“All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me … Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” (Psalm 41:7, 9)
BETRAYAL! Look up this word and you’ll find unflattering synonyms used to portray an all too common relational phenomenon. Disloyalty. Treachery. Deception. And my personal favorite: ‘Stab in the back’. All of these words have a visceral quality about them because they all hit us in our unconscious mind where we really live. Betrayal is so devastating because it seizes upon some of our deepest and most secret fears.
Betrayal irreversibly changes us – or at least our perspective of who we are and our place in the world. Betrayal makes us come to grips with a trio of realizations surrounding our existence that we’d much rather ignore.
"The world is not always a safe place."
"I am more vulnerable (unsafe) than I thought I was."
"Am I all alone in the world?’ What will become of me?"
These self-reflections may sound melodramatic. But are they? Most of us have constructed such elaborate coping mechanisms in life that we’ve managed to either ignore, evade or avoid altogether our deepest fears about ourselves and our relationships. At its worst, betrayal can be devastating because it challenges our assumptions and may even call into question our own self worth. But what about betrayal at it’s best? I believe that, while painful, betrayal can be one of the greatest gifts to the human soul.
Betrayal is inevitable in relationships. Sorry, but there’s a "Judas" in every bunch! This is not because people are evil. This is because people are flawed. Most betrayal is not intended for your hurt. Betrayal is usually a form of "cross-purposing" between people. That is, two people in a relationship want two different things that conflict with each other. For instance, Judas wanted a Living Superhero who would deliver Israel from Roman rule and give him a prominent place in His world-saving enterprise. But Jesus came to be a Redeemer of humankind – which necessitated His death … at least temporarily.
Betrayal is clarifying of people, places and things. Betrayal is often the relatively inexpensive price that we pay to avoid a far worse fate. The more self-aware and astute you are the quicker that you will recognize signs of betrayal in the air which signal these are the wrong people in the wrong place who want the wrong things for me. I need to bounce.
Betrayal disabuses us of immature notions and false assumptions about love and relationships. Call it Betrayal University. We all must matriculate there. So go to class, pay attention, take good notes and graduate with honors!
Betrayal doesn’t have to break your heart. It might just expand its capacity to love. Betrayal is not an end. It is a fork in the road that demands a choice. You will either be a diminished version of your true self or an improved version of who you used to be. You get to choose to forgive and move on from betrayal. And your heart has not been shattered. It’s been stretched. So love deeper, love wider, and love wiser!
Betrayal tests the genuineness of my own love. The greatest beauty of love is found in its self-sacrifice. We do not love to gain. We love to give. We don’t love to be safe. We love to lay down our lives for our friends, as Jesus did. If you are fearful and self-protective based upon past experiences, traumas and hurts – you are not a candidate for genuine love.
Over the course of my life I’ve been blessed with a handful of good friends. But the people who have taught me the most profound lessons about myself, about relationships and my role in them - are those who betrayed me. They lied. They put their personal interests above me. They hung me out to dry. They didn’t come to my rescue when I needed them. And they even said unflattering things about me behind my back - smiling at me when I came into the room.
These people had the closeness of a friend, the behaviors of an enemy and the reliability of a good professor. They are my ‘faithful frenemies’. Don’t fear them. Embrace them.