Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Forgiveness and Trust ... by Russ Beck

Sigmund Freud

Case Study

Jane* slid into the soft leather office recliner. With her elbows on her knees she held her head in her hands and told me she would be crying, except there were no tears left. Her reservoir was empty, depleted from many consecutive days and nights of weeping. After several minutes of silence, she raised her face to look at me. Her weary brown eyes evoked deep compassion within me as I leaned forward in my chair to listen more intently. With a long sigh she stared at the floor and then related the following story.

“My husband had an affair with a young woman he met on the Internet. It went on for a couple of months. I found out about it one day while checking the computer. He had been staying up late into the evening saying he had work to do, but he was consistently coming to bed later and later. I finally got suspicious and while he was out I checked the emails.”

“He finally admitted to it and we’ve worked all through that now. It’s been several months ago. He even went through Church discipline. He’s back to taking the sacrament and we even went to counseling with the bishop several times.”

I nodded my head as she looked up to see if I was still listening.

“Well, anyway, that’s all in the past. Three nights ago he stayed up late to work on some things and I asked him what he was doing. Donny* got all upset and yelled that he had been doing everything he was supposed to be doing. He told me he went through all the embarrassment of meeting with the bishop and having some restrictions placed on his priesthood. He told me I said I forgave him and that I should have more trust in him. Then he stormed out of the room and went to the computer room in the basement.”

Jane gazed into my eyes and said, “I guess I need to learn how to forgive.”


It is easy to get the concepts of forgiveness and trust confused. Many people believe they are the same, when in reality they are completely separate. Both are essential to our spiritual and emotional wellbeing, yet they become entwined in a concept we call love. Herein lies the difficulty in clarifying the difference between forgiveness and trust.

I asked Jane if she had ever purchased a car and she had. I also asked if she would be upset with a car salesman who intentionally sold her a lemon. Again, she said she would be. In working through this scenario Jane admitted she would never buy from the unscrupulous car salesman again. When asked about forgiving him if he came to her and said he was sorry, she thought and said “It wouldn’t be easy, but I would forgive him.” I then asked if she would buy another car from him after that. Jane mulled this over for a long time. The battle between forgiveness and trust raged within her. Finally, she looked at me and said, “I guess so. I’d have to, wouldn’t I?”

I told her forgiveness is a divinely inspired attribute and is freely given. Trust is an essential component of relationships and is earned. It is perfectly healthy to be able to forgive the car salesman and yet still not trust him. Perhaps over time the salesman could regain her trust through other interactions, but the act of forgiveness does not grant immediate and complete trust.

Real Life Applications

We all interact constantly with a wide array of people. Many, we care for deeply. In such cases we are more apt to forgive and trust more easily. But when we are intensely hurt by someone we trust, it takes a good deal of time for that trust to be re-established and this is nothing to feel guilty about. Forgiveness can come much quicker, and indeed we are commanded to forgive one another. Forgiveness involves mercy more than it does trust.

Learning the difference between forgiveness and trust:

~ Forgiveness is a Godlike quality. Jane had a strong belief in God and knew she wasn’t perfect. She, like all of us, desired to have the Lord’s forgiveness. A prerequisite to obtaining this is forgiving others.
~ Trust comes from actions. We understand the Lord has counseled that “The tree is known by his fruit.” (Matthew 12:33) We must look beyond mere words and examine behaviors in order to give trust.

Over time Jane was able to realize that a healthy relationship involved all the aspects of love, forgiveness, mercy, and trust. She also understood that trust lost is not easily regained. Her true task now consisted of teaching this principle to her husband, Donny.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.


  1. Excellent post. I've seen many people who confuse forgiveness and trust, and allow themselves to be repeatedly hurt because of it.

  2. Wonderful advice! And congrats on getting this in the newsletter.