Helping People with Open Hands

Several weeks ago, two friends came to my house for church. They were seeking life advice and spiritual mentoring, and what better than a tea party in the basement of an unofficial woman pastor? I made cucumber sandwiches and cream cheese rolls, and we had Peet’s mango tea, and talked about science and career decisions and Jesus.

I had the distinct impression that I needed to let go while I was helping my friends.

The term “open hands” goes back to screenwriting for me. In the TV-and-film world, directors disdain screenwriters who can’t appreciate edits and changes to the story. A script goes through dozens or hundreds of changes before the film is finished. Some screenwriters take this personally, and get upset that their awesome writing isn’t being respected. Other screenwriters realize that film is a collaborative art, and some lines won’t work for the actors, and some concepts need different camera direction, and some scenes will land on the editing floor, and some scenes will never make it into the final script (I read a story this week about how an early script for Gladiator involved a fight with a rhino, and I’m not sure how the writer feels about never seeing that on film).

So if we humans are telling stories with our lives, every interaction is a chance to collaborate on each other’s stories. If I cling to my own ideas too tightly, getting frustrated with every suggestion and edit, I won’t improve my own life or be able to help others.

Just as I’d have to let go of my own story for adaptation, I let go of people when they come to me for advice. My job, as a life-coach friend put it, is to help them understand their decisions better, not to make decisions for them, or to be disappointed if they don’t take my advice.

That night during our church-tea party, one girl was receptive to my ideas. The other, well, I’d been working with her for several months, and I couldn’t get through to her. I used everything I could to communicate crucial ideas to her – logical reasoning, storytelling, and questioning motives.

I didn’t let myself get frustrated, and this freed me to say what I meant without unfair temperament. In the weeks that followed, I kept thinking of her and holding back. My words were having no impact. I sent her no emails, though I often had notes for her.

A month later, I got an email from her. She said she was questioning her faith, and she hated her idea of God, and she was willing to accept my help.

This doesn’t always happen, but it encouraged me. Sometimes I let go of people and they never come back. Then again, I can’t say “never” because I’m not dead yet. When I’m willing to hold the story of another person loosely, instead of clinging tightly with closed hands, I’m able to appreciate the collaborative work we’ve done.

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  • Melody Ray

    Jealous you had a tea party without me!