Trust is such a fragile thing. In some ways it is earned; someone must demonstrate their trustworthiness somehow. They must produce some kind of track record that makes vulnerability with them a worthwhile risk, so they have to earn it. But in other ways it is given. Some people we trust sooner than others. Some we trust more than others. Some we trust in some ways and not in others. We “entrust” ourselves to others too.
Now, no one is completely trustworthy. Even those who love us most, do in fact hurt us. Sometimes they do it on purpose, sometimes they do it innocently. Sometimes it is an act of commission; sometimes one of omission. But everyone hurts us.
And not all hurts are equal. We all have particular areas of our hearts or lives that are more tender than others. That usually comes out of our stories. Where we have been hurt most significantly in the past becomes a wound that remains somewhat tender going forward. So when someone hurts me in that same area of my heart, it hurts more. Likewise, when a spouse or parent hits the same wound over and over again, at some point trust will be taken away.
I sure did that with Lynne. There have been particular ways and places that I have hurt her. Over the years she has tried to tell me. At least some of the time I have tried to hear and understand. But I haven’t gotten there in the ways that she would want – until recently. And so we are rebuilding trust. There were ways in which I was hurting her and either I couldn’t see or I didn’t want to see. Either way, I didn’t or it made me less trustworthy.
How do you rebuild something that was either broken in a big way or was broken in less dramatic, but nonetheless very painful, repetitive ways?
The first step belongs to the offending party and it’s a big one. The first step begins with trying to understand what is hurting and how it hurts the person you love. Understanding not just what causes pain, but why it causes pain, can help. Seeing more than the one instance but a pattern of failures also helps. And being genuinely sorry is key. Paul talks about godly sorrow in Second Corinthians 7:8-11. It is a profound passage about rebuilding trust. Paul talks about desiring to see justice done – and he is writing about the perpetrator wanting himself to be judged!
Lynne and I needed to have a lot of conversations about difficult issues. I am pretty dense and it took me way too long to “get it.” But eventually, at least with some big areas, God was kind enough to help me both see and to be sorry. The hard part was seeing not just what I did but also seeing how long I had done it. This is step one. Desiring forgiveness, from both God and Lynne, is essential to the process of rebuilding trust.
I don’t know how we face those things about ourselves without a God who forgives us. This is one of those places where coming to Him with our failure, receiving His very costly grace and and believing it, can ground us enough to be sorry even when the person we have hurt is not yet ready to forgive. We need to be sorry and to want forgiveness even before it is given. For that, we have a Savior who can ground us in His love.
The second step is costly too. Trust is not just earned… it is given. The person “entrusting” themselves gets to choose the point at which they will risk again. They have to decide when and how they will make themselves vulnerable. A part of that process is the desire and willingness to forgive. Can the offended party choose to let the offender off the hook? Are they ready and willing to forgive the debt?
That is a costly decision. In some ways, it is a “one and done” decision. I tell you that you are forgiven and we move on. But in other ways the anger over what has been done can surface again and again. It works as a little bit of a protection from future damage. It can also derail the process of rebuilding trust.
The unwillingness to forgive can actually keep one from the hardest part of the whole process – the decision to let you hurt me again. Because we all know that hurt will happen. Maybe not in the same way. Maybe not to the same degree. But it will happen.
So Lynne has had to forgive me for us to move forward. This too has been a process. She had to give up her anger. She had to decide to no longer hold that pain over my head, even knowing that I would hurt her again. That was a battle for her. But she has, and I am really grateful that she has.
Once again, this is a place where we/I need God to be real. Is His love for me enough that I can risk being hurt again? Is He big enough in my heart for me to set you up to hurt me again? Common sense would tell one to protect, to remain guarded, to not forgive, to dance closer to a normal relationship but to avoid trusting. Why entrust myself to someone who has hurt me so before? Why risk the pain?
The answer is probably obvious… to be loved the way I want to be loved requires opening myself up to that pain. I can’t get the love I want if I don’t risk wanting that love. And the one who wants to love me really can’t give it if I won’t be vulnerable… God has rigged a crazy system here that requires a trust in Him if we want the kinds of intimate relationships we naturally long for… Doggone it!
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.