Relationships develop and thrive on trust. At the same time, trust is developed as we practice honesty with others and others practice honesty with us. I have found this played out in my life over the years. But what happens when our trust is broken? We can’t just magically pretend it didn’t happen or that we can just “trust people naively.” What can we do to maintain healthy relationships with people if our trust has been broken in the past? That is where this blog post is heading:
“Honesty is so intricately part of any conversation about authenticity that it can hardly be ignored in our discussion. In fact, I nearly titled the book Honest Christianity Matters because so much of what we are discussing here is about living honestly as opposed to living dishonestly.
So to start with, living honestly (or truthfully) begins by making choices to speak truthfully to ourselves and to others.
Speaking truthfully is an expression of the servant project because it affirms the equal value of all human beings—that they are neither above you, nor beneath you, and vice versa. Dishonesty is an expression of the self-made project because it chooses to assign ultimate value on you over and against others.
When you speak honestly to others, you are at the same time affirming their God-given dignity and worth as human beings created in God’s image, whereas dishonesty both rejects and refuses to acknowledge the equality of others’ dignity and worth.
Simply put, honesty is a way of telling people they matter and that they are worth telling the truth to.
This should go without saying, but for meaningful connection to happen between any two people, trust has to be established. This is the way life works. Honesty creates space for trust to develop. When people trust you, relationships and friendships with them become possibilities. Trust then creates space for people to open up and be real with one another, to let down defenses, and to share their lives.
Because many of us think of trust in terms of the emotional experience involved with trusting people we know, we don’t often think through the details involved that led to trusting someone. Trust could be defined in at least these three ways: 1) having a general assurance or confidence in the reliability of someone’s character; 2) that their wishes, desires, and intentions toward you are generally good; or 3) that they will most likely treat you with a sense of dignity, respect, and equality.2
Notice the words “having a general assurance or confidence” in the definition. Why put it like that?
Trust is often confused with having a sense of certainty about a person—as in “I trust him/her so I know for sure (meaning with certainty) that he/she will always treat me with respect.” In the following chapter, I’ll speak more on this common misconception of joining certainty to our notions of trust. For now, I simply want to point out that trust has more to do with having a general assurance in someone’s character based on his or her proven track record than it does to being absolutely certain about his or her character.
Trust, then, is born out of an ongoing demonstration of someone’s character and lifestyle. The reality is that in order to build trust with another person, honesty needs to be demonstrated over and over again.
To trust and to be trusted.
It is a beautiful, powerful, humbling capacity we have as human beings to extend trust to others and to have trust extended toward us.
To be trusted, you need to be trustworthy.
The topic of trust and the honesty that leads to trust opens up a complicated part of life that we should address at this point.
All of us have very good reasons not to extend trust to others.
Someone broke your trust sometime in the past.
Or someone lied to you (maybe repeatedly).
And when this happened, it kept you from not only wanting to trust that person again but from wanting to trust anyone ever again.
Broken trust. It hurts. It’s infuriating.
How could he do this?
I trusted her!
Trust has been damaged in so many of our lives and in so many situations over and over and over again.
It’s the boy whose alcoholic father beat him, and while beating him, the father told him that he deserved to be beaten because he wasn’t a good enough son. To this day, the son struggles with a poor self-image and has a hard time believing that if a God really does exist, then he must not really be good, let alone a good father figure.
It’s the young girl who was raped by a male relative repeatedly in childhood and when she could finally bring herself to tell her own family, they didn’t believe her story. To this day, she has a difficult time trusting men and often wonders if a man’s intentions are honorable.
It’s the mom who verbally abused her kids on an almost daily basis because she came from a family with parents who did the same with her. Because she doesn’t truly value herself, she takes it out on her kids.
It’s the husband who left his wife because he believed the lie that the grass is greener in the arms of another woman. He didn’t stop to think about the many ripple effects his adultery would have on his wife and their kids.
It’s the woman who has had more college training and practical work experience than any man in the office and yet is paid less than the previous employee (a man) in the same position, even though she has worked there longer and harder and had to overcome more than he did.
It’s the man who left his home country and moved to the United States because he believed in the human ideals of equality, religious freedom, and better economic opportunity, only to discover after arriving that his nationality and skin color was a constant obstacle in being treated with dignity and equality.
It’s the homosexual woman who was curious if Jesus was as real and loving as so many Christians talked about. She gave in and made attempts to befriend some of her Christian coworkers. They seemed like caring people in the beginning, but as she got to know them more she discovered something was off. Instead of her attempts at friendship being met with warmth and open arms, she was treated with suspicion (as their facial expressions made clear) and numerous awkward pauses in conversations. She was left feeling belittled, disappointed, and confused that the people who claim to love everyone were not even a pale comparison to the Jesus they spoke of.
