Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the interwoven themes of accountability and community. If you talk to anyone in ministry, they would say that both are essential for having a growing relationship with God and with others. And one of the virtues at the center of both of these discipleship ingredients is trust.
But trust, while essential, is difficult to establish and challenging to maintain. After all, we’ve all heard countless proverbs and aphorisms that tell us about the fragility of trust.
Trust is earned.
Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.
These were just two of the most frequent that I have heard over the years. And while these two phrases are true, they miss something else about trust that is just as true: trust is given.
Here’s what I mean. Yes, trust is built, trust is earned, but that focuses on only one side of the relationship; that of the person seeking to earn our trust. But at some point you and I have to make a decision. We have to choose to trust them. The reason is because we can never guarantee that trust will be maintained. We are never promised, in human relationships, that trust will not be broken.
After all, human beings are flawed. Despite even our best intentions we mess up, we falter. There comes a point in almost every relationship when trust, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is broken. And we all know it.
This is why every relationship, every form of accountability, requires that we, at some point, take a risk. We gamble. We roll the dice and decide to trust.
But for many of us this is too risky. Maybe it is because we’ve been hurt too many times. Let down once too often. And so we have become calloused and hardened. Or maybe it is because we are afraid. We don’t want to trust because we are afraid of what people would see if we let them into our private lives. We fear their judgment and critique. And so we create walls and barriers around our hearts. We put on the masks of “I’m doing fine” and “Life’s just great.”
And while these things might protect us for a while, they rob us of something as well. They rob us of the gifts of knowing and being known. They rob us of the gifts of friendship and community. They rob us of the gifts of help, support, and encouragement from those who are best able to help; other people who have been where you are and know what you are going through.
So yes, trust is fragile and a risk, but it also brings with it immeasurable gifts.
So how can I choose to trust? Well, I think that this is where one key teaching and one key practice in Christian life come into play. The key teaching is this: “My life is bound up in Christ.” What that means is that your ultimate value, your personal worth, and your identity are given to you by God. As such, they cannot be taken away.
This matters for trust giving because it reminds me that even if the people I trust turn on me and betray that trust, they can never take away the dignity I have in the eyes of God. And this allows me to more fearlessly trust others with who I am, because I know that my worth and value, ultimately, rest in and are assured by God.
But this also goes hand in hand with a key Christian practice: confession and forgiveness. Both asking for and receiving forgiveness is vital to both repairing and maintaining trust. The truth is that we will all let each other down at some point. That is virtually guaranteed.
The question is, what will I do in those moments? The answer is confess and forgive; forgive and confess. Doing so not only communicates love and respect for the other person, but it actually fosters the safety that trusting relationships require. If I know I can freely admit my wrongs and shortcomings, and receive forgiveness in response, then I know that I can trust others with every aspect of who I am. Likewise, it fosters within me a willingness and readiness to forgive others who have wronged me.
This is why I love the fact that, at the heart of our faith, stands the greatest act of forgiveness we could ever know: the Cross of Christ. There we see the depth of God’s forgiveness and grace. We see His love expressed in a way that we could never have imagined. His forgiveness teaches us what it means to not only be forgiven, but to be forgiving.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)
So yes, trust is fragile, but trust is worth giving.