Empty hands

[First read this: Mark 12:41-44. I’ve taken some liberty and imagined the story the way it might have gone…]
She bit her lip and shook her fist just a little–to make sure her treasure was still there. She felt the two tiny coins click together against her sweaty palm, and she blinked back tears. Of acceptance? Of defeat? Of surrender? Of exhaustion? She took the last few steps quickly, completing the journey before she lost her nerve. Were you to have asked, she would have said that she wasn’t sure if she was being faithful or careless, obedient or reckless. She wasn’t sure if she was giving in or giving up.

She only knew that she clutched almost nothing inside of that fist, but she clutched everything she had.

Then she took a deep breath, and she threw her two half-cents into an offering box that rattled with the abundance of others. No one heard her treasure fall to the bottom of that box. No one heard her heart fall silent as a sob caught in her throat. Relief clamored against despair. Surrender felt a lot like defeat. Obedience felt a lot like failure.

She had brought everything. It looked like nothing.

Except to the Man that she did not see.

He saw so clearly. “And [Jesus] called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on'” (Mark 12:43-44).

All she had to live on. That’s how much it costs. Everything. Even if it looks to the world like nothing.

I don’t know how it feels to run out of resources. I don’t know how it feels to throw your last penny into the well. But I know how it feels to run your fingers over that last fragile bit of faith and then let it fall from your hands. I know how it feels to wonder if this is quitting or if this is surrender. I know how it feels to wonder if this is the kind of submission that leads to life or the kind of foolishness that leads to death.

When they first tell you to give God your all? When they encourage you not to hold anything back? When they beckon you to go all in? It sounds exhilarating. It sounds like adventure. And that first handful of faith feels like courage. The second handful feels like fearless obedience. The third handful. The fourth. There is a swelling excitement.

But when you’re down to those last two copper coins that together only make a penny? When you’ve reached the bottom of your treasure? When the last little bits of faith click together in that sticky palm and mock what’s left of belief? When you wonder if you’ve made the whole thing up? Then? In that moment?

Giving God your all loses all its glamour.

We scrape together and cling onto those last remnants of faith and hope. We wonder what to do with them. We try to make them worth more than they are. We hide them. We polish them. We show them off. We pocket them. We wonder at how little they are and at how heavy. We wonder at our own fatigue. We wonder at our weakness.

When did holding so little get to be so hard?

It is next to nothing. It is too much to bear. Finally, our meager offering just gets to be too heavy to hold. And we get sick of looking at it. We hold that treasure tight once more and then throw it into the box alongside the apparent abundance of everybody else. And our hearts break because we have given all we have and it still doesn’t feel like enough. Because it was all we had to live on but it was no life at all.

I said it to Him on Sunday. I wrote it down in my journal actually–to make sure He got it. I’m very sorry, I said, but I have nothing left to give. And my own words echoed back from others. Dear ones. Faithful ones. Honest ones. That she was afraid to hope. That she had nothing left to offer. That she was clinging onto her last bit of faith because she didn’t know where she’d be without it. That this wasn’t what she’d expected. That this wasn’t where she’d hoped her life would land when she’d whispered to God that she would follow Him.

We drop our eyes. Chin tucked to chest. But the One that we’ve lost sight of–He sees it all.

She has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

I want this widow’s story to have a pretty ending. I want Jesus to run to catch her. I want Him to pull gold and silver from the treasury to replace her copper coins. I want Him to fill her empty hands with plenty. It doesn’t say that He did. Instead, He appears to have let her leave.

I glance down at my own fragile fingers that have held too tightly to everything I thought I could not live without, that have grabbed too quickly at everything I thought I wanted. And I turn my empty palms toward heaven.

I wonder if perhaps God knows that empty hands will reach the quickest for His.

And He asks me if I know what’s in His hand. The beginning of a smile plays on my lips. Because I can tell by His voice that He’s already smiling–that He is confident I’m going to like His answer. Remind me, I whisper back to Him.

“You are,” He says.

“I have engraved you in the palms of My hand” (Isaiah 49:16).
“My Father, who has given [you] to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch [you] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

So we rest. Our hands may be empty. But we are safely held in His.

  1. Angela
    November 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Bible Study Lectures

Create a free account to unlock members-only content.