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“Trust the Process”: the Lost Proverb


[Rev. Dr. Chuck DeGroat is our blogger for the month of April. Chuck is Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Western Theological Seminary (Holland MI) and a Senior Fellow at Newbigin House of Studies (San Francisco). He is the author of Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places (Square Inch), Toughest People to Love (Eerdmans) and the upcoming Wholeheartedness (Eerdmans).]

I’m convinced that I’ll find it someday. I’ve scoured the Book of Proverbs for it, and haven’t located it yet. It’s the hidden proverb, the one I’m convinced is there: Trust the Process.

Ask my clients and it is likely the most quoted phrase in some 16 years of counseling. When the wilderness journey seems dark and uncertain I say, “Trust the process.” When addiction feels like the final word I say, “Trust the process.” When everything within my client says that their marriage is dead I say, “Trust the process.”

Perhaps I don’t need to find the hidden verse. After all, isn’t this the pattern of our Story? Our wilderness journeys are a zig-zag, never a straight line. We progress a mile or so we think, but then we discover that we’ve doubled back by another wrong path. Every biblical journey seems winding. Every biblical character, even our greatest heroes, seem to stumble time and again. Fall and return is the constant theme.

But doesn’t Jesus make it better? In fact, I think Jesus models the trust I envision here. The disciples who spend every day with him over the course of three years panic, run, and abandon him in his final moments. Jesus, who I’d trust more than anyone to “disciple” a friend, doesn’t wave a magic wand. Jesus knows to trust the process. Perhaps, the second person of the Trinity intuits the “deep magic,” as Lewis might say, that growth and maturity is not an up-and-to-the-right proposition. We all stumble, we all fall, and we, by God’s grace, return.

Even more, Paul embodies this zig-zag journey. He gives us a narrative to make sense of it, in fact. He writes, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Really, Paul? You want to participate in Christ’s sufferings? You mean, that’s the way to Resurrection-life?

Yes. That’s the way. The only way.

We in our role as pastors, counselors, teachers, and friends “trust the process” together, knowing that we cannot control the outcome any more than we can control the weather. And this may be what our clients, our parishioners, and our friends learn in our presence – that the way of Christ is not the way of band-aid fixes but a journey through a dark and uncertain wilderness.

In order to help others navigate this way, however, we must journey into it ourselves. We must become comfortable sitting with a grieving widow as she wails in pain, refusing to play the imposing, correcting role of Job’s friends. We must patiently wade through the up’s and down’s of our addicts, realizing that their back-and-forth journey is no different than ours, no different than Jesus’ disciples. We must hold the anxiety of our people when it seems the community will come apart.

In doing so, we become aware of our own quick fixes. We recognize that we often bypass the necessary zig-zag process when we offer the behavioral ‘fix’, suggest the perfect book or sermon to listen to, or proffer the sage wisdom once offered to us but not meant for rote recitation to another. We recognize our own discomfort, in other words. We see how we fail to trust the process, even with those to whom we’re ministering.

And this is the great adventure of the journey, to see again how we’ve taken yet another wrong turn. We get to trust all over again through our own fall and return journey. And our friends, our clients, and our parishioners take notice, because they do not need us to be experts or fixers. They need us to be fully human conduits of a patient Love beyond us. They’ll see in our foibles their own, and they’ll relax. And in time, they’ll learn that what they came to us for was not a ‘cure’ to their depression or a ‘fix’ for their addiction, but an adventure of trust with a God “wild, unfettered, and free” (Brueggeman), inviting surrender, dependence, and hope.

I’m learning that I’m a pretty horrible fixer, but I’m growing into a wise “desert guide” who knows the wilderness territory and is becoming more comfortable in its uncertain terrain. But I’m also learning that this is the Spirit’s territory, not mine. And the Spirit has astounding ways of growing us up, even through our continual humiliations and failures. And so, we trust the process. It’s a proverb, hidden in a narrative full of the zig-zag wanderings of a people who long to become more, not through quick fixes, but through the abiding journey of trust.


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