As a kid, I had a trick toy–a soft plastic cylinder tube, filled with liquid. The balance of the liquid was just right that when you tried to pick it up, the liquid would shift against the end of the tube, pushing the toy right out of your hand. The more force you used to hold it; the faster it would slip from your grasp. Only if you held it loosely would the toy would rest in your hand.
“Hold it loosely” is a phrase I often invoke in circumstances both joyful and difficult in order to keep my perspective. It is also one that is helping me manage these strange days.
The desire for control is both a beneficial and broken part of our human nature. This desire might show up in something as simple as creating a routine to provide order to your family life or discipline to your spiritual and physical activities. Such controls are certainly a helpful part of navigating our daily lives. However, we are all familiar with more negative aspects of control in those who use it to manipulate those around them. Or maybe in ourselves when our inability to control the traffic or fix a broken appliance sends us into rage.
We all long to manage our circumstances, and the hubris of post-modernity implants the misconception that all we need is the “correct” information to make the “correct” decision for the “correct” outcome. We have fooled ourselves into believing that negative outcomes are primarily due to lack of information or poor decision making. But the realities of a global pandemic and civil unrest put a strain on these assumptions as we grasp at today’s news briefing only to watch it pop right out of our hands with the next cycle of “breaking” news.
Navigating these events requires a certain kind of humility our culture does not train us for–the humility that acknowledges the limits to human understanding. Many people might be willing to accept that we don’t know everything, but are we willing to accept that we can’t know everything? While our knowledge of the universe and our ability to manipulate it continues to progress, we still cannot control it. To hold it loosely is not just to recognize but also to surrender to this lack of control. To know that omniscience belongs to God, not to us.
Surrender to the unknown is completely unnatural to us, and it can be a fearful place. Such release can only be accomplished when we trust that–whatever uncertainty we face–God is good, period. If I am able to let go of my grip on my circumstances, good or bad, they can then be consumed in the fire of His beauty. Surrender is the place where faith is born.
When I approach the daily news cycle with this attitude, I can feel the anxious pressure release as I loosen my grip on the need for certainty. To hold things loosely means that your hands will sometimes be empty. But only open hands can receive the gifts from our good God.