Trust in God. The phrase has always had a vanilla-bland feeling for me—even though I like vanilla. It just isn’t a sentiment to make one snap to attention—or rise up and sing. The word “trust” in itself feels pretty tame.
But former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher makes the word more intriguing. In his essay, “A Shared Moment of Trust,” from the anthology This I Believe, he points out that in our global world, cooperation across differences is critical. And that in 2003, for example, doctors in five nations, working closely together, were able to quickly identify the SARS virus, and save thousands of lives.
But he has a more mundane example, too. Christopher describes driving down a two-lane road at night, about sixty miles an hour. He passed a car coming from the opposite direction, and, for a split second, he and the other driver made eye contact. Christopher describes wondering about the driver, what he might have been thinking at that moment, and about the shared trust they had that each would stay in his own lane, not be distracted, or fall asleep at the wheel.
The word “trust” sounds richest when we are feeling vulnerable.
Last year my mother died, and three years before that, my father also passed away. There is an undercurrent of grief and gratitude in my days. My resilience is not what it could be, but it is what it is. Then recently, I had a spate of meetings that didn’t go as well as I hoped. I wasn’t able to be fully present in them. I couldn’t find my voice, or the meetings went in a direction I hadn’t expected. It was discouraging.
In addition, I was struggling with a personal concern in my life, for which there are no easy solutions or next steps. We all have them—work pressures, financial concerns, health issues, struggles about family relationships, worries about our church, passions for a particular justice issue—they are the burdens we bear on a long-term basis. And because we are conscientious and hard-working, we manage to keep plugging along. Maybe our footsteps don’t have much spring to them, but we keep “walking the walk” as best we can.
I was unburdening myself with a colleague after this particularly busy and unsatisfying week. And I thought she was going to offer helpful strategies. But instead she said, “Why don’t you take a break from all this, for about a month or so?” I was surprised, but could sense an invitation in her words.
What I heard, was, “Step back, take a Sabbath. Pray, and trust God.” I was stunned and surprised. But it felt like an opportunity, as a friend of mine would say, to fall into a hammock. It felt like a doorway into grace again.
As Christians, and as church leaders, we talk about trusting God, and yet it’s not something we always embrace. Without meaning to, we’ll take too much on our own shoulders, or we’ll run out ahead of the Spirit. We try to make things work, and sometimes we’re trying too hard.
Right now, we’re smack in the middle of summer. The church schedule tends to slow down. And maybe it’s alright for each of us to slow down, or to take a step back in our own ways. Maybe we need to let ourselves fall back into the hammock of God’s love for us, to remember and let ourselves be held in the arms of the One who really knows what’s going on.
Trusting in God can be any number of things to each of us. For me, it is something I can lean into, something on which I can put my full weight. It is remembering the strength of being part of a community of faith. Trust is the path I can walk until I can see clearly and feel more hopeful. Trust is the touchstone by which I live my life.
What does trust in God look like, feel like to you? How can you take a step back, and trust God more fully this summer? And with what concerns?
Trust in God. It may not be the most exciting sentiment, but, as Christians, our lives depend on it.
The Reverend Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz is a spiritual director, serving lay leaders and clergy in the San Francisco Bay area, the U.S.A., and internationally. Her website is www.spiritualdirectionforpastors.com.