If you were to write down the names of everyone you trust — truly trust — what size paper would you need?

I needed the back of a receipt. There are ten names on this scrap of paper. Ten people I know would never share any of my confidences, never twist the personal things of my life into malicious gossip — or worse, that pseudo-prayerful gossip which is a cancer in so many churches, even as they police themselves against worldly novels and worldlier pornography.

Aside from the demographic peculiarities (nine are men, all are white, three — fantastically, for anyone who has survived American Protestantism — are clergy), there is the brevity of the list, and the question this raises, namely, whether its truncation is a consequence more of my failings, or the failings of others.

On the other hand, maybe I have a bounty, and I just don’t appreciate it. Read the papers for a week, and the privilege of knowing ten trustworthy, good-hearted people is revealed to be a blessing.

And it’s not like the rest of them are a bunch of bastards. Most of them, anyway. If I list the people who I know would use my confidences to actively work harm, I get about the same number, in fact. Ten true-blue people, ten low-down weasels, and the rest struggling, like most of us, not to give away what gets entrusted to them.

I could spend days on my list, weighing the merits of people, perhaps striking someone from my trusted column, adding someone to my frenemy column or my open enemy column or my means-well-but-can’t-keep-her-goddamn-trap-shut column. I could be mean-spirited and spiteful, and oh, how I would enjoy wielding the petty power of the accounts-keeping god.

But then I wonder: how many lists is my name on?

How many lists is your name on?

What can we do, between now and our day of judgement, to become the people who other people write on their trusted lists? I hesitate to ask, because if you’re anything like me, other people come immediately to mind, and what they might do to make themselves more trustworthy.

For a couple of you at least, I am your other people, and I’m sure you have any number of things for me to work on. Just as I do for you.

But when we each of us looks in the mirror, you and me, and we ask only whether we are anyone’s trusted person, what is the answer?

It’s probably worth spending a lifetime on, or what’s left of a lifetime, or what life leaves us when we aren’t busying ourselves with children and their endless needs, or work and its endless demands, or the world and its endless distractions, so many of them exquisitely crafted to keep us from this most basic question of communion, which I suppose can be cooked down to this: Who may count on me not to betray him?


  1. Gray

    If we live our life being honest with ourselves and strive as Paul instructed to be: sincere, not indulging in too much wine, not be in pursuit dishonest gain & seek the deep truth of our faith. Then the first list will be longer than the latter one. As we move further along the objectives then we will find that we are included on many many other’s first list. Then we are doing the Lord’s work. Even better the more we mirror Paul’s instruction the less impact the latter list has on our heart and mind.

  2. kingfisher

    You are wealthy, Tony, to have 10 people on the list of those you can trust not to tell secrets. So many people are good-hearted souls who “don’t mean to meddle” but are so opinionated or can’t resist trying to “fix” other people. If some other folk have YOU on their “do trust completely” list,then you are even richer. I feel there are those who have me on their list but maybe I’m not really as “good” and helpful as they say I am. Ah, if they knew my inner thoughts. (But then, I try very hard not to express those thoughts out loud — though sometimes I’m afraid my expression gives me away. And I’m also praying that I can be more genuinely loving and trustworthy and not cynical or suspicious of human nature. As far as having others I can trust, well, I do, and I don’t. I can’t think of anybody at all that I would risk telling EVERYTHING to. But I recount some subjects with some people, and others with others. And a few are best kept to myself entirely. You’re also unusual in having many clergy friends. The pastors I’ve encountered are mostly better at talking, and at problem solving, than in listening unjudgmentally and being sympathetic but not trying to “fix” situations they can’t really relate to.

    So I congratulate you on your richness! And as God guides you on the journey to more and more integrity, uncynicism, and gentle understanding, may you be blessed to add more and more to your list of those who trust you.

  3. nichole

    Ten is a bounty. Maybe being a lawyer makes me inherently distrustful of others, but my list is 1/2 that. I’m not sure whether people tell me their secrets because of my profession or because they trust me or both. Good points to think about.

  4. Tony

    You’ve all made me feel much better about the ten. And more fearful that I won’t live up to what their loyalty demands of me in return. But I suppose that person-to-person communion matters far more, in the end, than all the rest of this junk we find ourselves chasing after day to day.

  5. susan

    You won’t live up to what their loyalty demands all the time. No one can. This sounds incredibly obvious and immature I know, but I am beginning to learn that even very good people let me down, but when they do, I have an opportunity to identify with Christ in some small way. And at this juncture, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I do much else than let people down. God have mercy on me.

  6. Rachel

    I have read your blog for years, Tony, but haven’t read for a few months (new computer, where are all my bookmarks, blah blah blah) so I spent some of today catching up. I am so sorry to read of your divorce. I pray for you and your precious boys as you make your way through this chapter of your journey.

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