How to Release the Pain of Betrayal

Today, we’re going to tackle grudges against other people. Everyone has things they hold on to from growing up. Most of them come from their parents or siblings. Some come from a teacher or childhood friend. As we grow, we collect events that have shaped us for better or worse. We gather up these memories and let them tell us who we are as people and what our worth is. Did that boy tell you he loved you just to get in bed with you and then dump you, causing you to either forsake men or try too hard to please them? Did your teacher tell you that you were stupid and you believed her and so never excelled in school again? Did your father never pay attention to any of your accomplishments and miss all your big moments, causing you to be a hard-driving, achievement-oriented perfectionist?

We take these rejections and betrayals and let them determine our value. Think about most of your grudges, especially your deep, long-standing ones. They’re not against the teacher who gave you a D when you thought you deserved at least a C or the cop you pulled you over for a ticket. Most of them are against the people who knew you and rejected you, who abused your trust and made you feel badly about yourself. If these people hadn’t made you feel badly about yourself, you wouldn’t hold the grudge against them.

Here’s the good news: it’s your fault. If you have a grudge against someone for how they made you feel, it’s on you for letting them make you feel badly about yourself. Nobody can make you feel you are worse than you already fear you are. This makes grudges a question not of fault, but of identity. If your identity is in who you are in Christ, in your status as a son or daughter of God, then it will not matter what anyone else thinks of you. If your grudges are there because you’ve decided to let others control how you feel about yourself, then changing how you feel about yourself can erase those grudges.

I know, I know, it’s not as easy as saying, “I’m a son or daughter of God, so everyone’s forgiven. Yay! Happy day!” Some of these hurts go deeper than you have even explored. I’m an introspective person by nature and I have spent countless hours analyzing myself and relationships with those I am close to, yet when I started analyzing some of the deep hurts in my life, I found that the things I had always blamed were just part of the puzzle. The actions I had found so offensive were not the entire reason for the grudge; it was the reason behind those actions, things I hadn’t even considered consciously at the time, that really offended me.

The important thing is that no matter how harsh the rejection, no matter how undeserved the abandonment, I wouldn’t have been offended if I truly saw myself as God sees me.

Jesus was not the peace-sign-flashing, robe-wearing hippie some people have made Him out to be. He got mad. He chased people out of the temple with a whip, turning over their tables and making a huge mess. He called the Pharisees white-washed tombs, hypocrites, blind guides, and a brood of vipers all in the span of 21 verses in Matthew 23. He grew frustrated with the disciples on several occasions for their lack of faith. Yet in all this, He was never once angry that people refused to fall down and worship Him, as was His due. He was humble when they called Him names, spit on Him, and beat Him. He did not lash out when they were whipping Him and nailing Him to the cross. And He went out to make peace with Peter after Peter had denied Him three times in the course of just a few hours and then run away. Jesus had a perfect knowledge of who He was in God, and therefore, there was never a reason for Him to be personally offended.

A secondary aspect of this is how you see other people. If you think the worst of people, that’s often what you’ll see. People can be phenomenal at finding evidence to support their conclusions. We do it with everyone we hold a grudge against. When you have something against someone and then see them walking toward you with a smile, your first thought is, “Oh, crap. What do they want now?” isn’t it? It doesn’t matter whether what they ask of you is completely reasonable; you don’t want to do it and you think they have some ulterior motive. You’ve already found them guilty without giving them a chance because you have something against them.

You don’t really even have to have a grudge against this particular person to do this, either. At my last job, I had a grudge against the salespeople based primarily on the actions of two of them. I didn’t like how they seemed to care about money more than anything else, despite making more than just about anyone in the company. It made me view each successive salesperson we hired in the same light. I was just waiting for them to ask about a commission so I could lump them in with everyone else. When they did, I ascribed to them the same label and faults as I had to the other salespeople, however unjustly.

Now, to be fair, if someone has deeply wounded you, it is right to be wary of trusting them again. If you’ve been abused, don’t go back to that person until you’re absolutely sure they’ve changed. That said, it’s not really forgiveness if you’re constantly assuming the worst about people. For example, if you believe all men are liars or all women are conniving and manipulative, then you have a grudge against someone that you need to address. It’s true and fair to say some men have lied and some women have manipulated, but to apply a label that those people in particular can never shake is unfair, much less applying that label to the entire gender.

There are other reasons we carry grudges, though. Someone may have hurt a loved one, for example. For this, I would ask why a hurt done to this person is worse than one done to someone you don’t know? Is this person more valuable simply because you know them? Because you love them? God loves everyone equally. It’s God’s opinion that matters and He decided to let this happen. It may be very hard to accept, especially right after something terrible happens, but God is still a good God and has a plan for everything He allows to happen, even though we will often not see it at the time. There is a purpose, and you have to trust that God will work it out for your good and theirs (if they’re Christian) in the end.

