This year at Called to Watch we’ve explored what trust looks like in the context of chronic illness, and why it can be so difficult. We’ve uncovered what it means to trust others, to trust ourselves, and to trust God. For me personally, and I’m sure for most of us, this year has given us many opportunities to trust. The more uncertain life is, the harder it can be to trust, and the more important it is!
I recently read a poem by Anne Carson, titled The Glass Essay. This part stood out to me:
You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.
Why hold onto all that?
And I said, Where can I put it down?
As we enter the holiday period, after a long year of Watching and living, are you holding onto too much? Take a quick assessment – are there worries you didn’t know you were stockpiling, frustrations you’ve swept under the carpet, resentments you thought you’d grown out of?
We all carry these burdens. But are you looking for a place to put them down?
Let us go together, to a baby born in a manger 2000 years ago. Let us go and place our ‘too much’es before Jesus.
Trust can change your life
We do not have to be enough, and we do not have to hold onto everything. Of course, it’s difficult to lay our burdens down. It’s a terrifying act of trust – will God be enough if I don’t plan for every eventuality, if I don’t have my anger to protect me, if I stop and admit that I’m exhausted?
He will be – the Bible promises us that – but we will never know that he is, until we lay down our burdens in trust. God doesn’t give us future strength for future problems in the present. He simply gives us what we need for each moment.
Choosing to trust can be life-changing – and what better time to let God change your life than Christmas, when the world was changed forever in the twinkling of a star and the startled cry of a new-born?
We’ve talked about how to trust and how to be trustworthy in the context of chronic illness – even when it’s really hard. We know how important trust is, and what a gift it can be. But what do you do when trust is broken? When things don’t go as they should go, when words are said that can’t be unsaid, or when actions speak louder than words and the message they send is wrong and unkind?
It’s happened to all of us, and it will happen again. We trust someone, and we are let down. Or we let someone else down, and feel like we’ve failed them and ourselves as well. Or perhaps we’ve simply refused to trust for so long that our relationships lie in tatters around us, and our world is not the place we hoped it would be.
What do we do? Can trust be repaired?
I think so. Trust is a decision we make over and over, and so there are always opportunities to learn to trust again. We live in a world that is moldable, and full of possibilities. We serve a God who is able to work in impossible situations. Furthermore, people are not static, we are continually developing and changing and so relationships too can always change for the better. But how do we get there? Here are some steps you might find helpful:
ONE: Grieve that we live in a world where people are not perfect and trust is broken.
Grief is about acknowledging hurt. Nothing can be changed until it is accepted in all its complexity, and one way to accept is to mourn.
Grieve for what could have been.
Grieve for what can never be.
Grieve for opportunity lost.
Grieve for feelings hurt.
Grieve for broken relationships.
Grieve for a torn apart world.
Grieve that life is not as it should be. This might sound depressing, and a bit like wallowing in self-pity, but I want to maintain that it is important. The reality is, life is not supposed to be like this – full of struggle and brokenness and trustlessness. When we accept this, it is going to be painful, and there’s going to be some grief involved. That’s okay.
TWO: Define the situation.
Having your trust broken hurts. Failing to be someone who is trustworthy hurts. It can be really helpful to define the situation to yourself, as though you’re telling someone else. Aside from all the emotions and interpretations and meaning you’ve placed on things said or done – what actually happened? What was actually done? What was actually said?
It’s easy, in our leap to deal with the pain of a broken relationship, to assign blame wrongly. Take a step back, take a breath, and give yourself a chance to write things out.
THREE: Talk together about what happened.
Sometimes it’s better to wait for a while before bringing up the situation, sometimes it might need to be addressed straight away. Whatever the case, it can be helpful to define the desired outcome before you go into the discussion. What will make this conversation ‘successful’ in your eyes? This is important because so often we enter conversations with unrealistic expectations (the other person will apologise immediately with tears) and then we throw yet another emotion (disappointment) into the mix. Here are some expectations I find helpful:
This conversation will be successful if:
I listen to what the other person has to say.
I accept blame where appropriate and ask forgiveness.
We remain friends.
Sometimes the conversation is not going to be ‘successful’ according to our definition – and that’s okay! It may be painful, but it can be helpful to remember that you tried to fix the situation; God is ultimately in control; and there may be another chance for resolution.
FOUR: Make the decision to trust again.
Trust is crucial in relationships, and a beautiful gift. When broken, it can be really difficult to continue in a relationship, to make the effort to reach out, to be trustworthy.
There are times where it is not possible to trust someone in the same way again, and times when you will need to redefine your relationship with someone so that you can trust again. What is important is that we remember that we serve a great God. Trust is always possible in some respect and mended relationships can happen. Let’s face the future with hope, because while trusting will always be costly, not-trusting is even pricier.
