Trust issues with God

by Kristin on March 8, 2012

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by OnTask

I feel very much on the sidelines recently—holding life off at an arm’s length rather than diving into its embrace.

It’s a very cautious, self-protective way to go through the hours, anticipating hurt and disappointment rather than adventure and reward. The more I pull back and play it safe—in my writing, my relationships, my plans—the more everything begins to turn inward on itself, curling up into a little ball that’s most at home in the nook of the sofa, protected by pillows, an afghan, and a pup that asks no questions.

Clearly, it isn’t a sustainable way to live, so if the pup won’t ask any questions I’ve decided it’s time to ask myself a few. The ones I’ve focused on are ruthless, but necessary: What’s going on? What do you want? What are you afraid of?

I think what’s going on is a trust issue. I’ve felt it before—in my first marriage it took shape as a perception that my then-husband didn’t have my best interests at heart. It’s one thing to look out for yourself; it’s another thing entirely to look out for yourself when there’s someone in your life who should be looking out for you, but isn’t. Twice as much energy is spent: first in the recognition and frustration of what isn’t happening, and then in the effort of doing what needs to happen.

This time, though, my trust issues seem to be with God. (Who knows—maybe they was before, too, but I just misdirected them.) As my pastor has pointed out in past teachings, if you believe in God but you don’t fully believe in his love for you and the good things he has in store for you, you’re going to feel stuck. That incongruity inevitably puts you on the sidelines, a place where potential cannot be realized, where points are not scored or lost, and where real lessons cannot be learned.

From the sidelines, it’s pretty difficult to answer the “What do you want?” question, especially because the “What are you afraid of?” question is also there, with its particular knack for shutting down desires. What I’m afraid of seems pretty clear, at least in general terms: I’m afraid of more disappointment, more hurt. I’m afraid of lots of hard work with no reward. I’m afraid of feeling alone, and angry. But I’m also afraid of staying in this stuck spot.

While I’d like to just figure out what I want, and then stir up my passions and a plan to go after it—I’ve certainly done it before—it seems like I have to get to the bottom of this trust issue, first, because the fears are clearly rooted there and blocking out the hope.

What do you think? What makes you trust or not trust someone? What makes you trust or not trust God? Has anything ever turned your sense of trust around?

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  • Lisa

    “What if it doesn’t turn out exactly like I want it to?” In other words, what if I would have to give up the illusion that I am in control? I write this laughing at myself – as if I am in control of my current reality either! The past two-three years have been filled with events that were out of my control and spun my world around. I ask God a lot – what are you trying to teach me here? What are you preparing me for? I worry that it is something bigger than I can handle but I know it won’t be because I’ve survived each of the things that felt like the “worst thing ever.” But, I know I still hold tight to my sense of control and that means I don’t surrender in trust … I’m a work-in-progress!

  • Patrick

    A very timely post from you Kristin. I’ve been feeling the same way and realized I have been going through a similar cycle for quite some time. Rather than curling into a ball though I fill my time up and spend my energy on things that take attention and divert focus. I find when I have open time I have to ask myself the same questions that you mention. Where am I going? What’s my purpose?

    I know I trust God, but I find so many times that I don’t allow him the time or space in my life to let his plan work. I don’t think it’s intentional, but maybe in a subconscious way it is. My main focus as of this last round of finding time and filling it has been to consciously shrink my unnecessary responsibilities and then, hopefully, allow for God to work in my life. I’m certain it will be infinitely more productive and rewarding than this cycle I’ve been in.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. It hit home today and reaffirmed I need to trust with my actions not just my words.

  • Ray Hollenbach

    This kind of season is difficult, Kristin, and because my path is so different from yours I won’t pretend that I know exactly how you feel. Still, when we want to come along-side of our friends we find ourselves sharing our own experiences, out of a deep hope that something might connect.

    There was a time when I experienced the silence of God, and I was left alone with my thoughts–and eventually–my fears. I would look into the night sky and hear nothing. From my bed I imagined the night sky above the roof, and felt . . . nothing. I am naturally optimistic but eventually my reserves of positive thinking ran out as well. To my surprise I had had to face fears of which I was unaware. And still the silence. I felt like Abraham,, but without the promises.

    Eventually I found him in the silence. Henri Nouwen was my helper, and through it all I learned to be still, even in the quiet. But this sound you can be sure of: the sound of a friend, miles away, lifting you up.