As for the person who did the harming, Jesus forgave those who had whipped Him, beaten Him, pushed a crown of thorns on His head, nailed Him to a cross, and were spitting on Him and mocking Him as He died for their sins. Unless the wrong done to you is worse than this (and there’s no way it could ever be), you are commanded to forgive as well.

Or perhaps you hate injustices in general. You hear about Joseph Kony and get furious with him over what he’s done. While he certainly should answer for his crimes, your grudge against him serves no purpose. It only serves to give you a burden and feed your hate.

Perhaps more importantly, this goes back to the fact that killing a cockroach is a lesser offense than spitting in someone’s face. Whatever Kony or anyone else has done, the penalty is and should be less (from human hands) than what you should have gotten from God for every time you’ve chosen yourself over Him. Remember, all of our sins are primarily against God, not each other.

Some people develop grudges against others for sins they hate, even when those sins aren’t done against them. Usually, the sins I develop a grudge over are the very ones I wish I was committing. My roommates at one house professed to be Christian, yet two of them were sleeping with their fiancées almost every night. My anger was based more on jealousy since I wanted to have sex but had been saving myself for marriage (and made it, too, with just a few hours to spare J ). I was seeing God’s laws as restrictions rather than as rules that are for our best interests.

Even if your anger is not based on a sin you wish you were committing, why do you believe it is your place to change others, particularly non-Christians? Yes, we are called to confront other believers, but only in love, not because of a grudge. For non-Christians, Jesus never demanded that others be perfect before He accepted them. There’s an old story about a pastor who was fishing and talking to God about how he wanted to bring more people into church and get their lives right. God’s response was, “You catch ‘em, I’ll clean ‘em.” As Christians, we’re called to walk in love, not vindictive self-righteousness. It is God’s place to work on people’s hearts, not yours to judge them.

Lastly, some of you may have grudges against people not for any sin, but for being a general annoyance. It might be someone at the office who doesn’t seem to know when to end a conversation or the barista who always messes up your order. You have to let go of these things, too, and you might even owe the person an apology. What they did is not wrong; what you’re doing by holding a grudge is. The Bible does give us some groups of people we should avoid, but “those who getteth thine goat” isn’t among them. Let it go and, if you need to, ask God for patience and perhaps an opportunity to tactfully bring it up.

Whatever the offense, God’s way of handling all of these is to help you be so strong in who you are in Him that not only do you have no feelings of resentment or rejection when you’re mistreated, but that you see other people the same way He sees them. This will be hard to hear and harder still to understand, but God loves Hitler, you, and John the Baptist equally. It’s undeniable that John the Baptist did far more for God’s kingdom than Hitler, but God’s love isn’t based on works. It’s based on our being His creation, each of us a unique bit of art, a child who has become lost and who He’s eager to see return to Him.

This is how we’re to see others. When we do, we will lose the grudges we hold against them far more easily because we’ll realize that those who are hurting us are injuring themselves more deeply. God loves them and wants them to be free of their pain as much as He wants you to be free of yours. Even knowing that most of each sin is against Him, He loves them, and you should, too.

Why We Should Forgive and Why We Must Forgive

One of the biggest barriers to having real self-confidence is holding on to grudges. Most of us have grudges against God, ourselves, and others and we need to let them all go before we can enjoy the confidence God wants us to have. All this week, I’ll be posting on forgiveness, starting with why we should forgive and why we must forgive.

There is a quote attributed in a variety of forms to various people that reads, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” When you hold a grudge against someone else, you’re doing far more harm to yourself than to them.

Unforgiveness will affect you negatively in several ways:

1. It will take your time, energy, and focus off of God and the things you should be focused on. There was one woman I was interested in during college who gave me a rather harsh, public rejection. I replayed over and over in my head what I wish I’d said for years after, getting angry again at both of us. That time could have been better spent doing almost anything else: reading the Bible, praying, writing, editing, working out, or even sleeping. All my grudge did was waste time and make me angry.

Think about your grudges for a second. How much time do you devote to them? Are you daydreaming of getting even? Are you seething? Do you automatically get angry whenever you’re around that person?

This is neither healthy nor productive. It is stealing time and energy away from God, your job, relationships, family, and other important things in your life. And honestly, would you rather think about something that makes you happy or something that makes you miserable and angry?

2. It will prevent you from moving forward in the relationship in which you have a grudge. You cannot want to grow closer to someone or love them more deeply when you are angry with them. You have to let go of that grudge for the relationship to become closer. This is true of all relationships, whether with other people, God, or even yourself. You cannot force yourself through this barrier by spending more time with that person, either. Trying to force it will only deepen the grudge because your mind will keep turning back to it. The only way to deepen the relationship is to forgive that person.