It’s the two Christians who go to the same church, listen to the same sermons, read the same Bibles, and yet have deep-seated feelings of resentment and hatred residing in them due to a past argument that got heated and out of control. Choice words were said out of anger. Anger became mixed with hurt, and hurt led to resentment. And now these two Christians, who once believed and advocated for unconditional love and forgiveness, are now faced with a growing hatred toward each other as they refuse to forgive.
So it’s hard to trust.
I get it.
We all have stories of trust broken and, if pressed, the stories that we could share are likely filled with past heartbreak, suffering, tension, and broken relationships.
Let me be clear that the wrongs done against you were not right.
If you are still living under the cloud of past wrongs done against you, and if it is keeping you from living a full and meaningful life in relationship with others, let me offer a thought or two that could potentially set you free and get you out from underneath that cloud enslaving you for good.
First, it is perfectly OK to acknowledge that the wrong done to you was in fact wrong and that trust was broken. In fact, the only way to move forward is to acknowledge it. Don’t listen to people who tell you it didn’t matter or who act like moving on means you have to pretend it didn’t happen.
It matters and it happened.
Second, following Jesus means choosing the path of forgiveness. Learn how to forgive and then forgive them.3 If at all possible, speak with the person who has wronged you. Share with that person how you feel, how he/she hurt you, and what he/she did that wronged you, but choose to forgive. For some people, because of the severity of the wrong done or the dangerous personality of the person who wronged you, it may not be safe or wise to speak with them. This is especially true if the wrong done against you was illegal in nature (such as with physical abuse and rape, and so on). If this is the case, it is important that you call local law enforcement so that the person who has broken the law can no longer hurt you or others in that way again. Even in these circumstances, forgiveness is still possible. You can still choose to forgive them while also ensuring that the consequences our legal system has in place will hold them accountable for their actions. In these severe circumstances that involve the law being broken, we can still hope and desire that the person who wronged you will in time come to his or her senses and discover true repentance (even if behind bars).
In some situations, it can be helpful to bring with you one or two trusted friends who have everyone’s best interests at heart and will believe for the best outcome possible. They may just be a presence when you meet or perhaps play the role of mediator if everyone agrees to it. Jesus himself spoke of using this method.4
But in many cases, speaking directly to the person alone (as long as he or she is open to listening) is the best and healthiest way to move forward.
While not every outcome will be reconciliation between both people (it takes two to reconcile), many people will find their relationships reconciled, healed, and on the path of grace. But even if the other person does not wish to reconcile, you will have appropriately done all you could to make things right.
The New Testament writer, Paul of Tarsus, wrote that one of the central things that marks people out as followers of Jesus is our making reconciliation a priority. He also wrote, “If it’s possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all people.”5
The “all people” includes even those who have broken our trust.
Always give reconciliation a chance.6 This is the way of Jesus. This is what the cross is all about.
Let me share just a couple final insights regarding forgiveness that I’ve learned over the years from trusted friends, family, and mentors of mine. As long as you are holding onto a perceived right (or need) to hold hatred, bitterness, and hurt in your heart associated with someone, you will not be able to forgive him or her. To forgive is to let go of that perceived right. To hold on to it is to live on in a state of unforgiveness. That will only cripple you inside. But if you release (forgive) those negative thoughts and feelings from your heart, you will get free.
Well, we’ve come full circle.
We started talking about the importance of honesty in developing authentic relationships with others, which led to talking about the need for trust and how honesty leads to trust. This led to talking about the reality of trust broken in our lives, which led to talking about how forgiving people who wronged us is the first step to creating space to trust people again. As we lean into Jesus and serve others by forgiving them, we will find a new capacity in us to receive and extend trust to others.
Does this mean honesty doesn’t matter anymore if all we do is forgive people who wrong us?
No. Being trustworthy is still incredibly important; in fact, it’s essential. It simply means that when we forgive people, we are freed from the inability to trust people in general (you may want to read that last statement over and over until it begins to sink in). On the other hand, unforgiveness brought on by hurt, bitterness, and hatred (which was brought on by having our trust broken) has a way of blinding us from seeing people accurately. It makes us not only suspicious of the people who wronged us in the past; it also makes us suspicious of others who have not wronged us. This suspicion then is the fuel for distrusting people in general.
Here is where the power of Jesus’s style of forgiveness comes in.
Forgiveness sets our mind free from unwarranted suspicion. It allows us the mental and heart space to begin affirming the value and dignity of all people again…that people are worth being given the opportunity to be trusted again.
Forgiveness is that powerful.
If you are a follower of Jesus, live in this reality.
You may be surprised at what may come when you do.”
The above section “Honesty matters” comes out of chapter five “Moving toward authentic Christianity” in Peter’s book Authentic Christianity: Why it matters for followers of Jesus (2018). The next blog post will continue where this left off dealing with “The need for humility” in all of our relationships.