What does it mean to trust in God?
This is my story of my exploration of this issue over the past two years.
Before I got pregnant, I was moderately ill with M.E. This meant that I only had enough energy to work 2 hours a day (10 hours per week) and my mobility was limited to 200 metres per day. I was a wheelchair user and spent my afternoons in bed sleeping.
When I got pregnant, I was overjoyed and excited, but also fearful for what this would mean for my illness, because sleep deprivation and physical exertion make M.E. worse. Having a baby meant labour (major physical overexertion) and then months of broken sleep. Even healthy people struggled with the physical demands of having a baby – how would I cope?
One of the difficult decisions we had to make was whether to go through labour or have an elective Caesarean Section. My concern wasn’t the pain of labour but the exertion required to push a baby out. How could I spend an hour pushing when I didn’t have the strength to walk to the end of the road? I was trying to balance the risks of surgery with the risks of a major relapse (worsening of symptoms) if I went through labour.
We didn’t have a lot of guidance from doctors, because there is so little research done in this area. They didn’t know what to advise. The first doctor we spoke to refused to consider a C-Section, saying, ‘Labour is not fatiguing – the uterus does all the work for you.’ (I would have liked to have seen her say that to a woman who had just given birth!) In the end we went for a compromise, of sorts: we decided to try for a labour birth, but to have an epidural as soon as possible, and if the labour was too long or if I were getting too tired then they could do an emergency C-Section.
When we talked about our fears to other Christians, the overwhelming message we had was ‘trust in God’. This came in a variety of ways. Some people just seemed to say it like it was a platitude, ‘trust in God; I’m sure it will be okay – I know someone who got pregnant and their M.E. went into permanent remission.’ (Mine didn’t; after an initial improvement I had a major relapse). Others actually prophesied healing by the end of the year, and although I wanted to be wise and weigh it up, it secretly gave me some hope. (I wasn’t healed). Others used ‘trust in God’ as a reason to justify their advice that I shouldn’t have a C-Section, and implied that if I did, I would be showing a lack of faith.
Then I went to a ministry weekend away where people had pictures and words for me that were the same message: trust in God. These words I did take more notice of; they had no agenda to push, and it felt like God was telling us that.
So even though I knew that most people with M.E. had a relapse 6-12 weeks after giving birth, even though I didn’t understand how pushing my baby could possibly not make me worse, I decided to go through labour. I decided to believe that it might be okay; I decided to trust God, I decided to hope.
My labour was short (12 hours) and although painful, it was bearable. I had an epidural after 8 hours, which was a bit late, but it did help. But then my fears started to be realised. I ran out of strength to push after 5 minutes; I went on pushing for 1.5 hours. Eventually I had a forceps delivery. (One can never look at salad servers in quite the same way afterwards.) Shortly after giving birth my temperature and blood pressure dropped and I was barely conscious.
I spent a week in hospital after the birth. It was fairly nightmarish. My heart went into tachycardia every time I sat up, and I was gasping for air. I couldn’t stand up or support myself, I had to be accompanied to the (en suite) toilet. I was in agonising pain, which I later discovered was caused by the bones in my spine being bruised by the birth. I couldn’t sit down. It was an effort to roll over. I couldn’t pick my baby up, dress him, change his nappy. My iron count was so low I had to have a blood transfusion.
To make matters worse, most of the nurses and midwives didn’t understand M.E. or my pain. They seemed to think I was lazy or didn’t want to be with my baby. There were mutterings about social services and needing to make sure I was bonding with my baby and doing things for him before I would be allowed to leave the hospital. It was only when a midwife saw me transform in the space of five minutes from being propped up, eating a sandwich, talking intelligently to lying down, unable to speak or fully comprehend what she was saying that she understood that I really was ill.
The nurses in the hospital kept asking,
‘But you can’t lift up your baby? How are you going to look after him?’
I wanted to say to them, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to look after him. I didn’t know this was going to happen. I’m terrified.’
What I actually said was, ‘my husband works from home’, as that’s the answer that seemed to pacify them.
It was such a weird time, those first few months after the birth. I loved being a Mum; I felt so blessed to have my baby, and very much in love with him. Like most new parents we had the frightening and exhilarating and incredible time of getting to know our new baby and being new parents. But we were also having to simultaneously get used to my new level of disability. It was 3 weeks till I was well enough to change a nappy. It was 6 weeks before I was well enough to leave the house for an hour (in a wheelchair). We had to change our bedroom to the one nearest the toilet because I could only manage a few steps and it was too far for me to walk from the other one. I ate my meals upstairs because I couldn’t manage the stairs. I was almost entirely bedbound. Jon had to take a month off work, and for a few weeks after that he was taking our boy to his work meetings while I slept.
And where was God in this? How did I process it spiritually? If I’m honest, I felt very, very angry. I felt in many ways like I’d been tricked; tricked by those Christians who had said it was going to be fine. I felt angry that I had believed them. Most of all, I felt tricked by God.
I went over and over in my head whether I’d made the wrong decision to have declined the C-section. With all the careful research I’d done, I knew this deterioration in health was a possibility, but it was very much the ‘worst case scenario’. People had said to me, ‘why do you expect God to give you the worst case scenario? What kind of God do you believe in?’ – and here I was, in my worst case scenario. In fact, it was worse than my worst case scenario. I thought that I could be bedbound for months but then I would be back to the level of energy I was pre-pregnancy, but over a year on it was looking like I may be long-term or even permanently housebound. I felt like saying to God, ‘You told me to trust you – I trusted you, and you betrayed me.’
It took me many months to come to the following realisation:
When people were giving me the words, ‘trust in God’, I had heard, ‘trust in God, because your health is not going to be damaged by this.’ God had not promised that my health was not going to be damaged. He had not even promised that my baby was going to be healthy and okay. He had just told me to trust in Him.
If we trust in God whilst unconsciously putting a condition on it, we are not trusting, we are bargaining. I had not trusted God, I had bargained with Him. I was angry with God that He had reneged on His side of the bargain; I had trusted, He had not healed. But God had not offered that to me, and I had no right to assume that that would be the case.
Trusting in God does not equate to believing that God is going to give me the life that I want. That is wishful thinking, not trust.
Trusting means looking to him, relying on him and his goodness, even when the situation is not as we hoped or wanted. Trusting means loving him and rejoicing in him, even when we don’t understand what he is doing. Trusting means hanging on when he is silent.
Trusting is saying, as Job did, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13:15). It is saying, with Habakkuk, ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines…yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my saviour.’ (Hab 3:17-18)
It is one thing to say you trust God when you have plenty of figs on your tree, when your life is good, when you have plenty and security. It is another to trust in God when you lose your job, your money, your health, your family or your friends; when you cannot imagine how you are going to cope; when God takes rather than gives.
Even though I still don’t really understand, I am learning what it means to trust. I do not rejoice in my illness and disability nor the uncertainty that it brings, but I am learning to trust in God, to rejoice in God my Saviour. I am walking in the valley of the shadow of death, but I am stretching out my hand in the darkness, hoping that God will take it.
Over to you:
- Have you ever been through a time in your life where God has taken rather than given? How did you process it spiritually?
- What do you think about the difference between ‘trusting’ and ‘bargaining’?