3. It will get in the way of future relationships. When we hold grudges, it’s very difficult to only be angry with the person who wronged us. You’ve heard this before when your friend breaks up with someone and decries all men or women or when your boss upsets you and you vent against bosses in general. We tend to stereotype people and get mad at the lot of them, rather than just the ones with whom we’ve any right to be angry. When we do this, we make false or unfounded accusations and these get in the way of building healthy, solid relationships.

4. As Christians, we are called to be one body. Ever wake up in the middle of the night, stumble toward the bathroom, and find furniture with your toe? It hurts, but do you cut your toe off so it won’t happen again? Of course not!

Why, then, do we not do this within the church? When we refuse to forgive each other, we act like the world does. If the Gospel we’re bragging about isn’t enough to make us radically different than everyone else and help us rise above the petty concerns that so much of the world is bogged down in, then how can we expect them to want to become Christians?

Moreover, those in the church are our brothers and sisters. They should be people we love and always forgive. In Matthew 18, Peter asks how many times he’s supposed to forgive his brother and offers seven times. Jesus says it should be seventy times seven. That’s not a literal number, but Jesus was telling him as often as Peter’s brother sinned against him, Peter should forgive him.

5. Unforgiveness is an indictment of our faith in God to fix whatever mess we’re in. God doesn’t just let us suffer for the fun of it. He doesn’t allow things to be taken from us because He’s asleep on the job. He allows these things for a reason. When the New Testament apostles were beaten and imprisoned, they weren’t given fine new houses and bags of gold, but they were given something even better: a deeper relationship with God. They piled up treasures in Heaven as well, but even on earth, they got something that no earthly treasure could buy them.             God does not allow things to be taken from us unless He intends to give us something better. Even when He’s taking things from us as a chastisement for our sins or because they’re not good for us, the end result is taking something from us that was between us and Him. We get more of Him, more of what we desperately need. When we refuse to forgive, we’re telling God we don’t believe He’ll work all things out in the end for our good, meaning that the person who hurt us is more powerful than His ability to restore us.

6. Lastly, it is arrogant to put yourself above God. In the United States, the President has the power to issue a full pardon to anyone. Imagine a murderer in Texas is on death row and the President issues such a pardon. The man’s crimes are all exonerated. It’s as if he hadn’t even gotten a speeding ticket. Then some guard decides to punish this guy anyway, so instead of freeing him, he hauls him off to the execution chamber and injects the shot himself. He is no longer a government-sanctioned executioner, but a criminal himself, guilty of murder. Why? Because that man on death row, whatever he had done, had been pardoned and is now deemed innocent. The President’s forgiveness of him matters more than that guard’s opinion or even the facts of the case.

When we hold a grudge against other people, we’re essentially telling them they owe us for something that God has already forgiven. That puts us above God, saying that our opinion of their wrongdoing is more important than God’s opinion of it. We put ourselves in the Throne of Judgment, which is God’s place alone. And then we further profane it by using it to judge others according to what they have done to us rather than with God’s mercy and a remembrance that all sins are done primarily against Him.

Not only that, we’re saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to wash out that person’s sins because that person doesn’t have our forgiveness. Think of the preposterous arrogance of this: Jesus, part of the Trinity, God Himself, is not powerful enough to wash out someone’s sins, but the forgiveness of you, a fallen, weak, petty human is? You not only set yourself up as God when you don’t forgive, you trample Jesus’ sacrifice as not good enough.

All of these are reasons that we should forgive. Are they the reason we must forgive, though? No. The reason we must forgive goes even deeper.

We must forgive because the Bible commands us to.

There are two basic commandments that Jesus gives: Love the Lord with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. As part of the Lord’s Prayer, He gives us a commandment that’s part of the latter. He says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that He specifically highlights afterward. It’s that important.

Why does He grant leniency for loving Him and loving others (what else can we call the forgiveness of our sins?), but doesn’t grant leniency for forgiving them?

The answer is because “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. The key phrase in this discussion is “through faith.” You have to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to wash out your sins. If you do not believe this, then it will not work for you.

Here’s the issue, though: Jesus didn’t die for just you. He died to offer Himself as a sacrifice for everyone. Anyone who believes in what He did can take advantage of His sacrifice. It is the ultimate one-size-fits-all gift. This means that the same gift was given to you as was given to everyone else, and accepting this gift is based on faith. If you do not believe it is enough for someone else’s sins, then it is not enough for your sins, either.

Read that last paragraph again…slowly. When you refuse to forgive someone, you’re not just saying that the offending person needs your forgiveness to really be forgiven; you’re saying that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse that person, which means that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse you. You are dooming yourself by your own unbelief, by your own unforgiveness. His blood is either strong enough for everyone, or it’s strong enough for no one. You must decide which of those two options you believe because there is no third option.