I used to think that trusting God meant never worrying about things or getting anxious. I thought it meant perfect calm and peace of mind, and not reacting to anything that happens. But now I think I was completely wrong.
My biggest mistake was thinking about trust as a feeling rather than a choice or act of will, in the same way that we so often mistake love for a feeling. Trust isn’t feeling good, or never being anxious or uncomfortable. It isn’t constant serenity and peace of mind. Trust is choosing to believe in and rely on God, the only one who is totally trustworthy and reliable, even when you can’t see how things will be OK. It is choosing not to rely on yourself. Trust is a big decision to let go of control to God, then hundreds of smaller decisions to maintain it when you are tempted to start pulling back control. This requires faith: believing in God and in His goodness and care. If we don’t believe, we will not be able to trust Him. Trusting God might lead to feeling calmer and safer, but that isn’t the purpose or measure of it. Wanting to feel good is thinking about self rather than dependence on God. Trust is about loving God and repeatedly saying “Yes” to Him.
Trust in God and trust in yourself can be easy to confuse. It’s a strange thing that often I think that if I don’t trust my own ability or know exactly what I need to do and how, then I can’t trust God. This is illogical because in order to trust God, I only need to trust God. When I feel the need for confidence in myself or a clear understanding of how to proceed, that is self-reliance and it takes an act of mental gymnastics to make it appear like trying to trust God. It is really saying, “Yes I’ll trust you, but only if you show me every detail up front so I can choose whether to accept or reject it”. This isn’t really trusting at all, and demonstrates a lack of faith in God. This temptation might be a significant challenge for autistic people. I find the unknown and the unpredictable very stressful: I like to know exactly when and how things will happen, I use lists and schedules and get anxious when I deviate from them, and I like to know exactly what other people around me are going to be doing. This all helps me feel more grounded and safe. It is caused by genuine cognitive difficulty, but results in control freak behaviour. This is not always appropriate or kind towards other people, and it definitely isn’t appropriate towards God. I have limited knowledge, poor judgement, and don’t always know what’s good for me. But God knows everything, wants the best for me, and is totally reliable.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
Trust is active and alive when circumstances are hard or feel impossible. It is real when we feel anxious or afraid. If there is no challenge, we cannot know if we are really trusting God. When there is a test we can choose to trust God, and only then will we find out whether or not we really do trust Him. Times of difficulty can even be accepted as a gift because they are an opportunity for deepening our relationship with God. This is because relationship and the ability to trust are a gift from God. He always offers what we need, but we must accept it and cooperate with the grace given in those times. Although it might be very uncomfortable, a few weeks of anxiety and difficulty can lead to more development of relationship with God than years of ease and comfort. There are some things about relationship and love that we might only be able to learn through suffering, so it can be a time of enrichment and growth. This doesn’t mean that God wants us to suffer, but because He loves us so much He will use even the most unpleasant and challenging situations for our good.
Sometimes during difficult times God can feel very distant. He never leaves us, but occasionally it seems like God hides or speaks more quietly. It is easy to think He has gone away, but I think it is an invitation to come closer and rely on Him even more. When a person whispers, you lean forward to hear them better. When God becomes quieter, He invites you to lean closer to Him.
Autism and trust
Autism can create many challenges throughout the day, and make lots of ordinary things stressful. This might be from the effects of executive function deficit, perseverative thinking, social difficulties, or simply getting exhausted. People with and without autism might experience anxiety for lots of different reasons. This doesn’t mean we can’t trust God. The difficulties won’t disappear the moment we begin to trust, but we can be confident that God is present in them and will help us. Because trust is an act of will, things can be very challenging and uncomfortable, but we can choose to trust anyway. The best way to do this is to pray, simply telling God what is hard, saying that we are afraid, and asking for His help to trust Him and to do what is needed. This doesn’t need to be in words, He understands any form of reaching out to Him. Sometimes, when things seem particularly difficult, I find it helpful to list the reasons I have for complete confidence and trust in God. Doing it as a prayer and thanking God for all the reasons for being able to trust Him keeps my focus on Him, and stops it being just a mental exercise. We mustn’t be afraid to complain and tell God just how hard things are and how much we don’t like it. Telling God what’s wrong isn’t a lack of trust, because it requires trust to be confident that He will listen and care. The psalms are full of people doing just that. We can tell God exactly what is going on and how horrible it is, but must try not to stop there. If we are struggling to trust, we can say sorry and ask for help to trust more. It is an opportunity to choose to let Him be in control.
An example of real life trust.
(CF Matthew 14:22-33)
Peter was afraid and thought he was going to drown. He had trusted Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk towards Him on the water. But then he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the storm. Peter’s trust withered, but he still had enough to call out, “Lord save me!”, and Jesus did so “immediately”. Jesus chided Peter for having little faith, but he had trusted more than the others, he was the only one to get out of the boat and try. It’s easy to think Jesus was rebuking him for absence of faith and trust, but He said little faith, not no faith. It seems Jesus was telling Peter how much more he could have. And indeed, Peter’s trust did grow through Jesus’ intercession and his receiving the Holy Spirit, to the point where he could shepherd the infant church and eventually give his life as a martyr.
I find this Gospel event very encouraging because it means that a lapse of trust is an invitation to persevere and grow, rather than a cause to give up. It is a powerful reminder to keep one’s eyes on Jesus whatever is happening and to have the courage to “get out of the boat” and go to Him. Jesus did eventually calm the storm once they were back in the boat, but He rescued Peter while it was still raging. Trust begins and strengthens while things are still difficult. It begins the moment we turn to God believing He is only good.