It always helps to have people we love (and trust) beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.
– Mr. Rodgers
Life is so much better with a few trusted friends by our sides. In fact, a Harvard study found in 2016, after 80 years of researching health, that there is no greater health benefit than having a community of people who know you, love you, and will stand with you throughout life. It’s even more beneficial than eating your veggies or working out several times a week! Eating chocolate cake with a trusted friend is actually better than running a 10k alone. (Okay, the study did not prove that, but it seems like a logical leap.) As you set goals for the year, consider focussing on moving deeper into community and developing greater trust with those who cross your path. In order to heighten your health in 2019, begin the journey of building ‘roots of trust.’
Now, this is a loaded word. It gets thrown around with little consideration of its power, impact, and the ripple effect it produces. Many of us think we trust others easily, sometimes even too easily. Others of us are fully aware of the walls we keep highly fortified so that no one, and I mean no one, will ever hurt us again. Here are a few principles I have learned over the years about trust — these principles have been gleaned from many wise leaders, but also from my clients who trust me with their hurts and from my own personal experiences along the way.
When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, I had just experienced one of the biggest betrayals of my life. At that point, I thought I was done giving my heart away to girlfriends. I had shared my heart deeply with another to find it broken, betrayed, used and lied to without any attempts to repair. Do you have a story from your life that has caused you to guard your heart and vow, “I will never let that happen again?”
My broken heart longed to help my own daughters develop healthy relationships and navigate the sometimes shark-infested waters of female friendship. Yet, I knew that my girls could not do this without me modeling the way. My words would never match my actions if I did not allow myself to trust others again. But what would this look like in my life? How would I heal the pain that still lingered enough to open my heart back up again? I know far too many who have been violated, betrayed, judged, rejected, abandoned, used, and abused. This type of experience does not discriminate. No matter how much a person gives or how hard they try, the wounds from others may never be fully known until carnage appears.
If this has been a part of your life story, my heart aches with you. When this happens, trusting others feels like trying to hug a grizzly bear. Here, big grizzly bear…please don’t eat me! The thought of trusting again can sound stupid and naive. And yet, the truth is that not everyone is out to hurt you. Only some are untrustworthy, but not all. Learning to trust and also to be trustworthy is a part of being courageous and living whole-hearted. Let’s explore more.
Trust is only built over time and consistency.
Often times we naively believe that trust is a given. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Herein lies a problem: Predators thrive on using implied or quickly-granted trust as a means to do harm. Think about anyone in a leadership position who has taken advantage of others easily because of the inherent trust assumed with their role. Others incorrectly think that broken trust can be easily repaired with a flippant, “I’m sorry,” after promises are broken and inconsistent patterns emerge.
Perhaps you are like many people who say they trust others but have never fully let anyone see you. Do you really let anyone in on your darkest days? Would you know who to confide in when you are at your weakest? Studies show that it takes about two years before people start to really know one another. At that point, an individual is equipped with enough information to make a better judgment about who they are risking their personhood with. This is why time is such a crucial factor for all relationships. This is also part of the wisdom connected with showing up once a month for two to twelve years for Courageous Girls groups. Though it is so different than most of us experience in life, showing up is a vital ingredient in trusted relationships (visit mycourageousgirls.com for more). Faithfulness is the fruit that is produced through consistency. It demonstrates commitment, care, and integrity.
Showing up for a friend’s birthday (even when a competing invitation arrives the day before), remembering a prayer request, meeting weekly for coffee, making it a priority to sit in the hard places with a neighbor — all of these illustrate faithfulness that builds trust. Laughing together, sharing life experiences, and meeting goals together are wonderful parts of relationships both at work and at home, but nothing compares to the slow drip of consistent, long-term, faithful people who show up again and again and again. After the seven years with the same moms and daughters in our Courageous Girls group, we have established trust and continue to build upon it. This kind of trust reminds us that we are not alone in this world. When storms come, as they always do, we have others to remind us who we are and who God is in the midst of the chaos. We cannot force trust to grow faster than it naturally does. It must be built one moment at a time, over time.
There is always a measure of risk in trusting another with ourselves.
