For Those Precipice-Clinging Times

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 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.

Jean Wise  – (March 2, 2012 at 4:50 AM)  

I wish I had the easy list for you.  God too has laid on my heart this Lent the question How will your heart be different on Easter? and I really don't know how to work on this.  I do know that I need to spend more time with Him and I trust something/ some answer/ some sense of something will come from that time.  Am going to a four day silent retreat next week, reading, and spending time in my journal.  Let's pray for each other as we try to be faithful to where God has called us. Maybe that is the answer - we are not called to know the answer we are called to be faithful.

August Thurmer –   – (March 2, 2012 at 5:19 AM)  

I am reminded of "Brother Andrew" who smuggled bibles into the "Iron Curtain."  His journey of trusting God was first started for him by listening for God's voice.    Thank you for honest and gentle thoughts Michelle!  August Thurmer

Southern Gal  – (March 2, 2012 at 5:37 AM)  

I will be reading here to learn what you discover.  

mary kathryn –   – (March 2, 2012 at 6:34 AM)  

I wish there were an easy way, like you said, a 6-step method to learning trust. In my own experience, I've only ever learned it partially, temporarily, and then had to learn it again and again. I only, ONLY learn about trust when God strips security away. He has to leave me clinging to nothing but him. I don't know any other way.

WendyPaineMiller –   – (March 2, 2012 at 7:00 AM)  

I get this more than you know and I believe He's jealous for me to get--to really GET it.
~ Wendy

Rupzip –   – (March 2, 2012 at 7:12 AM)  

It is easy to trust when the path is clear. It's the narrow road that gets me every tiem

Harriett –   – (March 2, 2012 at 7:21 AM)  

Heck no.

What kind of hard question is that for my Friday morning?

*sips coffee*

I've been on the precipice, and the only way I can survive those times is in prayer.  That's the only way I know that I can show I trust. I pray.

A bible teacher illustrated once that if we looked at Him like the father He is, we could/would/should trust Him like we would our earthly father. Let's say we can't swim, and our father stands in the pool and tells us to jump and that he will catch us. That's how we should see our Holy Father -- if we're on the edge, He's there. So trust. Make the leap.

Sounds easy, doesn't it, especially if you still have your duck  inflatable blown up and next to him in the pool.

but that's a pool and not a precipice --

I"m no help.

I think trusting takes years and years and years.

So, maybe, this is just another journey for you. I promise you -- you'll get there. Stay in the Word. Seek Him. You'll arrive ---



Mary Bonner  – (March 2, 2012 at 7:36 AM)  

There is no easy way, no check-list for this.  I recently read an article on Pat Summitt, long time coach of the UT Titans women's basketball team, diagnosed last year with early on-set dementia.  She started a foundation to raise funds for research, etc. When asked her reaction to her diagnosis she said "...As I've told my players many times, our greatest opportunities are often disguised as our greatest obstacles."   That quote resonates with me.

I try (I'm not always successful) to see this crooked path - the times I don't fully trust - as opportunities for Him to groom me for some upcoming task, event, etc.  If trusting were easy, it would probably be called something else. *smile*

BTW, you can read the Pat Summitt article here:  Click on Read the Magazine the article is on page 33.

Gaby  – (March 2, 2012 at 7:36 AM)  

Oh, friend. I struggle with the same thing. For the last few weeks I've been on a quest to find out the same thing so if you are successful, share your secrets. Like you, I can trust him when things are going well but there have been some situations in my life (like the murder of my best friend) that have caused me some severe doubts that pop up here and there with a vengeance. The thing I have understood is that we cannot make ourselves trust God. To do so requires a work of the Holy Spirit alone. Think about it? To trust God is humanly completely impossible. So, at the risk of sounding Sunday-schoolish, there are simply two ways to learn to trust God: to ask for his help (like the father in the gospels: I believe, help my doubt!) and to find out what He has said in Scripture about us trusting him and chew on that until you own it. 
Let's walk this journey together....

Kim –   – (March 2, 2012 at 8:25 AM)  

As I started reading your post about writing sins on slips of paper the word "distrust" came into my mind about what sin I would write on my piece of paper. Then I read further and it was like you were speaking my mind. Seems so simple... trust... but my need for keeping everything lined up nice and neat doesn't easily run on the same track as trust. Boy am I trying. I'm happy to pray for this for you too. 

DeborahJoy –   – (March 2, 2012 at 9:04 AM)  

I too wish there was a handy 6-step guide to trusting. *sigh*
I guess my only suggestion would be to keep our eyes (and hearts) towards the Cross - and maybe moving through Lent makes that a bit easier(?)

