“Trust is confidence,” Jim Belcher says, “that the other person’s intentions are good and that we have no reason to be protective or careful around them.” If we are to feel safe in conversation, safe to be truthful and open, safe to expose our fears, convictions, and hopes, safe enough to risk asking hard questions, admitting deep doubts, or voicing strong disagreement, we must be able to trust those with whom we are talking.
Whether the reputation is deserved or not, evangelical Christians tend not, as a group, to inspire this trust. It’s one of the reasons many Christians are afraid to invite non-Christians to church functions—church is often an unsafe place for everything except conformity and easy answers. Treating people as those made in God’s image, loving them as St. Paul defines love in 1 Corinthians 13 means wanting them to be able to trust us even—or especially—when we happen to disagree with them. The fact they may not return the favor is beside the point.
It’s true this sort of trust usually needs to be built over time. You may feel confident that my intentions are good towards you only after we have gotten to know each other a bit. You may need to watch me in a variety of settings before you feel very certain that you can cut loose without risking my anger, or dismissiveness, or sarcasm, or an answer that ends the discussion instead of deepening it. Granting unhurried time to intentionally build trust is a rare grace, an expression of part of the biblical gospel of Christ.
But it is also true that some people seem to have an uncanny ability to inspire trust relatively quickly, if not instantly. I would like to be more like that.
How they accomplish this doesn’t seem to me to be easily quantifiable. It can’t be faked, of that I am certain. I think it boils down to meekness, a grace that Jesus recommended (Matthew 5:5) but that we don’t consider very often. “Basil calls this ‘the indelible character of a gracious soul,’” the Puritan Thomas Watson said. “By nature the heart is like a troubled sea, casting forth the foam of anger and wrath. Now meekness calms the passions. It sits as moderator in the soul, quieting and giving check to its distempered motions.”
No doubt about it, I cast up far too much foam.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” St Paul writes, “clothe yourselves with… meekness” (Colossians 3:12). If it is true that we are chosen, if it is true that we are set apart to God by grace, if it is true that we are actually beloved of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—these realities mean that meekness is possible. I need not try to be God, or to try to fix you, or to control the conversation so it ends where I am most comfortable. I am called simply to be gracious moment by moment, because God through Christ has been gracious to me. Being gracious makes sense because grace is the only thing of value I have, and since I received it as a gift, I can offer it in turn, and be grateful for the opportunity, whatever transpires. Being gracious is possible because in the gospel we have been granted grace, and God’s Spirit who arrives to take up residence within our very being proves his presence by causing fruit to grow that flows out into a lifestyle of shalom and loveliness (Galatians 5:22).
This is what inspires confidence and trust, and makes us safe.