To Trust and To Be Trusted


Fingers Crossed

Last night we were out to dinner and there was a bit of a hubbub at the booth behind us. Two waiters were talking and gesturing towards the window. I caught enough of the conversation to know that the couple that had just left did so without paying their bill. The old “Dine & Dash.”

As we were talking about it later, it occurred to me how surprising it is that in today’s society, any restaurants are still willing to bring you the bill after you finish eating. It is odd when you think about it and apply it to different business models.  Wouldn’t it be weird to pay for your movie ticket and popcorn on your way out of the theater, rather than on your way in? Or pay for your gas after you fill your car? – Oh, wait – that is how we used to do it not that long ago.

The point being, we really do put a tremendous amount of trust in our fellow humans. We trust them to serve us safe food. We trust them to stop at red lights. We trust them to protect our children. We trust our employers to pay us for our labor.

In an age of distrust, we are incredibly trusting.

Yes, sometimes that trust is violated. People do run red lights. People do abuse children. People do skip out on payroll. But those are the exceptions, and not the norm. Thankfully so, because our culture and our system depends on that basic element of trust.

Lately, you can’t read the news or watch TV without hearing about how someone can’t be trusted. Every election cycle “Trust” is taken out of the junk drawer of words, dusted off, and suddenly shined up and celebrated. I find it fascinating that so often the people who want to claim leadership other relatively trustworthy people aren’t very trustworthy themselves. And in the case of politics, it seems to be the norm, rather than the exception. It makes the necessary evil of politics that much more…evil.

There is a saying by the author/minister George MacDonald that you have probably heard before. He said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”

That idea requires some thinking, but I believe it to be true. To spin it down to the simplest version I can think of – I can love my dog, but that doesn’t mean I trust him to not run out in the street. Being a father of five, following story hit close to home, and I wish I had it at the ready on some previous occasions:

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. told of the time when one of his children was going out on a date. He asked them to come home at a certain hour. “Chafing under that constant, urgent reminder, the daughter said, ‘Daddy, what is the matter, don’t you trust me?’

“His answer must have shocked her as he said, ‘No, my child, I don’t trust you. I don’t even trust myself.’” (link)

Trust must be earned. It is built line upon line, year after year. But it is also a bit like a house of cards, because after careful building, trust can come crashing down ever so quickly because of one false move. Anyone who has been burned in business, or had their heart broken from betrayal or rejection understands how hard it can be to rebuild that trust. But we must, because we need to be able to trust in order to move through this life.

I extend infinite trust in the people that put the brake assembly in my car every time I step on the pedal. I trust complete strangers to prepare my food. I trust my children’s safety to a bus driver that I have never met.  We trust so many people, and most of the time, our trust is rightfully placed.

But not always.

People do betray. People do abuse. People cheat, steal and lie. Often we are left with holding the damage in our lives and hearts.

“Sadly, often a single careless or willful act can destroy the trust that has taken a lifetime to earn. While broken or lost trust can be regained, it is not easily or quickly restored.” (Cecil O. Samuelson)

We are all familiar with the Tennyson quote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” (link) but  would offer a variation on that idea, and you can quote me on this:

“‘Tis better to have trusted and been burned than to never have trusted at all.”

If we turn off trust because of the actions of some untrustworthy people, we also turn off the opportunity to trust all the rest. Paranoia is not attractive. Trust and faith run in the same circles, and there can be a temptation to turn away from both if our hearts and minds are overridden with distrust and fear – neither of which is conducive to spiritual growth.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should go through life blithely trusting anyone and everyone – especially those who have burned us before. (For example, you can forgive your neighbor for wrecking your truck, but you are not obligated to trust him enough to lend him your new one.) But going through life in a constant state of distrust will canker the soul and harden the heart.

Soft hearts are more vulnerable than hard hearts – but it is worth the deliberate and calculated risk. The alternative is to turn off those Godly traits such as faith, patience, love, and kindness and go through life with a hard heart, risking nothing, gaining nothing.

Back to the earlier point that trust has to be “earned.” Does it? President Boyd K. Packer explained his wrestle with this concept, and how he decided to deal with it at a level far beyond most of our thinking.

“A few years ago I indulged on one occasion in some introspection and found there were reasons why I didn’t like myself very well. Foremost among them was the fact that I was suspicious of everyone. When I met someone, 1 had in mind this thought: “What’s his motive? What’s he going to try to do?” This came about because I had been badly manipulated, abused by someone I trusted. Cynicism and bitterness were growing within. I determined to change and made a decision that I would trust everyone. I have tried to follow that role since. If someone is not worthy of trust, it is his responsibility to show it—not mine to find it out.” (link)

Gutsy – or crazy? Trust everyone as a default position? Sounds a lot like how we are supposed to apportion love. It is a way of looking at people in our lives with no accusation, no judgment, and even a presumption of goodness. It could be liberating – maybe I should try it. After all, I did just say this: ““‘Tis better to have trusted and been burned than to never have trusted at all.” President Packer goes all-in on that idea, and he goes on to acknowledge the potential risks:

“Of course, there have been times when I have been disappointed, and a few times when I have been badly taken advantage of. I do not care about that. Who am I not to be so misused or abused? Why should I be above that? If that is the price of extending trust to everyone, I am glad to pay it.

