Restoring Relationships

JosephIf anyone held good reason to not trust others, it was Joseph. Not only did his brothers betray him (Genesis 37), but Potipher’s wife lied about him (Genesis 39), and the cup-bearer forgot his promise to Joseph (Genesis 40). Many people would give up after betrayal by family. Most of the rest would give up after being lied about and thrown in jail. And the third incident would secure the existence of bitterness and anger for anyone remaining.

But not Joseph. He bloomed where he was planted, and his faithfulness in every circumstance proved and strengthened his character. As a result, Joseph was trusted with greater responsibility every step of the way.

The story of Joseph provides a familiar setting worth revisiting in terms of what it teaches about restoring relationships. Please take a few minutes to read through Genesis 42-45 with this theme in mind before proceeding.

Lessons from Joseph on Restoring Relationships

Joseph gives a terrific example on many fronts, including solid character, perseverance and trusting God. His story, especially the ending, also provides a terrific lesson on the restoring process relationships can undergo providing those involved admit mistakes, forgive where necessary, and have the right focus. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at 5 lessons Joseph has for us regarding restoring relationships.

  1. Keep restoration as an option (Genesis 42:8). Joseph instantly recognized his brothers, while his brothers failed to recognize him at all. Sure, they assumed him dead for many years, but I find it strange they didn’t notice something… anything… reminding them of Joseph. Perhaps this comes simply because Joseph never lost hope for restoration with his family, while his brothers never had it.
  2. Provide opportunity for building trust (Genesis 42:14-17; Genesis 44). Joseph immediately provided opportunities for his brothers to build and earn trust with him. He gave them ways to show they had changed for good, and they certainly showed they had truly learned from their mistakes.
  3. Recognize and express emotion, but refuse to let it control actions (Genesis 42:24; Genesis 43:30-31). Don’t you love how Joseph truly felt emotion over first seeing his brothers and then over the prospect of restored relationship with them? Yet, he refused to let that emotion cloud the trust-building process and instead moved forward practically.
  4. Get God’s point of view (Genesis 45:5). Joseph continually focused on God, and I believe this allowed him to not just forgive his brothers but to work toward restored relationship with them. Joseph saw the big picture of how God used the bad in his life to work for good, and he refused to get bitter over the betrayal of those he trusted.
  5. Give God the glory when restoration succeeds (Genesis 45:6-7). Joseph gave God the credit for working in the whole of his life. He refused to focus on the human aspect of his situations and instead focused on God. Doing so also helped seal the deal for restoration as he purposefully eased the guilt his brothers felt.

The story of restored relationship between Joseph and his brothers gives me hope for the same story of renewal in my own life. It also helps me believe that people can truly change even after significant breeches of trust, especially when those they hurt choose to focus on God and believe that He truly does work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

DISCUSSION: What else can we learn about restoration from Joseph? What other examples can you think of in Scripture?

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How to Build Trust

TrustWith lives securely based on trust in God, we can move forward in imperfect relationships. We work toward holiness together, knowing we’ll make mistakes but also seeing progress made toward complete perfection. And that moving forward requires we build trust even within imperfect relationships.

Truths About Trust

In order to build trust, we must first understand some truths about trust that may be difficult to admit and accept. We’ve talked about these truths already in previous posts (listed at the bottom of this post), but let’s revisit them for a moment here.

  1. Only God is completely trustworthy. He never changes, and we can be completely confident in Him at all times.
  2. Expectations and past experiences shape trust. How much we trust others depends on their overall trustworthiness. How much we trust them also depends on our lifetime of experiences with trust as well as on our expectations about trust.
  3. You’re the only person whose trust you control. Determine to be trustworthy. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Purpose to live peacefully with others as much as it is up to you to do so. Build trust by making sure your words and actions always match up.

Understanding how trust works allows us to build trust in relationships. Learning to trust is a process, and we must continually work to maintain that trust. And often, we must choose to build trust even in the absence of trustworthiness because people need the opportunity to be trusted in order to become trustworthy.

