In confessions penitents can sometimes admit to ‘not trusting God!’ Not ‘trusting God’ may be a sin in the sense of rebellion against God’s will or it may not: careful spiritual discernment is needed to come to a clear understanding as to where trust is a cause of a broken and inhibited relationship with God and neighbour. It can be that trust in God can break down because of the individual’s personal situation. A time of personal crisis can awaken a deep need for divine presence and assurance – someone to trust in; to be an ever present ‘rock’. Encountering illness; bereavement, a breakdown of relationship, all these can create an inner spiritual landscape where a person feels lost. This can be expressed as ‘ not trusting God’ – in other words being unsure as to where life is going and being paralysed by uncertainty.
If a person is in such deep and murky water they can’t always be responsible for not feeling that they trust God. They are a victim of circumstances rather than their own wilful rejection of God. Where this experience of ‘lostness’ can feed sinful attitudes and behaviours arises if that person, because they don’t ‘trust’ God, ceases to practice the fundamentals of Christian discipleship. If they cease to set aside time for God alone, if they keep the Bible on the shelf and never open it, if they stop attending Mass and making their Communion, then that person is deliberately rejecting God – that is sinful. They need advice, penance and absolution.
There are those who accuse themselves of not ‘trusting’ God who, during this lack of ‘connection’, pour even more of themselves into serving the Lord in prayer and worship. It becomes obvious as penitent and confessor reflect on this condition that this experience is not a lack of ‘trust’; it is not ceasing to hold the Faith to be true or trustworthy. It is rather an experience of abandonment.
If this is the case then it helpful for the penitent to consider the wisdom of Christian spiritual tradition which expresses an understanding that such an experience is an action of the Divine will for that person; to draw them into a deeper relationship that passes beyond the frontier of trust into absolute dependence.
The psalms are a precious resource to those who experience this loss of assurance and certainty in God’s purpose. The Psalms, being the prayer book of Jesus, bring us into communion with him and he with us. They enable us to express our deepest fears and anxieties and we do so knowing that we pray in, with and through the Lord for whom the Psalms provided his own vocabulary of prayer in distress. If you are passing through some deep water in life and feel there is absence of trust in you then have a pray with Psalm 27, 30 or 31. There are indeed many others that could help give voice to a deep need to know the presence and purpose of God. This prayer does have an element of penitence, but that is not the whole story, or the end of it. The Te Deum, in its last petition, is a great help here; ‘in thee Lord have I trusted: let me never be confounded.’
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House