Held Hostage by My Own Clenched Fists

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
A Night Filled with Hope 
I don’t know if everyone has a favorite night of the week. But I suspect that for many who do, it’s Friday. And while I do love Friday nights - a night I never cook, a night without practice so my family eats at a reasonable hour, a night to unwind from the craziness of our week - every few weeks Wednesday competes for that title of “favorite night.”

Wednesday is the night I intentionally try to leave open on my calendar. The night I’m happy to ask our “babysitter-turned-driver” to help shuffle my kids from point A to point B. Because Wednesday is the night my Bible Study group meets. We are a group of moms who briefly pause the craziness of our lives every couple weeks to gather for friendship, to draw closer to Jesus, and perhaps to have a glass of wine. And although our busy schedules and this COVID world have prevented many of our recent meetings, it is still a night I look forward to. Because these nights fill me with Hope. These nights bring me closer to the One who fills my soul with peace when life is chaotic. These nights bring me one step closer to the place I want to go when I leave this world.

There’s Her House … and then There’s Mine
We typically gather at the same person’s house. The location is convenient. It’s free from interruptions. It’s spacious and beautifully decorated. Clutter-free and clean ... impeccably clean.

In my dreams I would live in a house like this. Don’t misunderstand. I really love my house. But I’m fairly certain it’s only been this uncluttered, this clean, once, last summer when my entire family left town, and I stayed behind for fear that I had Covid. I did not, thank God, have Covid. But I was able to clean and declutter my house during my time alone!

As I write these words I’m sitting in my den. Across from me are two guitars, an amplifier, and other related equipment - because it seems this room doubles as a recording studio for a budding musician. A baseball bag, hat, and cleats lie to my right - because apparently it also functions as a locker room for an aspiring athlete. A Fantasy Football trophy, left out after the draft at our house a few weeks ago, is still perched by the fireplace, close to an almost-finished Lego car that has been parked for longer than I can remember. Have I mentioned the wall-mounted, but empty, candle holders - since I simply cannot find the right size candles and may have given up looking? And don’t get me started on the dining room, a room that has lost its furniture and now acts as a temporary storage area.

I love my house. I love the people in my house. But I’ve come to realize my three family members with whom I share this space, the ones who actually make this house a home, don’t share my desire for a clutter-free environment. In fact, from their protests each time I announce things must be picked up, it would appear a clutter-free environment is actually quite painful for them.

Chasing a Dream of Perfection
For many years my desire for a perfectly clean and clutter-free house ordered my day and controlled my time. I did not go to bed unless the kitchen was clean. Weekend activities did not begin until the house was straightened. My attempts to achieve this clutter-free, magazine-ready house, however, were neither appreciated nor shared by the rest of my family. In fact, my desire was often a source of strife. Of disagreements. Of unmet expectations, unkind words, and bad moods.

God has slowly revealed the negative impact my desire for perfection has had on my marriage and motherhood. As I’ve strived for perfection, I’ve made others feel their efforts were not good enough. And my unmet expectations, coupled with the sense that only I could do things “correctly,” left me feeling disappointed and angry. With God’s help I am trying to break this desire for perfection. It’s a process I’m learning takes much intention and repetition, and I’ve far from mastered it. But because He is a perfect Father, and because His biggest concern is my sanctification and not my comfort, He gifted me with the year of 2020 … an opportunity for my family of four to spend more time together in our house - creating more clutter - than ever before!

Slowly, He has used this time to help me reframe, and even accept, some of the clutter that fills my home. Now, when I glance at my den and find a mini recording studio, I am able to see a gifted son whose talents amaze me. When a baseball bag greets me as I enter the room, I see the joy, discipline, and confidence that our weekends at the ballpark have brought my youngest. And when I reflect on my teenagers’ belongings strewn about the den, God helps me view them not just as clutter breaking my dream of a magazine-ready house, but rather, as a sign that this house is our home. A home blessed with children who are still present daily. And He reminds me that these days are numbered, as my children, both teenagers, will soon enough call another place home. And as I’ve been able to, at least sometimes, reframe the clutter in my home, He has allowed Peace to more easily flow throughout.

