How’s my trust factor?

There are a lot of things going on in my family as well as in the congregation where I am a pastor that require trust—trust in God, that is.  Job situations.  Health situations.  Congregational mission.  Overwhelming change.  Trying new things.  Limited resources.  Listening for God’s direction.  Trust.  Trust.  Trust.  What is God up to?

Given all that, I am re-reading (for probably the fourth time in the last three years)  Brennan Manning’s book, Ruthless Trust.  I feel like I keep flunking the “trust course,”  and so I keep retaking it, re-reading the book,  hoping it will finally sink in, drawn to something deeper that I can’t quite grasp.

In one of my past lives as an early childhood educator, I learned that trust is basic to human development.  In Erik Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development, trust vs. mistrust is the  first stage of development that an infant is learning up to about 18 months.  It is not surprising, then, that trust seems to be basic to one’s relationship with God as well.  I am in my 7th decade of this spiritual journey, and here I am still learning the trust factor.  Do I trust God to take care of my children’s lives?  My congregation’s life?  My life?  Yes, I say.  Of course I do, I say…a bit glibly.  And then things start getting sticky and messy, and the trust level  starts sliding down while the anxiety level starts rising.

Here’s a quote from the book.  (I’ve been stuck in the second chapter for three weeks!):

Let’s say I interviewed ten people, asking each the same question—“Do you trust God?”—and each answered, “Yes, I trust God,” but nine of the ten actually did not trust him.  How would I find out which of the ragamuffins was telling the truth? I would videotape each of the ten lives for a month and then, after watching the videos, pass judgment using this criterion: the person with an abiding spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts God. (Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, p.24.)

Many of you read from Acts chapter 16 this Sunday if you use the Revised Common Lectionary.  Paul and Silas were flogged and  thrown into a Philippian  jail for healing a slave girl that was obsessed with a fortune-telling spirit.  Once the spirit was gone, she could no longer work to make money for her owners who then demanded the arrest of the healers.  A flogging ensued.  Bleeding and bruised, sitting in the dark with their feet in stocks, what did Paul and Silas do?  They sang hymns.  Not hymns of lament, but hymns of praise that captured the attention of the other prisoners, certainly captured the heart of God, and eventually brought the jailer to faith. (The exciting story, earthquake and all, is in chapter 16 of Acts.  To see how far their trust in God went, you will just have to read it here. )

Would I be singing joyful hymns to God in a prison cell, or would I be crying my lament? Honestly, it’s very likely to be the latter.  Sure, laments are appropriate at times.  But thanking God implies that one TRUSTS that God is going to be bringing good into the dark mess where one finds oneself.  It implies further that God’s love and grace are actually with the person in the moment.  Hence Manning’s point:  the one with an abiding spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts God.

My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet though far off hymn that hails a new creation….
What though my joys and comforts die?  The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?  Songs in the night he giveth…
No storm can shake my inmost calm when to that rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

                                             (Robert Lowry 1826-1899) 

And so I was once again mulling over trust and what it looks like in our lives as I hiked over yet another mountain, Blue Mountain this time, on the Appalachian Trail.  The trail is good and there is plenty to be grateful for on a spring day with wildflowers blooming.

And  as for gratitude, I am deeply grateful for a day off to walk.  But there is a big difference from being grateful to God while climbing the rocks up the mountain and being grateful to God when things are bleak.  Apparently the difference is trust.