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.