Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Trust and Obey...

for there's no other way", went the old hymn from my childhood. The next line or so ("to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey") don't fit the circumstances, but "trust and obey" is a philosophy worth considering when one is faced with a crisis and needs to place one's fate in the hands of others.

I've been meaning to write about trust for a little while now, ever since the eye surgery pulled the props out from under me temporarily. And I've been thinking about how trust grows in human beings. I was probably pretty lucky because my parents and other adults around me were very trustworthy and when I encountered, later in life, people and relationships which were untrustworthy, I still had faith in human beings and relationships generally. I just became wiser about human nature.

Ten years ago this summer I was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, which required open heart surgery. Though this was a huge shock to me, I don't remember ever feeling afraid about it. I don't think I was numb either but I was confident that my body could heal after the surgery, that the cardiologist and surgeon were competent, that my congregation would be supportive throughout, and that my family and friends would also rally round. All this came to pass and when I had the surgery, I was aided in recovery by this confidence.

I was also aided in recovery by my obedience to the self-care procedures given to me by the medical staff when I went home: no driving for two weeks, no lifting, mild exercise, that sort of thing. It did not occur to me to challenge any of the strictures imposed and my sister was present for a couple of weeks to keep me in line, should I be tempted to stray!

This recent eye "event" (a detached retina) has reminded me of the value of "trust and obey" thinking. When the optometrist I consulted about the growing shadow in my vision told me I had an appointment for emergency eye surgery the next day in Seattle, I went home, dialed a number and said to the friend who answered, "I have an emergency and have to have somebody to drive me to Seattle tomorrow for surgery". I knew who I trusted in that situation and she came through. In fact, she came through several times during the next weeks and that reminds me, I want to do something really nice for her and her husband soon.

I'm often tempted to argue with people who tell me I need to do something, that it will change my life, relieve my back pain, whatever; I don't argue but I am likely to ignore the advice and do things my own way. Not this time. The "trust and obey" bounced up like an answer on my ancient "8-ball" and it was clear that this was not a time for rebellion or second-guessing.

The surgeon and staff were competent and reassuring; the operation went well; my friend stuck by me the whole time; my congregation has been supportive and eager to help; my friends filled in for me musically when I couldn't perform; I had to back out of a worship service and somebody preached for me. They were trustworthy and I have been obedient to the requirements for a successful recovery: head down position for 35 minutes out of every hour for a week; no lifting; no driving for two weeks; use of eye drops and other meds faithfully.

This whole trust experience has been revelatory. I had no choice but to trust and obey, if I wanted to save my vision. And when we are in that position, big important questions come up: does anyone care what's happening to me? can I really ask for help? if I ask, will anyone be willing to help? who will do what I can't do? will people resent my neediness? will I ever be the same again, able to help myself?

It's scary to ask these questions sometimes because we simply don't know what the answers will be. Sometimes we are disappointed in others' responses to our neediness. Sometimes our need to trust is not met; people do let us down. But I think this happens less often when we are part of a community, whether that's a congregation or a group of friends or other associates who have a sense of belonging together.

I'm grateful for my early learnings about trust. It makes it easier to face life's difficulties. I'm not recklessly trusting, either. I'm wiser than that; somehow I learned that not everyone was trustworthy and that there were ways to tell. I've also learned that it's essential that I be trustworthy myself, that if I am careful about this trait, then I am better able to trust others.

When the surgeon was talking with me after the procedure, he asked me if I'd found anything worth conveying to others about my experience. He knew I was a UU minister and wondered if I'd ever preach about it. "Trust", I said. "That's what I'm going to talk about someday. Trust. Not being afraid but relying on the wisdom and skill of others to help me."

Trust. And obey.

13 comments:

LinguistFriend said...

Kit, I do not doubt that your prescription of "trust and obey" is appropriate for most medical circumstances, but it certainly does not fit for all. In my youth, I knew a Ph.D. couple who were both biochemists; the husband was the chief of clinical chemistry at a city hospital. When his wife was once hospitalized, she observed that the person in the next bed was presented by the nurse with pills labelled as a chemical which, when taken, would stop the contraction and pumping of the heart. She leaned over, told the patient not to take the medicine, took the pills away from the patient, and handed them to the attending physician when he appeared. The physician looked at the label, blanched, said nothing, and removed the pills. There is no doubt that she saved the life of her fellow patient. Physicians make errors, and so do nurses. The practice of medicine is fallible.
I do not doubt that your trusting behavior was appropriate, but it is important for the patient to understand as much of what is going on as is possible. However, the patient is rarely well prepared to understand explanations. That is only one of the possible issues. It is a problem which has no perfect resolution in terms of regulatory procedures and procedural safeguards, so far as I know.

ms. kitty said...

You are certainly right about that, LF, and I don't mean to advocate blind trust. Errors are made in every field and in every relationship. Trust is still a good thing to cultivate and it's interesting to experience it.

ms. kitty said...

One more thing: there are situations in which we have no choice but to trust and this is what I am talking about. To be able to be fearless in our trust is a wonderful thing.

boston unitarian said...

Emerson once wrote (I think to Carlyle) that his entire philosophy was "acquiescence and optimism"
Thanks for the post and Blessings, BU

Erik Resly said...

Thanks for the fascinating post! On my view, this trust resides not necessarily in the mind but rather somewhere deep in the belly of the spirit. Trust speaks to the habituation of a willingness and openness to the flow of the universe.

Judy said...

Someone once asked Albert Einstein what was the most important question to ask, and he replied "Whether the universe is a safe place." (That's a paraphrase, but close...)

Like you, my childhood convinced me that the universe is a safe place to play, and I am grateful for that deeply held conviction. It has affected my ability to love, my theology, and all aspects of my life.

LF is right, of course. Blind trust in risky situations (like hospitalization) isn't wise. But what I'm talking about (and you are, too, Kit) is something that goes much deeper. As ministers we have both certainly encountered people who got a different message -- that the universe is NOT a safe place -- and it is tragic to see how that fundamental, foundational distrust plays out in their lives.

Thank you for this post!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to all of you for your insights, as I learn from everything folks offer.

Mile High Pixie said...

Trust seems to be harder and harder to have and show these days. Or has it always been this way and I'm just noticing it? Even as a child, I had a hard time trusting adults because it always seemed like they were pulling a fast one on us kids. Now as a grownup, I've gotten more specious about who I trust, but...

...at the same time, I find that more than half of my worrying is for naught. Trust the process, as I once heard someone say. Trust the process, keep breathing, and let things unfold. You'll know which way is the right way when that happens.

Miss Kitty said...

Amazing post, Ms. K...WOW.

Many hugs to you during your recovery, too!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Pixie and Miss K. I appreciate your thoughts and kind wishes.

kim said...

I'm told it was Ronald Reagan who said, "Trust but verify". Well, I guess even Reagan had something good to say....

uuMomma said...

Hi Ms. Kitty--finally catching up on some of my blog reading and just found this. This is a really good post--a good way to think through a thing. Thank you for sharing it.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Momma, it's good to hear from you!