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Culture

A Matter of Trust

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October 4th, 2009

In the spring of 1987, my sister Elizabeth started dating a high school classmate of mine, Eric. During the course of the next 12 years, Eric became part of the family. Every wedding, graduation, funeral, and holiday since then, Eric was there. He had seen the O’Donnells through incredible changes—including my own. Eric knew me when I was a confused, messed-up teen. Though he wasn’t a Christian, he saw the power of God change my life.

Two Christmases ago, Eric was diagnosed with kidney cancer. When I got the phone call, I was stunned. This was someone I loved. Someone my age. I was confused. Would Eric die? I spent the next few hours in prayer, and it was one of the few times I’ve felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way. I remember feeling assurance and peace that God wanted to heal Eric and everything was going to be fine. I was bursting with the joy of the Lord! I called home to share this with everyone and encourage them not to lose hope.

A few weeks ago, I got another phone call. Eric passed away.

This was as much of a shock as the initial news about his cancer. I really believed God would heal him. The night before he died I was up late with my sister and mother urging them to hope in Jesus. Throughout the last year I prayed every day for Eric’s healing and salvation. In fact, I asked hundreds of people to pray for him.

“Was God listening?” I wondered.

At Eric’s funeral, words that were meant to be encouraging seemed shallow—even mocking: God’s ways are not our ways. A few of his friends approached me at different times and asked if I thought Eric was in heaven. This would’ve been a perfect time to share Christ with them, but I chose not to say anything because I really didn’t know what happened in Eric’s heart. I had to wonder if there was any truth to the saying that ignorance is bliss.

I woke up that night incredibly sad. I was angry at God for allowing Eric to die such a painful death; my sister was in pain, and I couldn’t take it away; and I felt forsaken by God because this all happened while other personal trials were brewing. I was already worn down. My faith was getting weak. I felt helpless.

A week after Eric’s funeral, I was scheduled for a national tv appearance and to speak at a youth conference. “How am I supposed to do this?” I asked myself. “How am I supposed to minister to others when I’m too angry to be ministered to?” I began to resent the fact that being in ministry means that my life is no longer my own.

Then, in the midst of figuring out how I could run away from everything God wanted me to do, in the midst of this pain and doubt and anger, I got an answer…but in a form I never expected. I was reminded of a mundane event that took place the day before Eric’s funeral…

I told the hairstylist behind the chair what I wanted, and I assumed she’d go about the job in the way I expected. But instead she was doing the opposite. “What’s going on?!” I asked myself. “She’s making it worse!” After a while, I figured she must not have heard my original request. “Excuse me,” I said, trying very hard to conceal my frustration. “You’re going to take out those curls, right?” She looked at me calmly and simply said, “Trust me.”

But when she was done, I was surprised. While it wasn’t what I asked for, the result was much better. I couldn’t help but chuckle—I’d been doing the same thing with God: I’d been demanding that God affect my life the way I wanted him to; I wasn’t trusting him when he didn’t; I assumed since hard things were happening to me that God wasn’t hearing my prayers; and when I was faced with more unknowns, I was ready to run away from him.

I still don’t understand God’s silence—I don’t know that I ever will. And I’m sure the events I’ve shared won’t represent the last time God shakes up my life, either. But I’m beginning to understand more clearly that for my faith to grow, I need to sit in God’s chair, be silent, and trust him to stand behind me and shear away at my life the way he wants—and that in spite of any pain along the way, the result will be far greater than I ever could’ve imagined.

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