Living Wholehearted and Courageous Girls are organizations full of brave souls who aim to be unafraid — unafraid of the risk we feel sometimes when trusting God; unafraid of trusting others, and unafraid of trusting ourselves. The practice is scary and the stakes are high. However, the reward is what we all are longing for — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant. Considering all the relationships you have, which ones are you willing to begin investing in a little more this year? Who in your life has proven to be consistently present and solid, perhaps even more than your own actions warrant? Consider pursuing a deeper level of trust with a few key individuals. Share a little piece of your childhood journey, perhaps the fears you have, or what you hope for in your friendship at a truthful and vulnerable level. You will likely feel some hesitancy as you take this step of risk, but don’t pull your foot back from the progress that can come from opening yourself up to the people who are earning your trust.
Trust is built on the other side of healthy conflict resolution.
Some of us thrive on conflict and drama, even at the cost of never finding resolution. Others thrive as peace-keepers, avoiding making waves by pleasing others, even at the expense of telling the truth. Both types of entanglements result in people missing out on what God intended for the human heart: resolution after conflict. Conflict is a necessary ingredient in the process of being known and building intimacy. Without it, relationships remain shallow, and one will never know if the other can be trusted in a storm. The very essence of the Christian faith is rooted in a narrative that trumps after conflict. It’s what happens after the conflict that helps us build trust in one another. Hang around someone long enough, and conflict is bound to happen. Deciding to be a trustworthy person means you can humbly say, “Let’s talk about it. How have I impacted you?” After listening well, maybe you can also share how they have impacted you, too. The cherry on top is when both parties can own something they did to contribute to the conflict, ask for forgiveness, and come up with a plan for how to do things differently the next time. Doing this can advance your relationship with people who desire to grow in trust and intimacy.
Trust is rare and fragile. It takes years to build (and only moments to shatter).
Shrinking the gap between who we say we are and how we live requires awareness and regular feedback from those around us. Being able to trust a person does not require perfection, but it is rare and it is also fragile. Trust at a basic level requires integrity, practiced with regularity. Integrity is the willingness to be honest and truthful with another and to also do the necessary work to repair where we have done wrong. It may sound difficult but that’s because it is, especially in the world we live in that has become accustomed to accepting partial-truths as the “norm.” Integrity means we speak the truth even when it seems “unimportant” or “not required.” It looks like telling your friend that you really can’t afford to buy her a birthday present this year rather than skipping her party at the last minute out of embarrassment. Trust grows when we insist (for ourselves) that our words and actions imbue care and precision. This is not easy, but settling for an “okay” grade on this aspect of our personal affairs is harder in the end.
I recall former CEO of World Vision, Rich Stearns, sharing how he spent six months on a “forgiveness tour.” Basically, he went to anyone impacted by a poor decision he had made, and, after coming face to face with the ripple effects of his decision, he owned his choices and took the time to make sure each person felt heard and a sense of resolution. Now that builds trust!
While a forgiveness tour may not be realistic for everyone, we can certainly take steps toward resolving broken trust that we have a part in. This might look like removing a mask of pride, ignorance, indifference or fear to step closer to another who provokes us to keep that mask on. When we stop “pretending” that everything is okay and allow others to see our frailty and weaknesses, we invite them to walk a bit closer with us in our journey. When we are honest with ourselves and others, we move closer toward being a person who others will trust with their true selves as well. Let me be clear: Not everyone is a person worth trusting at this level. This kind of trust and vulnerability is built over time and often times won’t occur with more than a handful of people in a lifetime.
Consider if you typically act like a trusted person—Are you someone who moves toward others rather than away in the midst of conflict? Do you receive feedback when others need to offer it? Do you speak the truth about your needs, emotions, and hopes, rather than appeasing others by acting as if you have no needs of your own?
Consider someone you want to build (or re-build) trust with this year and begin. Work on developing these characteristics steadily, one day at a time, asking God to help you every step of the way. If you stumble, don’t give up!
Choose to try vulnerability again. I did, and I can truly say that it has propelled my life in so many beautiful, meaningful ways over the last few years, in all my leadership roles and in my life as a mom and wife. In a heavily guarded world, it may feel easier and safer to stay closed off and rely only on yourself; know that God has more planned for you and for your heart.
A person with one or two trusted friends is truly rich. Trust is not an allusive mystical idea. It is a practical and fundamental part of any healthy relationship, producing the heart of what we all long for at the end of the day: to be known, to be loved, to be significant. This is courage.
For more on how to build trust with God and others, see InCourage: Raising Daughters Rooted in Grace by Terra A. Mattson or, Trust for Today, by Trueface Ministries.