This week I was listening to an audio book by John Maxwell when this quote about trust hit me right between the eyes! The funny thing is, this was a leadership book, not a relationship book per se, but John Maxwell is famous for discussing the important personal integrity qualities that equip us to lead, so naturally, relationships are involved. This quote caused me to contemplate for several days that there is something very dysfunctional and wrong with the way most of us process trust in our relationships. Not just intimate relationships, but also friendships, business relationships and even the trust we choose to give or take away in our hearts towards people in positions of authority that we likely have never even met face to face.
Most of the time when we think about trust, we place the majority of the responsibility of “earning” or maintaining our trust on another person, while considering ourselves the potential victim of what the other person may or may not do to us or for us. On one hand this puts us in a high and mighty sort of position when we believe we can be the judge to decide whether or not someone is “worthy” of our favor, support or continued trust. On the other hand, it also sets us up to see ourselves as a powerless victim of the outcome if things don’t go well. In other words, we are handing over a whole lot of emotional power to another person, and failing to take responsibility for much of it, if any at all.
To complicate things further, we also tend to tie in our respect with that trust so if we believe someone has lost our trust, they have most likely lost our respect as well. Since we are also somewhat skewed as a society on the topic of respect, the tendency is to observe behaviors (and/or rumors) and treat people accordingly. The problem with this is that we are not all-knowing so our system fails us when we mistreat or elevate the status or “value” of someone based upon our limited knowledge, or perceived experience of trust or reputation. Yeah, go ahead and re-read that! We don’t know the whole story, or the fine details about anyone or anything so we don’t have the ability to judge the value of a person based upon our experiences. This works both directions and we have all experienced the pain of being misjudged or even defamed by someone who simply didn’t know all of the facts. There is only one who knows all and he has placed his value upon every single human he created. Yes, even the ones who have done horrible, unthinkable things (-that’s all of us if you’re paying attention).
Most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:7 of the “love chapter” that says “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things”. I struggled with the “believes all things” portion for a long time because it just sounded so naive! We all know of situations or have experienced situations where somebody believed someone that continually lied to them and they looked like a fool, were cheated out of, cheated on, taken for granted, abused or used. What I didn’t understand was that the bible wasn’t teaching a gospel of co-dependency and that this scripture passage is not about denial or living in a pretend world. How did I come to this conclusion? I read and read and read about the life of Jesus and I took note of how he handled people who loved him, as well as those who opposed him. I noticed that his only agenda was to follow the plan he and the father had purposed for him to accomplish on the earth. He was not swayed toward any other agenda- regardless of how noble it could have been. This often caused conflict for those who wanted to influence his purpose to something else. I watched his responses and found myself completely amazed at the things Jesus did, said, and often the things he didn’t say! I noticed that Jesus often didn’t feel obligated to answer “loaded” questions that were hurled at him and he usually answered those types of questions with a question of his own. This usually exposed the motive of the person asking, and sent them away in their own shame.
If you want to know how Jesus handled the issue of trust on a very personal level, read Matthew 26. Jesus had 12 disciples walking with him for his 3 years of ministry. They were a tight group and although he had crowds of thousands following him around everywhere, these 12 men were among his inner circle. They were always together and he always seemed to know what they were thinking- so much so that he often responded out loud to things they were only thinking internally. It should have been no surprise to them when they were eating the last passover supper together and Jesus announced to them all that one of them was going to betray him. I think it’s funny that none of them asked Jesus *how* he knew. Instead they were all shocked and concerned asking “surely it isn’t me?” So Jesus further explained the severity of the betrayal and said that not only was the betrayer one of his friends seated at the table and eating with him at that moment, but that the offense would be so bad that it would be better for that man to have never been born. Judas, who was in the middle of a betrayal deal with the chief priests and elders was at the table pretending to be as surprised as the rest of them. When they all started questioning Jesus “surely it isn’t me?”, Judas chimed in with the same question, trying to appear just as sincere and genuinely concerned as the other disciples but Jesus looked right at him and said “You have said it yourself”. Can you imagine what Judas felt at that moment? He was completely exposed! He had no way out of that and Jesus didn’t have to say anything else. Jesus simply pointed out the truth that somebody there was going to betray him, and allowed the truth itself to draw out the lie and the liar. What really strikes me here is that Jesus knew Judas was betraying him the entire time, but he still allowed him in the fellowship of the group and he treated him no differently. He didn’t secretly hold a grudge, or even keep a short leash of mistrust on Judas. He allowed the full vulnerability of the offense and treated him like a friend the entire time. He did, however, fully acknowledge the betrayal without pretending he didn’t know. This part is SO important!! This is what changes the situation from being one of co-dependent, enabling, “look the other way” naive, kind of denial relationship to a fully truthful, fully aware and fully vulnerable kind of relationship.
Jesus looked at that betrayal right in the face, acknowledged it for what it was and allowed the full vulnerability of it to happen without any self-preservation type of behavior.
I also find it interesting that Jesus didn’t make himself a victim in it. Obviously we all understand that this needed to happen in order to get to the cross, but this still would have been a painful thing for Jesus because he treated Judas like a friend in his inner circle for three years. When Jesus spoke about the severity of the consequences he talked about what this betrayal would do to Judas and not how hurt he was by the betrayal. This is a perfect picture of love. Later on when Judas showed up at the garden of Gethsemane with a large crowd armed with weapons, he gave Jesus the famous kiss of betrayal, and Jesus said to him “Friend, do what you came for”. This is more powerful than we realize. Jesus was not naive, he was not silent and he was not a doormat when he looked at Judas in the face during the very act of betrayal and still called him “friend”. I really believe this is why the guilt of this betrayal was so difficult for Judas that he returned the silver he was given to betray Jesus and ended his own life the very next morning.
Love is not love without full vulnerability and love is not love without full honesty. In order to fully give and receive love, we have to do it with the full acceptance of that vulnerability. If any of our relationships are struggling it is pretty much a guarantee that there is a deficit in the area of honesty or trust, but probably both. We can’t have love on any level without honesty and trust. Trust means that I take you at your word up to the very point that you betray me with it. When that happens I do not pretend it didn’t happen and I don’t make excuses for your betrayal. I love you in the face of it and allow you the opportunity to see it and make it right without overstepping my place by trying to devalue who you are because of what you did. You are still made in the image of God and the betrayal did not change your value. This is so important because the same scenario flips around when I am the one that is the betrayer in the relationship. (Notice I did not say “if”). Next comes forgiveness, and although this is a whole different topic, we can’t complete this relationship cycle without talking about it. We don’t have the luxury of holding back our forgiveness. We extend it, even when we don’t feel it and the responsibility of the betrayal (or offense) stays with the person that did the wrong.
We have to understand that withholding honesty, trust or forgiveness will not protect us from getting hurt. It will only ensure that we have no opportunity to experience real love and intimacy because we have denied the vulnerability that makes love valid.
By now you may be wondering how to apply this to something you have been going through for a long time. Me too! I want to be careful that I don’t portray this as a quick fix, magical remedy. Some of us have been managing relationships like this for years and years, and have developed, or learned a long pattern of co-dependent behavior. This pattern is not going to suddenly turn around with one honest conversation. This is going to have to be an intentional and very vulnerable choice made over and over again to reverse a pattern we made with not only ourselves, but with others.
We are the “other person” on the other side of our relationships, and we are going to have to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves and in our relationships without exception. This can only happen if the person that is face to face with us can trust us as well, and know that we love them enough to be fully honest and fully vulnerable in our relationship with them, even in the face of betrayal.