The image of hands has been resonating with me this week. In a time of physical distancing, holding hands or reaching out and touching someone seems to be a taboo activity.
However, there is such comfort and meaning in hands held together:
A person rubs their hands together for warmth, clenches them together in times of worry, pain or fear and intertwines their fingers in prayer.
Two people hold hands as an act of affection, lend a helping hand to one another when an added boost is need, and join hands when comfort is needed.
Rembrandt’s image of the parable of the return of the prodigal son also focuses on hands—specifically the hands of the welcoming and forgiving father. If you look closely at the father’s hands in the painting, you will see that his left hand appears to be larger and stronger—firmly holding the son, with his thumb pressing into the son’s shoulder. His right hand is slender, lighter in colouring, and seemingly more gently laid on the son’s back. This is a beautiful portrayal of the hand of authority and the hand of grace.
Today, as leaders, you find yourselves similarly positioned in the communities we lead. There is the hand of authority—strong when needed, decisive. You are doing things you thought you would never have to do such as laying off staff and making tough financial decisions. In these matters, you need to be leading with the hand of authority.
At the same time, while exercising the authority of the office, you also need to be the hand of grace in your community by reaching out to those who come to you in these times: concerned parents, students with specific needs, staff who struggle. The hand of grace is imperative at these times.
In the Old Testament, we read about the outstretched hand of God encouraging His people hold on to Him. In Joshua 22, two and a half tribes are being sent back across the Jordan River to take hold of the lands to the east. They are going to a place of isolation away from the rest of the tribes of Israel. As they go, they are encouraged “to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.” The Hebrew word for “hold fast” is dabaq (dawbak). Dabaq is also defined in my Hebrew lexicon as to “adhere to” or “cleave to” This word has multiple but similar meanings: united, drawn, clung, stayed, froze, cling, stuck, bound, or as the King James version puts it “cleave”. God is calling the people to obedience to His word and His commandments in order to live freely, successfully in the land He has given to them while clinging to His Hand of authority.
Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, we read of His extended hands of grace offering love and forgiveness: reaching out to the little children to come to Him, outstretching His hand to heal the leper, and holding on to Peter as he starts to sink below the waves. There is the image of the pierced hands of Jesus, especially apparent in this time of Lent, as we remember His sacrifice for us.
Yes, the leadership burden is heavy, especially in these days. As we move from one week into the next dealing with the effects of the pandemic, it feels relentless. However, I want to remind you that God in His infinite mercy reaches out His hand to us with authority and grace. He calls us saying: Hold fast to me, cleave to me and I will give you the strength to complete the journey. We do not have to complete the journey on our own. The Lord takes us by the hand and leads us forward.
May you feel the presence of the loving hands of God this week as you
consider your own hands of authority and grace—your loving hands of leadership.