Seven years ago, my wife, Maile, and I had just gone through one of the most difficult holidays of our young lives. I had just turned thirty-three. We had walked away from a failing business, left a community we loved, and moved into my parents’ basement. We brought along with us our four children, fifty thousand dollars of debt, and a nagging sense that we were failing at this thing called life. All of our friends seemed to be doing very well. They seemed to be right where we imagined you should be when turning the corner into your early thirties: decent vehicles, a mortgage, and well-rounded children playing soccer and the violin and learning three different languages.
We, on the other hand, were starting over. Do not pass GO. Do not collect two hundred dollars.
This period of life came to mind again as we watched some old home movies with the kids between Thanksgiving and Christmas this last year. In fact, it didn’t just come to mind—it was right there in living color for us to experience all over again. The Christmas of 2009.
There the kids were in the video, unwrapping a meager stash of gifts in my parents’ basement. I don’t remember how we paid for gifts that year. There Maile and I sat, looking somewhat depressed, somewhat dazed. Life had run over us with a steamroller, and the kids didn’t seem to have a clue.
While we watched that video (it seemed to come on the television out of nowhere), Maile looked over at me and wrinkled her nose.
“I’m not finding this one particularly enjoyable,” she whispered.
“Me neither,” I said.
But the kids were caught up in it, remembering this, remembering that. And they were so tiny, their voices squeaky-new. And as we watched, and I thought back through that time in our lives and the images in the video, one sentence came to mind: That’s what trust looks like.
I love Henri Nouwen’s take on trust:
Trust is the basis of life. Without trust, no human being can live. Trapeze artists offer a beautiful image of this. Flyers have to trust their catchers. They can do the most spectacular doubles, triples, or quadruples, but what finally makes their performance spectacular are the catchers who are there for them at the right time in the right place. Let’s trust in the Great Catcher.
I realized recently that trust is the most important ingredient in a life of self-employment such as mine. Not that I have always had perfect trust in God. Not that I haven’t been assailed with worry or anxiety from time to time (or more often than that). But my distrust becomes evident mostly in times when I begin working on a résumé. Yet the single most important thing that has taken me from this day to the next has been a determination to trust that God knows what God is doing. God knows what Maile and I are going through. And God is using it all in this tapestry of mercy and grace, a creative endeavor of which I only ever receive the smallest glimpse.
The single most important thing that has taken me from this day to the next has been a determination to trust that God knows what God is doing.
This is not meant to be a sermon or a guilt trip. If you are not doing what you feel you are called to do, or if you are not living the life the televangelists are shouting about, I am not here to tell you that the reason is a lack of trust. I don’t believe that God approaches us with a trust-me-or-else attitude. Trusting God is not something that will always bring monetary reward. It is not something that will elevate you above your peers or bring you a world’s helping of success.
But I will say this: I have practiced trusting all these long seven years, and I can feel it strengthening in me. I can tell when I am moving away from it, when I am trying to force things in my own timing, when I am operating out of fear. And I can sense the deep sigh of relief when I move closer to absolute trust.
My favorite words of all time about trust were written by Brennan Manning in his book Ruthless Trust:
The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.
Find the gentle movement of God in your life. And then trust it.
A version of this blog post previously appeared on shawnsmucker.com.