Sunday, April 17, 2011

Trusting Rightly

I've been meditating quite a bit recently on placing trust – specifically, in what or whom I place my trust. What piqued my interest was an account I read of Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. She recounted how some sister in her convent had misunderstood something she'd said or done. Rather than attempting to correct the sister's understanding, or to “clear her name”, St. Thérèse let the matter pass, reasoning that on Judgement Day, when all things would be made known, the true account of the incident would come out.
This impressed me greatly. Such an attitude reflected a deep faith and a long vision. Even if this outlook had not come easily to St. Thérèse, and even if she did not execute it perfectly on every occasion, it still displayed powerful trust and profound insight. It is certainly leagues beyond my attitude. I'm so preoccupied with what others think of me that even the possibility that someone is misunderstanding me keeps me awake at night. I want everyone to understand how upright and reasonable my motives are, and am willing to expend tremendous effort explaining myself so that I am perfectly understood. Unlike the Little Flower, I don't trust God to vindicate me eventually – I want to submit evidence of my innocence immediately, to be judged by whoever I fear is misunderstanding me. I want them to judge in my favor.
Simply put, I'm placing my trust in others. I crave the good opinion of men, to the point that I get nearly frantic if I think that good opinion is endangered. I'll scurry and fret and draft letters and rehearse explanations and arrange meetings, all out of dread. Oh, I'll rationalize my efforts as an attempt to insure “the truth” is known, but I know my heart. It is only about 3% concerned with “the truth”, and 97% concerned with retaining the good opinions of others.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with others having a good opinion of you. I'm sure many had good opinions of St. Thérèse even while she lived. But she did not center her importance on those opinions. Neither did she disdain them out of pride (“Who cares what she thinks?”) She kept her focus in the right place – on the hands of her all-knowing and all-just Father – and the judgements of men fall where they may. She trusted that the day would come when all circumstances and motives would be laid bare, and her actions would be vindicated – or condemned – according to the criteria that mattered to Him.
All of which brings me to Psalm 118. It seems to me that this psalm stretches over all Holy Week. The cries of the crowd on Palm Sunday - “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” - were drawn from Psalm 118. Jesus quoted it to the Pharisees after the damning parable of the wicked tenants (Matt 20:9-18). It is the last portion of the Great Hallel, the hymn sung by Jesus and the apostles just before they left for Gethsemane (Mk 14:26). And eventually St. Peter quotes it when proclaiming Jesus' Resurrection before the very Council that condemned Him. (Acts 4:11)
And what is the theme of this psalm? Trusting in God rather than in men. Looking to the Lord with complete abandon (v.6), not trusting in men (v. 8 & 9), and leaving the final outcome in God's hands (v. 7 & 22). Surely Jesus demonstrated what this kind of trust looked like in practice. When accused before the Sanhedrin, He did not start explaining Himself, “Look, guys, you've got it all wrong. The Kingdom I'm founding isn't a political entity – it won't threaten your rule of Jerusalem in the least.” Even before Pilate, when He easily could have laid bare the machinations of the chief priests and secured His freedom, He did not. His attitude was, “My Father will know the right of it” - even if that vindication lay on the far side of being tortured to death. (That's trust!)
Jesus was not worried about being misunderstood. What others thought about Him, said about Him, and ultimately did to Him did not matter as much as obeying His Father, and trusting in His final vindication. From this example, saints and martyrs down through history have been able to follow, fixing their eyes upon Him, trusting Him to vindicate them regardless of what men did. Even the little trials offered by St. Thérèse's sisters in the convent afforded an opportunity to trust and surrender.
This is the challenge to me this Holy Week and beyond. I've never been reviled, slandered, and verbally attacked. I've certainly never been physically abused. But considering how agitated I get when I'm merely misunderstood, I've got a long way to go before I even meet the standards set by the Little Flower, much less Christ Himself. But the first step is to recognize where I'm failing, and it is here: at the point of my trust. May I grow in this trust during this Holy Week, this Easter Season, and through the rest of my life.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.
1 Pet 2:21-23