2 Cor. 8. A lot of people wonder what they’re supposed to do when they discover their significant other has betrayed them. They wonder what they should do when their boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife has cheated on them. Here is a story that I hope will help.
One day I discovered an email chain showing that my boyfriend at the time had had a two month flirtation with another woman involving inappropriate flirty comments, trying to run into her at the gym, telling her how “distracting” she was in her yoga outfit and having coffee together. After two months, he finally told this woman he had a girlfriend (that would be me), but he told her that if it didn’t work out with me, he’d be knocking at her door. She checked in a few months later, and he told her again that he was still seeing me, but that if it didn’t work he would absolutely be asking her out. She told him she was sticking voodoo pins in an effigy of me. (I’m happy to report that I’m still here so that voodoo doll wasn’t very effective. Ha.)
Meanwhile, during the two month period that this man was actively emailing her, he’d already asked to be my boyfriend, told me he loved me, and told me he’d cancelled all other dates because “what was the point.” He also announced, frequently, “Caroline, I’m the guy you can ALWAYS trust. I’m the one you will NEVER find going out to coffee with another woman. I don’t even LOOK at the women in the class when I go to yoga.” I didn’t ask him to do any of those things. He told me all this unprovoked. I wonder now who he was trying to persuade.
The two month email exchange he had with the OW was pretty early in our relationship. What upset me most was that during that time he’d acted like he was head over heels in love with me. He could have told me the truth, asked to keep our relationship relaxed and go out with other people, and that he liked me but wasn’t ready to commit. Instead, he gave me a Big Story of Love, and I swallowed it.
I’d swallowed his story, but the moment I discovered it was a lie, I lost the ability to swallow food. I discovered after some trial and error that I could eat applesauce. I know that sounds pathetic, but I shared this with a friend whose husband had had an affair, and she said, “I had to put chicken noodle soup in the blender, and then I could manage to get it down.” We laughed.
When we feel betrayed our adrenaline system goes into overdrive. We go into fight or flight mode. We can’t sleep because our hearts race like there are enemies pounding at the gate. There are enemies at the gate. The problem is they’ve already battered down the door. They’re already defeated us. There’s nothing we can do about it, nothing. And we feel stupid, because we were the ones who opened the door to them in the first place. We trusted, and they walked all over the open door.
A betrayer chooses to do something that doesn’t bear on their innocent victim. It’s their sin, not the victim’s. And yet the victims are the ones who feel the pain. It’s like an open wound. We cry for hours on end. We might take up smoking or overeat or under eat or overdrink. We tell our trusted friends, and if we’re Christians, we ask them to pray with us, because we don’t know where to begin to pray for ourselves. We cry, and then it all comes back again, and we go through the same cycle. And we try to make toast and have to throw it away because it catches in our throats.
When I discovered Mr. Coffee Gym guy’s betrayal, I went for a long prayer walk right away. Our relationship had gone on for some time by then, and the Gym Thing seemed to have ended. Before confronting him, I knew enough to “take it to the Lord in prayer” first. After an hour and a half of walking and talking to God, I reached a broad open meadow. I asked God what I was supposed to do.
One word came back: forgive.
I was stunned. God’s answer was so clear and so simple, I just said, “Okay then. I’ll forgive.”
The moment I agreed with God, the sun’s light exploded into a glorious golden shimmering all around me. The greens of the tall grasses quivered. The trees seemed to have burst into song. The colors were richer. There was a supernatural display of light bursting out of every atom of the meadow. I hadn’t had such an intense clear experience of God’s presence in a long time. I felt shot through with unspeakable joy. The answer was clear. Forgive.
Doing it was harder. When I confronted Mr. Gym Coffee Man the next day, I was calm. I was rational. I was even proud because I’d waited twenty-four hours. Then he said that well, yes, it was true he’d said he loved me when he was emailing the OW, but actually he didn’t love me. “It wasn’t love at first sight for me with you,” he said. You could have knocked me down with a feather. He’d sure acted like it was. I felt ashamed. It had been love at first sight for me. My whole concept of our relationship changed in that moment. He pulled the rug out from under my feet, and I fell down and cracked a few key bones. “I’d been interested in the OW for a while, and she’d always had a boyfriend, and blown me off, and she was finally free. I had trouble letting go. But I did let her go, and I love you now. And I’m glad you know because now you know I’ve never done anything worse.”
He didn’t seem very sorry. In his mind, flirting with her while being my boyfriend was justified because he hadn’t loved me. How was I supposed to believe he was telling the truth now when he said he loved me? What had changed? His words were the same now as when he’d been flirting with her. I became less calm. I became less nice.
