“I know what I have to do, but I need your help.”
Like most epic character confrontations, this one takes place on an unnecessarily precarious bridge as Kylo Ren and Han Solo face off near the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Warning: spoilers ahead!) As Ren wrestles with himself, for a moment you might wonder if he’s actually going to let go and give up his seriously awesome lightsaber.
That moment is very quickly gone, and as everyone else in the theater was mourning, I thought to myself, “Huh. That reminds me of how I pray.”
Let’s take a little trip back to the days when I wore my semi-bowl-cut and frilly socks to church with pride. God bless Sunday School teachers. Teaching orthodox doctrine to obnoxious, snotty-nosed juice-box-hyped little terrors is more daunting than pretty much any unreached people group, with the possible exception of cannibals.
When kids’ ministry teachers instruct kiddos that the proper way to pray is closing your eyes, folding your hands, and bowing your head, they’re saying less about the theology of prayer and more about the fact that when you’re talking to God, you shouldn’t also be staring at the spider in the window or stabbing the kid next to you with safety scissors.
There’s nothing more or less godly about this particular posture of prayer. In the Bible, people prostrated themselves, knelt, raised their eyes to heaven, covered their heads, danced before the Lord, and just about any other variation you can imagine.
Folding or clasping your hands is a totally appropriate way to pray. In college, though, I started praying with my hands open. There’s nothing better or more spiritual about this—it’s just a reminder.
Imagine the following conversation right at the dramatic father-son confrontation in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Han Solo: Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?
Kylo Ren: I will not…I will be myself and not another!
Han Solo: Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?
Kylo Ren: I will be what I mean myself now.
Han Solo: If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?
Kylo Ren: I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires.
Han Solo: You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?
Kylo Ren: I will do what I will to do.
Okay, so Han would never say “Alas.” The dialogue above is actually from Lilith, a novel by George MacDonald, the literary father to C.S. Lewis. The Kylo character is Lilith herself, a pretty bad dame, and one way her rebellion is pictured is by the fact that she keeps her fist tightly closed over…something.
I can’t even remember if we’re specifically told what she’s holding onto, but whatever it is, the good guys tell her over and over that she’s got to open her hand and let it go, which she refuses to do.
Later on, Lilith pretty much admits she was a terrible person and wants to change. But then someone commands her to open her fist, and she replies, “I cannot. I would if I could, and gladly, for I am weary, and the shadows of death are gathering about me.”
Here I picture that tormented look in Kylo Ren’s eyes when faced with his choice….and he could not do it. He could not let go.
And he didn’t have as much courage as Lilith. Because she, realizing that both that she must let go and that she could not, ordered another character to cut off her hand.
Yeah. That’s what I said. Which immediately brings to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:30, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Everyone always told me that wasn’t literal, and they were right, but sometimes I think we sanitize the uncomfortable sayings of Jesus. Maybe sometimes we have to ask God to cut things away from our lives. Something we’ve made an idol, an unhealthy relationship, a habitual struggle, a selfish dream…we know they aren’t good for us, but we can’t seem to walk away.
Because what if the way out of temptation hurts or costs us something? What if it feels like something good dying along with the bad? What if a relationship can’t be saved but has to be removed, a dream job has to end for us to say yes to God’s call, our security has to be taken away from us for a while so we learn what it means to have faith?*
I’ve seen this happen in my own life, and it hurts and I do not like it. It’s like I am facing God on a narrow bridge and I have a choice.
That’s why I pray with my hands open. I picture the ideas and people and dreams I want to hold on to most tightly, and remind myself that they are not mine to cling to, not now, not ever. I place them in my empty hands and offer them up to God.
It’s not just me, I think. We are all Kylo Ren. We are all Lilith. We love things we should not love and worship people who are not God and cling tightly to something that is destroying us.
If you hear yourself in that, here’s what you should do: let go if you can.
And if you can’t…ask God to cut whatever it is away. Say, “I know what I have to do, but I need your help.” That, friends, is a courageous prayer, an anything-it-takes desperation that says it’s worth it—it must be worth it—to have the kingdom of heaven instead of this thing that you both love and loathe at the same time.
We are not strong enough on our own. We are weary, and the shadows of death are gathering about us.
God, open our hands, open our hearts, open the parts of our lives that we most want to keep you away from. Take what you need to, break what you need to, and make us wholly devoted to you.
*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: It’s important to note here that not every terrible thing that happens is God removing something from our lives with this purpose. We live in a broken, sinful world. Just because a family member dies, for example, doesn’t mean you made that person into an idol or God is punishing you, etc. I just think there are times when we excuse our addictions, temptations, or misaligned priorities by pretending to be powerless to do anything about them when we serve a God who promises to help us in our weakness.