Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “trust is earned.” This possesses the sound of wisdom. We all have been failed by others. Others have acted against us by intent and by neglect. We’ve been hurt by the actions of others. We’ve lost money, time, or resources by the actions of someone we trusted.

To say that trust is earned makes trust something more like permission. If you prove yourself capable, I will give you permission to do this thing. Real trust is something more than permission. It is relational. It means I believe in you. It means It means I will open myself up to you.

Did you ever play a game as kids where your friend asked you to close your eyes and stick out your hand? “Close your eyes and stick out your hand,” is a trust statement. When you opened your hand you didn’t just receive something (be it a frog or a Tootsie Roll), you gave something. You gave trust.

Real trust cannot be earned it must be given. This is why some people never trust you no matter how much you prove yourself while others trust someone no matter how much that person proves unreliable. Trust must be give. It’s a choice of our own free will to open ourselves up to someone else.

To say that trust is earned sounds wise but lacks in understanding when used of our closest relationships. The language of earning, wages, and payment is the language of employment. It’s contractual. If you do x I will do y.

Such language contradicts love and grace. The language of employment is particularly dangerous in the family. Parents build reliable and trustworthy children by extending trust. Trust is given. The kind that is real. The kind that makes a child feel strong and able.

Surely parents must increase permissions and independence as children grow in age and responsibility. It isn’t loving to “trust” an untrained 16-year-old with car keys and no accountability.

Parents need wisdom in what privileges and how much independence to extend. And yet we can feel even if we can’t explain the difference between “I don’t trust you,” and “I trust you but I know you’re not ready for that yet.”

My wife and I are testing out a value statement to put this succinctly for our family relationships:

“We give and keep trust.”

So far, I’ve focused on the first part: we give trust. This is important to understand. At the end of the day trust is something I give. It’s a choice.

And yet, trust is a bridge built in two directions. I start with extending trust, but you must continue by keeping it.

I’ll focus on rounding out the second part of the bridge next time!

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