As I listen to my life and to the Spirit, I almost always hear these invitations:
A full, free, and flourishing life hinges, first and finally, on trust.
Erik Erikson said that, in the earliest stage of life, our experiences bend us toward trust or mistrust as our basic orientation to self, others, and the world. We ask, before we know we are, if there is and will be enough of what we need, both nourishment or the body and nurture for the spirit. Are there, will there be, shelters from the cold and havens from the storms? Is there, will there be, acceptance and affirmation for us? Are we being, can we be, held, cherished, and blessed? Is it, can it be, a good and glad thing that we are alive and take-up space on the earth?
For myriad reasons, some of us are inclined more to mistrust than to trust. We have what Carlyle Marney called “busted trusters.” As a result, we’re restless, anxious, and unsettled a lot of the time. We scramble to be sure there’s enough, even when it’s actually true that we already have more than we need. We have a hard time accepting acceptance even when it is generously offered to us, because we fear it could be withdrawn at any moment. We discount affirmation when we receive it, because we’re sure that if they really knew us, they’d turn away from us. We feel and fear we have to make in on our own. We doubt that there is even provisional protection or temporary shelter. And, it’s almost impossible for our hearts (not our minds) to fathom what providence might mean.
In my sixth decade, I’m still learning how to accept this first invitation. Trust has never been easy for me; faith hasn’t been simple. Independence has made more visceral sense to me that dependence or interdependence. I haven’t let myself count on there being help when I needed it. I’m been much better at working and earning than resting and receiving. I haven’t often experienced security; instead, I identify with college football coaches who feel that their jobs are on the line every weekend: win again or pack in in and hit the road.
Thankfully, I’ve had–still have—teachers, guides, and healers who repair and restore my busted truster. Friends and family who haven’t left the room even when I’ve made a mess of things and shown them the door, who’ve listened to my fears without trivializing them, and who’ve opened their arms and hearts even when I insisted I had to go it alone.
Surviving two seasons of clinical depression wouldn’t have been possible without people who stood at the mouth of the cave, holding a light and encouraging me to come out.
Having the opportunity and responsibility to bear witness to faith, even when I found it hard to come by, kept me within hearing distance of its possibility.
And, then, there’s cancer—Multiple Myeolma, which I’ve nicknamed “Frank.” Since Frank pushed his way into my life and set stern terms for our relationship, I’ve been more vulnerable and less in control than any time since childhood. Such helplessness is a gift, because it offers me remedial lessons in basic trust. I get to learn more fully now what I learned only partially when I was younger. Regularly, I have to entrust myself into others’ hands.
Today, I begin chemotherapy again: two oral medications and one infused. The initial infusion is likely to produced complicated side-effects, and the combined drugs will, almost certainly, deepen my fatigue. I roll up my sleeve and surrender to needles that will carry drugs with unpronounceable names, much less, to me, understandable chemistry. I swallow pills and capsules that will make me feel sicker as they work to improve my health. I follow orders from caregivers who know more than I can ever know. It’s all an exercise in trust.
It’s odd to say, I know, but cancer has become for me a means of grace. It is not, itself, grace, but it is a channel through which renewal and restoration come to me. More than ever, in the kind of saving paradox which exists only with a God who brings death out of life, I am freed to risk trust that, when I fall, hands of mercy wait to catch me, that “nothing in all creation separates us from Love” and that, somehow and some-when, all shall be well.”