I have come to be much less afraid of the possibility of being “used” than I was before. It is sometimes painful when one is misused or when trust or confidence is not honored. That kind of pain, however, is not unbearable, for it is only pain; it is not agony.” (link)

I know that my time and efforts would be much better spent searching my own heart to see how trustworthy I am before God and my fellow man, than it would be to spend my time focusing on the perceived untrustworthiness, or hypothetical trustworthiness of those around me.

It is a hard mirror to look into. I know that there are times that I have broken the trust that people have had in me. I know I have failed to live up to all the commitments I have made to both God and man.  My guess is that you have, too.

Enough about me… and let’s not be dumb about this. Nephi got it right when he said, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.” (2 Nephi 4:34) No mortal is 100% trustworthy. All of us have the expected potential to mess up. Only the Lord is perfectly trustworthy, so when the chips are down, and the answers must be 100% reliable, consult the Lord accordingly. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Jesus Christ (who spent his ministry working with an an apostle he knew would eventually betray him.) also taught, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) There are a lot of wolves out there who have shown they should not be trusted, and we would be wise to regard them as such. Yet the counsel goes on to ask us to be harmless as doves. How do we be harmless?

By being trustworthy. By proving that worthy of the trust that our spouses, children, employers, leaders and friends have placed in us. By proving it over and over and over again, we show ourselves to be “harmless” to them. If we would focus more on our own “beam,” the “motes” in other’s might seem less noticeable.

And we will view the world more clearly.

Being willing to trust is a gift. Being trusted is a gift. Deserving that trust is a treasure.


More reading:

Temper Your Trials With Trust,” Cecil O. Samuelson. (BYU Speech)

Can You Be Trusted?” Elder William R. Walker. (General Conference, October, 2006)

Lean Not unto Thine Own Understanding.” Gary E. Stephenson (BYU Speeches)


  1. Really excellent post, It gives me pause to think and ponder, and I was pricked in several places. Worth a second reading.

    Also, I love the occasional use of the pithy, short sentence: “But not always.” “People do betray. People do abuse.” Or from your last post, “Or care.”

  2. Thank you for this, and for your link to Packer’s words. When once betrayed, the question of trusting a loved one came to the forefront in my mind. Fortunately, it was conference time and I went to conference with that question…should I trust? I gained great understanding during that conference, although I don’t remember the specific talks. God trusts us, though we don’t deserve his trust, and we become more worthy of that trust BECAUSE of his trust in us. Without His trust, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow. I asked myself why he would trust us, weak, untrustworthy mortals his most precious gifts–his own spirit children–to raise and hopefully lead back to Him? Or why would he trust us, weak and proud, with the magnificent power and authority of the priesthood? So I understood that although there are some boundaries in trust, it should be given much more freely than we are perhaps wont to give.

  3. My mind goes straight to struggles we’ve had with the internet in our home. It takes a strong will to not be curious about the ads and links to dumb articles beginning at even safer sites that lead to worse and worse and more and more, well, opposite of the 13th Article of Faith. How I wish there were better controls I could trust so I didn’t feel like I needed to be constantly vigilant (i.e. stressed) for the spiritual safety of the young people in my home, because I know I can’t trust the people putting it all out there.

    • By recognizing the nature of this earth experience, I can rule out trusting large groups of diverse people. I view trust as much more personal, and definitely not something to apply recklessly.

      I can say with absolute certainty that if I leave a large pile of money out on a table in public, someone will be tempted to take it, and if given enough opportunity, it’s very likely someone will. I’m not willing to trust a random stranger that calls me promising to lower the interest rates on the credit cards I don’t have because it’s clear from the context that their intention is to scam me. For those, the best response I’ve found so far is to end the call and add the number to the list my phone automatically rejects.

      In a different direction, if I let the six-year-old down the street work on my car’s brakes, that’s not trust but delusion. He might be capable of topping off the windshield washer fluid with supervision, but I won’t “trust” him beyond the skill I know he has demonstrated. Nor would anyone here hire the kids putting together their first lemonade stand to cater a fancy dinner for a thousand people or run a large enterprise. Trust doesn’t enter into it, because you have clear knowledge of their level in both those arenas.

      In a telestial world, it doesn’t take a lot of experience to understand that the Internet will never be a completely safe place. Let’s say the chances of any person putting information on the Internet being something outside of your standards are only one in a thousand, which is incredibly unrealistic already. By the time 693 people put something on the Internet, there’s a better chance of there being something unwholesome on the Internet than not.

