The Most Ridiculous Virtue

Leaving my business. Traveling around the country. Living in a basement. Preparing to move again. Wondering where my next few projects will come from. Wondering what to write.

I crave clarity.

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clarity //  noun //  the quality of being certain or definite (Oxford Dictionary)

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you know the feeling. Click, click, click: the eye doctor makes her way through an assortment of lenses, trying to decipher which one works best for you. Then, voila!

Clarity.

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Clarity (regarding not just your vision, but your life in general) is heralded. Being able to identify and communicate the direction you are headed is a highly touted trait of leadership. As a culture we place enormous value on clarity, seeking it when making major decisions or offering advice.

The strange thing is, the more determined I’ve become to trust God (which in practical terms seems to mostly mean rejecting worry, striving less, practicing generosity, and trying to be content), the less clarity I experience. As clarity evaporates, I have two choices: freak out or continue to trust.

But clarity brings such comfort! Knowing where I’m going to live, how I’m going to make money, when I’ll go here or there – this “knowing” gives me a sense of control, the feeling that I can glimpse the future and it is good. The absence of clarity, however, often seems to relegate the coming days to some kind of shapeless void. The lack of clarity can fill me with fear or anger or confusion.

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When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the US: “Pray that I have clarity.”

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

– Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust

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Of course, the biggest problem with trust is that it often looks irresponsible and ridiculous to the rest of the world, a world obsessed with clarity and infatuated by control. And we don’t want to look ridiculous.

But everyday, my friends are taking small steps of trust. They are writing books when they don’t yet have a platform. They are becoming foster parents. They are adopting one more child than those around them deem responsible. They are leaving the cubicle life behind for an unknown adventure. They give money to others when it means they will go without.

They have traded clarity for trust.

What I’ve noticed is that at the root of this trust is an ability to be okay with their place in the world even when things don’t make sense. To find joy in spite of the diagnosis. Peace in spite of the loss. Love in the face of hate. By doing so, they carry on a tradition much deeper and more meaningful than the shallow, materialistic creed embraced by our culture. They give hope to all of us, that life can be deeper than a bank account. That there are more important things to look forward to than our next vacation.

They give me hope that my own, often unclear existence might still contain meaning.

They live these words from Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.

Do not put your hope in clarity. Do not let your happiness hinge on your comfort or ability to map out your own future. Do not be afraid to do something you know you need to do even if you’re not sure how it fits into the bigger plan. Even if it doesn’t make sense.

Instead, trust.

When is the last time you practiced ruthless trust?

23 Replies to “The Most Ridiculous Virtue”

  1. Right now. And it’s awful.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened up your blog only to read exactly what I need to hear. Thanks for blogging.

    1. Hang in there, Clint. I’m learning that I would rather be miserable and trying to practice ruthless trust than blissfully unaware that my life is numb.

  2. I echo Clint’s comment. This blog post is like the “Amen” to a conversation I had yesterday.

    “Knowing where I’m going to live, how I’m going to make money, when I’ll go here or there – this “knowing” gives me a sense of control,” but amazingly when I read that my immediate thought was it also gives a sense of BEING controlled by all of that. How lovely that I can see the difference now.

    Your blogging oftens speaks to what I need. Thank you.

  3. Yep. Living that life that “often looks irresponsible and ridiculous to the rest of the world”. Even to other believers, I might add.

    At times I cannot tell if this blog is healthy confirmation of my difficult choices to trust in God, with my wife and five children in tow, or adding fuel to the “irresponsible-ness”. I’ve resisted subscribing to the RSS feed until last Friday’s post (about God providing in ways we do not necessarily want or expect.)

    Then today’s post encapsulated conversations I’ve had with my wife. It even quoted Habakkuk, which I recently read while seeking clarity. Dude, get out of my head!

    Ironically, you’ve given me clarity, because now I realize that the clarity I seek is in itself a lie; a distraction.

    Shalom to you and your family!
    Marc

  4. Preach it, friend. The problem for me with clarity is that it easily becomes a replacement for God. Nothing makes you cling tight to the One you love quite the way walking through darkness together does. Clarity is a fool’s gold that absences me from the moment wherein often lies the key to peace, joy, love and all the other things I hope to find. Clarity tells me “X marks the spot” and keeps me running after the rainbow while never considering the possibility that I’m standing on the X the whole time, that which I seek most (beyond the control, power, etc. offered by clarity) is there all the time (I think this is something Barbara Brown Taylor says in “An Altar in the World”).

    It’s a very little thing, but I’ve started practicing trust by getting rid of things (wrote about this in my last blog post) and preaching from a rough handwritten outline – the anxiety I feel in both of these letting go’s becomes my invitation to cling more tightly to God. Thanks for sharing your life, Shawn, it’s a blessing for the rest of us fools.

    1. Clarity is fool’s gold. I love the metaphor. I’m also intrigued by your preaching from a rough outline. I’d like to hear more about that, and how your experience has gone with that approach.

  5. Shawn, this post sucks. Oh wait, let me clarify—this topic sucks. It means I have to let go of the lies I often (if not always) believe as truth. The lie that God always puts a clear path in front of us and even confirms it with us when it is the right choice.

    This is a bit of a kick right in the teeth. But it is definitely needed. Thanks for sharing this today.

