When You Don't Want to Let Your Guard Down

Originally published Tuesday, 24 September 2013.

It finally happened. I finally outstretched my hands during a worship service.

It was such a mystery to me before. Probably because I grew up as a little Presbyterian girl.

We didn’t grow up holding each other’s hands or hugging strangers. And that still creeps me out a bit. I’ve never quite understood the people who claim themselves as “huggers” and wrap their arms around someone whose name they’ve just learned.

No thank you. Handshakes are just fine for introductions.

(I’m not an Ice Queen by any means. I like hugging people I know. I’m just not always fully committed to the idea of going full-frontal with an acquaintance just yet.)

Churches may be the same way with worship services. Some churches are “huggy” churches. They’re wild. They’re vibrant. The congregants outstretch their hands. They shout. They cry. Other churches are more reserved. They’re “hand-shakers.” They’re orderly. They’re lovely. They’re deeply caring. They’re genuine. Neither is holier or better than the other.

We all grew up in our church singing from hymnals and reciting liturgy together. Our lovely, big yellow church had members and elders that worshiped with resonance of the past. Always paying homage to the Body’s history. Having a deep, theological understanding of Scripture that enhances the emotional response. And there’s something beautiful about liturgy, if it means more to you than just lifeless words on a church bulletin.

But there is also something lovely about letting go. And my new church–while, of course still being very Presbyterian–was very huggy.

And it made me very uncomfortable. These people wanted to know my thoughts, my struggles and confess my sins to them. During my first Sunday school there, the leader asked us all to go around the circle and talk about a sin that we struggled with in our lives. It was supposed to grow us together as a community.

Confess my sins? Out loud? In front of strangers? Seems a little too vulnerable. Seems unsafe.

And then, after a few months I paid attention to how I greeted the body of believers around me. I was stiff and tense around people who were supposed to be my brothers and sisters. Presbyterian or not, that didn’t set right with me.

What’s worse is that during worship, I had my fists clenched. Or I kept my hands clasped behind my back. Like an accused criminal being led away in handcuffs from the scene where she had just caused a lot of trouble.

It was an old waitressing habit of mine–standing straight, my hands hidden behind my back. And though I’m not a waitress anymore, the posture haunts me.

I finally decided to pay attention to my posture during church. I decided to unclench my fists and trust the brothers and sisters in the church around me.

Because I realized my inability to let go of my tight grip, my unwillingness to open my hands during worship, confess my sins out loud or hug strangers, was a reflection of my lack of trust.

So during worship, for the first time I placed my hands in front of me. I let my fingers unfurl and blossom flat.
It was strange, bold and oddly freeing. I was practicing a new posture of worship. I was practicing letting go of control and accepting peace.

It was a peace that transcends all understanding, habits or denominational upbringing.

And it’s a peace that I can’t believe I’ve been living without.

This post first appeared as a guest post on Clarity with Charity. Be sure to check out her blog!