One of my favorite saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Little Flower, often wrote of appearing before God with empty hands, both from the standpoint of having used all of the graces and opportunities to do good works but, also, perhaps, as an expression of intrinsic humility in that we can never fully do enough to compensate or justify God’s boundless love and mercy.
In that spirit, I wish to stay on this metaphor of our hands in pondering how we should present them in order to find and spread salvation. It occurs to me that we should fill our hands to love, and empty them to pray. I will now explain what I mean by this phrase as best I can.
Hands Filled to Love
When we love, how do we love? I suggest that we express and show love by freely giving of our time, efforts, intentions, and assistance. What is love if not reaching out to someone in some way, and when we reach out, do we not fill our hands with the needs and concerns of the other?
Transcending love and service of others, of course, we have love and service of God, and how do we show such love? We do so by reaching out to others in His Name, and by doing as Christ did. Was not Our Lord’s entire life and ministry a series of reaching out, and of filling His Hands with the needs, physical and spiritual, of others?
Given all of the above, I suggest that we show our love by what we bring to the table, by how we reach out, and by how we make a difference in others’ lives. All of these things, we figuratively do by using our hands, be it to bring, reach, hold, help, support, clean, soothe, heal, or guide. Love then, is filling our hands with good works and good intentions.
Hands Emptied to Pray
If we fill our hands to love and serve, why should we empty those same hands to pray? Shouldn’t we come to pray with hands full of gratitude, praise and, yes, petitions? Don’t we also need to bring something to the table when we come to that table to pray?
At first glance, it would seem that our hands should be full of these things when we come to pray, but if we dig deeper, we may discover that precisely the opposite is true.
We have all heard the phrase about carrying a lot of baggage of luggage and how that can hamper our interactions with others and even our own self-awareness. I suggest that the less we carry into prayer, the better.
Let us consider the highest form of prayer, that of praise. There is nothing that we can bring with us to prayer, nor any unique and special words, that can sufficiently grasp how wonderful and powerful God truly is. There are no special actions or preparations that we can perform to encompass the beauty and boundless love that is God.
We know from Scripture that the greatest form of praise is often the most simple and sincere, offered in total humility and love. One person can offer a simple, sincere prayer of praise while another offers a boatload of things and God could very well appreciate the first more than the second. Why? Because the first could be truly sincere and heartfelt while the second is only done in a superficial or calculating way, if not in a prideful manner, all of which demean and diminish the prayer.
The same goes for prayers of gratitude. God wants us to thank Him from our heart, mind, and soul. He does not want pompous shows of thanks or over-the-top displays of appreciation.
Sure, it is nice when people post ads thanking the Lord for some great favor. Of course, it is a wonderful thing when folks perform some sacrifice or difficult task such as climbing steps on their knees in honor to God or as thanks for some favor received. However, the real question is whether such things necessarily make prayer better or somehow more effective in and of themselves.
Suppose someone did all of these things without feeling sincere love or gratitude but as some form of compensation or payment. Would such actions enhance or detract from prayer? On the other hand, suppose someone was too poor, weak, or ill to perform such tasks. Would such a soul’s prayer of praise or thanks therefore be lessened because he or she failed to add such outstanding outward displays? We all know the answers to these questions.
Finally, we come to prayer of petition, which is traditionally seen as the least meritorious form of prayer given its self-focused nature. It would seem odd to pray to God for something without necessarily bringing that request to God. One cannot, for example, ask a cobbler to fix one’s shoes without bringing them to the shop! Alas, our prayer is not shoe repair, and God can repair without handling the affair we are asking about.
Many people pray to God as if He was a genie in a bottle bound to fulfill their wish or else. Others pray as if they were conducting a business deal or negotiation through which they bargain with a God Who does not need to bargain with anybody. Still others see prayer as a laundry or to-do list or a chance to label or compare oneself to others. Finally, others pretend that prayer is a script reading, wherein you will get applause if you remember all the lines of some often repeated prayer murmured without feeling or thought but almost like a magic incantation.
All of these warped forms of prayer have one thing in common. They all involve praying, in one form or another, with one’s hands firmly grasping some myth, demand, preconception, contract, list, calculator, telescope, microscope, or mirror which forms the basis for such so-called prayer.
I suggest that we come to pray free of any hang-ups, luggage, or preconceptions. We must do our best to approach prayer with hearts, minds, and souls full of love, praise, gratitude, or faith but hands empty of loopholes, addendums, conditions, requests, or measures.
Praying with empty hands means having complete and utter trust in God based on a tremendous love, faith, humility, obedience, contentment, patience, gratitude and acceptance of God in our lives.
Early settlers approached native Americans with open hands to demonstrate that they came in peace although, sadly, history tells us that such nice intentions did not always last. Let us approach God with open, empty hands to demonstrate that we understand that prayer is not about us but, much more importantly, about God.