We’ve all come to love Elizabeth’s diary. It is in those moments, when she quietly reflects on her day, that we also reflect on how the storyline impacts our own character. When she writes in her journal after learning that the newest resident of Coal Valley is a liar, a thief, and a conman, Elizabeth discovers that “putting our lives in someone else’s hands is an act of trust, and that trust brings us love.” It is so hard to let go of the control we believe we have over our lives and trust others with our physical, mental, and emotional safety, but in order to create deep and lasting relationships, we must do just that.
Everyday, I have to warn my students not to lean back in their chairs. You know how middle school students are – the more they can recline in their seats, the more they think they can hide from the teacher and avoid being called on. So, they slouch down in their seats as far as they can and tip the chair backward until it balances precariously on two legs. Inevitably, at some point in the year, a student will tumble backwards, sending the chair flying in one direction and the student in another. I never have to warn that student again to keep “all four on the floor.” But, that student will still come to class the very next day, drop his backpack on the floor, and plunk his lanky frame into the chair. He doesn’t think twice about it. He trusts that the chair will do its job, holding him up and allowing him to recline in imagined invisibility.
And so it is with our relationships. We sink into trusting other people, leaning on them for all our hurts and pains, until one or the other fails, sending us sprawling and breaking our hearts. When we have been sent tumbling into broken faith, we often lose our ability to open ourselves up again.
In episodes 5 and 6 of When Calls the Heart, titled “The Dance” and “These Games,” Elizabeth learns a hard lesson about trusting too easily while young Caleb discovers that it is possible to trust again after the death of his father broke his faith in love and caused him to build up walls of hurt around his heart.
Enamored with the smooth-talking Billy Hamilton, Elizabeth readily opens her heart to him. Having never experienced a breach in trust, she allows this newcomer to Coal Valley to turn her head and pull the wool over her eyes. Quoting poetry, flattering her with compliments, and acting the perfect gentleman creates a facade that Elizabeth mistakes for trustworthiness. When Jack’s investigation into Billy’s past reveals Billy to be a liar, Elizabeth is still hesitant to believe Jack’s assessment. It can be so difficult to admit that one we trust is not worthy, that we have been taken, and our pride smarts. In the end, Elizabeth discovers the truth. This truth in learning to trust cautiously will serve her well when her sister comes to town in a later episode.
Caleb Dunbar is a polar opposite of Elizabeth. He distrusts the world because it took his father, and he doesn’t want the world to take his memories, too, so he fights against everyone trying to earn his trust, including another new miner in town: Dewitt Graves. Dewitt tries his best to be friend and father-figure to Caleb, teaching him to pitch a baseball and sharing his favorite fishing spot, but Caleb is too afraid to love again. When Mr. Graves opens up to Caleb and shares his own hurts and struggles with being a father, Caleb sees that he is a man who can be trusted. Sometimes, it takes a leap of faith like that to overcome our disillusionment and begin building a relationship.
Why do we make others prove themselves to us? We don’t interview a chair, analyze its composition, and secure all its parts before sitting down. We know chairs are meant for sitting so we sit in them. Time and again, we have plunked ourselves down into the softness of an easy chair and relaxed after a difficult day. We don’t test out our recliner each evening, just to be sure it will continue to hold us up. How do we learn this trust? Practice. There may come a day when my sofa caves in and I find myself sprawled on the living room rug, just as there will certainly come a day when someone I love deeply, and whom I trust completely, pulls my legs out from under me. But to truly know who will hold me when I need comforting, who will support me when I fail, who will surround me when I need lifting up, I have to trust over and over and over again. Why? Because trust builds faith. Faith builds love. And love breathes hope.