A matter of trust

So I had a little health scare recently.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m healthy, and I read about people courageously facing illness or other difficult battles, I think, “That’s how I would be. I would make the choice to be brave and trust God and put a big smile on my face.”

And then “it” — or something much less threatening than the “it” these other people faced — happens, and I crumble like a stale coffee cake.

I’m not generally a worrier. But in this case, when it looked like something big was suddenly wrong — when my normally healthy body was suddenly threatening to betray me in a serious way — well, that changed quickly. It turns out that I, with a brain wired for overthinking and a first-born’s penchant for control, apparently have a very difficult time just “letting go and letting God” when the stakes get high.

When the rubber actually hits the road, this whole “Jesus, I trust in you” thing is much easier said than done.

 It’s not that I didn’t try. I read all of those lovely Bible verses about being not afraid, and the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and all. Nope, still afraid. I prayed surrender prayers — the ones that talk, sometimes in God’s own voice — about how if we would stop worrying and surrender to Him, He would take care of everything. Then I worried that He wasn’t going to take care of everything because I was still worrying.

Of course, in the most rational parts of my mind, I knew that God loves me, and that He has a plan and He works good out of everything for those who love Him. I know that He is my loving, all-powerful Father, and thus eminently trustworthy.

And still, I couldn’t stop worrying and just trust. I could say the words, but I couldn’t make the emotions follow suit.

In the midst of all of this, I managed to stumble upon a tiny little book by Father Jacques Philippe about St. Therese of Lisieux, entitle The Way of Trust and Love. He writes, of course, about the Little Flower and her incredible, childlike trust in God. The kind of trust that makes me feel like a sinner and a heathen because I can’t seem to manage to emulate it.

But he also goes into great detail about her insistence that God knows and understands our weaknesses, and that “the good God does not demand more from you than good will.”

Good will? I think I can do that.

Good will doesn’t mean being satisfied with mediocrity. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try because God loves me just as I am. It simply means that, despite my weaknesses and my humanity, if I am doing the very best I can to follow Christ, and to do what He calls me to do, God will honor that.

Which, in this case, means doing the best I can to override my natural human fear and trust Him during a difficult time.

Placing our trust in God is not primarily about our feelings. It is an act of the will. Our emotions — influenced by neurotransmitters controlled by everything from our heredity to what we had for lunch — are often largely out of our control, and cannot be reliable indicators of our holiness or lack thereof. But we can still decide that, no matter what our emotions may be doing at any given moment, the rational part of our minds, the part that can freely choose, is choosing to trust God. Making that choice doesn’t automatically mean that our anxiety magically and immediately disappears. It just means that we are choosing, to the extent we are able, to focus on the trust and not on the anxiety.

As we continue to override our fear and surrender to God despite the anxiety, frequently something beautiful will begin to happen gradually. We will begin to feel a sense of peace that overcomes the fear. When that happens, it is beautiful. But it is not our doing. We are utterly incapable of making it happen. It is his action, his spirit moving in our hearts, overriding our hormones and our emotions to allow us to begin to experience that “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

My crisis has for the most part passed. The really bad stuff that we thought was happening turned out to be a false alarm — an answer to prayer for which I thank my Heavenly Father. But also a lesson in trusting him. I certainly didn’t reach Theresean levels of trust, but I like to think I traveled the first few steps along the path.

But more difficult times will come — for me and for all of us. When they do, I highly recommend, even if your anxiety is off the charts, repeating over and over this line from the Novena of Surrender: “Jesus, I surrender all to you. Take care of everything.”

And, in the ways known only to him, believe that he will.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018