Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
(old gospel hymn)
This chapter was lived very much in concert with my wife. As Peggy and I moved through the nineties and into the double-aught decade, we were in our forties, moving into our fifties. Our two sons graduated from high school in the mid-nineties, and although they would live for awhile in the same basement rooms they grew up in, they were living their own lives, on their own schedules. Our involvement in parenting was entering a new stage, one which opened up whole new vistas for us both.
One thing this caused for us was an evaluation of where we were in life. Where have we come from? Where are we going? What about life as we get older? Retirement? I tried out a few different things during this time, but nothing seemed to “click”. The first two to three decades of my adult life had been spent in numerous types of jobs. I had never followed any one career line. As a result, I found myself approaching fifty without any “career” as such. I had done a little of this, a little of that, but nothing for longer than four years or so.
This lack of a definitive career line had the result of no long term retirement planning. I had no built up retirement savings to look forward to. I had no company pension to rely on. Ten years after beginning her career, Peggy left employment for full-time private practice as a clinical social worker — and financial uncertainty comes with self-employment.
But the two of us, through discussions over a period of several years, had been growing in our trust in God, the Creator of the universe, the Source of all life. Both of us had changed dramatically by that time, in our conception of just who, or what, this Source might be like. But we both had seen evidence of the unlimited care that we were receiving from the Creator. Peggy had moved away from regular participation in organized religion. I continued to be part of Church without her. But we both still had strong beliefs, instilled in us from childhood on.
We eventually came to this place: we needed to make decisions about our lives and futures, based not on fear of being destitute, based not on money, but on where we felt the Source, God, was leading us. That meant that jobs, career moves, everything, must be based on what the Divine wanted of us. We were to live in the moment, as far as that is possible in today’s world. We were not to live for the future, which almost always has some basis in fear and anxiety. We were to place each day into God’s hands, trusting that he wanted the very best for us, trusting that he had our best interests in mind, trusting that whatever came would be the way he wanted us to walk.
This became acutely clear to us when we were looking at a new step which would involve a lot of money. We are not rich folk. We don’t have a lot of money squirreled away for the future. We basically live from week to week on our earnings. Where would these thousands of dollars come from for this new venture? We felt very clearly that it was Source who was asking us to do this. And we also felt that if it was God calling, the money would be there. We believed that our decision to follow or not should be based not upon money but upon Spirit. We took the step, and are still following this path, and the money continues to show up! In many different ways, the Divine has supplied our needs.
Once again comes the image of path, travel, walking, the Travels of a Mennonite Heretic!!! The picture this brings to my mind is of a forest path in the mountains. As I walk along the path, I don’t see very far ahead. I concentrate on each footstep, careful not to stumble over tree roots, loose rocks, etc. Occasionally I catch glimpses of the way ahead. Sometimes these glimpses can seem overwhelming. “Oh man, I’ve got to climb all the way up there?” Sometimes these glimpses can be encouragement. “Oh wow! I can’t wait until I get over there!!!”
Looking back to where I’ve come from is often similar. Sometimes I can see only a few steps behind me. Other times I can catch glimpses of how far I have travelled, the terrain I have climbed through. But the actual travel is very routine. I put one foot in front of the other. Step after step after step. There is a cleansing rhythm to hiking in the mountains, to walking anywhere, actually. Step, step, step. Not thinking about how many more steps I have to take. Not thinking too much about how far I’ve come, (although this might be more difficult!). The positive result of looking back, for me, has been encouragement at how far I’ve come over the last bit.
Thinking spiritually again, if I look back a decade, or two, or three, I can realize that back when I believed a certain way, whether about life, about truth, about God, about the Bible. And if I take stock of what I believe now, I am encouraged that I have grown in these life-shaping understandings.
This trust in the Divine, which holds the entire universe in its care, has grown to magnificent proportions in the last few years. As alluded to earlier, it has freed me up to just rest, knowing that I don’t have to know everything, knowing that I don’t have to figure everything out myself.
