Tuesday, February 4

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 04, 2014 6 comments
Many of us have suffered great difficulties and hardships, and as a result we've developed an internal organ for processing pain I call The Inner Fist. The Inner Fist clamps around that set of hurts and keeps it "safe"--unprodded, airless, always raw.
image: wikimedia commons

When anything comes at us that feels like the clenched pain--rejection, violation, terror and the like--the Inner Fist hits back. When it hits inside, it punches holes in our confidence, pummels our joy, hammers home the thought that, as usual, the universe and its creator are against us. Sometimes the Inner Fist hits outward, making us lash out at others or become pleasure-chasing addicts.

The Inner Fist strengthens itself by drawing around it expectations that we believe will make the hurt inside magically dissipate. As writers, some of our fist-builders are thoughts like these:

"I will get published and...
...I will have honor instead of shame"
...I will have worth instead of worthlessness"
...I will have abundance instead of deprivation"
...I will be popular instead of ignored or bullied"

Can any publishing experience bear the weight of expectations like these? Not likely. So the Inner Fist goes on punching us inside.

Unclenching the Inner Fist is the heart work of a lifetime. Until you grant access to the pain--to God, yourself, others--the Inner Fist will remain a destructive force in your life. It requires great courage, grace, faith and hope. It is the only path to peace and to creating great art that changes lives. That changes the world.

What unclenches the Inner Fist are ordinary graces--things like delight, wonder and play; learning, mentoring and teaching; communicating with open honesty; freely giving you time, skill, creative output and praise with no expectations simply because it's fun and makes you feel alive. Above all, the gracious work of love--God's, your family's, your friends', and yours for them--builds skin over the raw places.

At times these winds of grace may feel like a tornado. They may feel like self-immolation. Like tossing your possessions out the window. Like standing yourself before a firing squad. Who am I without my defenses after all? You'll never know unless you let light inside.

You might just find that the place of your deepest pain is a well of great beauty--your truth--which when drawn out, has the power to unclench other Inner Fists. I think of Anne Lamott's raw honesty in Traveling Mercies and Operating Instructions. Of Donald Miller's meandering hunger in Searching for God Knows What.

Have you felt the Inner Fist in your life? What ordinary graces have unclenched a finger or two for you? What books have encouraged you in your own heart work of healing and maturing?


  1. I love this post! Especially this "Who am I without my defenses after all? You'll never know unless you let light inside." absolutely agree that ordinary graces such as looking for beauty in small things is a powerful antidote to the inner fist. The Inner Fist is such a good way to describe that feeling that we need to fight back, protect ourselves, lash out...

    1. Thanks. I think you're right that fear is at the root of the problem. Living without so many defenses would take great courage.

  2. I think my writing is essentially about this unclenching.

    1. Cool. The most powerful stories do show that transformation from clenching fear to living more fearless and free.

  3. I am terrified and inspired by this post. I call this heart work "redemption," and it's becoming the relentless, devastating, beautiful transformation of my life :)

  4. Interesting choice of terms. Redemption involves buying or exchange--we use it to talk about coupons but also buying someone out of slavery. To become no longer enslaved to old wounds and fears is indeed a kind of redemption.