The Invitation I Almost Didn’t Send
I read through the text again, tallying everyone’s response. It had been weeks since our Bible Study group had gathered, and once again we faced a scheduling conflict. It seemed the only night we’d be able to meet was Tuesday, not Wednesday. And this change in day meant we needed a new location.

“We can meet at my house.”

I typed the words and reread them, but didn't hit send. I knew I was being ridiculous, but that didn’t matter. Yes, hitting send meant I was extending an invitation to women I know and love. Hitting send meant I could create the night that gives me Peace and Hope. But for some reason I could focus on none of that. The thought of hitting send filled my brain with only one thing: A side-by-side mental image of a magazine-ready house and my actual house…

The one whose den has had an identity crisis.
The one whose dining room has lost its furniture and its function.
The one whose kitchen has not been mopped in… Well, I actually don’t know how long.

I know this should not be a dilemma. Opening my home to my Bible Study group should not cause stress. And considering what this night really means to me, I should let nothing in my control prevent it from happening. But I’m embarrassed to admit I nearly allowed the state of my den - a temporary albeit cluttered room I will not be taking with me when I die - to prevent me from creating the night that fills me with Peace, the night that brings me closer to the Eternal Place I hope to rest.

And although I finally sent the text, the truth is I also whispered a quiet prayer that someone else would offer to open their doors so mine could stay closed.

A Call for Liberation
The next morning I grabbed the book I’m currently reading, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, and settled into my favorite chair. It wasn’t long before Fr Jacques Philippe’s words about interior peace jumped off the page, clamoring for my attention:

“…only this peace of heart truly liberates us from ourselves…”

Liberates us from ourselves.
Liberates us. From ourselves.

Liberates. This word grabbed me, capturing my focus in a profound way. As often happens when God speaks to me through written word, I was unable to concentrate as I tried to read on. I knew a message lay deep within these words.

Liberates: A word implying I am not free, but rather, held hostage. Enslaved. Controlled by something or someone.

Over the last few years I have tasted the freedom that comes from being in relationship with Jesus. I can attest that truly receiving His love breaks the chains that so often imprison us. And my heart wants more than just a taste; it wants to drown in the sea of His freeing love. Without a doubt I know God created me to live this way.

However, the truth is that as much as my heart desires this, it sometimes feels as if something is holding me back. No sooner than I taste the freedom granted by His love, no sooner than I feel the tug of His current carrying me out to sea, I am somehow pulled back to shore to once again wade in the shallow water. And according to Fr Jacques Philippe, it appears that at least sometimes, the one holding me back, the one keeping me in the deceptively safer, shallow water is me.

Identifying the Chains that Bind
Sitting with God in prayer, I asked Him to show me the ways I am holding myself back, the ways I have actually become a slave to myself. And as a mental list formed, it was quickly apparent that my desire for perfection topped the list - so often controlling what I’ll do or won’t do. Or in this case, controlling whether I’ll open my home to my Bible Study group or not.

Reflecting on the stress caused by sending that text, as well as Fr Jacques Philippe’s words, it is clear: The intensity with which I desire perfection ultimately becomes the force that shackles me. Said another way, when I cling tightly to my desire for perfection, it is my own clenched fists that hold me hostage. And it appears that only allowing the Lord’s Peace to fill my soul will enable me to release my grip on myself and break free.

Perhaps you recognize yourself and your own desire for perfection as you read these words. Or perhaps, it is not a desire for perfection that holds you hostage, controlling what you will and won’t do, but instead some other way that you’ve become enslaved to yourself...

By a desire for control
By anxiety and fears and anger
By concern for others’ opinions
By a constant comparison to others
By a desire for comfort and convenience
By disappointment over unmet expectations
Or by countless other ways …

"It’s hard to live free.
You have to work at it,
or you will become a slave."
Fr Josh Waltz

I pray that you will join me in sitting with Jesus. Accept His invitation to reflect on your life with Him so He can reveal the inner voices that hold you hostage. And then, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to fight with and for us. To help us actively participate in our own liberation. To help us begin the process of intentionally loosening our grips, and opening our hands, so His Peace can flow into our hearts. Together, let’s lose ourselves in the deep sea of His freeing love. 

Praying, as always, that God breathes life into these words - and that He helps us each day to live free.


(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)


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