//So what do you think? Are these steps helpful? Do they seem too optimistic? Too black and white? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Have you read my memoir, Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour? It’s the story of (you guessed it!) two sisters, the diagnosis which turned their lives upside down, and ended up saving them. It’s a raw, honest account of hunting for hope in the darkness of chronic illness and caregiving, and finding laughter and even joy along the way.
Last month, my memoir Two Sisters & a Brain Tumour was published! If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy, try the links below. In the wake of the launch and the post-publication buzz, I’ve been reflecting on the reasons I chose to wrote a memoir about such a vulnerable and difficult time in my life.
The reality is, some words are bigger than other words. In 2015 the words ‘brain tumour’ loomed very big indeed. As a teenager I prayed two prayers about my younger sister. I’d prayed for her salvation, and I’d prayed for her friendship. I never expected God to answer them with a medical diagnosis requiring immediate surgery.
I was twenty-one, a radiography degree almost behind me, my entire life ahead of me – and all it took were those two words to change my world forever. For Christians Romans 8:28 – God works all things for good for those who love him – is often a deep comfort. As someone who’d grown up with a chronically ill mother, I’d hated that verse. In every reading it seemed to mock me, because I could not see the good – only the constant pain, tiredness, isolation. Yet when my sister was diagnosed I took hold of it with both hands – it was all I had left – and began a relentless search for ‘the good’.
ONE: I wrote Two Sisters because I wanted to capture the messy side of faith.
Ten surgeries, three months in hospital, life-long complications… and at every turn, with tears and fury and doubt, I hunted desperately for evidence of God working. We often speak of faith as a quiet assurance, a joyful confidence. I had none of that. What I did have (by God’s grace) was a dogged refusal to accept that the overwhelming darkness meant that God was not working. Sometimes, this is what faith looks like.
TWO: I wrote Two Sisters because I wanted to testify to God’s presence in the forgotten pockets of ordinary living.
The diagnosis of a brain tumour comes in an instant, an irreversible bolt of lightning, but it’s lived out hour by hour, day after day. While my memoir is certainly about ‘big things’ – brain tumours, chronic illness, sisterhood – it’s also, very consciously, about the small niches of everyday life. This is where the battles of faith are fought – in the car on the way to the hospital; on an empty seat at the back of church; in front of a public bubbler. God works in minutes, and therefore minutes are important.
THREE: I wrote Two Sisters because I wanted to explore what it looks like to love and be loved in times of illness.
Tragedy brings people together, but it also isolates. During those three months I felt too seen, but never known. For good and obvious reasons my sister and my family were frequent topics of conversation in my church community. People were kind and generous. Yet at the same time I felt separated from the lives of others by my sister’s diagnosis. My priorities, hopes, and dreams had been changed in an instant. I didn’t know who I was anymore, so how could I expect to be known?
Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour is the story of two sisters, and how God saved them through a brain tumour. It contains miracles, both ordinary and extraordinary. Yet it’s also an ode to steadfast faith, because God is faithful, and an encouragement to godly living in unseen moments, because God is there. Most of all it’s a plea to reach out your hands to others and to take hold of the hands reached out to you, to love and to be loved, because God has given us other people.
Sometimes, in the case of my sister, he even gives them back to us, and graciously offers a second chance.
Trust. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, but it’s always costly because there’s never 100% certainty it will end well.
So how do you make trusting your chronically ill friend a habit when there are times you really don’t want to, but you’ve asked yourself the questionsand you think you should? Before we explore the answer, let’s brainstorm some scenarios, because trust is never abstract.
It’s hard to make trust a habit when…
Your chronically ill friend..
… is going through a rough patch and you know you should ask how they’ve tried to fix it, and what resources they’ve drawn upon – but really, you think that’s a waste of time since you know exactly what needs to be done.
… wants to go with you to the party and say they’ll be fine – and you are almost positive they won’t be fine and you’ll end up having to leave early to take them home.
… tells you they’re feeling nauseous after eating carrots – and you think it’s all ‘in their head’ and want to roll your eyes every time they bring it up.
As different as these situations are, each prompts the question: will you choose to trust your friend, or will you trust in your own capabilities? You want to make trust a habit… but it’s just so hard. What do you?
How to make trust a habit
1. Ask yourself why you don’t want to
Making trust a habit is hard for all of us, and generally, it’s not something we instinctively choose. But what is it about this particular relationship or situation that you are finding so difficult? Sometimes our pragmatic reason (I’ll save my friend a lot of trouble if I just step in and fix it) is hiding a more subjective motivation (I like feeling in control).
