By Laura Stephens-Reed
A couple of months ago I was driving home from two life-giving days of leading workshops in Mississippi. The sun was setting and the sky was showing off its neon pinks and oranges. I was be-bopping along on the interstate, making good time. I was listening to a podcast that was funny yet thought-provoking. I was looking forward to kissing my son good night when I got to my house. Everything was copacetic. And then … an unidentifiable feathered mass hurtled through the air and shattered my windshield on the passenger side. I was not hurt, but my windshield was bowed inward and spraying shrapnel into the car. I pulled over at the next safe place – a rest area – and waited on the tow truck.
Every day when we get in our cars, we are exercising a lot of trust. Trust that objects won’t come out of nowhere and disable our vehicles. Trust that oncoming traffic will stay on its side of the double-yellow line. Trust that stop lights at intersections have been timed so that I don’t have a green at the same time as cars that would be turning into my path. Trust in the authorities that they will penalize those who drive recklessly. This trust is order, predictability, and we see it in other areas of our daily lives. We trust that others will follow formal rules and unstated norms. We trust that the people we know will act in ways that we’ve come to expect from them. We trust that the safety nets that we’ve built or that have been built for us will be there when we need them, like medical insurance, social security, school programs that address learning disabilities, and regular inspections of food and bridges.
Leaning on this predictability is a kind of trust. There is also a deeper, harder level of trust that depends on our willingness to engage with the unpredictable. To ask hard questions, not knowing what the answers will be. To extend hospitality to those who don’t look, talk, think, or live like us. To change our minds about important issues in light of new facts or personal experiences. To acknowledge and speak aloud our feelings, and to make space safe for others to do the same. To try things that will stretch us, even if we turn out to be no good at them. And in all of this, to believe that we are opening ourselves more fully to abundant life, not to pointless, persistent heartache.
This deeper level of trust – the kind built on unpredictability – is hard.
It’s risky. It’s scary. It’s also faithful. We cannot run from it if we are going to grow as Jesus’ disciples. Because as Christians – as little Christs, as Jesus’ body on earth – we are called to be like him. To be vulnerable like that baby born in a barn. To be real friends with the kinds of people that are too often shunned. To do things we don’t want to do for the sake of others. To show our scars, knowing they are part of who we are.
In a world that emphasizes self-preservation at all costs, think about the impact our willingness to show up, to see people for who they truly are, and to be seen as our authentic selves could have. Not only will we start to bridge those soul-sucking human divisions, through us people will see God such that they cannot resist a relationship with God, the embodiment of love and the giver of abundant life.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.