by Catherine Fournier
used with permission
To err is human, to forgive divine.
The other day, my daughter and I went to visit my mother-in-law. When we arrived, her favorite soap opera was playing, so we sat down to watch it. As far as I can tell, the guiding principle for soap opera script writers is to present the characters with lots of choices and have them make all the wrong ones. Confronted with temptation? Give into it! Hurt? Don't forgive, retaliate! Offered love? Take it and run!
In all of these theatrics, betrayal is a constantly recurring theme. To these people there's never such a thing as an innocent act, or a forgivable mistake. The most apparently virtuous are suspected of scheming to steal the husband, the business, the baby, the whatever. Even fairly normal, innocuous acts (like the frequently used device of massaging a sprained ankle) are seen as betrayal and treated as such.
Soap opera characters demand absolute love, incorruptible integrity, and untarnished purity of each other. The eventual, certain betrayal of these impossible standards drives almost every plot line; "I trusted you," they hiss between clenched teeth, "How could you do this to me?"
We all know that Pine Valley, the General Hospital and Bay City are fictitious places. It doesn't rain nearly often enough, and nobody seems to have bad hair days. There are some other critical differences between soap opera land and reality. They've got it wrong about Trust.
Trust isn't an absolute quality. It's not contract that must never be challenged, tested or broken. Trust is a expression of faith and faith is more of covenant than contract.
A contract says, "In exchange for X, I will give Y. No X. no Y." A covenant, on the other hand says, " I will give X. You don't need to do anything - it would be nice if you did, but I will give X regardless." And while belief is based on the evidence of our minds, faith gains its strength from the evidence of our hearts. We have not seen God, we don't actually hear Jesus speaking, we never feel Mary's comforting arms, still our faith tells us that these things are real and true.
Yet our hearts and emotions, marked by Original Sin and weakened by human nature, are unstable erratic things. As soap operas frequently demonstrate we can 'fall in' (and out) of love in a moment and let pride, anger, or fear rather than kindness and charity govern our actions. Given this frailty, maintaining and sustaining our heart's certainty of love, faith and trust becomes an act of will rather than a reliance on emotion.
We are fallible. We have to expect that human trust and trustworthiness will also be fallible. While God is perfectly, infallibly Trustworthy, and our Trust in Him is always well placed and absolute, we're not. God promises never to betray our Trust in Him. We can't make that claim and we shouldn't expect it of others. So if our human trust is betrayed, who's at fault? The one who has somehow let us down, or ourselves for placing an expectation of infallible Trust on one who is fallible?
Those who've rejected the Church, left marriages, abandoned families or friendships, usually report a 'breaking of trust' as their reason and justification. Their misunderstanding of the limits of human trust make its breaking nearly unforgivable and their leaving inevitable.
Was trust actually broken, or was it given too much to carry? And should we break trust in return by our leaving? If there has been serious offense - abuse, harm to physical, emotional, spiritual or financial health, criminal acts - then certainly removing yourself from the danger is the appropriate response, though not with a sense of betrayal but with a sense of prudence and caution.. But hurt feelings, differences of opinion, gossip, and other "annoying rather than evil" human behaviors aren't the same. Leaving the Church entirely because they took the kneelers out, or a priest was an insensitive boor is a misunderstanding of the nature of trust, as is rejecting society or government because of a perceived injustice. Human trust is a 'leap of faith,' an act of will rather than of emotion. It requires the same odd balance of adult caution and childlike abandon as the rest of our faith lives.
We should understand that human trust, like love and faith, is more covenant than contract, that a giving of trust will not necessarily ensure a return of trustworthy behavior. And we should remember that trust, as an expression of faith, should rely more on our will and intellect than our easily bruised emotions. And we should save absolute Trust for the One who has promised and will not fail it.