If there has been a subtheme in my life for a period of time, it was betrayal. Some people I loved, trusted, and confided in have put knives in my back, which I understood at the time, but those same people tried to be secretive about it and cover their tracks.
In their defense, I was a hard person to love, and there was a lot of pressure on them to not be friends with me. Some people stood by me through thick and thin, and those are the friends I still keep in touch with regularly.
I understand it is uncomfortable to put a knife in your friend’s back, and the instant reflex is to cower away when that person gets wind that you were behind the betrayal. But I also felt that those people misunderstood me profoundly and jumped to premature conclusions.
“Forget them,” a close friend told me. “They were never your real friends anyway.”
As much as I would like to believe that real-life advice, and as much as it may be true, I want to believe there’s another way, a better way to deal with betrayal. I loved the people who betrayed me for a reason earlier, and I recognized the need to wallow, for a little bit. I recognized the need to allow myself to let the tears roll and get heated with anger before proceeding with further action.
So what is a proper way to deal with betrayal? I do not believe cutting those people out of my life entirely is the answer, as much as that being the most likely outcome in the near future. Now that there’s some distance, I still feel the same way that maybe one day, relationships could be amended.
I could rest easy knowing that people who don’t like me do and say things against me. I respect that, and wouldn’t expect anything less. But, as David wrote in Psalm 55, “For it not the enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it;… But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.” David’s first act was to feel the betrayal and not reject it. That is the first step: to realize that we hurt, to realize that the betrayal has given us pain.
What would Jesus do? Did Jesus forgive Judas? I ask these questions sometimes in the midst of my struggle these days, to see how I should proceed these days. Jesus prophesized and foretold Judas betrayal of Jesus to the local religious officials in Matthew 26:14: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Yet despite knowing that Judas would turn against Jesus, Jesus did not stop Judas, and did not stop loving him. He even openly let it happen in Matthew 26:50, saying to Judas “Friend, do what you came to.” He accepted his chastening graciously and kindly, and it’s a lesson for us all to do so, too.
So if Jesus did it, we should try to, too. That doesn’t mean that it will be perfect. In dealing with betrayal, it’s incredibly important, at least to me, to not pay back betrayal with betrayal, and not pay it back with anger and resentment. I can let those emotions flow in my private life, with people I know that won’t ever betray me and have no personal stake in doing so. I can express my frustrations in my writing and to God.
And it doesn’t make the betrayal hurt any more in my heart, but I know and am well aware none of the betrayers in my life acted with ill-intent. Everyone thought they were doing the right thing for themselves. There is a scene in “The Wire,” late in season 5, where one detective exposes a cover-up scheme of two of her friends who are also detectives to their superior officer. The two officers are aggressively asked to resign and retire from the force, and the detective who snitched on her co-detectives admits her betrayal of them later, and the betrayed says to the betrayer:
“Detective, if you think it needed doing, then I guess it did.”
As such I know that people in my life who have betrayed me are just doing what they believe to be right. It’s not like I’m going to be buddy-buddy friends with those people for a long time, but I respect the decisions people chose to make in their lives to stand by their personal values and what they believe to be justice, even if I personally disagree with their decisions.
And then there’s the issue of forgiveness. How do I say “I forgive you,” and truly mean it to the people involved? Ultimately, it is my choice when or how I choose to forgive, even whether I choose to do so in the first place, but it’s not like I am a saint. I have never been. It’s a mistake for me to believe I didn’t deserve betrayal. But an unforgiving heart leads to resentment, bitterness, and usually just significantly more pain. I do not help myself through a lack of forgiveness, and so I must find ways to forgive so those emotions of anguish do not fester.
If I don’t forgive, I’m just giving the people who let me down more power over me.
Ephesians 4:32 tells us to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” No one can decide whether my forgiveness is genuine or not, whether I choose to forgive the people I perceive to have betrayed me or not. Only I can decide those things for myself. But I choose to do so not for them and not because it’s what I’m supposed to do, but I do for myself and for God.
I say to the betrayers in my life this: I know you only did what you thought was right, but I forgive you, and our lives will go on. Maybe one day we can make amends.