Every year I pick a word.
Usually it’s a word I want to grow into, kind of like optimistically buying one size too small of your dream pants, hoping you’ll hit the goal by the end of the year. By picking the word, I will be challenged in the mental/emotional gym: it’s inevitable. Picking a word means I will be required to lean into circumstances which cause internal muscles of that word to grow. Picking a word means choosing a battle, choosing a muscle, choosing growth and pain.
Last year my word was trust.
I recently heard Brené Brown’s definition of trust and I love it: what’s important to me is safe with you. In the same way, she explains, distrust says: what’s important to me is not safe with you.
I picked the word trust because don’t trust others with myself. I don’t trust that God knows what’s best for me and I don’t trust that other people do either. Yes, it’s isolating. Yes, it’s prideful. But, yes, it’s also how I’ve operated my life.
It wasn’t always this way, or at least this bad. Over the past two years, I lost relationships to distance and deception of varying degrees. My own insecurity and desire for acceptance had led to two results: choosing unhealthy relationships and not being my best self in those relationships. While I’m perhaps wiser now, I lost something beautiful in the process: my ability to quickly, honestly, simply trust people. And honestly to trust the God who allowed me to feel this pain.
I wanted to get better. (Cue Bleachers.)
I wanted to be open again, to trust again, to not be afraid. The way I’d been operating was “gather all the facts, try to predict the future, and guess who won’t leave.” I loved the freedom of choosing my outcomes and I loved things being fair and “right.” I wanted to know which choices would have the best outcome and which friendships would stick—before I made the decision. I began to overthink and anxiously project the past onto the future. I made guesses, predictions, decisions—all trying to self-protect. Instead of giving me confidence and peace, these actions deprived me of enjoying the present and pushed me further into anxiety and distrust. Through growing self-awareness and kind friends, I learned that the root of this problem: I love being in control.
I want to grab onto opportunities and hold tightly to relationships—and I want them to be opportunities that work out and people that choose to stay. If the outcomes turn unfavorable, I mentally berate myself, overthink my choices (again), and wonder how my well-thought (overthought) choice could’ve been so wrong. I was so careful. I was did my research. I picked the best choice. How did it end so poorly? How did it all spin so far out of my control?
What I missed was that none of it was ever in my control to begin with.
This year so many things have happened beyond my control. People left and people changed. Job opportunities came and left. Hundreds of teary moments left me with the decision to quit wearing eyeliner—and also feelings of helplessness and, one worse days, hopelessness. I could barely keep my own heart or emotions together, let alone hold onto anything else. Everything hurt: my eyes, my heart—and my anxious knuckles from still holding on so tightly.
If I open my hands, can I trust that what will fill and refill them will be good? Can I trust that what will leave is necessary and what stays will grow me? Can I be both wise and hopeful? Could there be a different story for me, beyond and apart from anxiety and pain and control?
Through pain, my hands were torn open. Through pain, I was forced to admit there was so much I could not control. There is so much I still cannot control.
Through pain, I am learning that I must hold everything with open hands.
I used to think that trust was learning the right things to close my hands around. But I now believe that trust is choosing to hold things with open hands.
Yes, choose wisely. Yes, don’t give up easily.
But just as importantly, hold your life and your opportunities and your relationships with open hands.
Maybe this is trust.
Maybe all we can ask is for the wisdom to decide which people and which opportunities to open ourselves up to. Maybe all we can ask is for the grace to keep them in open palms, letting them go if they choose to leave. This open-handed living is incredibly scary and vulnerable, with the potential of pain and hurt, disappointment and rejection.
But my old way of living—overthinking and anxiety—inevitably damage even the best things. Living open-handed leaves me open to the possibility of a less painful ending, a life of gratefulness and joy and trust. There’s suddenly hope. Because what if I hold the gifts in open palms—and they stay? What if the ending is much better than I anticipated? What if good things are ahead, too?
I still cannot control who will love and who will leave. It’s terrifying. I still can not control which opportunities stick and which will pass me by. It’s scary. I never let go until the anxiety and pain of trying to hold uncontrollable things together forced me to open my hands. And I’m still learning to pray and pry my hands open every day. Maybe prayer is less about folding my hands together and more about holding them open and trusting that God will demolish and rebuild me into something better than I’d anticipated or projected or anxiously hoped.
Maybe prayer is trusting that if God removes something from my hands, it’s to rebuild me, not to deprive me.
I have learned that both God and those people close to me do want my good. I have learned that I can still trust their intentions. They want to love me and treat me with gentleness and kindness and respect. They want my good, even when it’s hard. And sometimes it will still be hard.
Trust is a choice. Assuming the best in people and in God is a choice. Opening your hands is a choice. And even it’s it’s still painful sometimes, it’s how I want to live now. Because it’s also hopeful. And freeing.
My new mantra for my life is that I want to live optimistically with open hands.