I have never been one to raise a hand toward God at church – that is – until last week.
I’ve never had anything against hand-raisers, I’ve just never been comfortable doing that myself for a few reasons:
- I’m an introvert.
- I was raised in a very orderly traditional church.
- I was afraid of what others would think of me.
Fourteen months ago, I injured my hands so severely I couldn’t use them – at all – for several months. I was (and still am) unable to bear weight because of a foot injury. I was compensating with my hands to transfer my body from chair to bed, to commode, to wheelchair, to recliner, and so on. After three weeks of this, one morning, I woke up with such excruciating throbbing hot pain, I could not even lift an empty plastic cup!
Nerve pain filled my hands and sparked throughout my whole body, screaming for help. The emergency room doctors didn’t know what to do with me, and the orthopedic hand specialist told me he didn’t know if my hand functions would ever be restored.
I don’t know if you’ve ever lost complete use of your hands, but if you have, you know you become keenly aware of all they do for you, and others. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands to think about the functions and intricacies of this marvelous extremity. For instance, the ability to unscrew a water bottle cap, pump the hair spray bottle, wash a dish, point, pet the dog, open a gift, or write a card.
I also learned a little about the anatomy and physiology of the hand. If you don’t like anatomy, just skip the bullets. 🙂
- The hand has 27 bones – one-quarter of all the bones in the body!
- Thirty muscles in the hand work together in astoundingly complex ways.
- The thenar eminence muscles at the base of the thumb enable the thumb and tips of the four fingers to touch each other.
- The hypothenar eminence muscles control the movement of the little finger, allowing us to move it in and out.
- There are short muscles between the metacarpal bones (on top of your fist) in the fingers, which allow us to stretch them and pull them back together.
- There are also worm-like muscles called lumbricals that help bend joints and extend the fingers.
- There are extensor tendons that stretch the hand and run through the back of the hand to the tips of the fingers.
- Flexor tendons run through the palms to the fingers.
- Tendon sheaths act as a lubricant, which allows tendons to slide smoothly.
- The hand can grasp large, heavy objects with a power grip and precision grip for moving small delicate objects.
- The hand is supplied with blood by two main arteries – one on the side of the thumb and the other, you guessed it, on the side of the pinky.
- Each finger is supplied by four bundles of nerves and blood vessels.
- The radial nerve, ulnar nerve, and median nerve provide sensations to different parts of the hand.
- There are a total of 17,000 touch receptors and free nerve endings in the palm.
- The skin on the fingers is especially sensitive to touch.
(Source: How do Hands Work? InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf)
We use our hands in countless ways, most of the time unaware of all they do. One of the ways we use our hands is to express our joy and excitement.
- We raise our arms and hands collectively in metachronal rhythm at a ballgame to create ‘the wave.’
- We raise parallel arms straight up, symbolizing goalposts as we shout, “Touch down!”
- We high five a friend’s hand.
- We do the pumped fist pull-down as we yell or whisper “YESSS!” in celebration after a promotion.
- We raise our pointer finger toward the heavens and shout, “We’re #1!” after winning a championship game.
- We raise our hands and sway in unison to the music with fellow concertgoers.
- We sing and perform the YMCA song with everyone around us when the DJ puts the needle to the vinyl on the turntable (They are doing that again, you know).
- We express our unique selves through signature dance moves with our hands whirling in the air.
- We raise our champagne glasses to make a toast to someone we love.
It seems to me, typically we raise our hands when we are excited and want to express our joy about something. I have felt free to raise my arms and hands to express myself during all of these activities.
However, I didn’t feel free to celebrate God similarly.
I had never raised a hand toward him in the church setting, even though I felt moved by the music. I thought it was a bit, well, over-the-top. Honestly, I was also judgmental of some hand-raisers motives. I wondered if some were doing that to get attention; if it was just an emotional, self-centered thing, and not true worship. God knows the difference, and our role isn’t to judge.
I began to notice that I didn’t think twice about raising my hands toward the heavens to celebrate a Sunday afternoon touchdown after church! It just flowed out of me naturally. I didn’t stop it because someone might think it was over-the-top. It’s just something people do to celebrate a few points in a game. It’s fun to express our joy!
So, if raising hands is a natural expression of joy in various settings, why is it sometimes thought of as bizarre for someone to do so at church? It’s fully accepted at ballgames, concerts, on the dance floor, or with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show.
Why was I holding back my expression to the Almighty God, who deserves a more expressive celebration than ‘the wave’, or a touchdown, or any other celebration, at any other venue? He is the Creator of the Universe, after all!
After nine months of not being able to attend church, I was finally well enough to go. My pain level was relatively low, and Mark and I had a strategy. We decided to show up to the service a little bit late and slip into the back of the room. Since I’m in a wheelchair, it would be evident for others to be careful around my feet, but not so much my hands. I knew at least someone would reach out his/her hand to greet me, and if I took it, there would be danger of a firm grip setting me back, so Mark put on my hand splints.
We sat in our self-made row of two seats against the back wall. I listened to the sermon, participated in communion, and sang worship songs with others for the first time in almost a year.
When the worship team came on stage, they began to sing What a Beautiful Name.
Death could not hold You. The veil tore before You.Brooke Fraser and Ben Fielding, Lyricists, Hillsong Worship
You silenced the boast of sin and grave.
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory.
For You are raised to life again.
While singing to the words, I surprisingly found myself raising my injured hand toward God. I felt unbound somehow, freed from judgment or stigma from everything outside of myself. I can’t explain it, but my hand rose to God because my heart so inclined me. It’s what simply flowed through me naturally – an emblem of an elevated heart toward God. Something had shifted inside of me.
As I reached my hand toward God, I imagined him reaching back in response to gently hold my injured hand.
My God not only created these hands, but he is also regenerating them as he returns their functionality after many months of uncertainty, prayer, and therapy. I can once again open my water bottle, comb my hair, type this story, cut my food, and brush the dog!
My God is healing my hands, and that is something to be celebrated with lifted hands!
It took this bodily devastation for me to realize that I expressively celebrate so many other things more than I do God. So, now, when I am so inclined, my heart reaches through my arm and down to the 27 bones, and various tendons, ligaments, arteries, skin, and nerves of my hand, and raises them all in gratitude toward my Healer. And I let his Healing Hands lovingly hold mine in his.
Yes, I’ve converted to one of those people I used to question.
I am now, at times, a hand-raiser.
I think it makes him smile.
What a Beautiful Name.
I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees (Psalm 119:48).
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:2 ).