Jennifer Randolph –   – (March 2, 2012 at 9:06 AM)  

Perhaps this is an age old question we all struggle with and very few people ever really find the answer....  I would like to think not and say that I completely , whole heartily trust HIM...but, alas I'm not quite there yet.  My moments of weakness come in the night when my mind is full and I wake thinking of all the things that might go wrong with my kids, my husband, my family and me.  I pray to God daily that I will gracefully follow his will for my life...but, a little snag in the day and I'm back to wondering why.  I  feel like a  hypocrite to the one I MUST trust the most.  

Megan Willome  – (March 2, 2012 at 9:52 AM)  

That sinless, splayed teenager? I think that was my son.

But seriously, I don't think I've ever trusted God. I follow anyway. I'm with Peter: "To whom shall we go?"

Kirstin Cronn-Mills –   – (March 2, 2012 at 9:56 AM)  

This is a sin I'd like to give up, too

pastordt –   – (March 2, 2012 at 12:24 PM)  

Exactly. Follow. Wait. Pray.Trust ebbs and flows with the circumstances of life and is continually on the lips of most of us followers of Jesus - "Oh, Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief." Centering, contemplative prayer helps me some and using the Jesus prayer when anxiety levels rise. Just stopping to be aware of my breathing and uttering silently one phrase with each breath in and out. I've probably put this in a comment box here before - but it's simple, slowing and spacious and seems to open things up inside and settle them down, too.  "Lord Jesus Christ" as you breathe in; "Son of God," as you breathe out; "have mercy on me," as you breathe in; "a sinner," as you breathe out. Doing this slowly 3 or 4 times can bring me back to God's loving presence more quickly than anything else these days. Praying with  you and for you as we move through Lent. Love Jean's invitation above to pray for one another as we take the journey this year.

Dayle  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:06 PM)  

Great post, Michelle. I think trusting God is simply taking Him at His word, believing that He is there with us, even when circumstances seem grim. Just as your children trust you to provide for them, you can trust your heavenly Father so much more. That doesn't mean it's always easy (we are human after all), but I've learned that putting my trust in God is truly easier than fretting. If the house falls down around me tomorrow, I trust God with my life. It takes blind faith to trust God, but what other kind of faith is there?

Dayle  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:07 PM)  

P.S. I should also add that not only do I trust God with my life, but I trust Him if and when He decides my days on earth are over. I totally trust that I am in God's faithful hands, whatever comes my way.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:14 PM)  

Oh Jean - I love the idea of a 4-day silent retreat -- I suspect good things will come out of that! Absolutely let's pray for each other...I love how you put that...we are not called to know the answer, we are called to be faithful.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:15 PM)  

I think you are so right, August -- listening is key. Thanks for stopping by today!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:15 PM)  

I think you are so right about that, MK. When I look back in my life at the times I've really, truly clung to God, it's always been when the floor has dropped out and, as you say, my securities have been stripped away. In fact, I always say my move to Nebraska was a catalyst that brought me back to God.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:15 PM)  

Yup, I hear you Wendy. Thanks for stopping by today, lovely friend!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:16 PM)  

I hope and pray it's something good, Renee -- this feels like a tough one...

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:16 PM)  

Darn narrow road -- so twisty and bendy. I don't love it!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:17 PM)  

Thanks for the link, Mary - I'm anxious to read about Pat. I remember watching her coach -- Tenessee was always up against UCONN (my grad school alma mater) -- she seemed super tough.

Love what you say about trusting being called something else if it were easy -- yeah, I say like "a walk in the park." I think I would prefer that though!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:17 PM)  

I'm glad for your faith in me, H! And as usual, you make me laugh. But I think you are right, too -- trusting takes years and years. And it seems to me like a 2 steps forward 1 step back process. And also, like you say, it's about leaping. I wrote a whole book about that for crying out loud (called, fittingly, Leap Year), and I STILL struggle with it. Lot of good that did! Good thing it's still unpublished, or people would think I am a big, fat hypocrite.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:17 PM)  

Oh wow, Kim, we are on the same page (or should I say slip?)! I'm so glad to have you here with me as we journey toward trust together -- praying for you, too, sister!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 2, 2012 at 8:17 PM)  

I will pray for you as we journey on this quest together, Gaby. I'm glad to have your companionship along this road! You make such a good point, too, about the fact that we can't make ourselves trust. I guess that's what I meant when I said it doesn't feel real when I simply say, "Ok, I trust," because I know in my heart that I don't. What you said about the Holy Spirit is really resonating with me though. I think sometimes we have to throw up our hands and say, Okay Holy Spirit, do Your work in me. (and now that I write it, that sounds a lot like surrender...which is a lot like trust!).

