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Holy Everything: Come through the 'clench' and live life in the open

We are part of The Trust Project.

I clench.

My teeth (for which I wear a mouthguard every night). But also, my thoughts. My feelings. My attitudes. My daily emotional and physical posture. All too often, it's all completely clenched.

I'm not alone. This clenching must have a contagious quality, because it seems to be widespread. There are different outward manifestations. A tight jaw. A cautious attitude. A judgmental instinct. A furrowed brow. A short temper.

It's all more or less the same thing: clenching. Making tight, internal fists out of our fears, ideas, and disappointments. To clench is to make a strong grip on something, and that something can be literal or figurative.

My preconceptions? Oh, I clench down on those pretty hard. My opinions? More clenching. My tendency to nit-pick every single mistake I've made in my entire life? Still more clenching.

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Tighter and tighter and tighter until I'm a knot nearly incapable of being unwound.

We live in a world that lately seems very clenched. Look around and you'll see it. A tightness. A clamping down and holding tight to our own, individual points of view.

Why?

I don't know. A lot of it is probably unconscious. It's like teeth-clenching — we don't usually even realize we're doing it until a dentist or friend points it out. We're often stuck in a mouth-destructive position, and we don't even realize it!

Admittedly, there are realities in life that lead us down this clenched pathway. We've been deceived in the past so we close-off emotionally to avoid being duped once again. We've seen violence in our communities and world so we put up walls (literal and figuratively) in the hopes that we'll be safe. It's all clenching. It's an semi-unconscious response rooted in a desire to make life predictable.

But it doesn't work. Our clenching doesn't make life more predictable because life is, by nature, not predictable. No matter how tight we bite on to our opinions, the world doesn't become any easier to fully comprehend. Instead, we just end up with aching jaws.

Clenching inhibits a lot of learning, healing, growth, and understanding. When we're holding on so tightly to our own "stuff," there isn't much space left for the people and the world God invites us to embrace.

There are encouraging signs of an alternative posture, though. For every clenched fist, there is a hand extended in generosity. For every clenched jaw, there is a mouth open in conversation.

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A few days ago I saw a man outside running. He had on all the winter gear. Bundled from head to toe. And I kid you not, he was running down the sidewalk with his arms wide open. He moved forward in a position that looked as if he might leap right off the ground in flight. He was the opposite of clenched.

I want to live my life like that man runs. I want to live open. Not wounded and clenched and afraid. But hopeful and free and curious.

Every year for the Thanksgiving column, I share a prayer. It's something I hope might be a tool for you around your own dinner table in the days ahead. I pray this year's prayer provides an entry point into an ongoing, arms-wide-open conversation with your creator.

Thanksgiving prayer

One who hears,

we're afraid.

Of the world and the news,

of ourselves and our neighbors,

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of the past and present and future.

And under the weight of these fears,

we've tightened our hearts.

We've clenched our spirits and our jaws.

We long to be safe,

but we're lost on the way.

Lead us toward the center that is You.

Release the tight hold we have on everything we think we need.

Transform us.

Turn us around and open us up,

to you and one another,

to healing, truth, and possibility.

Make space within us all,

for extravagant, daily gratitude.

Amen.

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