If you’re having trouble trusting, try and voice the specific reason, and check for underlying motivations!
2. Alter your first reaction
It’s easy to get in the habit of cynicism, and assume everyone is lying, exaggerating or incapable of making a balanced decision. This sounds rather dangerous, but it can manifest in subtle ways: an incredulous ‘really?’ when someone tells you something you think unlikely; a quick scramble to find a different explanation when the one we’re given contradicts our assumptions; a disinclination to take someone’s story at face value.
I’m not talking about wisdom vs. gullibility. I’m talking about when our first reactionis to disbelieve someone rather than listen to the end, or ask questions, or to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes trust is as simple as swapping the ‘Really?’ for a ‘Really? Tell me more.’
3. Make a settled decision
This ties in with the point above. Most of us are not particularly good at trusting ‘off the cuff’. Perhaps, in one sense, that’s wise. But I think it’s important that we sit down and choose to make a settled decision to give as many people the gift of trust as possible.
Why? For me, it’s a way of honouring others as individuals, an exercise of trust in God, and because I want to live in a trusting world.
4. Give up regrets
For all of us there have been times when we trusted and it fell through. Perhaps the person chose to be untrustworthy, perhaps they couldn’t help it, perhaps circumstances outside of our control meant that our gift of trust spawned painful consequences. In light of that, it can be difficult to choose to make trust a habit.
I’m not saying it’s wise to keep trusting someone who has proved untrustworthy in high-stakes situations. I am saying that we can’t base our present decisions on past regrets. This situation is different because it’s here, now, not back then. When we give up trusting everyone and everything because we’ve been duped or disappointed, we hurt ourselves and those around us.
5. Say no to self-protection as a number one priority
This demands explanation. It’s wise to look after ourselves. But that’s different to making self-protection a priority at all costs. When we make self-protection our number one priority, we refuse to trust in any situation which could lead to hurt or pain or discomfort. We might still be willing to trust, but only when we won’t bear the consequences, or, at the very least, won’t bear them alone.
If we protect ourselves like this, we might live a less-painful life. But at what cost? The cost of deep relationships with others and with God, the cost of freedom and the cost of never experiencing the joy which comes from ‘bearing one another’s burdens’ and looking beyond ourselves.
A final word
Trust is hard and failure is common, but the good thing is that opportunities to trust come multiple times a day! It’s never too late to make trust a habit, and in the meantime, we have a good God who forgives us when we choose not to trust out of selfish motivations. He is always trustworthy and always ready to hear us when we need to talk things over.
// What can you do this week to make trust a habit?
Missed my Christmas Gift? To keep in the loop about my upcoming memoir, follow the link below!
‘I trust you.’ ‘I believe you.’ ‘Okay.’ Expressions of trust can seem simple, and can be a great gift to those who receive them. When we trust another person, we show respect, bolster confidence, and validate experience.
We are effectively saying, ‘I hear you,I believe you know what you’re talking about, and I am going to assume that you are capable and autonomous until proven otherwise.’ We are demonstrating a ‘firm belief in someone’s reliability, ability and truthfulness’ (thank you, Oxford Dictionary).
So far that sounds quite straightforward.
Yet in the context of chronic illness, trust can often be accepting your chronically ill Loved One’s assessment of their capabilities, believing their description of the situation, and assuming they have valid ideas, dreams and motivations.
‘Relationships are built on trust’ – that’s a phrase you hear often. But have you ever considered that trust might be more than a necessity? That it might actually be one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, particularly someone who is living with a chronic illness?
The Oxford dictionary defines trust as the ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.’
Think about that for a moment. With this definition in mind, how would you feel if someone said, ‘I trust you’? I’d feel pretty good. I’d feel recognized, validated and affirmed. I’d feel more confident in myself. I’d feel challenged to ‘keep up the good work’. All that from three words.
I, like many of you, had made multiple plans… and they didn’t all come to fruition! I took a sabbatical from this blog, and also tried to take a sabbatical generally, but due to the wonders and the horrors which made up 2020, that didn’t quite happen.
Due to Covid, I was more active on Called to Watch than the word ‘sabbatical’ might suggest! I was also published on several other online spaces, including Eternity News, Lupus Chick, Penetrating the Darkness and Chronic Joy (where you can now LISTEN to my posts!). If you haven’t seen those articles, check them out!
It might be nice to dream of brushing 2020 under the carpet as we enter 2021 with hopeful hearts, determined to have a Better Year. I’m all for hope, but I suspect many of us will begin this year still processing what has happened and dealing with the changes in everyday and global life. That’s more than okay, and therefore this year on Called to Watch I want to focus on TRUST.