The Miracle of Trust

So, I love aquariums, and sea creatures. I love fish and turtles, and feeling like I’m underwater, and especially the teeny tiny seahorses clinging to seaweed with their itty-bitty tails. Maybe that’s why jellyfish were what came to mind when I started thinking about the topic of trust. The picture on the cover of your bulletin is one I took at Ripley’s Aquarium at Myrtle Beach where they had this tank of jellyfish that was backlit by colorful lights, showing off just how beautiful the jellyfish were.

I think jellyfish are mesmerizing and magical, I could stare at them all day, but looking at them does kind of make you wonder – how is this thing even alive? They don’t have brains or bones. They’re more or less just a bundle of nerves suspended in water, but for just a bundle of nerves, they’re doing pretty well. Jellyfish have been around for millions of years. They’re said to be even older than the dinosaurs, so they’re doing something right. You might think that jellyfish just float around aimlessly in the ocean, but some scientists think they’re actually quite capable of sensing the direction of the oceans currents they ride and can even swim against those currents when they want to. They may move slowly, but they are always moving in their own direction, always seeking out the things they need for life. They’re not just floating around.

When it comes to trust in God, we might think that trust looks kind of like floating around. Going along with whatever plan God has designed for us. We hear surrender and we might think our own input isn’t needed. Plenty of Christians have taken the words “trust in God and lean not on your own understanding” to mean not only to trust God but also to NEVER trust yourself. If you don’t believe me, just google the words “don’t follow your heart” and skim through the page full of sermons that pop up. They’ll say that human hearts are evil, devious, and selfish. That if we trust ourselves instead of God, we will give ourselves permission to do anything we want, especially things that are wrong… but I’m not so sure that’s true.

 There are just as many Bible verses about the potential goodness of human hearts as there are about the potential for evil. And as someone who heard “trust in God, and not in yourself” from a young age, my heart has never been overly permissive. Instead, it has often been shackled by fear and anxiety over whether I was trusting God enough or trusting myself instead of God by mistake. Theology based in distrust of self can lead to self-doubt and low self-esteem and has enabled the suffering of too many of God’s children. I know what I’m talking about here because this is my experience. I had internalized this message of distrusting myself, and I still struggle with it sometimes. There have been times when it did not even occur to me to consider what I wanted. As if God’s will couldn’t possibly have anything to do with what felt right to me. As if to trust in God meant to discredit my own experiences.

Trust can be abused, and I’ve seen how what gets labeled as trust can be manipulation and control in disguise. When you’re taught to see yourself as untrustworthy, then others can discredit your emotions, gaslight you, and demonize your thoughts as some kind of evil within you. The result of this trash theology around trust looks like people who cannot name their own feelings and needs; people who don’t know what they want because they’re not allowed to want anything except what God wants, and they think they need someone else to tell them what that is.  But you don’t need to be cut off from yourself to listen to God. God speaks to us in so many ways. We also have a nervous system that was made to guide us, and it does not go well for us when we are cut off from our intuition, our built-in warning bells, our pain, and even our desires, and needs.

We have been given senses to perceive the waters we’re in, and I think that sometimes, trusting your gut may also be trust in God. So many of God’s creatures seem to live that way. I resent being told not to listen to that divine voice that comes from somewhere deep inside of me. It’s not just trust in what someone else says about God that we need. It’s not just going along with someone else’s plan. We steer our own lives, and we can decide when and where to swim. So, when the Bible talks about trust in God, I no longer assume that it’s also saying I can’t trust myself.

The kind of trust I’m going for now, is what I’m thinking of in this moment as the trust of jellyfish. Part grand mystery, part self-guided tour of the universe.  I trust that I am surrounded by God’s presence, like the currents of the sea. If I let them, they will take me to all kinds of places. I trust that God is all around me in all my life experiences and leading me from within. I trust that wherever I go in this ocean, God will still be there.

