Tattered Trust is Still Trust

May 1, 2014

When I was a college student, I kept a journal which I had lovingly named Cockroach (who names their journal’s Cockroach!?). It was simply a notebook with a cover on the front that I had made, and in it I wrote many thoughts, prayers, poems, all of them addressed to God. Cockroach became both my prayerbook and my history book, recording the wrestlings and wonderings of an emerging adult. I still have it, kept away in a box full of all things past.

One of the things I wrote most about was learning to trust God. Back then, I would visualize myself on a cliff and there would be a cosmic voice telling me to let myself fall, and to trust that somewhere on the way down, a hand would catch me. It was the way I practiced trust. When faced with fears or uncertainties, I would journal, close my eyes, and mentally fall backward, trying to demand of myself to enjoy the fall since I didn’t know far I would have to fall before God would reach out to stop it.

In some ways, I look back at that college student and admire her creative way of learning to trust. In other ways, I want to say, “Honey! You have no idea!”

There are moments when I envy people who have such amazing depth of trust in God. Because they make it seem to easy. I decided that one of three things may be happening when I bump into someone like that: 1) they’re lying, 2) they have a spiritual gift or 3) they know to trust because they lived trials that stretched them to trust. 

I think of Abraham, who hears from God late in life, a call to leave what he knew and start something new, walking with God, learning who God was and how God was different than anyone else. And I love that we are given a handful of snapshots of Abraham’s struggle to trust that what God said would happen. I imagine that there were many more moments than just those few too. I love that so many people in the Scripture struggled to trust God. Moses believed in his disability in speech and communication than in God. David had to write many songs and poems to remind himself to trust God. Jeremiah believed he was too young. And Thomas- dear disciple Thomas who is so refreshingly honest about his struggle with doubt.

I wonder if with growing, trust becomes both easier and harder. Easier, not because we get stronger in our faith, but because our view becomes longer. We have a lot to remember- the moments, the times, the seasons where God was faithful to all he said he would do and be. Harder, because we get closer to him, as we are more and more united with Jesus, he gives us fewer and fewer props to uphold our faith. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it was all about signs- miracles, moments where people had to stop and stare in astonishment. And the Scripture says that people saw these things and believed. But many a saint can attest to the fact that as we walk deeper into Jesus, those signs are less and less. Our reliance on those outward astonishing moments is slowly taken from our list of needs. In the place of these signs and props, we receive a relationship that is built on a Person, not on what that person can do. And for me, this makes trust feel harder. Because it is. It is so much easier to believe when your mouth is falling open in amazement at something. This is certainly not say that God does not still do astounding things. He still does. But the regularity, as many saints before testify, lessens. God weans us off of signs so we are more and more fully on Him, and Him alone.

So with the longer view and with the lesser outside influence, trust changes.

For a long time, I chided myself for not having the trust I “should” have. I looked around me at all these people who just had this trust- whether mature or not- that God would do and be what they believed. I saw a pastor who simply trusted God would give him a brand new PT cruiser in the color he wanted for free, and then a couple of years later, saw the very car he had been given by someone- PT cruiser, right color, free. Why can’t I just pray and have things like that happen?  My struggle with envy surges sometimes when I see such things.

Then my world fell apart.

I went from struggling with envy and shame that I did not have the trust others did to not being entirely sure I wanted to have anything to do with this God who had up and left us in the muck of pain. Trust became less about a pastor who got a free car and more about whether this God could be counted on to actually be present in loss, to be helpful in tragedy, to be hope in the midst of chaos. I was not too sure about that.

A friend said to me, as we discussed this, “You are like an abused puppy. Cowered down and unsure if you should come back out, risk knowing this God and his people again. And when you do venture out, you venture out on your belly.” At first I was slightly insulted, and then the imagery kinda fit. Then she said, “But you still come out.”

In those words, I dissolved. Fell to pieces and was held close.

I’ve thought about those words since then. As I regained my footing and conquered my fears, as I overcame my doubts and reestablished friendships and life itself, I thought about her words: but you still come. Someone once said that sometimes courage is just showing up. And so maybe the fact that we come with our raw and torn souls, the fact that we show up, that we have the courage to even try, shows that we have some trust, some trust that God will indeed be all he says he will be to us, some trust that we are held somehow by Hands that so deeply and tenderly love us.

I’ve long believed that the Christian life is not about trying harder. It irks me to no end to hear Christians talk about how they “just have to have more __________.” Just more faith, more trust, more love, more peace, more joy, more understanding, more whatever. As though somehow our fruit is up to us. As though a stick could somehow just will itself to bud an apple or pear. The Christian life is not about trying harder. It’s about letting ourselves be more united to Jesus, more grafted into the One who compared himself to a vine, more fused with the life of God in us and through and around us. That’s the only way “more __________” is produced. Certainly following God, listening and responding, action- all that matters, but we don’t cause things to be produced in us. It happens to us as we sink ourselves deeper and deeper into Christ.

So more trust- mountains, boatloads, oodles of trust?? No… Trust can indeed grow in us, but the Bible makes clear that even scraping up a mustard seed is good enough. I’ve learned that even a tattered trust is still trust. That even the dog-eared, broken, ugly, worn trust still matters. That sometimes that’s all we have and we can’t drum up more, no matter how hard we try. The Bible makes clear that even that tiny bit that leads us to simply lift our hands while so incredibly aware of our messed up, questioning, worrying, fearful lives, is honoring to God. That trust that is tested can be tattered and ripped and not so pretty to behold… but sometimes, sometimes, that tattered trust is exactly the stuff saints are made from.

If I could go back and sit on the floor across from that college student, writing so tearfully and hopefully in Cockroach, her journal, I would tell her this: “Yes. Fall back. Yes, fall off and let God catch you. But know this: your life with Jesus will tried a lot harder than simply imagining falling off a cliff. Your walk with God will take you places where your trust will be shattered and then the pieces picked up and taped back together again. Your trust will be shaped radically by the way you are affected by the world, and your trust will ultimately end up looking more like a beat up old rag than a fresh and fancy thing you try on for size.”

I would tell her, “Yes. Your courage to live now learning to trust God is wonderful. It will serve you well. But the longer you grow, the more you want to fuse with Jesus, the more you want Christ in you, the hope of glory, the harder trust will become. Because you will know pain that you don’t get now. You will face testing that you have no clue about today. And you have to because that’s the only way for you. The only way to become something more.”

And finally I would tell her, “Your trust will not look like way in several years. But as you are given the courage to just show up, beat up and broken and filled with the questions of your life, you will, my young friend, you will find that your vision is lengthened. That you have walked the dark with and without God. And you can truly say that God has given you the chance to see things long. And to help you become more comfortable with your tattered old mustard seed. And then, my friend, then you will be starting to understand trust.

And surprisingly… you will be thankful.”

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