Trust is a Terrifying Comfort

September 10, 2013

I like things that are clear. At least the things I feel need to be clear. I will spend hours begging God for direction- and by direction, I mean the direction that is marked with explicit instructions and details.

Sometimes we mistake faith for step by step directions.

We want a road map, God paints us a picture. We want a bird’s eye view, God gives us only enough light to see a few steps. We want clarity, God asks us to trust. Brennan Manning, an ex-priest, author, speaker, and kindred spirit who died recently, wrote brilliant books. There are many quotes from many books that I love, but this one has been speaking to me lately.

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles form the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”
When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to
and must let go of.”
When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
(From Manning’s A Ruthless Trust)

When the path seems uncertain, when the circumstances leave you confused, when anxiety paralyzes… when we feel we need for very clear instructions- where to step next, where to look next, where to move next- that’s when the difference between clarity and trust begins.
The Scripture gives many instructions, but very often doesn’t dictate to us what exactly we should be doing. Should I be an engineer or a baker? The Bible doesn’t say. Should I marry this person or that person? Other than some words on the type of marriage we should desire, it doesn’t give us a blueprint to finding the perfect mate, as if the perfect mate existed. There is a constant barrage of decisions we must make in our lives. Very often, the answers to those decisions are not spelled out in the sky. It would be so much easier to have burning bushes and disembodied hands writing on the wall, but very often, the Scripture shapes our character and our response to life, without giving us complete clarity for every decision we must make in life. I believe the Bible when it tells me that if I lack wisdom, I should ask for it, and it will be given to me. But wisdom doesn’t mean clarity either. Wisdom simply opens us up to read the situation through the lens of trust. It all comes down to trusting God.
And I’m not so good at trusting. Maybe there are others who are with me in that. I can look back at so much of my life in full time ministry being a weird dance between panicked pleas for clarity and the scramble to figure out the next steps, all the while wondering why God didn’t just speak plainly and when would I get my burning bush, huh? I love plumbing the mysteries of God, but when those mysteries bump up against the demands of my journey, I personally struggle with trust. Especially when I have been hurt by something. Especially when I have found myself suddenly thrust outside what I knew. Especially when I have walked the deathly valley in the dark and am no longer romantically naive about how dark and deathly that valley can be. Trust in God isn’t something that we can drum up and sustain on our own, especially if we have been burned. I think being hurt makes us desire more security in our directions and blueprints. The problem is: clinging to our need for security erodes our ability to trust God.
And it seems that sometimes, when we start to grow deeper and deeper in our faith, we discover that there is less and less direction. This is a confusing experience.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, experienced just this stating that in his younger days as a Christian, things were very clear. Specific. But as he got older, as he grew in his faith, and as he grew to lead hundred of missionaries, guidance became challenging, elusive, difficult. The conclusion he reached was that as we mature in our journey with God, God trusts that we know his heart well and will make the right decisions. Discipleship becomes less and less about the external miracles and signs to prod us deeper, and more about union with God where we are learning to trust him without the external input of the supernatural.
Of course, simply because we are maturing to the point of knowing his heartbeat so well doesn’t mean he will reveal to us everything we want to know. We want all the doors open at one time. We want to look down the path and see the ending before we begin the journey. Sometimes knowing the ending is nice, but it is not necessarily trusting God. When I was a child, a popular preacher’s story was of a little boy whose father asked him to go out to the shed to get him a tool. The boy took a lantern and peered out into the darkness, holding the lantern as high as possible, but the little light wasn’t strong enough to light his path all the way to the shed. He told his father he was scared because he couldn’t see his way all the way there. His father said, “Just walk to the end of the light and more light will be given.”
None of this is easy. None. Of. It. If someone tells you it is easy for them, they are either not really trusting or lying. Yet I have to believe there is much truth to this. And in some small way, as terrifying as it is to truly let go of our plans and ideas and dreams and maps and need for security, it is comforting to know that trust is an option. A terrifying comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. And a necessary one.
I recently (like yesterday) stopped begging God for clarity in a situation- at least for the moment. My spirit knew the overall direction God was leading. Even though I have at times fought that direction, I know it is what God wants. The problem for me is that as beautiful as the arrival point in this path is, the journey there is quite treacherous and difficult. I know this because I have walked it before. Only in a different time as a different person. I do not relish the thought of this path, even though I love the vision to which it will bring me. My pleas for clarity were a guise to my intense fear of the darkness of the journey. They were my anchor holding me back, instead of allowing the hope of Jesus to anchor me in the difficulty of what lies ahead. I wanted clarity so I have the security that the path will be easier, that the outcome sooner, that I wouldn’t be as hard this time around. But clarity is not God’s gift to me right now. Trust is. As strange a gift as it is.
So I find myself submitting to that- quaking knees and all. I want clarity, a light that reaches all the way to the ending point… but God is asking me to trust.
So if your path right now is dark and you can’t see your way through… I get that. I understand it. If you are begging God for clarity and he is instead giving you the wisdom hear his request to trust him… I feel that. We are walking that road together. Perhaps our companionship will help lessen the fear as we walk to the end of the light and wait for more to be given.
And we can help each other see glimpses of God along the way.

2 Responses to “Trust is a Terrifying Comfort”

  1. […] last year was learning there is a difference between trust and clarity. You can read about that here. This has not been an easy thing to learn, to continue to learn. It has required me to respond to […]

  2. […] Back in the fall, God began to encourage us to learn the difference between trust and clarity (see here). I am notoriously one who prefers clarity. I’m totally willing to do whatever God makes […]

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