I’ll put it another way. Back in January, Logan and I went down to Hocking Hills for our anniversary, and we visited Whispering Cave. In that cave there was a trickle of a waterfall going over the edge and down into a gorge, which a sign informed us is very, very slowly, being carved out into a canyon. It is probably trickling right now, and probably has been every second that I have been alive, and probably will be for as long as I live. That waterfall will keep carving away at the rocks, one drop at a time, assuming we don’t interfere. Someday a thousand years from now it will have formed a canyon that is deep and wide, and it still might not be done dripping.

I’m trying to have trust like that in God. Trust in God’s enduring, always moving, everywhere present nature. Trust like it is described in this Easter poem by Rev. M Jade Kaiser, which I could not find a title for, but which was posted on Enfleshed Liturgy’s Facebook page on April 10th.

“Don’t be fooled by the way we tell the story.
Resurrection is rarely a swift occurrence.
Just look to forest floors or the pages of history
and find the pace of sacred things.
Trust the hidden work of god
quietly moving beneath the fractured and fissured surface:
tending and holding.
pruning and clarifying.
undoing and recreating.
If all is still quiet, take heart and remain.
There is so much courage in hope that resists timelines
compressed by technology and profit.
There is so much power in refusing to rush or be rushed
in righteous labors of reorienting and repair.
May divine unfoldings be granted all the space they need.
May the testimony of freshly budding things
strengthen and inspire us.
May the wisdom of generations
be our teachers, our anchors, our comfort.”

            Trusting in God is not about the denial of our own experience, but about experiencing it and knowing that we are held; that there is no height, nor depth we can go to where God is not present and moving; that the trustworthy currents of the Holy Spirit are pulling us both from within and all around. What left me feeling like I was being tossed around on the waves of doubt was having a broken relationship with myself that left me consumed with worry that I might let God down, fail to measure up, not trust enough. What has given me an anchor is knowing that my heart is trustworthy, I can listen to it and the wisdom God has built into me. Even if I get some things wrong, I won’t be forsaken or condemned. I have trust in what is unfolding, the quiet constant work of the Spirit, and a God who is still speaking to humanity, which includes me.

The miracle of that kind of trust in my life has been living more fully and deeply. You can lean into your experiences instead of away from them. You can welcome and feel your emotions instead of shutting them down out of fear. You can savor everything about being alive on this Earth. When I let myself live in that kind of trust, it becomes the thing that makes me trust God even more. On hard days I trust that there are more good days ahead, because I know the deep richness of life that is around me. Soaking in the best moments, helps me in the worst, so I try to feel it all for all it’s worth, and allow that to guide me. Please don’t think I’m perfect, this what I aspire to, not what I always accomplish.

If trust is something you have struggled with, this is what I hope for you:

I hope you trust in God so much that you aren’t afraid to take the risks that are worth it.

I hope you trust God so much that you find joy in the middle of your wandering journey from one point to the next.

I hope you trust God so much that no matter what you go through, you don’t doubt that you are enough, and you can dig deep and find that there are so many places to draw strength from.

When something hurts you, I hope you trust that you deserve peace, and set out to find it.

When something makes you feel whole and safe, I hope you trust that it’s real, and soak in your joy without guilt or shame.

I hope you surrender to happiness as it fills you up, and grief when it breaks you open.

I’m not saying that our own understanding is always a reliable thing to lean on. I make assumptions that are wrong and choices that I regret. I need trust to anchor me and get me through that which I do not understand, but the difference is in trusting that anchor is inside of me where God resides, and I will never be without it. I trust in the God who created heaven and earth and who tends to everything that grows and lives on it. When I do, miraculously, I’m not afraid to live deeply, to mess it up, to feel all the good and all the bad, and trust it’s all a part of the life we’ve been given.

So, trust in God with all your heart, not because you can’t trust your heart, but because each day is a gift that may bring you something wonderful if you are ready to receive it. Trust in God, so much that you embrace all of the gifts that life has to give. Amen.

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