Q: Can you suggest something that might help me to overcome my difficulty in trust? I had a tragic incident when I was young and it is so rooted in me it does not allow me to trust. Thanks for your suggestion. ~ Mary B.

A: First of all, allow me to say that i deeply honor the suffering which that tragic incident must have caused you and that i admire you for going out to seek healing. The very fact that you ask how to learn trust proves that you already do trust in finding an answer. Let’s try to blow that little spark of trust into a flame that will make your life bright and warm.

Let’s begin by asking how children learn to trust in life, in the first place. When all goes well, they learn it from parents who show themselves trustworthy, parents who are there for their children when they need them. (Not, of course for every whim, but for every true need, their kids can trust that mother or father will be at hand.) This, however, is only one half of what parents must do in order to help children learn trust in life. Besides showing themselves trustworthy they must also trust their children – must help to build up their children’s trust in themselves by not constantly hovering over them, but letting them stand on their own feet. Children need this gift of being trusted every bit as much as they need their parents’ trustworthiness. When both come together, they have a good chance of growing into self-confident adults who trust life.

Become aware of the fact that, many times a day, you do trust – not yet fully, but your unquestioning expectation that something will happen, can be the beginning of joyful trust in life.

But what of adults who never received that twofold gift, or lost their trust through some traumatic experience? Admittedly, it is difficult to make up for that loss, but it can be done, and it can be done only in the way in which children normally learn it. Even as adults, we can and must find someone in whom we can trust and who trusts us in turn. A friend can fulfill that role. There is no greater gift one friend can give to the other than this support in learning trust in life. But what, if one who cannot trust has not yet found such a friend? That is the most difficult scenario, but it, too, can end successfully. If you find yourself in that situation, become aware of the fact that, many times a day, you do trust – not yet fully, but your unquestioning expectation that something will happen, can be the beginning of joyful trust in life.

Say, you are waiting at a bus stop; don’t you trust that your bus will arrive? Now consider how many people had to show themselves reliable, or else you could not be so sure in your expectation. The driver had to get up in the morning and go to work; someone had to put fuel in the gas tank; for gasoline to be there in the first place, someone had had to dig for oil, someone had to run a refinery, someone had to build a pipeline or drive a fuel truck … Are you taking it for granted that so many people reliably did their job? And we haven’t even mentioned the reliable work of countless engineers and workmen who designed the bus and build it piece by piece on an assembly line, nor the bus company crews who keep their buses running reliably.

dew on cobweb with green and purple flowers in background

Think of this vast network of human beings who have to show themselves reliable so that you in turn can rely on catching your bus. You may even ask yourself, where did the food come from to keep them all going? At that point, another multitude of people appears before the eyes of your imagination – all those reliable workers who planted, tended, harvested, transported, and prepared food for that vast multitude it took to make sure your bus would stop (more or less punctually) for you here and now. And what made the food grow in the first place? What brewed, millions of years ago, deep down in the earth the oil for the fuel for this morning’s 8:35 bus? Now that we are back at the dinosaurs, you might begin to be awed by this vast invisible network of networks in which the boarding of your bus is an infinitesimal knot. All of them had to work together reliably, so that your expectation will not be disappointed. But reliable is only another word for trustworthy; and what i have called a vast network of networks means simply: life. Can you appreciate to what extent you are trusting life by expecting your bus to arrive on time? And that is merely one of countless moments in the course of a day when you are showing a similar trust. The trustworthiness that your mother may have failed to show you, Mother Earth is showing you now. If you pay attention to that gift, it will nourish your trust in life.

If you follow in your imagination the threads of those networks, you soon realize that the whole human family is looking at you with trust that you can stand on your own feet.

And what of the other half of learning trust? Who will give you now the trust in yourself, that your parents failed to encourage, or that some wounding experience damaged later? Who will tell you with conviction, “You can do it!”? Well, look around you! I tell you: Everyone who looks at you expects that you pull yourself together. You may not like the idea, but complete strangers are saying to you – not with words, but in their hearts: “Yes, we know; we, too, have hardship to bear; everyone does. But do keep on keeping on. You can do it!” Every single passenger on your bus expects from you that you’ll keep smiling, or at least keep a stiff upper lip. By this expectation, they show you trust. And each one of them represents, as it were, the whole network of people to which they belong. If you follow in your imagination the threads of those networks, you soon realize that the whole human family is looking at you with trust that you can stand on your own feet. What more do you need to build up trust in yourself?

At every moment, life shows itself trustworthy; at every moment, life trusts you. Parents are merely life’s representatives in teaching the child trust. And the bus driver is life’s representative in teaching you trust, at this very moment. If you are aware of this, the gesture with which you put your token into the slot, as you are boarding, will turn into a ritual: a festive celebration of the trust that keeps everything going. Please try it. You will find great joy in it. You can do it!

– Your Brother David

Br. David Steindl-Rast Trust
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.