Wandering the savage garden…

Trust

We are called to trust in the Lord for all things (Proverbs 3:5), but it’s one of the hardest things we are called to do, mostly because of the nature of what trust is, and who we are, and how we trust those around us.

Begging your indulgence, here’s a story, one you’re probably familiar with, and then a changed version to illustrate a point about trust.

It’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Here’s take one.

A shepherd boy is tending his flocks above his village and decides to play a joke. So he calls down to the village, saying, “Wolf! Wolf! There’s a wolf attacking my flock!”

The villagers all gather their weapons, and rush up the hill to where the shepherd boy laughs at them for falling for his joke. They grumble at him, and go back to their work in the village.

The next day the boy decides to play another joke. So he calls down to the village, saying, “Wolf, wolf!” The villagers gather their weapons and rush up the hill, only to be laughed at again. They yell at him for wasting their time again and go back to the village.

The next day the boy is tending his flock, until he sees an actual wolf attacking his sheep. He screams, “Wolf! A wolf is actually here! Help!” — yet the villagers hear, and say among themselves, “That rascal is trying to fool us yet again,” and stay where they were, while the wolf destroys the flock and the boy is ruined.

Old story, yes. So let’s see if it changes any with some variations. I’ll emphasize the changes so the story’s easier to skim.

A shepherd boy is tending his flocks above his village and decides to play a joke. So he calls down to the village, saying, “Wolf! Wolf! There’s a wolf attacking my flock!”

The villagers all gather their weapons, and rush up the hill to where the shepherd boy laughs at them for falling for his joke. They grumble at him, and go back to their work in the village.

Two months pass. A wolf actually attacks his flock, and when he calls the villagers, they fend off the wolf. A week after that, the boy decides to play another joke. So he calls down to the village, saying, “Wolf, wolf!” The villagers gather their weapons and rush up the hill, only to be laughed at again. They yell at him for wasting their time again and go back to the village.

Another month passes.

Then one day the boy is tending his flock, until he sees an actual wolf attacking his sheep. He screams, “Wolf! A wolf is actually here! Help!” — yet the villagers hear, and say among themselves, “That rascal is trying to fool us yet again,” and stay where they were, while the wolf destroys the flock and the boy is ruined.

The villagers are justified in their response, here, no matter what the response is. If they actually charge up the hill, they’re justified, because after all, he has called them when it was necessary – but they’re also justified in not rushing up the hill, because he’s broken their trust.

The difference between the stories is time. In the first story, it’s rapid-fire. In the second, there’s a period of trustworthiness between his “calling wolf.”

He’s not trustworthy in any case – it’s just a matter of risk and reward as to whether the villagers should respond or not.

So how does this apply for us?

Well, it’s painfully easy for us to do the exact same thing. (I know; I’ve done it.) While perhaps we obey the Commandment not to lie (“You shall not bear false witness,” Exodus 20:16), trust is more than not telling the truth – trust is acting in such a way that our motives are known and acted upon consistently and reliably. It means not only saying what is true, but acting upon it.

The sad part is that our relationship to God is based on our human relationships. It shouldn’t be – God isn’t like us, so we should see Him in different lights, but for better or for worse, we usually see God as we saw our earthly fathers, which is usually something we have to struggle to overcome.

Rebuilding trust isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work and patience. Once trust is broken, you have to do a number of things, including:

  1. Never lie.
  2. Include your feelings – it’s not enough just to recite cold facts, but you have to include the secondary minutiae. I’m very bad about this, myself.
  3. Be patient, because rebuilding trust isn’t a matter of doing trustworthy things once.
  4. Be consistent.

(A good place to start might be “How to Build Trust,” from WikiHow. My list has four elements; theirs has nineteen. Theirs is better.)

Being trustworthy is the best way to learn to trust others, because you learn to identify the things that make people trustworthy.

Trusting others is the way to understand how to truly trust in God. Again, God’s not subservient to man, nor is this ‘right’ – but it’s what we, as humans, do.

My relationship with God is perceived through the light of how I felt about my father – so I see God as clinical and demanding. Yet God is greater than this.

My wife’s relationship with God is based on her feelings about her family – and as her family has not protected her, her trust is easily threatened. (Yet she’s a wonderful Christian and a wonderful person.)

My children’s relationship with God is based, for better or for worse, on how they see me.

Therefore, there’s a lot of reasonable pressure on me to act in a trustworthy fashion, that they might be able to trust in God more easily and more completely than I do, that they might act more within the will of God than I have.

So it is for all of us. We are to act in such a way that those who do not know God can come to know Him through us, and those who do know God are blessed through us. If we do not act in such ways as to gather and deserve their trust, we hurt them and their relationship to both us and God.

Shalom.

Originally posted on January 1, 2012.

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