By Claire McGrath
Much of our human experience depends on our ability to trust. I’ve come to realize that the things that are most important to me, like faith and relationships, are built primarily on trust. Trusting is one of the most challenging things to do, because it requires us to take a risk; we must be courageous and bold enough to have faith in something that we cannot control. When we trust other people, we are open and vulnerable with them because we believe that they will love and value us despite our weaknesses. We allow ourselves to be guided by others because we believe that they will lead us to goodness and joy, even though we may not know for sure. When we trust, we reveal to others our true selves, with our gifts and weaknesses, our suffering and our joy, allowing us to forge strong and authentic relationships. When we do this, we are taking an enormous risk, because we may not know for sure whether the other person will still love us when we are being vulnerable and weak; we may not know for sure that they will lead us down the right path or reveal the truth to us. These are things that we believe because have faith in another.
To trust is one of the boldest things that we can do because, as I mentioned, it means that we must relinquish some of our control, and be willing to follow where another is leading us even when we cannot see the path. Sometimes this will require us to do or believe things that we may not understand, or things that may cause us fear. When I visualize trust, I think of walking through the dark, guided by a voice, and believing that this voice is leading you to the light, even though you cannot see the path before you. Sometimes we end up trusting in the wrong things—things that will only lead us deeper and deeper into darkness instead of toward light. If we are to overcome challenges, to grow into who we are meant to be, and to find our way when we get lost, then we must learn to trust the correct voices. This is a lesson that I have learned slowly, after some time wandering and straying from the path.
We all experience periods in our lives where we feel a little lost, or experience some kind of turmoil or inner chaos. Sometimes we may have a vague sense that we have strayed a little bit away from the path that leads us to truth and goodness, and other times we may feel hopelessly lost, plunged into darkness. Last year, I went through a period of time when I felt lost and distanced from the things and people that I loved and cared about. I felt overcome by things like anxiety and stress and guilt, and I was struggling to figure out how to get back to the path that would lead me where I wanted to go—toward goodness and joy and light. I was able to view my struggles in a whole new way when I asked myself a simple question: Who am I trusting?
Somewhere along the way, I had stopped trusting myself, the people who loved and cared about me, and God. I placed my trust in things that only led me farther and farther into darkness and away from everything that I desired. I trusted my feelings of anxiety, which told me that I could never allow myself to relinquish control or else everything would fall apart around me, rather than trusting my loved ones, who promised to be there for me if I fell. I trusted my fear of disappointing people rather than trusting in my friends and family, who constantly showed me that they loved me unconditionally. I trusted in my feelings of guilt rather than trusting in the beauty of God’s forgiveness and mercy. I trusted in the belief that I could never be truly good enough, no matter how hard I tried, rather than trusting that God made me inherently and immeasurably valuable. When I realized that I was trusting in forces that were only trying to destroy me and to convince me that I was not deserving of love or goodness, instead of trusting in those who loved me authentically and unconditionally, I was struck by the irony. There I was, clinging so tightly to anxiety and guilt and fear, while God and those who loved me and wanted to show me how good and valuable I was were there inviting me to let go and take their hands. The love and joy offered to us by God and by our closest relationships may seem almost too good to be true—we are afraid to set our sights so high because of the fear of being let down. This is why we must be courageous enough to trust.
One thing that I want to make clear is that sometimes, we will find ourselves in darkness no matter who or what we are listening to. Getting lost or feeling inner turmoil is not necessarily caused by a lack of trust. My experiences of fear, anxiety, and guilt were not caused by some flaw in my spiritual life or a failure in my relationships. Rather, when I was faced with challenges, I found it very tempting to trust these harmful beliefs and feelings, and I found it much more difficult to trust in God and my loved ones. At some point, however, I realized that I could either choose to follow the voices that were pulling me farther and farther away from joy and love, or I could allow myself to be guided by the gentle hand of God and the consistent love and support of the people who cared about me, even though I could not see where they were leading me. Luckily, I chose the latter, and after a time of following them blindly, I finally found myself surrounded by light. Whenever we find ourselves in the dark, which at some point we inevitably will, we have a choice to make: Who am I going to trust?