Working to Build Trust

Consider practicing the following as you work to build trustrust puzzlet in your relationships:

  1. Verbalize it. Talk about trust. For example, I tell my kids that how much I trust them is up to them. They determine the level of trust I have for them based on their overall choices. Discuss broken trust when it happens, learn from it and move toward reestablishing it. Never forget the tremendous role communication plays in building trust.
  2. Accept it. Since human relationships involve imperfection, we either have to accept broken trust or refuse to be a part of any relationships. Accepting it doesn’t mean accepting the behavior. It mean committing to dealing with it when it happens, hopefully without severing the relationship.
  3. Wait for it. Trust takes time to establish. It also takes a lot of ups and downs. Determine to build trust over the long haul, and refuse to give up even when trust is broken.

After being hurt yet again by broken trust, we naturally want to retreat and live a life not trusting others in an effort to avoid being hurt again. Yet, when we focus on the One who is completely trustworthy, we can enter relationships, be hurt by broken trust in them, and continue moving forward.

Derailed by Broken Trust?

Because we’re safe in the hands of the One who is trustworthy, we know He won’t let anything ultimately hurt us. He’s got us for eternity, and nothing can take that away. This motivates me to bravely enter relationships knowing I’ll be hurt. It leads me to ask others to trust me even though I’ll likely let them down at some point.

Since no one can take away that which is most important – salvation & a relationship with Christ – living within the boundaries of imperfect relationships doesn’t frighten me anymore. I can feel the pain of broken trust and choose to move forward, to build trust again, and to work toward peace and unity and because it pleases God.

DISCUSSION: How does your relationship with Christ encourage you to keep working toward trusting in relationships?

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Building & Establishing Trust

TrustWhen we firmly establish our source of trust in Christ, as we discussed in How Do We Live Out Trust? and Where Should You Place Your Trust?, we can now move on to the activity of trust within imperfect relationships. This activity of building & establishing trust in relationships begins with first living a trustworthy life.

Living Trustworthy Lives

Only when we live trustworthy lives grounded in the One who is perfectly trustworthy can we then begin to build trust in our relationships. That happens when we consistently practice the following:

  1. Focus on pleasing God not people. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  2. Determine to be trustworthy with the Gospel. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  3. Rely on the Holy Spirit. (2 Timothy 1:14)
  4. Be dependable at work and at home. (Proverbs 31:10-11; Titus 2:10)
  5. Learn from those proven trustworthy, though not perfect. (Moses, Nehemiah, Daniel & Timothy)

Since our trust lies rooted in God, we must purpose to show that we truly trust Him as we move forward in establishing trustworthy character. When trust is secure within us, rooted and grounded in that which cannot be taken from us, we can then move on to building trust with others.

Trusting in Those Who Fail

Before moving on to how to build trust, we must address the struggle of trusting those who fail. We build trust in new relationships, and that takes a lot of work too, but it’s the building of trust with those who failed us — who broke trust — that usually provides the more difficult challenge.

I want to trust others after they’ve hurt me, but I struggle getting their breach of trust out of my thoughts sometimes. The easiest way I’ve found to not think about it, or at least to think about it less, is to avoid the person. Yet, not only is that not always possible, it doesn’t line up with Scripture.

So, I must do the tough work of choosing to trust those who fail me simply because I know it pleases God. That’s where my relationship with Him — where my trust being established in Him — becomes crucial. Because there’s no way I can trust those who have failed me if they are the source of my ability to trust.

Trust quotes

Examples of Reestablishing Trust

For me, hearing about stories of trust helps me better understand how to reestablish it in my own life. And what better examples than those found in Scripture.

  • God trusted Jonah despite previous disappointment (Jonah 3:1-2). Jonah ultimately comes through, but he never really gets the point God is making. (See God is a God of Second Chances for more on this.)
  • Jesus reinstated Peter after his predicted denial (John 21:15). Not only did He reinstate him, but Jesus trusted Him with tremendous responsibility in the spread of the Gospel.
  • Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance. Paul disagreed with doing so, but Barnabas extended opportunity for trust again (Acts 15:37-39).

Ultimately, we choose to trust others because we know that trust exists at the heart of relationships. God trusts humans with tasks purposed for His will because He desires relational partnering. Because He trusts in this way, knowing He’ll be let down, we too can continue working to build trust even with those who have and likely will again let us down.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s example of trusting others inspire you to do the same even in light of broken trust?

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How Do We Live Out Trust?

