There is perhaps no greater force drawing us away from God’s love than our fear.
Our regrets over the past are fears of inadequacy, and for our place in this world. Our longing for the past is based in the fear that our best is behind us. Our anxieties over the future represent innumerable fears of what might be, or not be, and how it will all come to pass. And our present often is frittered away in fears over a past that cannot be changed and a future that does not yet exist.
St. Augustine, the fifth century bishop of Hippo, warned of this proclivity to waste the present in preoccupation over past and future. Trust in God, Augustine admonished, is the remedy: “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.”
In this season of Lent, let us take some time to reflect on trust, and on any ways fear of past and future are robbing us of God’s gift of the present moment – the only real moment we ever will have.
Jesus reminds us repeatedly in the Gospel that our worries are for naught, because God provides for all creation, and will provide for us just as the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Besides, he admonishes, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?”
But, despite the assurances of our Messiah, fear still holds us back from a more full life in God. In Psalm 86 David reflects this fear, and pleads with God for the strength to trust: “Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you.”
David pleads faith and trust, but for the next several verses he cries out in fear, in longing for peace in God’s provision and protection. Finally, acknowledging his own weakness and God’s perfect strength, David surrender’s to God’s will over his own: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.”
It is this act of surrender, letting go of selfish ambition to “knit our hearts to God,” that allows us to walk in peace, trusting that God will direct our steps.
Some refer to this walk in trust as a “leap of faith.” That certainly is true, in those large, memorable moments that seem to change the course of our lives. Taking a new job. Quitting a job. Getting married. Having kids. Ending a destructive relationship. These are all powerful moments in which we must have faith before we leap.
But, we mustn’t lose sight of God’s presence in the little moments, or in our need to trust in the Almighty’s presence in the tedious events of everyday life. Washing the dishes. Dropping the kids off at school. The thousand small tasks that make up our work day. God is with us in these mundane moments just as much as the momentous occasions, and when our heart is knitted to God the mundane becomes momentous.
The prophet Isaiah tells us trusting in God isn’t a one-time act. It’s an ongoing process in which God guides us, and provides for us ceaselessly, in easy times and in hard, in times both momentous and mundane:
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
To our human ears this loving provision and protection can sound too good to be true. Somewhere, deep within us, we feel we’re not worthy of that kind of boundless love. We feel unworthy of being planted in the “spring of water, whose waters never fail,” and so have trouble trusting that we ever could reside there. The crux of our walk in faith – in trusting God – lies in realizing we will reside there, even though we don’t deserve it. That’s why it’s grace.
Jesus calls us to trust in him, to trust in grace, when he points out it’s not the perfect he came to seek. It’s the imperfect. It’s the sinners, the lost, and the weak-spirited who can’t believe they belong to the Kingdom. It’s for us.
“Follow me,” Jesus calls to us in Luke 5. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Only when we accept our own imperfection, and trust in God’s grace, can we enter the perfect state in which our desires and our efforts meld perfectly with God in the Body of Christ.
St. Anselm, 11th century Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury, describes this serene state, in which perfect trust yields perfect union with God: “No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.”
As we continue our walk in Lent, let us search out those areas in which we fall short in trusting God: in fears of past or future; in fears for our provision and safety; in egoic worry over finding worth in our own accomplishments; in failing to accept God’s grace, which seeks us as we are, and not as we ought to be.
Almighty and gracious God, help us today to search out and quell any fear in our hearts, to surrender self in favor of your perfect love and grace, and to find peace in our place with you, and with all your children, in the Body of Christ. Amen.