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Who Can I Trust?

February 19, 2020
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A few decades ago corporate trainers did an exercise called the Trust Fall. If you got any kind of corporate training, I’ll bet you’ve done one. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s simple. One member of the group stands on a chair facing away from the rest of the team and closes their eyes. Then they fall backward into the waiting arms of the rest of the team.

The objective of the exercise was to dramatically illustrate the value of trust. Do you trust your team enough to do an eyes-closed backward free-fall into their arms? The risk-takers on your team will have little trouble with this. They like the thrill of a blind backward fall.

The risk averse, though, have a very different experience. Some will start to fall backward, and then catch themselves several times before they finally accomplish the fall. All the risk-takers just laugh and laugh.

If you had a good facilitator, they would walk you through a discussion to debrief and harvest the lessons from falling and catching. And there were lots of lessons in it for both the fallers and the catchers.

Back in the day, my cohorts in Youth Ministry and I “harvested” the idea and applied it to church camp team-building activities. You don’t have to have a Doctorate in Theology to figure out how to relate the thoughts and feelings of the Trust Fall to faith issues and trusting God.

The big question in the Trust Fall is, “Can I trust the people behind me to catch me?” Your level of anxiety or security over the fall depends on how you answer that question. High trust equals high security; low trust or uncertainty equals anxiety and insecurity.

How much and why you trust the people in your life is one of the Five Most Important Things in your life. I’ve written about two of them: Identity and Belonging. Who am I? Who wants me? ( and And now a third question: WHO CAN I TRUST?

Virtually all the dynamics of your marriage and family stand on the answer to that question. Your kids are constantly asking it, although they may not ask it with words. Your spouse is, too. So are you. Nothing shapes your choices, your behavior, your emotions quite like the answer to the question, “Who can I trust?”

Your kids come into the world having to trust you. They’re helpless. They don’t know any better than to trust you. They have no filter to help them determine who they should and should not trust. But they gather data to construct this filter quickly. Not long after they recover from the birthing experience, they begin asking the crucial question, long before they even have spoken language, “Who can I trust?”

That question quickly becomes, “Can I trust you?” I think it’s one of the most important questions in a kid’s life, because how they answer it will shape their relationship with you more profoundly than any other question. Perhaps nothing is more profound than how safe your kid feels with you.

SECURITY is one of the biggest needs your kids feel, if not the biggest need. The more secure they feel, the healthier their choices and behaviors will be. And, of course, the less secure they feel, the more unhealthy their choices and behaviors will be.

One thing security influences is how a kid interprets failure and risk. This is huge. When a kid feels there’s no margin for failure, they won’t take risks – or not many, anyway. Or else eventually they’ll take maximum risks, which is a form of rebellion against the limits they feel have been put on them.

Here’s why this is so important: nobody develops skills and competency without risk. It’s virtually impossible to learn anything that matters without at least occasional failure. For lots of complex skills, it takes hundreds of failures and corrections. If a kid doesn’t feel permitted to fail, guess what they won’t do? Exactly. They won’t risk it to learn or develop skills and competencies. And if they don’t develop skills and competencies, they’ll never be ready to leave the nest and have a life of their own.

So the thing a parent has to figure out is how to structure the culture, norms and expectations of their family life to have appropriate boundaries AND to provide security enough to permit failure so that learning can take place. This is really difficult. If you ever come across advice that offers “3 Simple Ways” to do this, don’t bother with it. There are no 3 Simple Ways. It’s way too complex for 3 Simple Ways. Like nuclear energy is way too complex for 3 Simple Ways to make it safe and cheap.

I’m putting this in all caps, underlined and boldface because it’s the most important thing I’m offering on this: HOW WELL YOU ARE ABLE TO WORK WITHIN THE DYNAMICS OF THIS COMPLEX THING OF PROVIDING SECURITY FOR YOUR KIDS DEPENDS ON HOW SECURE YOU FEEL YOU ARE. If you feel secure, you’re in a much better place to offer security to your kids. And the opposite is also true. If you feel insecure, your kids will pick this up from you like the flu in a kindergarten classroom.

The balance required for this is very delicate and tricky. Do you feel safe enough to fail? If you don’t, they won’t. And do you have boundaries in place to keep you from failing in terminal fashion? There are certain physical risk-boundaries that are essential. Don’t jump out of planes without a parachute. Don’t try to take Dead Man’s Curve at 90 MPH. Don’t gargle with Draino. But my experience is that the vast majority of these terminal failures are moral in nature. There’s no wiggle room with God’s revealed moral will. It provides fixed points. They’re permanent boundaries.

But there’s so much room within these boundaries! Within them, we’re free to choose to take risks and grow. We’re free to take chances. Knowing this, and living within these boundaries is where our security comes from.

And when we either wander outside or crash our way through His moral boundaries, He promises we can experience forgiveness when we confess our sin (1 John 1:9). This isn’t a Get Out Of Jail Free card. There are still consequences for our sin. But not being forgiven isn’t one of them. And there’s security in this. The theology of security is deep and wide. Too deep and too wide to treat in a blog post. If you haven’t pondered it, now would be a good time to dive in and study it for yourself.

I’ll land the plane here: coming from your own security, building security into your kids, is one of the most difficult challenges of parenting. It’s also the most rewarding when you see it coming together.

It’s a process, a journey, not an event, though. Start the journey with a prayer. I don’t like it when people put words in my mouth, so I don’t want to do that to you, but if you’re struggling to know how to pray this, here’s one way.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for the high honor of being trusted by You with these (this) kid (kids). Please grow my security in You and Your love for me so that I can draw from it to nurture security in my kids. I want to model for my kids the security I want them to have. Make me wise to know what boundaries nurture security and trust. Give me all I need to walk this walk because it’s often so difficult and confusing. Thank You for wanting to answer this prayer. I put my trust in You for this.”

From → Marriage, Parenting

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