Praying with Palms Up


Bronwyn Lea -Praying with Palms Up3

“Heads bowed, hands together, eyes closed.” This was how we prayed, our seven-year old little bodies being trained in the ways of holiness. Also, at the end we said “Amen.” I wasn’t sure why we did any of those things, but I did know these were the words and posture of prayer. Prayer, if it was done right, had a formula.

I later learned that Amen wasn’t the “over and out” equivalent of heavenly communication. The Hebrew word loosely translated “so be it” was one of assent and agreement: a statement of faith as we committed our petitions into the hands of one we believed had Heard and would Answer. Or, if someone else was praying, it was the word of our collective togetherness in prayer: We, your children, ask this Father. Even if Mary over there happened to be the spokesperson. Amen.

At times, the physical formulae of prayer made sense, too. If my eyes were closed, I was less prone to distraction. If my head was bowed, I was visibly “not available” if someone wanted to get my attention. But the hands-together posture—the clasped hands that have become lapel pins and emoji-shorthand for prayer—that one never quite made sense.

A few years ago, I sat hunched at a table, ready to pray with ministry staff. As we discussed the various items that needed prayer, my coworker packed away the notes that had been in front of him and laid his hands out on the table, palms up. Now he was ready to pray. Later, once our eyes-closed-heads-bowed prayer time was finished, I asked him about his open palms.

“Why?” I wanted to know. His were obviously praying hands, but not in the clasped way I’d known before.  

This was one way his body was teaching him to pray, he said. His hands were laid open to show surrender: instead of grasping at control over his life—palms off!—praying with his palms up indicated his willingness to give the reigns over to God, to loosen his grip, to yield to God’s direction. It also indicated his willingness to receive whatever God had for him. Clenched hands do not give, and they don’t receive either.

I’ve been praying palms up since that day: open-handed in pursuit of learning to live open-hearted. It is telling of my closed heart that sometimes my hands seem to insist on staying closed. There have been times in worship services when, churning over some strained relationship or deep wound, I look down and see my hands clenched in a white-knuckled grip on the chair in front of me.

But as the music begins, and the Spirit bids me breathe in and breathe out and breathe in and breathe out again, so I turn my palms up.

Here I am, open-handed. I’ve been holding on so tight, but here it is for you to see.

Take it, Father; and fill your daughter’s hand with what she needs.

You care for the sparrows, and you care for me.

So here I am, palms up.

I trust you.


Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea


  1. Tracy Nelson says:

    LOVE this. Thank you.

  2. Helen Burns Helene Burns says:

    I love this lesson in prayer… thank you Bronwyn. x

  3. Though it still isn’t my natural way of praying, when I find myself clenching my fists rather than folding my hands, I know that turning my palms upward relaxes my whole body. Such an important reminder that prayer is holistic. Just like our conversations “in real life.”

  4. Anne Carrasco says:

    This is beautiful and just what I needed today. Thank you!

  5. Robin Baldwin says:

    “Clenched hands do not give, and they don’t receive either.” So true! Thanks for presenting a new way to pray.

  6. Smiling over this: “the over and out of heavenly communication.”
    We’re so business like sometimes in our prayers.
    And so often my hands are busy (or gripping a steering wheel) when I pray, that it’s good to hear this reminder that when they rest, open, they speak for me about letting go and trusting.

    • I was listening to Ruth Haley Barton’s podcast “Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership” this last week (SO GOOD!!), and she talked about how ALL the spiritual disciplines are ultimately a call for us to surrender control. Lots to think about there!

  7. Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

    Thank you. You have no idea how soothing these words are to me tonight. My ‘word for the year’ is open-handed. This piece is the gentle reminder I needed in the midst of a lot of junk tonight.

    Bless you❤️

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