Tom was soft-spoken and calm. He was always sweetly supportive when you were in his presence. That should have tipped me off. Nobody can be sweetly supportive all the time, not the way we humans carry on and make mistakes. (You know Romans 3:23: "all have sinned and fall short.")
Well, sure enough, Tom fell under that category, and Tom had his own way of diffusing frustration. He gossiped dramatically. What I mean is that he not only gossiped; he did so with a real flair.
If he didn't like the way things happened at work, he would smile, close the door to his office, and hit the phone. And wow, he could be creative with the details. He was known to exaggerate all the low points and forget all the high points. I saw him as a sort of "Jack and the Beanstalk" storyteller. There were always huge, outrageous details and usually a really mean giant.
Well, it wasn't long before Tom was frustrated with work that had my name on it. Life is predictable like that. Tom's behavior was, after all, Tom's behavior, and so it wasn't if-it was when.
Soon I was getting phone calls. Disturbing phone calls. People had heard this and that and the other. They were worried. "Was it really true? Had I really done, said, or written that?" Fortunately I was still on the job the day this happened, so I looked up Tom, following Jesus' directions in Matthew 18:15 about going directly to the people we've got problems with to address things head-on. I confronted him about the conversations I'd just heard, complete with names.
No doubt he'll just apologize all over the place, I thought, and discard his annoying behavior. Well, he didn't apologize, but I was still hopeful about a change in his ways. I felt sure that my stark, honest replay of things would make him think twice. He may have thought twice, or even three times, but the problem with us humans is that we are very slow to change, even when we really, really want to. And Tom, it seemed, was far from even wanting to change.
And so it was that as I was driving home from work another day I got another call about me thanks to Tom. It had been a few months since the last episode, and I'd long since forgiven and forgotten. But as the voice on the other end quoted Tom expounding on yet another wild thing I'd supposedly done, I was crestfallen. Here I was all loving and kind and forgiving. I'd really not held anything against this guy. So what was this? I felt more wronged than the first time. Was this a way to treat a kind and good coworker? I didn't think so.
What a jerk! I fumed. What's the deal, Jesus? I was peeved and asked that question more for complaining purposes than learning purposes, and thus I didn't expect a response at all-and I definitely didn't expect the response I got. But then, of course, I had forgotten what King David said in Psalm 86:7 about how God answers us when we're in trouble and call. Jesus might as well have been in the passenger seat of my car jabbing His finger into my chest.
The gist of His message was that I had brought this on myself by trusting someone who was not trustworthy- in other words, not worthy of my trust. Somehow I had mixed up unconditional love with unconditional trust, and this had been my downfall.
As this revelation hit me, I knew it was worse than that. Not only had I mixed the two, but I'd thought of them as synonyms! Subconsciously I'd figured that "lovers" trusted in their people as a sign of their love being true. Like trusting was the kindest thing I could do for anybody.
And clearly I couldn't have been more wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Love and trust are complete opposites. The evidence flashed in front of me. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-48 that we should love all people at all times and no matter what. And then, all throughout the Bible and especially in Proverbs 3:5-8 and Psalm 118:8, God teaches us to trust Him and nobody else-not even ourselves! Love all-trust none. That's a pretty harsh contrast.
And really, girls, if we think about it five minutes, lining up the differences between love and trust across the front lawn of our minds, it's a nobrainer. First, love is a gift. It is a pure reflection of the one who gives it. That's why Jesus promised to love us perfectly and completely no matter how messed up we are (check out Ephesians 2:4, 5). Love is a one-way action, whole and complete, regardless of the reaction of the one upon whom it is bestowed. I like to think of love as bestowing favor.
Trust, on the other hand . . . whoa, trust is not a gift at all. It is earned. It is not a reflection of the giver, but a shared reality that reflects both giver and receiver-taking on the quality (sadly) of the lowest common denominator of the two. That's why if you trust someone fully and they're not worthy of it, your trust (and relationship) will crash to the ground no matter how trustworthy you yourself might be. That's why it must be earned-we must know if they are capable of bestowing favor before we open up our hearts to receive it. Otherwise we'll open up and nothing will come through, and trust will be broken. (And is there anything worse than broken trust?)
Trust is the act of opening oneself up to receive favor. This is good news. Trust is an act, and this means it's within our decision-making power to trust or not trust. Yes, and this puts us in charge of what happens to us and ultimately of whether or not we are deeply hurt by unsafe people. You mean that if I opened up my heart to someone and they stomped on it, I'm responsible? Hello, reality! I don't care if they're your father, mother, pastor, or even husband. If so-and-so has always reacted poorly to you, don't you think it's time you stop hoping they're not that way and hurting when they actually still are? What a concept!
This was where I had gone wrong with Tom. If I'd applied the obvious to things, I would not have opened my expectant self up to receive treatment he had never before bestowed on anyone. I had no reason to trust, and yet I went a-trusting. Duh. It made me think of this passage in Proverbs (22:3) that's all about how some people see danger and hide, while others (yes, the fools) march on like normal and suffer for it. I could relate for sure.