Trust

Living Out Trust

Trusting another person often makes a bold statement about your trust in God, a statement saying you choose obedience over trying to protect yourself. Because we have a 100% reliable source of trust, we know the answer to the question “Where Should You Place Your Trust?” So, we move forward in relationships with others who will let us down because we remain confident God never will.

Showing Trust in God

The best place to start living out trust that is rooted and grounded in God is through tangible expressions of that trust. In other words, living out trust comes through practical expressions and actions that show God exists as our source of trust and confidence. That happens through…

Actively showing our trust in God opens us up to living out trust by trusting others because we know our trust lies rooted in Him, not them. But, that doesn’t mean trusting in others is easy. It’s especially not when a wound from hurt is fresh or when it festers from long-term infection or when we know other wounds are forthcoming.

People & Trust

Trust in the LordPeople will break my trust again. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter though because they can never take away what truly matters, that which only comes from God.

The most important thing I have to lose – my salvation – can’t be lost. So, it’s not important as much whether others are trustworthy as it is whether or not I’m living a life that truly trusts in the only one who is trustworthy. That’s the root of living out trust.

Showing Where Trust Lies

We can show our trust in a variety of ways. Most importantly, that means showing where we place our trust and giving glory to God by doing so. That happens when we:

  • Choose to trust people knowing they’ll let you down. Do this knowing and proclaiming that God can and will make good out of it. Declare that He rights wrongs. (Luke 18:7)
  • Build relationships and strive for unity even amidst continually broken trust. If for no other reason, do it out of obedience to the One who is completely trustworthy. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
  • Look at our expectations and adjust or maybe even eliminate them. Do your part to live at peace with others. That involves not setting them up for failure. (Romans 12:18)
  • Don’t mistake people letting you down for God letting you down. Don’t blame God for people breaking your trust. Choose to follow God’s will regardless of what others do or don’t do. (Joshua 24:15)

Living out trust means choosing to continue trusting others even amidst hurt and betrayal. It means working to build trust and doing your part to live peacefully with others even when you know they’ll let you down. You can do this because God is bigger than and can heal the hurt from any broken trust.

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How to Earn Trust

Some people struggle with honesty more than others. This struggle usually results from significant feelings of instability. Even after finding consistency, the struggle often returns when routines get rattled. With these people, learning how to earn trust is essential.

A great way to understand how to earn trust comes from how we can teach it to our children. My husband and I have often told our boys that they determine how much we trust them; they get to decide the level of trust that exists.

Practical Ways to Earn Trust

After explaining that how much we trust them is up to them, we provided practical ways to earn trust.

  1. Be faithful with small things. Small things done consistently over time add up to make a big difference. For our boys, this means being responsible with their possessions and keeping their rooms clean.
  2. Do what’s right even when no one is looking. We remind them that someone (God) always sees and that while he may not get caught, they don’t get away with it. We explain that this is the basis of their character.
  3. Check your attitude. Eye rolls. Hand flings. Voice tone. All of these speak toward lack of receptiveness. Being receptive — being teachable — opens your life up to blessings rather than undesirable consequences.
  4. Don’t get defensive. Fully listen first, which earns you the right to be heard. Defensiveness only alerts to the presence of dishonesty even more.
  5. Stop excuses. Think first, then check your motives. Before giving excuses, ask yourself if you’re trying to hide something. Own up to mistakes.
  6. Be honest. Seems obvious, but simply deciding to be truthful in attitude, actions & words goes a long way in your efforts to earn trust.
  7. Think of others. Putting others first often not only keeps you out of a lot of trouble, but it shows that you’re striving to not be selfish. Unselfishness goes a long way to help earn trust because dishonestly usually has selfish motives.
  8. Be dependable. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Keep your commitments. There’s no quitting a team when the coach is mean. Young people can often serve as examples to adults in this area.
  9. Admit mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Get out how you’re feeling. Process your feelings. Deal with them before they direct you. Don’t let feelings determine actions. Don’t get hung up on the mistakes either. Move on.
  10. Stay positive. So many people are negative, mean and selfish. That doesn’t mean you have to be. Don’t let your circumstances determine your reality. Stay positive and focus on what you know is right.

This approach building trust works for any relationship, not just when teenagers want to earn trust with parents. Actually, the above habits are essential for anyone wanting a reputation of solid character.

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