The response I've received to this article (Part 1) has so clearly demonstrated that most of us will suffer the pain of betrayal in friendship at some point in our lives. It's also demonstrated the raw reality that, apart from grace, we are as susceptible to being numbered among the sorry lot of betrayers as we are to being numbered among the sorrowful lot of the betrayed. No doubt about it, we need Jesus.
Most of the questions I've been asked have centered on the desire to process betrayal in a way that addresses both the sin and the wounds that the sin has inflicted, but at the same time doesn't foster a victim mentality that can so easily give rise to bitterness. I've spent time thinking through the sorrow I've experienced in my own life and I've tried to reduce all that is swirling within my head to three things that have captivated my heart the most.
There is no formula to be followed that can erase the pain of betrayal. This is about standing in the middle of the pain and learning to suffer well. Bearing wounds that have been inflicted upon a heart that has been laid open before a friend with unguarded love and warm affection is difficult. But they are wounds of vulnerability that are too sweetly sanctifying to make the removal of pain our ambition. Especially when those wounds have been borne out of love that runs too deep to be erased like some sappy, sentimental message superficially scrawled on a whiteboard.
Here are three simple thoughts to help us grow in grace as we learn to bear the wounds of betrayal:
1. CONSIDER THE CULTURE
Every meaningful friendship between two people is defined by its own culture. That culture is unique, with no other existing relationship duplicating it. Just as in marriage, if that culture isn't created with strong intention, it will be created by default. Friendships that are created by default are like a house built on sand. It takes hard work to build a relationship on a solid foundation. It takes time and attention to lay the cement blocks of constancy, carefulness, candor, and counsel that support genuine friendship. Unless both parties are committed to secure a strong foundation, the winds of seasonal change will cause ever-increasing erosion. If the foundation is sand, the friendship will eventually collapse if anything more meaningful than a straw hut has been built.
As we consider the culture of the friendship that has brought us deep hurt, it's wise to ask ourselves if we may have been attempting to build a relationship that was too solid for its foundation. Honestly answering this question provides us with special opportunity to grow as a person and to make us a better and wiser friend in the future. Anthropologists are famous for arguing that we have to step outside of our culture before we can understand it, and that's often true for friendships. Sometimes we don't realize when we're in them how closed, or how dishonest, or how precariously positioned they really are. And even when we know, sometimes we want them badly enough to keep trying to build something significant. But if there isn't a solid foundation, no amount of effort is ever going to overrule the inevitable collapse.
Perhaps we tried to lay a solid foundation, but we discovered we had entered into a friendship with someone who wasn't willing to keep communicating with the kind of honesty that's needed to cement trust. We can't ever presume to know why somebody isn't willing to be vulnerable with us or honest in their communication, we can only know that fear exists in their heart. Maybe fear from deep hurts of the past, maybe fear of failure, or maybe fear of being discovered. And maybe even fear that we've created in them with our sinful imperfections and relational challenges. Regardless of what has closed their heart, being open to examine our contributions of sin to the culture of the relationship is invaluable in processing betrayal rightly. It's invaluable in growing us and strengthening us in our walk of faith. And it's invaluable in stirring compassion that fosters forgiveness.
This isn't about taking blame for the sin of a friend, this is about taking responsibility for our contribution to the culture of a friendship. It's important to make that distinction. It's never right for a husband or wife to take blame for a spouse's affair, but it's always right for them to take responsibility for their contribution to the culture of the marriage. God always shows His strength best when we own our weakness. Nothing will give hope to our broken heart more than humbly leaning on gospel truth while admitting where we may have been too impatient, or too insensitive, or too demanding, or too distrusting, or too whatever.
2. CONSIDER CHRIST
"Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb 12:3)
I'm going to let the Apostle Paul speak to this point. His following words have been used to adjust the trajectory of my heart over and over again when I've yearned to be free from the darkness of suffering:
"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Phil 3:10-12
I want to know Christ. I want to know the power of His resurrection. And the way I learn to know Him is by becoming like Him through suffering and death. By being crucified with Him, and dying to myself. By having my arms spread wide open in surrender to the sovereign will of my Father. If it takes the wounds of a cherished friend to teach me more of my Savior, then I welcome them in spite of their pain. If it takes the wounds of a cherished friend to take me to the Cross, I welcome them as scars of God's love upon my open hands that have been forced by grace to release their stubborn grip.
3. CONSIDER COURAGE
Courage is taking action even in the presence of fear. When Fear threatens to immobilize us, Courage steps up to the plate. When we fix our eyes on Christ, we can be scared to death and still find strength to stay in the game. And when it comes to friendship, staying in the game as a Christ-follower means loving others deeply and selflessly. It means opening our hearts and risking having them betrayed over and over again. Not opening them indiscriminately or foolishly, but opening them willingly in accordance with the Spirit's guidance.
When the pain of betrayal causes us to close off our hearts, it's not because we have too much fear. It's because we don't have enough fear. It's because we're not scared to DEATH. It's because we're not taking the calling of the Lord seriously enough to love fervently and enter into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings by bearing the wounds of others. If we want to know Christ, we have to be willing to claim the grace for courage to stay in the game. Even though we are scared to death.
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us...There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." I John 4