      Our time and thought are much better spent removing some of the temptation by keeping computers in common areas, teaching them how to recognize when something is inappropriate and what to do in those situations, and giving them practical experience on a consistent basis so when the inevitable does happen their habit is to immediately shut down the computer and find you to talk to you.

      At some age, they’ll be old enough and have enough experience that it will be time to start trusting your children to manage their own internal filters more, but even then it’s important to not let it be blind trust. Any time we trust someone, even if the person has demonstrated trustworthiness in the past, it’s possible for that trust to be violated, and then we get the opportunity to exercise forgiveness, increase our love for the person and, if they’re willing, work on the long, painful process of rebuilding that trust.

      We’re here to make mistakes and learn from them. Every one of us has made some, and every one of us will make more, so it’s not trust to expect that no one will make mistakes, and even when I apply trust properly, to an individual who has demonstrated a measure of trustworthiness, I can expect that trust to be broken in some cases. What I do when that happens will tell a lot more about me than the other person.

  4. Good post and good comments. We used to tell our kids they needed to make deposits in the bank of trust before they could make any withdrawals; they had to build our trust in them if they wanted us to trust them with bigger things (tools, cars, dates, etc.) Trust is such a big deal, especially since The Divorce. Once burned, twice shy. However, the blessings of the Atonement are real. Father does love his children.

  5. This really made me think. I like to think of myself as a trusting person, thinking the best of people, but because of medical conditions, I often catch myself being quite paranoid.
    For example, I’m working on a manuscript right now for a story I want to get published, and I’m at the stage where I want other people to read it and give feedback. But my paranoia has been kicking in and making me wonder if it’s wise to share it much because of the risk of someone stealing my idea. I guess this is my answer. I’m still going to take reasonable precautions, but I’m mostly going to trust in the Lord that if it is in His plan for me to get this published, that it will be safe.

  6. I once pointed out to a coworker that nowhere in the scriptures are we commanded to trust each other–only trust God. In fact, the scriptures say we are cursed to trust any mortals (as you quoted above).
    He asked me if I should trust my wife. I thought a moment and responded, “No. The scriptures command us to forgive, not to trust. So I forgive her for anything she might do and hope to high Heavens that she never needs to use it.”
    As I have thought more about it, I have come to the conclusion that I should be able to ask my Heavenly Father if I should trust in a particular situation. If He says yes, then I am not putting my trust in a mortal but in Him. And if it works out differently than I wanted, I should trust that He thought it best for me to have that experience. I still trust Him.

    • Not a very romantic thought….that we are required only to forgive and not trust our spouse…slightly poignant…but so very wise and true. Much appreciated! Love your discernment on trusting Heavenly Father.

  7. AuntSue
    I have always been a “truster”, and yes have been burned and hurt. Still I want to trust. My Lord, I can trust Him, and I will continue to trust other mortals.

  8. I have always been a trusting person. I call it “planned naiveté” because I’ve had people say things like: You have never been hurt that badly by someone else or you wouldn’t be that way. That’s not true! I have been hurt (very seriously) and I still choose trust. Some of this attitude is just a gift from my Heavenly Father so I don’t take credit for it. But sometimes it has been a conscious decision to forgive and let things go. My husband teases me that I’m just a really lousy grudge holder!

  9. Wonderful post! a few years ago I got burned when I lent money so a family member. They finally told me they weren’t planning on paying me back and I worked hard to get rid of that anger and hurt. Recently they came asking for more money and my husband and I said no based on past experience. They were furious and brought up the “we thought you were suppose to forgive and forget”.. This really bothered me and i thought am I wrong here? So I went to my boss, (it is great to work for the Church!). He pointed out that we can forgive someone for that act but that doesn’t mean we don’t learn from the experience to not put ourselves in that situation again. He pointed out that the Lord will forgive our sins but we still have to pay the consequences. In this situation, my family member has to pay the consequence of their actions and our loss of trust in them. We talked to them about it and while they are still miffed they finally seem to understand our position.

  10. I read this post only a few minutes after you posted it. I was sitting on top of Banner University Medical Center, after just flying past the Phoenix temple bathed in rising sunlight, waiting for my crew to come back. Earlier that morning, one of my crew members had mentioned that she trusted some pilots more than others (a good thing), and that with a few pilots, she never questioned their actions because she trusted that they had a reason for it that she might not know or see. That whatever their actions were, it was for her safety.
    As I ponderized this post and the discussion earlier, I thought about trusting the Lord, and trusting who He has told us to trust. That led to a conversation with my brother-in-law a few months ago. Is it blind trust to do what the Brethren admonish us to do? Not really, because everything they tell us has already been told. They just serve it up with a different blend of spices. Whether it is sacrifice by service, money, or time, it is all the same. We just have to trust that the Lord is pouring out guidance faster than we can absorb it, from a myriad of sources. All of it is for our benefit, even if we can’t or don’t see why.

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)