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“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

“Trust is like paper: once it’s rumpled it can never be perfect again.”

“Trust is like an eraser: it gets smaller and smaller with every mistake.”

These popular quotes illustrate how easy it is to damage trust and how hard it is to rebuild trust once it has been betrayed.

Many of us will have experienced damage to relationships when trust is broken.  Someone has betrayed a confidence.  Another person stole.  Somebody abused their power, or failed to follow through on their commitment.  Sadly the missions world is far from immune from such challenges.  Our relationships with nationals and team members can be complicated by different understandings of trust, and misunderstandings can quickly arise leading to a loss of trust.

Trust is essential to any relationship, but it involves risk.  We start any relationship by divulging personal information like our name, family details, home town and possibly occupation, and then move into more intimate information like age and earnings.  We trust even the most casual acquaintances not to abuse these.  As relationships deepen, we entrust people with more, and this in turn engenders more trust as we see people handle our personal information, commitments and dependencies with integrity.  Until something goes wrong.

So how do we repair the damage once this has happened so that trust is restored to its previous pristine state quickly?

Forgive.  Often easier said than done, and although the initial decision to forgive may be effective, in our hearts and minds we may need to keep repeating it till our thoughts and feelings agree with our will.

Leave the past behind.  “I’ll forgive but I can’t forget” isn’t really forgiving.  OK, we can’t always forget what happened, but we can choose not to bring it to mind.  A friend of mine once said of someone “He swindled us out of a lot of money, but of course we forgave him.”  She clearly didn’t need to tell me, so I assume she hadn’t tried to forget.

Be honest.  Tell them how much their action hurt you, but that you’re willing to forgive and try to trust them again.  Hopefully your action will stimulate some change in them.

Get it in perspective.  Is this just one error in an otherwise trustworthy life?  Just because it’s happened once doesn’t mean it’s bound to happen again.

Take baby steps.  Give them an opportunity to be faithful in small things, and let them rebuild trust by showing themselves trustworthy.

Be patient.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, as we know from our own character weaknesses, so don’t expect instant transformation in others.

There is a curious incident in the story of Joseph’s incognito meeting with his brothers in Egypt where Joseph frames his little brother Benjamin with theft of his favourite cup (Genesis 44).  As punishment, he is to become Joseph’s slave, but older half-brother Judah steps in, and stays he will take Benjamin’s place, as it would break his father’s heart if he lost the second child of his true love Rachel (Joseph being presumed dead).

This incident makes no sense until you connect it with an earlier event when Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37).  Joseph had more justification than most of us for wanting his revenge on his brothers, but instead he is giving Judah a chance to prove he has changed, and in doing so, he took a risk.  He didn’t know what Judah would do, but Judah had learned his lesson.

The best way to rebuild trust is to trust.