Palms and a wooden cross, with the text "Lent 2023"

Over the last two weeks, I’ve explored aspects of staying awake related to hearing – listening to God and also listening to what God is saying through the life we are living. If we get good at listening to God, the next step in staying awake is trusting what we hear from God.

The gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent is the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead (Jn 11:1-45). This story highlights some important aspects of trusting God. We see that Martha and Mary trusted that Jesus had to power to heal Lazarus when he was sick. And because of that, they were grief-stricken and confused about why Jesus didn’t come in time to heal him. When Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise, she trusts him and says, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” But what Jesus then does next, performing the miracle to return Lazarus to earthly life, is something neither Martha nor Mary expects.

A big part of trusting God is accepting that God often doesn’t reveal the entire path to us when he calls us to do something. Often we may only see the next right step, which we have to take in trust. After Jesus arrives and talks to them, Martha and Mary are confused, but they do the next thing that Jesus asks of them (rolling back the stone across Lazarus’ tomb) and continue to trust in Jesus.

Trusting rather than being shown all the steps on the path is a formidable challenge. I desperately want to see the whole plan laid out, so I know exactly where I am going (and ideally when I will get there!). But God doesn’t work that way. Fortunately, having trust builds more trust. As we practice trust, we get more comfortable acting without seeing the whole plan. And to be honest, I know it’s better that I don’t see the entire plan. Because I’d be tempted to attempt to “optimize” it or adjust it to what I think is better. Or I wouldn’t even want to start because I can’t see (from my limited vantage point) how the result will be a good thing. Martha and Mary must have thought it was a tragedy that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died; they couldn’t see how this would have a good ending.

We can’t control exactly how our lives will unfold. And it takes trust to be open to the possibility that even when our lives don’t proceed according to our plan, we may receive blessings that are as good or better than we had hoped. An ancient Chinese parable illustrates the folly of us quickly judging every situation as good or bad.

Once upon a time, there was a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, his neighbors said sympathetically, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is such bad luck.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse returned, bringing with it seven wild horses. The neighbors said, “What great luck. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to ride one of the horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

The day after that, military officers came around to draft young men into the army. They rejected his son because he had a broken leg. The neighbors congratulated him and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

We have only a limited perspective, yet we’re so quick to put a judgment on everything that happens to us! Staying awake means acknowledging our doubts and fears, realizing we can’t see how the future will unfold, but trusting God and taking that next step anyway.

Thomas Keating offers this perspective on building trust. In Reflections on the Unknowable, he says, “Here is a formula to deepen and further the theological virtue of hope with its unbounded confidence in God. Let whatever is happening happen and go on happening. Welcome whatever it is. Let go into the present moment by surrendering to its content…The divine energies are rushing past us at every nanosecond of time. Why not reach out and catch them by continuing acts of self-surrender and trust in God?” This sounds exactly like what the farmer is doing in each moment – letting whatever is happening happen and surrendering to its content without judgment.

We can practice trust at every moment. Rather than refusing to accept reality or labeling it as something awful, we can join with the divine energies that are always present and trust God. Cultivating the ability to trust God in the ordinary, everyday moments of life helps build our trust so that we can rely on it in difficult times. We can learn to stay in the “maybe,” and give God a chance to use what we perceive as a negative thing to bring about something good. It doesn’t mean there won’t be difficult experiences, but we can trust that God will be with us. And we might find that God gives us the graces we need, when we need them.

Suggestions for Further Reflection

Over the next week, I invite you to pay attention to when and how you trust God.

  • It’s hard to trust God if you don’t believe God loves you and wants good things for you. Do you believe this, or are you secretly afraid that God is sitting in judgment and keeping track of your failures?
  • Do you suspect that God is calling you to do or change something, but you’re hesitating because you don’t see where that path will eventually lead? What is your next right step? Can you trust enough to take just that step?
  • It can be hard to trust God if you’ve desperately prayed for something but felt your prayers were unanswered. Could you open your heart to the possibility that “maybe” something good will come from your unanswered prayer in a way you can’t yet see?

Closing Prayer

God, so much in the world tells us that we’re in control of the path of our lives and that trying harder is the solution to getting all that we want. But the truth is that we’re in control of only some of our lives. This is terrifying to accept. Our only hope of coming to peace with this fundamental truth is learning to trust in You.

Our minds are quick to judge everything as good or bad. Teach us to be ok with the “maybe,” realizing that we have limited perspective. Like Martha and Mary, help us trust enough to take the next step on the path You’re asking us to follow. Enable us to sense Your divine energies rushing past us at every moment in time and be able to surrender ourselves so we can reach out and catch them, trusting You to carry us when we need help.



  1. Absolutely love the “maybe” parable. I will try to incorporate that into my thought process. It can be a life-changer and allow me to see the positive in things that appear to be negative. I also love your closing prayers and have incorporated at least one into my daily prayers. Thank you!


    1. I love that parable, too – it’s so simple but yet packs a real punch. I’m happy you like my closing prayers! I’m always tempted to skip them since they take a lot of time to write (it’s harder to write something short than something long!), but I get a lot out of the process of crafting them.


  2. Totally needed this today. Have a doctor appointment at 11 and needed to read about trust. Of course I’ve wanted a quick answer and not getting it has challenged me for sure. Practice makes perfect? I’m working at it! Thanks for what I needed. Deb


  3. Trust – the concept for me is very understandable, the action is at times (again for me) most difficult. Father Barry once talked to me about responding to uncertainty with the thought/phrase “God Willing”. He said Irish people (most notably his Mom) responded that way often. He also said other cultures use the phrase to acknowledge the role of God’ will and their trust in it. Again, simple to understand, much harder to follow. Thanks for your excellent sharing this week and all the hard work you do preparing!


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