And this leads me to yet another thread which has been growing throughout the past couple of decades. This place of rest, of not having to have everything figured out, has led me to see that for most of my life, my “faith” was more based on intellect than it was in an actual spiritual exercise of trust.
Several years ago the church I was part of closed its doors, and I was left without a church home. For awhile this was okay. I decided not to make church shopping a priority. I would live for a period without Church in my life. This was part of learning to trust that God knows where my life is; he knows what I need at this point in my life, etc. This Church-less-ness lasted for about eight months or so.
When talking to a friend one day, I decided to try out a local church, about a block from my house. I had attended there before, but had never felt this was my church “home”. It happened to be a Mennonite Brethren Church, the denomination of my heritage. So I went to the pastor to find out what he and the church were all about these days. I immediately liked the young man who had recently moved from being the youth pastor to lead pastor. But I told him he needed to know what sort of parishioner he was getting if I was to join his church! “Pastor,” I said, “my trust in God is secure. I am one hundred percent sure of who I am in God. I trust him supremely. I do not have the same trust in Church.” He assured me that was okay with him, that he welcomed people who had more questions than answers.
I have been going there for close to four years. And I love it! Even though my theology is becoming increasingly more heretical, that is, less orthodox, I still enjoy this church. For one thing, it keeps me at least a little connected to my heritage. Many city Mennonites in Alberta have their origins in Manitoba, where Mennonites proliferate. So we have common backgrounds. The pastor himself was born and raised in Winnipeg, and pastored in the very church I was raised in for the first few years of life, and which my grandfather had pastored for the last three decades of his life. This church, which my great-grandfather had planted, is the first Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada, the Winkler Mennonite Brethren Church, established in 1888. And another great-grandfather of mine had become one of the strong leaders in the earliest decades of its life. I have very deep Mennonite roots, and I welcome occasional reminders of this.
The other thing I enjoy about participating in Church is that it continually reminds me of my scriptural roots. Hearing sermons and discussions on the Bible are a constant reminder of where I have come from. True, I participate in these discussions with a much altered mindset than earlier in my life. But it is all part and parcel of God’s truth. I truly feel that where I am today is built upon that foundation from my past, both in terms of heritage, and the Bible.
And I find this faith in the Divine being tested periodically when I begin to share just a bit of my current beliefs. When I told the pastor I no longer trusted the Church, but that my trust was in God, I did not go into great detail. Part of my distrust of the Church, or, if not an active distrust, at least a lack of trust, includes not trusting the Church’s book, the Bible, as much as I used to.
That statement alone is enough to cause most evangelical Christians to have their hair stand on end! The Bible is God’s Word; how can you call it the Church’s book? And yet, as hinted at in an earlier chapter, it was the Church who put together the collection of writings today known as the Holy Bible. This is not readily accepted or known by many mainstream Christians.
And while I still revere the Bible as holy writing, my faith is not in the Bible. I trust God. And I feel very strongly about that. For most contemporary Christians, faith in God is almost inseparable from faith in the Bible. How can I be sure when I am following Spirit that I am being led in the right direction? How can I be sure which spirit it is that I am following? The devil is depicted by the Church as being a tricky fellow, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. How do I know it is not the devil who is leading me, perhaps leading me astray?
Again, I have learned to rest through all this. Ultimately, it is not my place to determine. It is my place to trust. It is my place to follow. It is my place to be obedient. And I consider myself in good company! Jesus himself was accused of being of the devil. (See John 7.20; 8.48-52; 10.20; Matthew 12.23-27.) And he came to reveal the wisdom of God to us. “Learn from me . . . and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matthew 11.29 – see entire passage of 11.25-30).
So, if Jesus came to reveal God to us, and was accused of being from the devil, what does that say to us in our day? Whenever someone questions which spirit I am following, I just rest in my relationship with Spirit, and trust that God knows what he is doing and what he is asking of me.