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.

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Pictorial Christianity

Leah and I have been using The Screwtape Letters as something of a devotional. We disagree with Lewis’ notion that you can lose your salvation, but many of the points he makes are poignant and convicting.

In the second letter, Screwtape tells Wormwood of his displeasure in Wormwood’s patient becoming a Christian, but then tries to give him advice on correcting this using the church. Not the eternal church itself, but rather the brick building and the annoying habits of those in the pew next to him.

“At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual, but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armor and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course an unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like.”

This quote is directly after an encouragement to point out to his patient that his neighbor in the pew sings loudly and out of tune or that someone else has squeaky boots. In annoying his patient with minor things that are not sinful or spiritual in any way, Wormwood may make him believe that the religion these annoying people have is ridiculous nonsense.

I’d like to say that I’m above this, but it’s fair only to say that I’ve improved. I’ve heard screamers in church, seen people dance in the aisles, and listened to the discord of a bad worship band. All of these things have distracted me from worshiping the God I love, the God who made and loves these people as well.

We should be aware of the standards we set on each other, standards for perfection in all the areas that matter to us. God doesn’t demand these things of us, but rather that we love Him with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. Are we loving when we’re judging them for how they sing? For how they dress or laugh or whether they raise their hand in front of our faces during praise and so block us from seeing the lyrics on the screen? What do we expect of others? If it’s anything other than that they’re as fallen as we are, we expect too much.

We also need to keep in mind the difference between sins and annoyances. Someone shrieking out the hymns may be annoying, but that person is worshiping God. God created their voice and what they’re doing is right, not wrong. It’s not about keeping others’ wants in mind at that point because the worship of God is more important than the happiness of your ears. And if you’re really worshiping Him yourself, you won’t care how others do it, so long as it is not in a sinful way.

Lastly, we should be aware that non-Christians are applying these standards of perfection to us, however unfairly. Many Christians do it to them as well. The church seems to have lost the belief, even if the teaching is still sometimes heard, that we are, of ourselves, worthless, depraved, and doomed. It is through Christ that we are valuable, through Him that we are righteous, and through Him that we have a new identity. Becoming a Christian won’t make you perfect; it will only start you down a road you’ll be walking until the day you die. You won’t get there in this life, and the people you see along the way are only your fellow travelers, all in need of more of Him.