: 6

     I am a multi-tasker. I never just watch TV: I knit, pay bills, needlepoint, or even read.  I never just go on errands:  I listen to audio books, brainstorm ideas, make mental lists, and think through problems.

     I pride myself on efficiency.  I rarely leave a room without taking something with me that needs to go elsewhere.  I rarely have one thought at a time, but two.
     This morning I began to reconsider my ways.
     I was at my coffee pot—a coffee maker with a carafe. My habit is to bring the full carafe into my office so I can refill my cup there (it’s more efficient that way, you know?)  This morning I picked up a clean coffee cup, some extra sweetener, and the carafe, then closed a cabinet drawer with my hip because I had no hands free. 
     Suddenly, it hit me:  I go through life with my hand’s full.
     Oddly, the thought did not come as a compliment, but a slap. 
     But how could that be?  How could a trait I’d always considered an attribute be presented to my conscience as a defect?
     I set the coffee supplies on my desk—dropping two packets of sweetener on the floor in the process—then sank into my work chair.
     I turned my hands palms-up.  My empty hands.  Surely doing many things at once was a good thing.  After all, isn’t the centuries-old idiom true:  “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”?
     Yet looking at my open hands I realized the gesture was a natural display of supplication and worship.  On impulse, I picked up my coffee mug with one hand and a pen in the other.  I looked at my hands again.
     The supplication and worship were gone.
     But it was good to work. “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks. (Ecclesiastes 10:18).  And one of my favorites, “Be strong and do the work." (1 Chronicles 28:10)
     But if work and being busy had become my focus . . . if I always kept my hands full . . .
     I took out my Bible, looking up “Hands” in the concordance. There were bad words associated with hands:  idle, lazy, evil.  But there were also good connotations:  train my hands, lay their hands, lift his hands, wash their hands, clap your hands.  All the negative phrases had the focus on us.  All the positive phrases had the focus on God.
     I remembered the story Robert Benson shared in his book, Living Prayer. He told of his time with some monks.  He noticed their serenity and asked them about it. They explained it this way:  "When we are walking, we are walking.  When we are working, we are working . . .”
     By being efficient, making multi-tasking an art form, and keeping my hands full, was I doing nothing well?
     I put the mug and pen down and made my hands free again—free to surrender, worship, ask, receive, and pray. They were free of the accoutrements of this world and open to the blessings of the next.
     I was reminded that there is a balance between busy and open hands.  What we accomplish when our hands are full is worth much more if we let go, and let God be a part of it. Pray and perform. Worship and work. Surrender and succeed. Adore and achieve.
     “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain . . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  (Psalm 127: 1 and Colossians 3: 23-24)
      Let us empty our hands and fill our hearts for the Lord—lest He wash His hands of us.