Trust is a learned response, and we begin learning it the moment we are born. A newborn baby arrives in the world with a great deal of vulnerability and among other things has to learn the art of developing a basic trust. If the parents are loving, reliable, predictable and trustworthy the child soon gets the idea, “I can trust these people who are looking after me. They don’t always respond the way I would like them to but generally they are there for me when I need them.” If however, there is no reliable and consistent input of love and affection into a child’s personality in the early years, if the parents are perceived as unconcerned and unpredictable, the child gets the idea, “People are not to be trusted”. And in cases where parents are not just unconcerned, but are unkind and even abusive, then the development of a basic trust is hard – some would say impossible.
-Selwyn Hughes, Wisdom For Daily Living
Love, trust, forgiveness. These three truths are interconnected as the root, trunk and branches of a tree – one cannot thrive without the others. Nevertheless, these are the three things that have evaded me for most of my life.
My parents weren’t abusive, or should I say, my parent wasn’t abusive – for all intents and purposes, I had only my mother. The man she married was an idiot who contributed next to nothing to the family or the household. All he did was take and take and take until he drained all of us emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and in my mother’s case, financially. She wasn’t abusive, but she certainly wasn’t loving, predictable or trustworthy. She was angry, and confused, and reeling, because she had clearly made the biggest mistake of her life when she had me.
I used to hate my mother. I don’t anymore. Partly because it’s just not good to hate and partly because at some point in my teenage years, it hit her just how much she’d screwed up and she tried to make amends. It took me a while, but eventually I had to accept that she was trying, and even though the past couldn’t be erased, I grudgingly came to accept and even love her.
The same cannot be said of the men in my life, most of whom, if a genie granted me wishes, I’d erase from my memories. My experiences with male figures in my life have been largely terrible – when they weren’t abusive, they were manipulative, or dishonest, or callous. Today, I cannot tolerate men. I used to hate them, however, slow progress has got me to the point where the sight of them no longer makes me nauseous; still, I don’t want them in my life. There are a handful of exceptions, but mainly I avoid them. I never used to make friends and acquaintances based on their genders, yet eventually it seemed the safer thing to do. I wondered if my experiences happened because I was merely unlucky, or undiscerning. The former is improbable, and while lack of discernment may have been an issue when I was much younger, I quickly learned to recognize the key signs of predators. Still, some predators have rather good camouflage…
I cannot categorically state that all men in the world are evil bastards. I can however say that except for two, all the evil bastards in the world I’ve met have been men. And I know that this posit is based my personal, subjective experiences. But what are my experiences for, if not to school me on life? And the painful lesson I have learned is that men are not to be trusted. I am not happy to distrust anyone; I don’t think cynicism makes me mature or strong. Yet, this is where I am.
At a Bible study, we examined the concept of trust. First, we studied the meaning of trusting God (which for me has been a trip), and next, trusting others. The only people present at this particular meeting were myself and the study group leader, Sue, and she kept nudging me to share my thoughts. I couldn’t sit back and blend into the background, and it was too early in the morning to bullshit. There was a passage in our study books [Matthew 26:69-75] that mentioned that when Jesus was arrested, his closest friend Peter denied him three times (out of fear for his life, and it made no difference in Jesus’ sentencing, but still, denial is denial). Peter felt horrible about it afterwards and wept. Later, when Jesus came back from the dead, he made Peter feel super awkward by asking him if he loved him (three times) before affirming his authority over the church. Apparently, in his very foreign way, Jesus affirmed and forgave Peter. The moral of the story is that Jesus forgave, so we should too… only… no. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not Jesus. Technically, Jesus is/was God so he can do absolutely, anything. Walking on water, multiplying food, raising people from the dead, forgiving the person who hurt you deeply – all equally super human. I said as much to Sue and she responded with the following.
Sue told me the story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. She was not a Jew, but a Christian whose family helped to hide Jews until they were betrayed by a fellow citizen and put in a concentration camp themselves. Her family died in the camp, but it seemed ten Boom’s faith in God stayed strong, and after she was released, she continued to preach about God, especially to Holocaust survivors. Then one day, after she had preached about forgiveness, a former guard from her prison camp came up to her and asked to be forgiven and wanted to shake her hand. According to ten Boom, at that moment, the last thing she wanted to do was forgive this man who had caused terror for her family and countless others. But if she refused to shake his hand, then all her preaching would have been hypocrisy. She asked God for help before she mechanically stretched out her hand. Yet, the moment she shook the guard’s hand, she knew she had forgiven him. However, this forgiveness was not her ability, but God’s strength working through her.
Sue then said that to truly forgive when we are hurt is difficult, next to impossible for some. Yet when God asks us to do something, He doesn’t give us the assignment and leave us empty-handed; He gives us whatever we need to do the right thing. And make no mistake – God instructs those who have chosen to live by Him to forgive everyone all the time, regardless of what they have done. Apparently, all I need to do is to want to forgive and ask God for help.
Thing is, I’ve done this before. I have prayed, I have journaled, I have decided to forgive, I’ve even written to the people who hurt me to say I forgive them. And for a brief moment, I am convinced it is all behind me… until it is all before me again. Now, I am at the point where I don’t care enough to make the effort again. They’re only stupid men. They don’t matter. I have found healing, and joy and purpose, why bother about a handful of undeserving people who don’t give a damn about me anyways? Sue’s answer was: obedience. That sobered me a bit – I don’t want to disobey God, partly out of gratitude for the new life I’ve been given, and partly because I’ve seen what God does to people who disobey Him – I’m looking at you, Jonah. Getting swallowed by a fish for three days might actually be a fascinating experience, but I’m afraid in my case it’ll be a metaphorical fish, and a traumatizing experience.
I’ve been wrestling God over this, and He decided to be kind and give me some perspective. When I am able, I want to adopt children who have been abandoned, so that they don’t grow up like me: broken, unable to trust, love or forgive. However, I have had difficulty admitting to myself that I want to adopt daughters not just any children. I don’t believe that I’d be able to form a real, lasting bond with a boy, because I suspect that he’ll grow up to be just like one of the men who hurt me. I realize that this line of thinking is not okay. No child should have to bear the weight of other people’s wrongdoing. What’s more, what if the child who most desperately needs a home and a sense of belonging happens to be male? Will I then overlook him simply because of his gender?
Okay, God. I see. It is clear that for me, forgiveness is not a one-time effort, but a sustained series of efforts each time I am confronted with the resentment and the pain of being humiliated and hurt. I need to stop dwelling on those feelings, no matter how intense they are, because Your power to forgive, heal and restore is even greater. I need to trust You that I can forgive them, so that I can love a child one day.