I know I can’t be the only one that simply wants an instruction book. I can’t be the only one who wants to know what groceries to buy, what job to get, what activities to attend, who to love and marry, and generally what to do with my life.
And I know that because I have yet to meet an adult who thinks they’ve got it all right.
I thought I had found something that made sense. And then it didn’t pan out the way I had planned. And I have never been more confused. In fact, I cried out to God about it. And when I say cried, I don’t mean it in a pretty, symbolic way. I mean came to God in tears, saying the only thing I could think to say. “I don’t understand. I’m trying to surrender, I’m trying to hold onto hope, I’m trying to live in my vocation and be faithful. But I really don’t understand.”
And as I poured out my heart to God, I asked him to just tell me what to do. I asked for an instruction book. I prayed for his guidance because I didn’t understand what he wanted from me. And then I sat in the heavy silence that follows those kinds of prayers. When you want nothing more than a burning bush or a booming voice, and instead you only hear your own breath and the creaking of your house. And the only thing I could think of in that silence was this verse:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”
It turns out it’s from Proverbs 3, but I couldn’t place the verse at the time.
It’s funny, I thought I was done learning this lesson when I went to college and started this blog. My prayer then looked much like it does now: “Make it make sense, and show me what you want me to do. Because I feel like I’m on a tightrope in the dark.”
Every day I have to remember that his word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, which generally means we only have enough light to see the next step or two. And when I am crying out to God begging for it to make sense and telling him I don’t understand, he has the grace and the patience to say: “Don’t lean on that. Don’t rely on your understanding. You don’t have to, and it won’t help. I have other plans for you. Trust me.”
It’s funny that he says “trust with all your heart.”
Is it not enough to command our trust? What’s this “with all your heart” business?
What does it mean to trust with all your heart?
I’m sure there’s a simple understanding. A theologian’s understanding. But here’s one possibility:
Your heart is a complicated thing, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s full of complex thoughts and emotions, hopes, needs, and fears. And it’s easy to trust in God with your intelligence. The side of you that says, “Yes, we can’t understand everything and this is what faith is. It’s in God’s hands.” That bit of you knows the Sunday school answers and has every intention of reciting them to you through thick and thin. But your emotions? The side of you that’s bitter, confused, lonely, hurting, grieving, and in a whirlwind of life? That bit finds it a little tougher to trust. I can convinced my mind that God will take care of me. But my heart? That’s a taller order. My heart is unpredictable and often hurting just enough to doubt the goodness of God.
So what does it mean to trust him with all your heart?
I think it means trusting him even with those doubting, grieving, dark corners of your heart. I think it means to come to him in tears and give him all the ugly things you don’t know how to un-feel. And then the instructions at the end of that darkness are so simple: in all your ways acknowledge him. And then it comes with a promise. Your paths will be made straight in him.
It’s not easy, but it is simple.
Command: Trust God with all your heart, don’t lean on your own understanding.
Instructions: Acknowledge him in everything. Live your life in service to him and obey his commands. Give him glory when things go well and cry out to him when times are hard.
Promise: He will show you the way.
And since we’re calling this series “candor” it seems only fair to tell you I’ve never been more afraid of a command of God. Trust him? I can’t see him. I don’t hear him talk back like I do my friends or family. I have no idea if he has a plan for my life that I would enjoy (because obviously I want to enjoy my future.) Trust him? Trust the God that put his followers through intense suffering? Trust the God that commanded the rich man to give up everything? Trust him?
I know it’s not terribly fashionable to believe in sacraments these days, but I have to tell you that it is easier to trust when I can touch and taste Christ in his body and blood every Sunday at communion. It is easier to trust him when I remember that he called me out of darkness when I had no will of my own or part to play in the matter in my baptism. It’s easier to trust him when I hear his word preached every Sunday. It’s easier when I actually make time to pray and be in the scriptures. I suppose that’s why they’re called the means of grace.
Trust him. It’s a command that comes with a comforting promise. So pray for surrender. Pray for understanding and accept if it doesn’t come. Pray for guidance and you will receive it. Yeah, an instruction book on life would be nice. But this command is technically all the instruction we need and it comes with freedom to live according to our vocations.
So in 2023, with whatever you face, I pray that you join me in meditating on this verse and trusting God in the new year. Bring God all your good, bad, and ugly, and leave it in his hands. Wait on his guidance. Serve him in your vocation. And trust that his grace will be sufficient through your struggle.