Unclenched Fists and
by Melodye Phillips
Words for those afraid to step into the fears of new belief.
A week ago the world forever changed.
How can one moment impact everything?
How can a moment have the power to undo an entire life’s way of knowing and being?
Sometimes it happens in one single moment. Sometimes in a series of small moments that seem insignificant.
Then it’s over.
All that is will never be the same again.
And all that was hoped for will never awaken.
In a moment, my understanding of God falls from the shelf high on the wall. It was packaged so neatly, in its sacred ceramic box.
I watch it fall. Slowly. Then at a horrifying speed as it meets its own death.
The echoing shatters ring in my ears and shake my core.
I stare. In this tragedy upon tragedy, what do I do?
I should run from this broken boxed God.
But I can’t.
I’m called to the pieces. There’s a beckoning pulling my entire being, though I desperately want to flee.
So I kneel. My shaking hands begin to sift through the shards of smooth ceramic. Now rough and jagged.
The pieces cut and my hands bleed.
I keep trying to fit the pieces back together. They won’t fit. The harder I work to fit them together, the deeper they cut into my palms.
Through the tears and panic, I try to put God back in that box. I need God back in that box.
If God is out of my pretty, safe box, all bets are off.
My world has already unraveled. But this box cannot unravel.
The tears course harder down my hot cheeks as I realize my box, and the God that belonged in it, cannot be saved.
I hold the broken pieces to my chest as I weep. I feel the pieces dig deeper into my hands, into my chest as sobs rip from me.
I look closely at the pieces. I realize the pieces that were cutting me are gone. There are still pieces left from the broken box and from the God of the Box.
But there are new pieces.
Pieces that can’t fit into any box. Nor would I ever want them in a box.
They glow and pulse with life.
The colors of these pieces are an unknown mixture, wild and inviting.
Uncertain and safe.
The fragrance of these new pieces is one I’ve never known, but one my soul knows is home.
These pieces are bringing new life into death.
These pieces become the voice of God. Simply saying “stand up. I am here.”
So I stand. Unsteady and terrified.
What if I fall? Will these pieces shatter too?
I look at the pieces and know they can’t be shattered.
These pieces have withstood all of eternity and will continue to stand.
I can’t put the pieces together. But I don’t want to.
I begin to love the pieces and want them with me. In their unbridled mess, I want these pieces close to me always, reflecting bits of themselves as I navigate this new unknown world. I want these pieces close so I continually hear “I am with you.”
Now I walk slowly. Bent over and fragile from my undoing. Deeply wounded. My hands bandaged and scars from the God of the box. I walk with my heart forever broken.
But my soul. Oh, my soul.
It is home.
If you allow yourself… if you close your eyes and breathe in… if you make space for the questions to surface… you’ll see yourself in my story. You’ll hear your own questions bubble forth.
Because it’s all our story.
“I used to pray when I felt anxious…it doesn’t help anymore.” She whispered as the tears fell down her downcast face.
Before the heaviness. Before the miscarriage, before the traumatic delivery of her child, before the eating disorder, before the sickness of her beloved father, before the death of her precious friend, this incredible woman had found comfort and refuge in prayer that led her to God.
Before all her world slowly fell apart, she could find refuge and trust in the God that worked all things for Good.
Tears continued their steady descent down the gentle curve of her quivering cheeks, soaking all in their path.
Sobs that only come when that wall within your soul has finally broken began to echo against the beige walls of the office. She felt broken.
The trust she once held was slipping away as her desperate plea was swept away in the night to be unanswered.
Like a piece of paper being blown away in the wind, she watched as her comfort and foundation began to disappear, further and further from her grasp. No matter how high she jumped or how fast she ran, she couldn’t catch the paper to tuck back into her soul.
She feared she had lost her faith along with everything else.
If God isn’t who she’d been taught… who is God?
If God isn’t controlling, if God isn’t all powerful in the traditional sense, how did she navigate life without feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety?
Is God really good to allow such tragedy?
Tears continued to free fall as the questions nestled in her soul found a path to spill forth. All the world was crumbling as she knew it and because God and prayer were now unknown and fear invoking, she felt completely lost in the freefall.
This moment was pivotal. To name the doubts and questions that Christians are not allowed to experience was a burden that she needed to no longer carry. To discover that doubt wasn’t an indication of her own moral failure or even the failure of God was… earth shattering and redeeming.
There is freedom in the release.
Exploring the idea that maybe God doesn’t control us and the events of our lives for our good or even God’s own good began to shift something deep within her.
Her anxiety didn’t magically disappear.
However, her relationship with God is deepening as she is now allowed to draw near, despite questions and a budding new understanding of God. She regularly utilizes somatic coping skills to manage her anxiety.
This deepening is wild and messy. This deepening is building a new, more solid foundation in her relationship with God.
She has Hope. Her hope isn’t the white knuckled logical hope of all she had been taught through her life. This Hope is living and breathing. Moving and fascinating. This Hope is embodied.
Instead of drawing from God, she draws near. As God and the Spirit beckon her into their tender care and fold, she now relaxes into that fold. She found she is not also losing her faith amid grief and anxiety. She learned that God meets us when we feel broken.
As a therapist/spiritual director, I knew how to hold space for these questions and make room for every question and fear to pour onto the floor in between us and come to life.
As a Christian going through my own deconstruction, I saw myself in those tears. I heard my own heart and soul cry as she purged herself of all the things she thought she wasn’t allowed to say out loud.
The idea of God’s controlling love is sold and packaged to us from the moment we step into a traditional, evangelical church. We must not question the idea that God doesn’t control everything.
Believing that tragedies, traumas, loss, and all suffering happen for the glory of God makes us question that glory. Allowing ourselves to face this question feels threatening and wrong.
We miss something beautiful and deep when we put those questions inside a ceramic box, high on the shelf.
We fear these questions because questions are full of uncertainty. Uncertainty lacks a sense of safety.
In sessions I often hear “I have control issues.” My response is to reframe the idea that control is a negative thing. Our desire for control is often linked to a desire for safety. *A sense of safety is natural desire linked to survival.*
There’s a sense of safety in believing that God is controlling everything.
Even when that belief feels dismissive and is harmful, sometimes it’s safer. It feels safer to believe that someone is the puppet master, controlling the world that’s spinning at a frightening speed around us.
It’s a pill we can swallow and use to push the questioning thoughts and emotions down.
To open our clenched fists and let our hearts lose, tenderly exploring the texture and smell and taste of this belief is downright terrifying.
If God isn’t controlling, who is?
Am I safe if God isn’t controlling me and the world?
Are my loved ones safe?
These are the questions we need to explore. No question is off limits for a God that lives outside of the limits.
Let them come.
Join God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus in this liminal space of tension and uncertainty… of beauty and Love.
I promise you; God will show you a new depth of life and faith that rocks your world and explodes it with a color and fragrance that the Spirit is waiting to unleash into your being.
No matter how threatening and terrifying, step into the chasm and find you are not alone.
You are welcome here, friend.
Melodye Phillips is a therapist and spiritual director and specializes in maternal mental health, food and body image issues, as well as parenting struggles. She lives with her husband and their three precious children. Melodye’s passion is to integrate spirituality and mental health. She occasionally blogs at faithfoodandfreedom.com
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love