When a friend betrays you

lake michigan shore

I should have seen it coming, but that must mean I’m to blame.

And maybe I am, a little.

What I did wrong was to trust someone I should not have trusted, never, not a million years. But I did. I acted in good faith. I sometimes had a queasy feeling as I did it, but I trusted anyway, because that’s what you do, right? You put yourself out there. Relationships require it.

But deep down I knew. I always knew. I should not have trusted this person.

Betrayal is what happens when you act in good faith, become vulnerable, extend yourself for someone else, and then that person turns out not to be a friend after all, not to have your best interests in mind, not to care about you at all, as a matter of fact.

What is it about betrayal that hurts so much? The coldness of it? The calculation? No, I’m convinced that it’s the evil of it.

I woke up this morning thinking about what happened. And not just thinking about it, but being mad about it. After all these months, after fooling myself into thinking that I was finally over it, after working so hard to get on with life, I still feel the hurt of it, the teeth-clenching anger of it.

And I realized of course, as I lay there in the early morning light, that I needed to get rid of it, to let it go.

For my sake, if for no one else’s.

But the truth is, I’m not quite there yet. It’s as though I can’t let go until I acknowledge to myself the sheer awfulness of it, the extent to which this other person betrayed me, all the sorry details of it. I can’t forgive, much less forget, it seems, until I remember every bit of it.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. You can’t get to my age without having been betrayed once or twice. I remember an event from some years ago that felt like a kick to the gut. I felt at the time as though the wind had been knocked out of me. I nearly picked up the phone to call a lawyer. I was sure I had a case. I would sue. That would make things right.

But someone who heard my story, someone who knows me well, said to me, ‘Doug, let it go.’

And I don’t remember anymore how I did it, but I did. It actually happened quickly. I started to breathe again, I put down the phone, I deleted the angry letter I had written. It was over. Finished. I haven’t thought about it in years – not until this latest betrayal, in fact. And then, surprisingly, there it was.

Betrayal and grief have that much in common. Every loss reminds you of every other loss you have ever had. Every betrayal is a reason not to trust anymore, not to be vulnerable, not put yourself out there.

But it’s time to let this one go. It has a kind of power over me, and I’m sick and tired of that, as much as anything. I need to unclench my fists and go on. I want to live. And be free.

And if my faith means nothing else, it means this: Forgiving others as I have been forgiven. And God knows that I have needed forgiveness.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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13 Responses to When a friend betrays you

  1. Scott Hoezee September 17, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    Powerful post, Doug. Nicely done and meaningful.

    • Doug September 17, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks, Scott.

  2. Mary Ellen September 17, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Yes betrayal is awful and some degree of guilt comes with it because it weighs on your value system. Divorce was like that, however God had great plans for me. Mary Ellen

    • Doug September 17, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      I wondered if people who had gone through divorces would identify with those feelings. I certainly saw – and still see – the plans God has for you. Good to hear from you, Mary Ellen.

  3. Rev. Andrew Gifford September 17, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    I understand this feeling. When I worked in the steel industry betrayal and manipulation seemed part of the culture, but there you had a choice to no longer do business with the person or company. To place them outside of your life. I would be interested to hear some thoughts on how we are to deal with this type of hurt when it’s someone very close to us, perhaps a family member or even a spouse. Would we approach things differently? How is it that Christ can forgive and forget yet we have difficulty ever letting go.

    Peace Friend, Andrew Gifford

    • Doug September 17, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      Am glad you wrote, Andrew. My favorite books on the topic of forgiveness are by Lewis Smedes and Miroslav Volf. Both books are good for small group study – or big groups, I suppose. I find that every time I preach about forgiveness, I get a lot of mail about it. I probably need to say more than I do.

  4. Laurie Fuller September 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    I can relate, how could I not, I am pushing 60 and thru all these years, I have been betrayed a few times. But this last time really hit me like a brick and it has taken me many years to get back on my feet, but I did and learned from it. God has always been there for me during times I feel are sad but knowing he is there, has made my days bright again. Take Care Doug, we miss you greatly…

  5. jebrazellJim Brazell September 18, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    I seem to be in a place that asks me, “If I were to give up all of my resentments, who would I be/become?” The response leans toward, “The person God loves you to become.”

    • Doug September 18, 2014 at 8:35 am #

      Agreed. Am leaning that way myself.

  6. Marion Robbins September 18, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    I have posted this little paragraph near my desk…Perhaps a little too light-hearted! Simply an every-day reminder that “happiness is an inside job.”
    “There comes a time in your life when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting up is living.”

  7. Marianne nestor October 3, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Very touching and thought provoking. It touches many chords. Marianne

    • Doug October 4, 2014 at 12:33 am #

      It’s good to hear from you, Marianne!

  8. Jürg Kessler October 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    Have been gone for a while so this reply is late but nevertheless: One of the best books on forgiveness that I have read was “UNCONDITIONAL FORGIVENESS” by Brian Zahnd.

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