Nobody has to teach you to be mistrusting of others, it comes fairly naturally to the human heart that has been hurt … and who hasn’t been hurt. No child has perfect parents (if they know their parents), no individual has a perfect spouse (if they are married), no employee has a perfect boss (if they work), no church-goer has perfect leaders (if they attend church) and no friend has perfect companions (if they have some friends) … period.
Just what is the problem that this creates? There are scores of problems arising from these situations – loneliness, abandonment, fear, worry, on and on that list can go. But what is the problem? I would argue that the default response of the sinful human heart in these situations is self-trust. Often times that is a conscience choice to push people away who caused hurt, and other times it’s not so deliberate. Sometimes it’s done with a sinful rejection of those who don’t measure up to your god-like standard, and other times it is actually wisdom to flee violent or abusive situations. Whatever the specifics of the case may be, in every case the thoughtful child of God needs to do battle against the leanings of their heart to only call yourself (and yourself alone) safe.
In one respect, it’s true – nobody out there is safe. But the answer is not to push everyone away and opt for selfish isolation, but to stop expecting everyone around you to act like a savior full of endless grace and truth in glorious perfection. Yet there are ‘safe people’ out there. People who imperfectly love their Creator and are willing to imperfectly love you. So, if that’s true how do we do battle against the idols of our heart which are all rooted in self-trust?
Antidote #1: Listen and Remember
The history of the nations of Israel and Judah are cyclical stories of stubbornness and forgetfulness. God’s power is put on display for they to unmistakably see and yet they choose self, they choose their strategies and tactics for survival and significance. He brings the firm and loving discipline of a Father who will not let them go, a remnant awakens to his promises and returns to Him. From the wilderness wanderings, to the conquest of the land, to the period of the judges, to the monarchy, to the divided kingdom, to their captivities and the words of the prophets … it all says the same thing – “Listen to your God you stiff-necked rebels, and remember all that He has done and promised to do … and worship and obey!” The New Testament writers say the same thing – “Therefore we must pay must closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). Do you want to fight the self-trusting nature of your soul? Listen to, and remember, your Creator who says – “This is who I am, and this is what I’ve done … you can trust me!”
Antidote #2: Repent and Pray
My teenage son recently bemoaned the fact that he knows that adults aren’t perfect and that they sin, but that he doesn’t see them express that or own it very often. Ouch! Ouch to my own soul. I want my wife and kids to think I’m perfect, but not expect me to be. I want them to think I’m humble, but not expect me to repent before them. Yeah, I know – pretty jacked up. If I’m listening with a soft heart to my Heavenly Father then I will be the earthly father that repents of his own self-trust. If I’m remembering the goodness of God to me in forgiveness and grace, then I will be a man who runs to Him for more of it – repentance and prayer. When you and I aren’t quick to see our own sin and turn from it we are trusting in our own thoughts, words, or merit to deal with where we violated the heart and law of God. And when we aren’t quick to pray, we are trusting our ability to handle the situation, carry the burden, and manage the fallout better than the Lord. Do you want to fight the self-trust that comes second-nature to you? Process repentance before the Lord and openly with others, and talk to God about the trustworthy nature of His character to you.
Antidote #3: Doubt and Invite
For all that can be said of self-trust (and lots can be said), perhaps one of the most foundational realities is that you aren’t trustworthy either. It’s true. You think you can trust yourself, your judgement, and your motives … but you can’t. You are just like the next guy who you don’t trust. It’s just such a greater draw to trust yourself than the next guy because you are in control. The burden of success and failure is on you and nobody else … and you’re willing to live with that. But be certain of one thing – You are made of the same stuff as that person who hurt you last year or last week. Part of my repentance must be exchanging self-trust for self-doubt. How’s that for an uplifting self-esteem message? Actually I find it quite freeing personally. I’m no savior, no perfect parent or perfect husband, certainly not a perfect preacher or all-wise counselor. In my doubting of self, I am not doubting God’s work in me, His gifts to me, my identity as valued and loved, or the influence He has entrusted to me. I am just saying that trusting Him is always the better option than trusting me. And in that obedient doubting I get to invite the care, wisdom, and resources of Him and others to move me forward. What a bargain: I’m free of putting all the weight on my shoulders, and I get the “light burden” (Matthew 11:28-30) of trusting Him.
These antidotes aren’t a “one-time” shot given at the travel clinic before boarding your international flight. Rather they are required in “daily doses” for our spiritual health and vitality. So take your medicine and enjoy the freedom it brings!