Diggity barks behind our front windows like a rescue dog defending his forever home. A man wearing brown shorts flashes past to the porch, then back from where he came. A package!
I scrabble to unlock the door, retrieve the package and holler, “Thank you,” before rushing back in the house with a taped box under my arm.
Ripping open the package, a book and booklet greet me. The first I ordered as a possible wedding gift; the second so humbly small, I mistook for advertisements.
The potential gift book, I toss into recycle, but when I see Henri Nouwen on the booklet’s cover, I remember adding With Open Hands to the cart on a whim. This unassuming book is the treasure in the box.
At once I sit on the loveseat at my favorite end and read. Nouwen’s guide on prayer states, “You hold fast to what is familiar, even if you aren’t proud of it….You feel it is safer to cling to a sorry past than to trust in a new future…so you stand there with balled-up fists, closed to the other who wants to heal you.” He finishes his introduction with this question to ponder:
“What am I holding tightly
In my clenched fist?”
Nouwen’s metaphor of a clenched fist pictures our desire to prevent releasing something to God. In contrast, I think of the closed fist also as our desire to prevent receiving something from God.
“Ding-dong,” the doorbell rings. This time, I stand beside the kitchen table with my hand flat on its wooden grain to steady myself. Then I ball my fists and inhale a huge breath before trudging to the front door.
“You might as well come in.” I swing the door wide and stand aside for my visitor to pass into the living room. “Have a seat.” I fling my hand in a gesture encompassing chairs, my loveseat and a couch.
The visitor chooses my spot on the loveseat and sits, crossing one leg atop the other. He studies paintings on the walls and books laying on an end table. Diggity trots into the room to sniff the stranger and must approve, because the visitor scratches behind Diggity’s ears. Clearing his throat, the visitor regards me. “You seem anxious.”
“Do I?” I cross my arms over my chest.
“Well, you’re still standing.” He points out.
“I guess I am…standing, that is… and well, anxious too, I suppose.” I grab a pillow and push it behind my back as I slide onto the couch.
“Why are you anxious?”
“That’s a strange question coming from you, Suffering.”
He tilts his head. “How did you know I was coming?”
“I knew you’d come sooner or later.” I adjust the pillow.
He unfolds his legs and bends forward, locking his hands together between his knees. “You’ve been anxious for some time, and I wasn’t even here yet. That’s a lot of unnecessary worry.”
I sigh and study my knees covered in tight denim. “You’re right, of course,” I answer, then change to a mocking tone, “‘Don’t worry about tomorrow, because today holds enough trouble of its own,’ or something like that.”
“It’s a true statement.” He replies gently instead of matching my malice. “One that would free you to enjoy the present instead of worrying about things that may or may not come.”
Through several thumps of my heart, I stare at him. “Tell me why you’re here—what’s happened or is going to happen, so I can deal with it.” I heard my voice leap at him, and I look away.
He cocks his head.“You’re angry.”
I lift both hands, now embarrassed and angry. “I’m sorry. I just want to get it over with.”
He smiles a knowing smile and drops his eyes. “People regard anger as strong and fear as weakness,”
“Anger makes me feel stronger.” Diggity’s head swings up, and he walks over to lean against my leg.
“Anger deceives and divides.” Suffering looks me in the eye. “To acknowledge fear, or admit that something is beyond your ability to handle, steps you closer to making friends with me.”
“Friends with you?” I stand with hands on hips. “Excuse me for being rude, but I don’t want to make friends with you.”
He nodded but stays seated. “You think I’m here to hurt you, but though it will hurt, I’m here for your good.” He gestures to a figure in the sling-backed chair across the room. “He can vouch for me.”
I follow his gaze and my mouth gapes. “Of course. It’s You.” I melt to my knees. “I’m sorry I’m so weak.”
Jesus, sitting in a chair, smiles hugely at me, then lifts His hands. “That’s great!” He says. “My power is made perfect in weakness,…” Then, He reaches for me, “But you must open your hands to receive it.”
I crawl to His feet and extend my fists. “But if I open my hands, You’ll let Suffering lay his burden on them.”
Jesus grasps my hands. “I, too, asked our father to take away Suffering’s cup but chose Abba’s will instead of my own.” He squeezes my clenched hands. “If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here with you now.” Jesus releases one hand to lift my bangs out of my eyes. “You have been called to suffer, as I suffered for you and left you an example to follow in my steps.”
“It’s a privilege to share Jesus’ sufferings…,” another voice adds from across the room, “that you may rejoice when His glory is revealed.”
Surprised I turn to see who spoke familiar words from the Bible. “Peter?”
He stands in front of the windows. “Yes, I’m Peter, and I speak from experience.” He lowers onto a chair and leans forward. “But you have experienced suffering too, haven’t you?”
“Nothing like your suffering.” I can’t match his gaze.
“Every trial, no matter its size, strengthens you, so your well being isn’t dependent on circumstance,” Peter explains and points toward Jesus. “Your dependence rests in our Lord, who is constant.”
Jesus lifts me and together we move to sit on the couch. He encloses my hands once again in His. “You will suffer, because you live in a broken world cursed by sin, but you suffer only as I allow, and I will remain with you, so you can entrust your soul to my faithfulness.” He continues to speak to me and shakes my fists in His hands with every phrase. “With every temptation, I will provide a means of escape, and though you endure for a while, it will be nothing, nothingcompared to the joy set before you.”
Peter speaks again and gestures in his excitement. “Think! When you suffered most with your body, do you remember how sin lost its appeal? After your loved ones died and you finally saw through your grief, did something shift inside you?”
I looked at Peter, then at Suffering. “Yes.” I nodded. “When my body ached and when grief overwhelmed me, things which normally mattered meant nothing. Clothes, food and peoples’ opinion of me seemed absurdly trivial. Heaven drew me.”
Peter jumped up. “Exactly as I said in my first letter.” Peter hammered his palm in time with his words.“Whoever has suffered has ceased from sin—no longer living for human passions but for God’s will.”
I close my eyes and feel Jesus’ presence next to me. My heartbeat steadies and my breathing slows. I lift my face to Him. “If I have to accept Suffering’s gifts, then You must open my hands. They’ve rusted shut. It’s a two-handed job, and neither of mine can help the other.” I look down at my fists. “I can’t look while You do it, because I know it will hurt.”
“Keep your eyes on Jesus,” Peter interrupts once more. “I can assure you, He won’t let you drown.”
Jesus clasps both my hands in His, “Yes, keep your eyes on Me, the Author and Perfecter of your faith, and we will do this together. We will share in the fellowship of suffering and share in the fellowship of life.”
Scriptures referred to but not quoted in order used:
Matthew 6:34 Don’t worry about tomorrow
2 Corinthians 12:9 My strength is made perfect in weakness
Matthew 26:39 Let this cup pass from me
1 Peter 2:21 For this you have been called
1 Peter 4:13 Rejoice in your sufferings
1 Corinthians 10:13 Way of escape
John 16:33 In this world you will have tribulation
Hebrews 12:1-2 & Romans 8:18 future joy and glory after suffering
I Peter 4:1-2 He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin
Matthew 14:29-30 & Hebrews 12:1-2 Keep your eyes on Jesus
Philippians 3:10-11 Share in His sufferings and share in eternal life
***My writing is now also on Sub Stack. https://substack.com/@glimpsesofgod?utm_source=profile-page