  • Kirstin

    A habit of stringent self-reliance has led me, in the past, not to trust people. Then i could be pleased if they proved trustworthy yet be covered if they didn’t. It’s not a particularly endearing way to behave, and it tends NOT to lead to stronger and deeper connections with other people. One of the useful lessons of the past few years for me has been the discovery that it’s okay to give people the option of being their best selves. I’m not sure how all that applies to God, though.

    What would you do differently if you did have the trust in God that you now lack?

    I remember having it pointed out to me at some point, that in the Lord’s prayer, we don’t ask for “bread” or “a lot of bread” or “more bread than other people” or “all the bread we could possibly want for the next year” but “our daily bread”–what we need to sustain us until the next day. Maybe trust in God works the same way? You can’t pray for all the trust you could possibly need–because it seems like that, too, would lead to curling up into a passive ball on the sofa while God fixes everything–but you can pray for the trust to do this one thing that will get you off the sofa…and then out the door…

  • Ray Hollenbach

     ~~ “One of the useful lessons of the past few years for me has been the discovery that it’s okay to give people the option of being their best selves.  I’m not sure how all that applies to God, though.”

    Well, God’s a person: why not give him a chance to be his best self, too?

  • Kirstin

    [@Ray Hollenbach, KT's blog, ecumenical as it is, may not be the place, but the "God's a person thing" has never worked for me, which is why in May I'll be converting to Judaism, the culmination of a many-years-long-journey. But I'll be interested to see how/if anyone else picks up on your question.]

  • Kristy

    Yup. Wow. Totally resonated with this. I don’t have any answers, but at least I do now have some food-for-thought on how to tackle my blocked hope. Thanks for that :)

  • Kristin T.

    Lisa, a big yes to this: “’What if it doesn’t turn out exactly like I want it to?’ In other words, what if I would have to give up the illusion that I am in control?” Exactly! While it’s often handy to be a really capable person who can make things happen, it does make it really difficult to let go and “surrender in trust.” I’m a work in progress, too!

    Patrick, there are the literal balls we curl into and then the figurative ones, right? It’s all about avoidance, and you’ve perfectly described another flavor of that same response. This, in particular, really hits close to home for me: “I know I trust God, but I find so many times that I don’t allow him the time or space in my life to let his plan work.” I think that’s exactly what I need to hear and ponder right now. Thanks for sharing your take on this.

    Ray, your comment brings to mind one of the things I’ve never known for sure about God and that distance or silence we feel from time to time (and no, let’s not go the “Footprints in the Sand” route). :) Do you think the silence is really silence from God—something we need to prompt us to face our fears? Or do you think it’s not a matter of silence, but a matter of us not being able to hear? I definitely need more stillness and space in my life. Maybe it’s time to pull some Nouwen off the bookshelf again…

    Kirstin, yet again, another reader nails something that I needed to hear and face! I, too, have found myself not trusting people lately. It’s not that I think they are bad or lying, it’s that I don’t trust that they (people beyond my husband and immediate family) really care about me. I’ve been trying to figure out what that’s about, because it results in actions from me I don’t care for. (As you pointed out, “It’s not a particularly endearing way to behave, and it tends NOT to lead to stronger and deeper connections with other people.”) I also needed that reminder that trusting God and moving forward is a one-day-at-a-time process. Thank you.

  • Nicole

    so timely for me too Kristin–I feel like I’m on the cusp of exiting an 18 month battle with God about trusting him. For me, the season began with me challenging God to let me test him. As in, if he was going to test and refine me in the area of trust, then I wanted to test him in the area of his faithfulness and love, and mercy and presence. It was an absolutely crazy time of experiencing times of silence and times of intense understanding of his presence.

    Now I think that God didn’t change or do anything differently because I was trusting/testing him. He just invited me into what he was already doing…but to be part of it, despite the pain–it was worth it.

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    Chaos and catastrophe instilled too much mistrust in me. I misappropriated those lessons I learned from people (mainly authority figures) to the character of God. It was only when I believed God was truly good (and also not human, btw) that I felt I made a large gain in this area.

    You’re SO right. We stay on the sidelines without trust. We have to be risky. We have to know we will get hurt. And we have to realize that this sort of pain won’t kill us (despite how terrible it feels).

    RAY: Now it’s obvious to me that you ARE a mystic. You gave yourself away on this one, kindred spirit.

  • Jonathan

    This is the biggest problem of my life so far, trusting God. I know he knows perfectly what I need. But what if I don’t like what he has? What if he’s so holy I’ll always have a trial to make me grow, or to suffer to prove my love? I think like this to the point of God forbid I have a wife I find attractive or love too much in case of offending him and not loving him more. It’s dumb