Think about it: If I had visited Tom and he'd welcomed me into his house by hitting me over the head with a baseball bat, wow, that would have been horrible and I'd have been the innocent victim. But if I returned the next day hoping for some afternoon tea and bit the bat again, well, then I would be the author of my own disfigured face and premature death. I do, after all, get to decide where I go and therefore who gets access to me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
And so it was that I learned a good, hard, lifesaving lesson. If I could see clearly that Tom managed his emotions poorly and had some consistently destructive relational habits, then I could keep my expectations down there with reality and trust accordingly. No more dressing myself up in silly expectations, and no more resenting Tom for acting how Tom acts. Wow! Not trusting Tom made loving Tom possible! I could actually live in unconditional acceptance of who Tom was at present and relate to him as he was-instead of how I kept wishing he'd be!
What a revolutionary thought. Just imagine this applied to marriage. Imagine you took a good look at your spouse and sized up what they were realistically capable of and then trusted accordingly. You mean that if my husband is never home from work on time, I can skip getting ticked off when he's late again tonight? Yes, and not only that. If your husband always acts unsatisfactorily when you get on his case about things, just think: you could actually take note that he's not so good in that arena and quit opening yourself up to be disappointed, argument after argument.
How utterly empowering. It's the whole "wise as serpents" part of that passage we all memorized as kids. Do you remember that verse? It's Matthew quoting Jesus saying: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16, KJV).
Can you visualize this rearranging your relationships for the better? No more random pain that gets you acting like a victim. You get to decide whom you trust, and act accordingly.
And for not-married humans, yeehaw! You can wait and keep your eyes wide open. You can actually decide if the guy is trustworthy and able to keep promises before the vows. Marriage, after all, is a colossal act of trust. Marrying somebody is nothing short of committing to build your whole life on the fact that they will bestow favor like they promised they would.
I have always liked the fourth chapter of Proverbs-especially verse 23. Essentially the writer warns, "Guard your heart, for out of it flows all of your life." Guarding our heart means that we open it up only when we are convinced it will be safe to do so. After all, the best offense has always been a good defense.
The beauty of not trusting
This kind of not trusting people definitely takes some getting used to. I've had more than one audience tell me it just didn't sound Christian. What was I thinking? How mean could that be?
Mostly I think the confusion was in their applications of it all. Maybe they visualized going up to John Doe and saying they would never trust him and blah, blah, blah, he wasn't worthy, blah, blah, they had to protect themselves from his evil, and blah, blah.
In such instances it's fortunate that the Bible remains one-note Joe about it all. Once a pastor did a word search on "trust," and the only exception he found to trusting God was in Proverbs 31, where it says that a man with a great wife trusts "in her" (verse 11, KJV). Think about that. Only one exception, and it's hardly a command to trust-it just says that great women are trusted by their significant others.
What maybe needs to be clarified in all this is that choosing not to trust someone is not a public statement we flaunt to hurt those involved. Having someone point out that I'm not worthy of their trust is not my idea of kindness or favor. That would be classified under the love command as "not loving."
Most times when I make a note not to trust it is a very private and silent affair. Yes, and it always is coupled with forgiveness and plenty of bestowed favor to round out the situation. Ideally, though, I don't trust in the first place, so getting to a place where my trust is broken and I have to withdraw is a rare occurrence. Trust has become the strange behavior I give into when I've seen huge amounts of a person and know they are trustworthy.
If love is a pure reflection of the giver and Jesus' definition of a true Christian, then to bestow favor on all, doing so immediately and despite hate or rejection, would be the sign of a matured faith. Likewise, if Jesus taught that trust is only for God-in other words, open up your heart to receive favor only from Him-then you're going to trust super slow and intentionally, and only when someone manifests Jesus' teachings and humble spirit. (Trusting a godly person is actually trusting God when all is said and done.)
Maybe it goes without saying, but I also must point out that people who cannot love someone unconditionally (they're just good at responding well to positive stimuli) are immature and unsafe. They love only because you earned it or proved yourself, which isn't love anyway! These people are not trustworthy. In order to be worthy of having a messed-up human heart entrusted to you, you need to be committed to unconditional love- the free bestowal of favor based on who you are.
And people who trust rampantly and without discretion are extremely unsafe. Not only will they be mad because they get their heart kicked to the curb a whole lot, but they'll possibly also be bitter because, well, quite frankly, they've learned nothing from the 10 broken hearts they've nursed over the years and thus feel trapped and victimized. ("Why me, God? Why do all the bad relationships come my way?")
That is probably why people who are hugely trusting are not usually hugely loving. If love is a reflection of my heart and I have allowed people in who have desolated my heart, well, how am I going to bestow love out of a heart like that? With a broken heart, the best I can do is plaster on a smile and fake kindness. Sure, this is better than inflicting my pain all over the place, but it is not real.
So, what about you? Whom do you trust? You owe it to yourself to come to honest acknowledgment about this. Your relationship with God depends on it. It doesn't matter how much love and truth you get in your relationship with Jesus-open your heart up to someone not safe or submitted to Jesus, and they'll strip away your beautiful sense of community and love. It's not enough for us women to say yes to God and yes to good, loving relationships. We have to be just as committed to saying no to Satan (the accuser) and no to relationships that are bad, unloving, and unhealthy.
Get your good loving from someone whose track record warrants it.
Clar Worley Sproul is a regular contributor to Women of Spirit. She writes from her home in Oregon and on the road here and there, where she teaches Jesus' basic principles on life and marriage.