Being Held

I’ve been putting a lot of things together over the past couple of weeks — connecting a lot of dots — writing things down in indelible marker — trying to nail these lessons home.  But, even as I type this, I know that these are lessons I am going to have to learn over and over again.

I’ve written so many sentences, paragraphs, and blog posts about my soldiering — how I’ve marched through battles, brandishing weapons, kicking butts and taking names.  I’ve confessed that my years in the battlefield of my own making have wreaked havoc on my body.  I’ve vowed to put down my weapons and rest in the palm of the hand of God.  Yet, I gaze longingly at my fatigues that are propped up over in the corner.  I long to get back in the game, to live the life of my former self.

I mean, wasn’t it great? The camaraderie with the troops — working side-by-side to tackle issues like failing students, families in crisis, and new programs for success? The daily soldiering — lesson planning, writing exams, reading essays, and teaching grammar? The little skirmishes — with students, with parents, with colleagues? The victory parades — parent/teacher conferences, faculty parties, graduation?

Yes, it was great.

So what went wrong?  Why couldn’t I hang in there like some who have been marching for forty years or more? Why did I have to take my honorable discharge so early?

Perhaps because there is work for me in the reserves? Could I be as effective as a reservist as I was while on active duty?  Could I use the same skill set? Could I meet with a different population this way?

I mean, let’s be honest, I’m certainly not ready to retire. I have ideas, opinions, and strategies formulating in my mind all day long. Yet, it’s obvious that I can no longer sustain active duty.  A few hours of interaction with students and I am ready to put my feet up.  Sometimes I sit down at 3:00pm and don’t get up again for the rest of the evening.

Last Thursday as I lie on the bed at the physical therapy office, I heard the therapist say, “Your body is kind of twisted in on itself, as though you were holding yourself together so that you could move forward.”  I was silent as I thought about that for a moment. Actually, I keep thinking about that one sentence.

Perhaps the reason I couldn’t sustain forty years of teaching is because I exhausted myself in just ten years by simultaneously attempting to hold myself together while kicking butts and taking names. And don’t I feel foolish for attempting to do what has already been done? I could never hold myself together anyway. Nor did I have to.  I am, after all, being held together in the palm of His hand.

Silly me.  Let me get out that Sharpie.

Colossians 1:16-17

all things have been created through him and for him.17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Held

We start out being held.  Securely nestled in our mother’s wombs, we are held.  Safe from harm, we are tucked away, invisible at first, but gradually becoming more evident.  As our mothers’ bellies expand, they start to hold us also with their hands.  They touch us as we move within the womb.  They rub the expansion of their abdomens.  They hold their bellies, supporting the ever-growing weight in anticipation of holding us in their arms.

And then, and then…they do hold us in their arms.  They swaddle us in blankets washed in gentle detergents then wrap their arms around us and hold us close to their hearts. Our fathers hold us, too.  With their large hands, they often look awkward as they gently, yet firmly, draw our tiny bodies close to examine us and whisper sweet messages of love.

Our parents hold us as we grow.  They hold us when they feed us.  They rock us to sleep.  They lift us out of danger.  They carry us because we cannot yet carry ourselves.

They hold our hands as we learn to walk, as we cross the street, when we are afraid, and when we need to be reigned in.

They hold the seat of the bicycle and tell us to “peddle, peddle, peddle” while they run beside us.

They teach us to hold on to their hands, the handlebars, and the steering wheel.

And all the time they are holding on, they are letting go.

They teach us how to stand on our own, how to walk without holding their hands, how to ride without training wheels.  They teach us to keep our eyes open, to look both ways, and proceed with caution.  Yet they also teach us to be brave, to take chances, and to trust our own judgment.

And if they are very wise, they teach us, as they are letting go, that we, and they, are always held.  We are held by Hands that we can’t see. We are carried through times when we can’t carry ourselves.  We are lifted out of harm’s way.  We are protected when we don’t look both ways.  We are guided to places where we have to be brave and take chances.  And all that while we are held.

Yet even if we taught by wise parents that we are held by these Hands, we think we can hold ourselves.  We think we are strong.  We stand up straight.  We set our jaws.  We believe that we can do anything.  We march forward, brandishing weapons, covering our vital organs, taking on battles that aren’t ours to fight.  We soldier through desolate times, thinking we are on our own, forgetting that we are held in the palm of great Hands.

And, we wear ourselves out.

Exhausted, we lie down and try to recover.  We sleep for a while, then wake to realize that we are resting in the palm of His Hand.

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4