Sandra Heska King  – (March 3, 2012 at 8:28 AM)  

I have to set up stones. Look backwards. Remember when He's been trustworthy in the past. And breathe. 

Love that photo. I want to sit over there on those rocks. Just. Sit.

Sheila –   – (March 3, 2012 at 8:54 AM)  

Thank you for your honesty. The sermon text this week includes Abram's call to relocate to "a land I will show you." I'm not sure that I would just pick up and move as easily as it seems that Abram did. But perhaps trust is a bit like courage, not saying that we trust or are courageous, but stepping out in faithful action even when we aren't sure that we DO trust. Just as heroes are not not "un-afraid", but they take the action that needs to be done!  We are on a journey, aren't we?

Lori  – (March 3, 2012 at 9:13 AM)  

Love this post Michelle. I wish I could go to your church, that is a wonderful tradition.  Also, I used to have a Pastor Greg and I think that has a wonderful ring to it! I will be following along with you on your Lenten journey! Lori

Deidra  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM)  

I wrote the same thing on my lavender slip of paper. "Distrust of God." Go figure.

Sharon O –   – (March 4, 2012 at 7:16 PM)  

I think for me... trusting God is not hard. The hard part is allowing HIM to trust me...
as in being a good and faithful servant
as in showing my heart and souls wounds for others to see and experience with me
as in being open and willing
to do what he asks
obediance to the deepest
I trust him
but I am not sure he trusts me or if I allow him to.  

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:18 PM)  

I do think Lent helps me focus more on God -- I get a bit quieter during this time, and that helps me keep my priorities straight.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:19 PM)  

Oh those nighttime too, Jennifer, me too.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:19 PM)  

You know what, Megan? You make a really good point -- follow anyway. Isn't that faith?

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:24 PM)  

I love, love this contemplative, prayerful breathing exercise, Diana - thank you so much for sharing it for all of us to learn.

Praying with you, too, as you are peacefully blogging toward the cross.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:26 PM)  

I appreciate your comment here, Dayle -- your conviction inspires me!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 7:27 PM)  

Yes, the Ebenezer! The backwards glances always gives me a much-needed perspective.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 8:10 PM)  

I think God likes it when we take the first step in faith -- kind of like the Israelites who stepped faithfully into the Jordan River, even though theydidn't know for sure if the rapids would cease so they could cross safely.

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 8:11 PM)  

I wish you could come to my church, too, Lori -- we could sit together and share lots of lavender slips of paper! : )

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 8:11 PM)  

Oh my gosh, I can't believe you wrote distrust, too! That makes me feel so much better. Writing about it here made me feel like it was the worst sin ever!

Michelle DeRusha  – (March 4, 2012 at 8:13 PM)  

I think he probably does trust you, Sharon, but the tricky part is you allowing him in to that place where trust happens mutually and entirely. You make a really good point about that -- I think I'll be mulling this one for a while!

Sheila Seiler Lagrand  – (March 4, 2012 at 8:18 PM)  

Oh, my, so much good stuff here. I'm not going to attribute the comments properly...but the one about we can't achieve it on our own  strength, that it's a Holy Spirit thing, that one resonated. Diana's practice resonated. Megan's "follow anyway" resonated. The comment that it takes everything else being stripped away, so all we have is trust...all of that

Michelle, thanks for the brilliant post that has stimulated all this great discussion!

leslie  – (March 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM)  

I think the Father understands that when bad things happen, his children falter in their trust. But He loves us, even through our distrustful times. For me, fear keeps me from realizing His love as fully as He desires me to. It keeps me from entering into that relationship that He longs me to experience. And I don't think learning to trust is something we can work up. I think it's something He works in us, as we grow in the realization of His love for us. The longer I walk with Him the more I realize that everything I need to change is everything I have no hope of changing, apart from His Spirit at work in me. So here's to the hope that we will both find a new freedom from fear, by the power of His Spirit and His love, at work in our souls. Even in the midst of this all-too-fragile world.

Patricia Spreng –   – (March 8, 2012 at 9:41 PM)  

oooh... my darn day job keeps me from visiting everywhere I want, when I want.  Thank you for this.  Sandy sent me via her blog post today and I so enjoyed being here.  Trust... yep... we are in a constant Trust-formation... I think it's lifelong.  Come visit my "Monarch" tab sometime and see what I've been learning about the trust issue.  Trusting sometimes assumes that we understand first... but the monarchs show  us how just by being who they are.  Good to be here Michelle. =)

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