Trust: We’re Fellow Travelers

In “Viva la Resistance,” I described various shades of resistance I’ve encountered over the last two years in my work with Support Teams. As I said at the conclusion of that post, trust alone stands as the best way to overcome resistance.

We're fellow travelers, showing other thirsty travelers where we've found water. (Photo by DR)
We’re fellow travelers, showing other thirsty travelers where we’ve found water. (Photo by DR)

In fact, any effort to nurture a loving and supportive community – which is what we’re up to with Support Teams – involves trust. The Oxford Dictionary defines “trust” as a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” Indeed, all chaplains (or coaches) want to convey competence and reliability when they converse with a patient and family. They want the patient and family to sense that the chaplain only has the best interest of the patient and family at heart. If patients and families don’t believe this is true for the chaplain they’ve encountered, they certainly won’t invite the chaplain to interact with their family system.

In my experience, however, the kind of trust we value involves mutual vulnerability. It’s not enough for a patient to acknowledge a chaplain’s (or a coach’s) credentials, training, and competence. When you trust someone, at least to some degree, you’re willing to open up more sensitive regions of your life, confident that the person to whom you’ve given your trust will not do you damage in any way.

This kind of relationship rarely develops quickly. Indeed, it takes a bit of time investment and patience to go from not knowing someone to having the permission to interact in a substantial way with the dynamics of the person’s more immediate system of family and friends.

Henri Nouwen (1932-96)
Henri Nouwen (1932-96)

But perhaps the greatest asset one possesses in establishing trust comes from what Henri Nouwen called, “the wounded healer.” When we learn to share out of our own brokenness and convey our own self-assurance that our short-comings are not reasons to be ashamed, we invite others to open up more to the Grace that undergirds every process of creating healing community. I think trust will grow when the people we serve sense that we, too, have hit bumps in life and that we are fellow travelers, showing other thirsty travelers where we’ve found water.

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