  6. I’m with Clint, the past few times I’ve openned your blog it’s been exactly what I needed to hear. Like others have said, I too am definately in a place of “no clarity”. I feel like I’ve honored God by trusting Him to take a Big step…which meant changing my entire life…and now it feels like He has me in this holding pattern…like God’s waiting for something to happen before moving on to the next part. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know where any of this is leading. And it’s hard…cause I like to be in the KNOW. But I trust God. So thanks for your post…it made me feel like I’m not so alone.

  7. “Do not put your hope in clarity. Do not let your happiness hinge on your comfort or ability to map out your own future. Do not be afraid to do something you know you need to do even if you’re not sure how it fits into the bigger plan. Even if it doesn’t make sense.”
    This is where I am at right now in my life. Moving to one of the most dangerous cities in the world doesn’t make sense, but I know God is calling me to move. It feels reckless but at the same time I have a perfect peace.

  8. Thank you for these words. It may seem small, but ruthless trust here has been doing the slow, low work of building trust and a safe place for a hurting friend, learning to serve in practical ways instead of with leadership or eloquence. This challenged and comforted me at the same time; thank you.

  9. Shawn, you know it’s a good post when every line, every chunk of words, are another possible “quote” to put as a status on facebook.

    To tell you why I love this post I’d have to tell you my whole silly story – but let me say this short portion instead: I quit my corporate job making over $40,000 annually (a high school dropout, mind you!!) back in March of 2007. I was not following God in doing such a thing at all! I’d bailed on that whole thing in my early teens. I was simply burnt out and needed to walk blindly by faith out of there before my entire life crumbled (yes, this was how I worded it and no I don’t know what I was having “faith” in?? The universe? Myself? Who knows!?!?) The remainder of that year was a whirlwind of the Hound of Heaven getting my attention and my blind self not realizing it until much later (if even now, really!). I still have no job. I’ve dabbled in this, that, and the other – nothing has panned out. All the “things” i defined myself by…..gone. All the credit cards I used to ensure I could continue defining myself by them (read mask)…..gone. All my friends….gone. All the ways that I’d tried to be a part of this ever-changing culture had done me in on all fronts: family, marriage, financial and self. That deep pit of muck and mire David talks about in the Psalms – it’s very real. Clarity? I don’t know what that is either. I think our secular world and our faith have gotten too close for comfort – I think we want to walk by faith by seeing because explaining ourselves to our believing and not-so-believing friends will accept and validate us and we’ll feel better knowing that we know that they know and now we all know and we’re happy about all our knowing. Or maybe that’s just me.

    I feel split on most days. I’d never know God this way if I had gotten my way all the times I thought I needed my way to get through. I still wish I could have a job – heck, I can’t even sell anything on craigslist for a little cash! My pride gets in the way because I watch the people around me move through life without a hitch – or maybe they hit a speed bump, but they sail through without a second thought and things go fine while I’m sitting here saying, “Hello, God? Are you there? It’s me, Rebekah?” Yet, I wouldn’t have the time to sit with Him in the mornings and listen or lament or seek or open the door of my heart if I was busy with all the things my heart desires. I live in the center of the paradox and although there are fleeting moments of peace and love and joy and all those other fruits of the Spirit – I also feel sometimes so desparately lost and lonely and scared.

    Ha ha, how’d ya like my short version. Sigh.

    Thanks for this post, Shawn!

  10. BECOMING 74 ON THURSDAY, I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE, MAYBE A BETTER WORD WOULD BE ‘HINDSITE’ I LIVED MY LIFE TRUSTING, BUT DIDN’T REALIZE IT AT THE TIME. I MADE PLANS, HAD HOPES AND THOUGHT ‘WHY ME!’ WHEN THEY DIDN’T WORK OUT THE WAY I WANTED TO BE ABLE TO HAVE THE PERFECT LIFE. MY CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD HAD A LOT OF WHINNING, BEGGING, ASKING WHY, AND EVEN TRYING TO ;BARGIN’ WITH HIM, BUT IT ALWAYS WENT HIS WAY. I LOST A LOT OF LOVED ONES, SOME AT A VERY YOUNG AGE, BUT IT WAS HIS WAY. BOY, I REALLY GOT MAD ABOUT THAT, BUT MATURITY HAS ASSURED ME THAT GOD KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING – MY SISTER HAD A BAD HEART, AND HE TOOK HER AT A YOUNG AGE, SO SHE NEEDN’T SUFFER ANYMORE. MY SON TOOK HIS OWN LIFE IN HIS 20’S. THAT WAS SO DARN HARD TO ACCEPT, WHY DID GOD ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN, WHY????. IY’S BEEN ALMOST 10 YEARS, ANS STILL I OFTEN ASK WHY? BUT I KNOW IT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS VERY, VERY UNHAPPY, AND JUST DIDN’T FEEL HE COULD TAKE ANYTHING MORE HURTFUL THINGS THAT LIFE COULD GIVE HIM. GOD TOOK HIM IN HIS LOVING ARMS, AND TOOK HIM AWAY. I FEEL HAPPY WHEN I CAN THINK THAT WAY, EXCEPT FOR THE BEGGING, WHINING, AND BARGINING PART, I LIVED WITH TRUST, I JUST DIDN’T RECOGNIZE IT AT THE TIME, ACTUALLY NOT UNTIL I READ YOUR BLOG SHAWN. TO REPEAT WHAT YOUR FRIENDS KEEP TELLING YOU, YOU HAVE A KNACK OF HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD EVERY TIME. KEEP TRUSTING .

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