By Kevin Wiebe
We have all experienced it. We trusted someone, believed in them, and made ourselves vulnerable in some way to their choices—and they let us down. This, of course, is painful. When it happens enough times, or when the pain is severe enough, it causes us to question whether we can even continue having this relationship.
The question becomes, how can we rebuild trust after it has been broken? There are a couple of answers to this question, and it changes depending on who is being addressed.
To the person that broke someone’s trust, the answer is that apologies are only one element of reconciliation—we call it confession. Yet trust cannot be rebuilt without repentance, which can be described as a change in behaviour—no longer doing those things that broke trust. Repentance is action rooted in a heart that has changed course. Instead of moving in a direction that hurts someone, we move in a direction that helps them. This process can be frustrating, because it is a long process.
An old adage says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” While this isn’t biblical wisdom, the Bible does talk about boundaries. Belonging to God’s people was not just a moral free-for-all. There was guidance about proper behaviour, and there were even recommended consequences.
Proverbs 19:19 talks about how there are consequences for people who make use of rage. God sent punishment on Israel for their oppression of the needy and their idolatry. Paul admonishes one church not to allow people to be freeloaders but that all need to contribute (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
People are to be held accountable for their actions. As such, when trust is broken, there are times when boundaries and consequences are necessary. For the one who broke the trust, there must be not only an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but a humility to do the slow hard work of repentance, at times with additional boundaries put in place.
One misconception about boundaries is that they are punishment or a lack of forgiveness. While this may at times be the case, healthy boundaries are in fact an act of grace, and they become a way that the relationship can continue in a manner that allows the hurting party to re-engage that relationship in a safe way.
Now for the person that has been wronged: if trust is to be rebuilt, you must be willing to trust again, knowing full well that it provides another opportunity to be hurt again. It does not mean there are no boundaries. It does not mean full trust must be granted immediately or, in some cases, ever. But it does mean in some way, shape or form, you will have to choose to trust someone again to do what is right. And this can feel very risky.
Is there a time to end a relationship? I certainly believe there is; for more on this check out Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings. I also believe, however, that far too often we terminate relationships prematurely, either because we are unwilling to do the work of repentance or because we are unwilling to allow ourselves to trust again. This prevents us witnessing the healing power of God within those relationships.