Betrayal. There is nothing that can seize sleep from the night like re-living each strand in the web of betrayal. To some degree, all of us lose oxygen from the sucker punch of opposition dealt from unexpected sources: friends, spouses, co-workers, and even fellow church people. What if even your own leadership at church betrays you? It can and will happen. Are you ready for it?
Lowering expectations to reality walks closely to the line of negativity, cynicism, and defeatism. But, it is a far better choice than denial–the drug we spiritualize as faith-ridden patience. We are addicted to our passive aggressive tendencies, duped into the more “spiritual” choice the humble-yet-forgetful servant employs. Betrayal then turns from what is happening on the outside of us to something we do to ourselves. After all, it is spiritual to suffer for Christ, right? So, why not bring it on yourself to yourself.
Gossip stings, and the words spoken cannot be retrieved. The art of denial is that we then move from self-betrayal to perpetrators of it to our own kin. The addiction is an insidious infection. We are all capable of living in this state of spiritual immaturity–one that denies dignity to people as we use them to further construct our false world. Or, we become so out of touch that we act as zombies devouring the next person in our wake.
If we are to survive and thrive in the Christian community, we must learn to confront the “spiritual” bullies in our lives. And, that means a mirror check, too. Here are several ways to map a successful path. What do we all need? Put expectations to reality. Here is the reality check.
EXPECT TO SUFFER FROM YOUR OWN TRIBE.
Christians, even your closest friends and even yourself, are capable of hurting and wounding your brothers and sisters. In fact, count on all of the above. The solution is to not manage this by escaping it through denial. Why be hit in the same place more than twice? Forgiveness is free while trust is earned. The reality is that you can forgive a person, but you don’t have to be anywhere near them if they are threat. It is still loving a person if keeping them at bay prevents damage to you. However painful this reality is, you have to realize that suffering from your own tribe is a given.
EXPECT LEADERSHIP TO RAISE THE STAKES.
Leaders, those of us who are clergy or in spiritually influential circles, can both hurt others more deeply as well as become greater targets. These two things are not mutually exclusive which is a hard reality to resolve for both those that are in positions and those that follow. What often happens is the preemptive strike. A dangerous thought arrives: “If I’m going to be hurt badly as a leader, I might as well take out those that are threats.” Instead of paranoia, the more mature thing is to invite critics that actually help you. It is better to see yourself for who you are from a friendly source. After all, you are human, leader. You bleed.
EXPECT TIME TO HEAL.
Denial says that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” so I can jump off a cliff. We speak such words of betrayal to each other when we are most down because the reality that we might be taken out for a season because of wounds is not acceptable. If this person is your star volunteer leader, you might keep her leading a class while she heals from dealing with a divorce. Yes, we need to keep active. But, if we are wounded we need to be agents of healing not taskmasters who squeeze life out of each other. When we suffer, sometimes it is too embarrassing to admit the depth of the pain. Reality says we need space to heal. Leaders, we are especially faulty in this matter. It takes a real man or woman of God to declare their need for God. Remember, our gifts don’t compensate for the needs of our heart and soul and body.
EXPECT YOUR FAITH TO BE TESTED.
Doubt of your worth, God’s presence, and of all that you have been doing in your life creeps in when betrayed. The reality of God when emotionally wounded causes us to feel so far from him yet creates an opportunity for faith. This is not the faith that declares reality does not to exist. It is a faith that proclaims inwardly and outwardly the reality of our kinship to Jesus, the Sovereignty of God, and the constant empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. These become more real when we shun denial, and embrace our creed. No matter how long you have walked with God, a thing like betrayal will rattle your faith.
EXPECT NEW THINGS TO COME.
Denial keeps us focused on what happened, not what could be. Being ostracized is so painful, that dreams are shattered–or so it may seem. The fire of betrayal’s pain may be the very thing God uses to propel you to something bigger than you had the space to see. But, you will not see it without the pruning any pain brings to our lives. You can either re-run painful scenes in your head, or you can choose to dream about possibilities. Nothing good is birthed by ease. No woman welcomes birth pangs, but the goal of the child is greater than the thought of the pain.
In summary, betrayal is exactly what Jesus faced, even from those closest to him. During Holy Week we recount Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the kiss of Judas. We remember that at the cross the ambitiously valiant Sons of Thunder cowered in hiding. What few knew at these moments was that the suffering of the cross would bring new things. New life. A new beginning. I am praying and claiming for all of us these things this season. May the Lord of Peace be with you.