The Butterfly Effect: Building Trust in Society


Last summer, I penciled in my journal, “Build trust in society.” We know healthy relationships require authentic and reciprocated trust. We know healthy communities are the sum of healthy relationships. With this in mind, when the fabric of our society feels like it is tearing apart, what would it look like to build trust in society? What would it look like to increase, instead of decrease, the trust we have in one another and in our leaders?

Many of us came  out of 2020 feeling fragile and worn thin. For many of us, the year held both much beauty and also great loss. We witnessed death brought by covid, and we experienced a hundred smaller losses in our reality of normal. For many of us, we took a look at the fabric of our systems and found it to be frayed and hurtful to people of color. For many of us, politics left us divided, estranged, betrayed, and confused. We felt lost. 

Our trust in institutions and people broke in big and small ways, and it has left us tender and raw. How do we move forward now? How do we heal? 

Here are four ideas offered gently. Consider taking what feels helpful and leaving behind what does not: 

1. We remember that Jesus does not betray our trust. The psalmist encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all [our hearts].” This admonition would be naive at best and cruel at worst if the psalmist did not believe in God’s complete goodness. We have felt betrayed by people and systems because they are fallible – and God is not. We image God; God does not image us. He does not reflect anything not good. He does not participate in evil. Where the world can feel unsafe and leave us guarded, Jesus offers rest. He is safe, kind, gentle, and good.  

2. We learn ourselves and our stories. The stories that have shaped our lives surely impact our framework for interpreting this year (and all years). One way we can seek to see rightly is to put in the work to better understand our own stories, hearts, minds, and bodies. When an experience makes us hot and sweaty, what is really happening? When we feel desperately unsafe, what is the cause? The Place We Find Ourselves podcast has been an incredibly valuable resource to me in sorting through these questions. I have also found that having someone walk alongside me as I explore the painful parts of my story to be immeasurably helpful.  

3. We seek to live trustworthy lives. The mirror speaks the truth, and by holding it up to ourselves, we can examine the places we can grow to be more worthy of trust. Consider reading the “love” chapter of the Bible and inserting your name. This week I am asking myself: could I authentically declare, “Sarah is patient. Sarah is kind…”? If not, I have found an opportunity to invite Jesus into that space of my heart to grow me more toward love. By exhibiting the virtues listed in Scripture, we can reflect God to others and become safe places for people – we can create microcosms of safety within our spheres of influence, even if the larger narrative feels uncertain and fracturing.

4. We look to create a society where trust can exist. Justice, trust, and truth are all tied up together. They are overlapping, intertwining threads in the tapestry of our world. Because injustice fractures the very foundation on which trust sits, we must continue the work of rooting out injustice in order for trust to grow. In Isaiah 30:18, the prophet reminds us, “The Lord is a God of justice.” The issue in the world that you care about? It matters deeply, and your dream to bring justice and hope is no small thing. Big or small, may your dream become more than just a dream.  

Sarah Bessey recently wrote, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the invitation of Jesus to simply fall in step with him and do the work alongside of him, to co-create shalom and justice and goodness in this world as part of our discipleship with him. It’s not just for the important and influential and famous; the invitation is for all of us to do the small things that tip the scales of faith and justice.” Justice and trust-building are for all of us.

Last month, I attended a webinar hosted by a Native American student who reminded the audience, “In my culture, when we see nature, we remember that everything is connected.” Her words reminded me of the “butterfly effect,” the concept that even the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Japan can impact the weather in the United States.

When I reflect on this past year, I think of friends who have reached out to me on overwhelming days with encouragement and compassion: they have built trust. I think of how my church staff has hosted evenings for repentance and lament and refused to be silent about injustice: they have built trust. I think of my leaders at work who have prioritized transparent communication in volatile situations: they have built trust. I think of my friends who voted opposite of one another and yet have been willing to sit together for the purpose of listening: they have built trust. I think of nonprofit professionals who have galvanized resources to care for the vulnerable this year: they have built trust.

My prayer is that our actions to build trust – small though they may be – will have the same impact as the flap of a butterfly’s wings on our planet. My hope is that the kindness, love, and justice we work towards will multiply, strengthening the fabric of our systems, healing the broken pieces of our hearts, and bringing us closer to glimpses of God’s shalom on earth. 

For an additional helpful resource about trust, consider listening to Andy Crouch’s podcast, “On Trust in a Time of Change,” recorded at the beginning of the pandemic.

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