As someone who has worked with middle school, I am all to familiar with betrayal. Fifth grade seems to be the year where many of us have our first brush with a friend who shares what we told them in confidence or talks behind our back. Fifth grade seems to be the year where many of us first had to choose between what is right or fitting in. Some of us were younger. Some were able to hold onto innocence a little bit longer.
What I don’t think any pre-adolescent child could possibly know is the struggle will not end this side of eternity. Throughout our lives we will continue to be betrayed by friends. Sometimes it will be unintentional. Other times it will be very intentional. There will also be times where we will be the betrayer.
I can picture the moment during these last couple years where I knew my betrayal was complete. I can remember my whole body going numb. I knew I was alone. In my mind, I was standing with my back against a cliff. I was in the ocean and waiting for the next wave to hit. Some of the waves would hit and I would be completely underwater —hanging on to the rocks for dear life. I wasn’t sure what was worse, being underwater or looking out into the ocean as I was desperately trying to catch my breath and seeing the endless line of waves and knowing no one was coming to help.
The depth of this betrayal was much greater than the issues we were dealing with in fifth and sixth grade, but in that moment I remembered the words I told those girls. “I know you are angry. What happened was wrong and you got hurt. It is really normal for you to want someone to pay for what happened. Remember someone already has. Everything you did to contribute to the situation and everything done against you was already paid for by Jesus on the cross. It is finished. It is forgiven.”
In the moment, I was still too stunned to give any type of response. I was so tired; I didn’t want to risk my words being misunderstood. In all honesty, the biggest reason for my silence was how I had let shame win. Before I even walked into that conversation, shame had won. I knew I wasn’t blameless, so I stayed silent out of shame.
As I look back, I am able to be gentle with myself. I know I did the best I could in the moment. Still, if I could transport myself back into that moment, I would handle it very differently. Everything leading up to that moment – all the hurt and pain and sin — was paid for by Jesus at the cross. This covers what was done to me and also what I did. When I look back it was much harder for me to accept Jesus had already paid for what I did.
If I could go back, I would not have waited until I felt like I had earned the right to speak up. I was waiting until I was blameless until I spoke up about the hurt that not only I, but others, were facing. That moment never came and never will. I was afraid of what people might use to attack me, so I stayed silent. If I could go back, I would act like I truly believed my sin had been fully paid for.
I would ask for both grace and accountability from all sides. What we had been experiencing was a cheap imitation of grace. Issues were swept under the rug only to be pulled back out when it was convenient. There was no forgiveness. It was more like a game of Jenga — pieces were slowly removed and nothing was ever replaced. As long as the structure was standing, everything was deemed okay. Everyone just prayed they weren’t the one who made everything collapse.
I lived in a system where it was each man for himself. It was a system characterized by fear and shame. Where fear and shame abounded, there was no room for love and truth. We were paying for this in human hearts — yet the debt had been already cancelled. The sacrifice we were giving was completely unnecessary.
Grace – by its true definition and not the cheap imitation we had – would have allowed us to set down our weapons and lower our defenses. Grace would have lead to humility and love. Grace would not mean there would be no consequences. Certain things are inexcusable and should come with consequences, but grace would give the hope for a complete reconciliation. Grace must also be tied with accountability moving forward. Grace only needs to be extended when something bad happened. Accountability helps keep us from places where grace will be needed while still trusting grace to be enough when mistakes are made.
Jesus faced betrayal at the cross. He knows what it means to feel alone and in pain. Yet when he was betrayed, he turned that betrayal into the ultimate display of grace. His grace was enough to cover the sins of the whole world. If the betrayal in my life can be turned into grace, I can hope there will be good to come even from some of my darkest moments.
Have you seen people who have responded to betrayal with grace? How did it transform the situation?
How have you responded when you have betrayed your values? Your family? Others around you?