My church has a lovely tradition on each Ash Wednesday. We list on small slips of lavender paper the sins we want to hand over to God in repentance, and then all those hundreds of papers are gathered and emptied into cylindrical glass vases that sit on the altar throughout Lent until Easter morning, when they are burned in the bonfire at sunrise service. The ashes remaining from the burned papers are used during the following year’s Ash Wednesday service to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads. I love rich symbolism like that, don’t you?
So last Wednesday I sat in the pew and listed my sins on a slip of paper. Honestly, I needed about eight slips of lavender paper in order to squeeze them all in, but I only had one in my hand, and it felt awkward to ask the teenager next to me if I could have his lavender slip (he sat slumped in the pew with splayed limbs, clearly sinless and not attempting to write one word. I know, because I was watching him out of the corner of my eye). In the end I made do with my one slip and wrote in tiny script.
This year at the Ash Wednesday service Pastor Greg preached on the Lenten practice of sacrifice – the ritual in which Christians give up, or sacrifice, something important to them during the six weeks of Lent.
For some it’s chocolate or alcohol (notice how I say “for some,” not me), for others social media (Two years ago Pastor Greg gently suggested I give up all social media. I complied, which resulted in near catatonia). Last year I unsuccessfully gave up multi-tasking (note to self: do not sacrifice a trait deeply ingrained in your personality). This year, however, Greg suggested we stretch this notion of a Lenten sacrifice even further and give up a sin.
It sounds a little odd, doesn’t it – to give up a sin? In fact, it doesn’t sound like it would be all that difficult. I mean, it’s a sin right – it’s not like giving up something we actually enjoy, like Modern Family or House Hunters or freshly baked pecan orange scones or shoe shopping. A sin is something we want to be rid of anyway, how hard can that be?
Turns out, pretty hard.
I knew right away what sin I wanted to give up. And, because I’m difficult, it wasn’t a tangible, concrete sin, like gossiping or complaining or yelling at my kids (although those would have all been good choices, too, and, truth be told, were listed amongst the other sins in tiny script on my lavender paper). The sin I chose to give up was distrust.
Yeah, you read right – as in distrust in God.
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I mean really, who distrusts God – our loving, compassionate, forgiving God? Maybe it would be more accurate to phrase it as “lack of trust in God,” but when it comes right down to it and we iron out all the wrinkles and wiggle around the euphemism, it really is distrust, plain and simple.
Don’t get me wrong. I trust God…sometimes. Like when the road is clear and well-traveled, and I know exactly what I need to do – I trust him really well then.
It’s when the road starts to wind precariously, and dangerous precipices plunge on either side and a murky fog descends that my trust in God begins to flounder. I grasp the steering wheel white-knuckled and fight with all my might to retain control because in the end, I’m more leery of surrender than I am of the exhaustion and panic that inevitably come with the refusal to let go.
So here we are, more than a week into Lent, I’m still not sure how I give up the sin of distrust. Or, to phrase it more clearly, how I learn to trust God. I’ve told myself, “Okay, just do it. Just trust him.” But honestly, that doesn’t feel like it’s working so far. My mouth and my brain may say I trust, but my heart knows better. My heart is holding out.
I’d love to tell you that in the past nine days I’ve uncovered Six Simple Ways to Learn to Trust God, but this post doesn’t have such a neat and happy ending (although if anyone has such a list handy, please do send it along). Rather, it’s more an admission that I am floundering and is perhaps a call for assistance.
So let me ask...do you have any suggestions for how one learns to trust God in times of uncertainty, change, looming decisions and overall precipice-clinging periods in life? I’d really love to know.