All The Things I Cannot Speak



Ask me about being held, and I want to change the subject. Let me tell you instead about when I was the one holding, not being held.

I want to tell you about holding my son in my arms for the first time. He was puce and indignant, and I pressed his head close to my chest, euphoric with love.

I want to tell you about the time I was having coffee with a friend at home and the postman brought me a copy of my very first book. Holding the book in my hands, I traced my fingers over my name on the front cover. My friend celebrated with me and told me I was an author when I could scarcely believe it myself.

I’ll even tell you about the time I had my feet on African soil, holding a crocodile with my BARE HANDS. (Admittedly, it was a baby crocodile, but still—one of those blighters could take your finger off. It still counts as being legitimately awesome.)

These are the things that I use to define myself—the things I hold in my hands, times associated with joy and power.

Don’t ask me about being held.

I don’t want to tell you about my legs failing, walking so slowly down the church aisle to my seat that a 70-year-old lady grabbed onto my arm to support me. We walked together in slow motion in the church, but it was the old supporting the young, and it felt wrong.

I don’t want to tell you about being in hospital after giving birth, someone else’s blood dripping into my veins, and needing to be held as I walked the four steps to the bathroom.

I will admit to, but not want to dwell on, the fact that my husband had to carry me up the stairs at home for two years until we caved and got a stair lift, which I now ride every day like a very, very slow rollercoaster.

By these things and these people I am held, but I don’t wish to speak of them, because they speak of my weakness, and I want to tell you my strength. We like to be the one to help others, to hold their stories. We long to carry our own children. As an adult, it is harder to be carried. It is disturbing, a disruption to the natural order of things.

The reality of chronic illness and disability is that you need to be held by others.

So, too, with faith.

We tell ourselves that we are the ones holding onto faith. We read our Bibles, screw up our hearts to believe, quieten the questions, and tell ourselves that faith is a thing in our hands, in our control, under our authority. We want to own faith like the books we buy from Amazon, like the money in our hands.

Sometimes, however, faith is not something we hold. We lose our grip. Like the psalmist, our feet almost slip. Perhaps our feet really do slip.

Those who have traversed the murky bog of doubt and questioning and emerged the other side will know the process. In experiencing a faith shift or dark night of the soul, you first fight against faith, then when you feel it slipping, you fight desperately for it, and finally there is no fight left, nothing in your hands. You stop holding.

What do you do at that point? You do the only thing you can when you feel like you have lost your faith: hope you are being held.

There are times when we lose our grip on faith and it needs to be held by others: perhaps God, perhaps praying friends who love from afar. Being held is a vulnerable thing: it highlights our weakness, our dis-ability to walk unsupported. We want to be invincible, even in the realms of faith.

When we look at biographies and photos of Christian writers, speakers, leaders, they appear invincible, so we feel silenced and shamed of our own empty hands. Those snapshots tell a story of people who are holding, not being held.

But there are other heroes of the faith, and they give a different picture: Abraham who questioned God even while he believed; the father who cried to Jesus in desperation, “I believe, help my unbelief!”; Peter’s bitter tears as he betrayed his best friend; Thomas on his knees before the resurrected Christ; Paul who despaired in life. At those moments we see the reality: if we are to make it through doubt and despair, it is because God is holding us, even holding our faith.

We would rather be those who hold, and not need to be held ourselves. We want to focus on our achievements rather than our powerlessness. But this is not the way of the kingdom, and the cloud of witnesses tell us we are not alone.

Ask me about being held, and I will want to change the subject. But keep asking. We need to tell whispered confessions of being held—in life, and in faith.

More than our success stories, we need to tell stories of weakness.


Image credit: Nicki Varkevisser