After three sleepless nights, where my heart kept pounding in fear like I’d had ten cups of coffee, and I was pretty sure I had to ditch him because I didn’t think I could ever trust him again, I came back to the truth.
God loved me even when he didn’t.
That helped immensely. Because a person doesn’t love you when they’re cheating. They just don’t. Reality check. Love doesn’t do that. They’re loving themselves, and they’re definitely not loving the OW. Or rather, they think they’re “loving” themselves, but really they’re hating everyone, including themselves.
So since a betrayal shows you that person didn’t love you when they did that, you get to relax in the fact that God did love you at the very time the other person didn’t. I can’t explain, but resting in that knowledge changes everything.
In addition to loving us in that moment, God also promises that when we have no hope, we can hope in Him. He promises that He has plans to prosper and not to harm us, so we can calm down our vicious inner monologue of trying to scenario out the future. God says not to put our trust in other humans, but to trust only Him.
But all the things God promises us hinge on our ability to listen to him. We have to let go of our anger if we want to be open to receive His blessings. We have to let go of the past to receive our future. The problem is that that promise is one we have to accept on faith. In other words, while we’re angry, we can’t yet feel the blessing forgiveness will bring. We have to let go of the rage first, like a monkey bar handle, in order to swing to the better bar ahead of us.
So I considered forgiveness. Forgiveness means that even though we’re the victim, even though they wronged us, even though they had no excuse, we’re going to wish our betrayer well. We’re going to love them. We’re going to relax, and dial it back about a thousand notches. We also force ourselves to remember we’re not perfect either. We remember that today we may give forgiveness; tomorrow we may be the person needing it. We don’t have to trust the other person. Often we shouldn’t. But we have to let go of all desire to hurt or punish them or hold a grudge. We need to ask God to bless them abundantly, richly and extravagantly, just as we want to be blessed. And we remember the extravagance of God’s pain on the cross, a pain and shame He endured out of love for us, even though we betray him constantly and on a cosmic scale we can’t even take in.
After forgiving, the hurt comes sweeping back in like one of those desert winds. You find yourself crying another seven hours. And another. And another (depending on the severity of the betrayal). You do try to remember you’re a sinner, too, but it’s hard because what they just did to you ALWAYS looms larger than anything you ever did – especially as you didn’t do that EXACT thing, and especially as you can’t really remember anything you did wrong, anyway. So after dwelling on the hurt again, you start to get really mad all over again. So you have to forgive all over again.
And here’s what God showed me. When the devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, the devil told them that if they sinned, they would be “like God.” When people think they can court two people at once without being up front about it, they’re trying to be “like God.” They’re trying to make their own rules of right and wrong. But right is right and wrong is wrong, and there’s no getting around it. Choosing wrong makes humans miserable. It carries its own punishment, because that’s how God set up our world. God made us to thrive when we obey Him, and we are always miserable when we disobey Him. So the devil lied, as he always does, when he told Adam and Eve they could be “like God” by making up their own rules. They couldn’t.
But when we choose to obey God, we don’t just get to be “like” God, we get to BE God.
How? Because when you become a Christian, God comes to live inside you. So He’s always in you if you’re a Christian. You’re still a sinner, but you have God’s Holy Spirit in your heart, whispering to you of a better way. And when you choose to give generously to someone who doesn’t deserve it, you get to experience the fullness of God’s presence. You feel the extravagance of His peace, a peace based on grace alone and not on your own behavior. So you “are” God most when you obey Him. The statements in today’s passage about generosity with money, apply just as strongly to generosity in our relationships. Paul says the true test of the sincerity of our love for God is how “generous” we are. When we’re filled with gratitude to God for His generosity to us, we overflow with a supernatural ability to give to others.
But we have to make ourselves available to God to have that kind of gratitude. We have to let Him fill us. That’s one of the ways God uses these hurts like betrayal to fulfill his promise to work “all things together for good for those who love the Lord.” Betrayals force us to seek Him out. It sent me out into that meadow for an hour and a half of passionate pouring out my heart to God, passionate listening. And if we let God’s love wash over us “in wave after wave,” as one of my new favorite worship songs puts it, we become filled to the point of being able to give. We can’t give from emptiness. We have to give from fullness. Spending intimate time with God allows us to “know” on a deep level the “generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9. Betrayal makes us feel thin and poor. If we turn to God in our pain, God comes in and makes us feel fuller and richer than we could even imagine. He makes us feel more full than we were before the betrayal. Because no matter what we give out of obedience to God – whether it’s money or mercy – He gives us more of Himself.
That holy exchange makes all the hurt worth it. Because no matter what someone dishes out to you in their own sin, they can’t touch you. It feels like they can, but they can’t. God’s love is stronger than anything they’ve done. In fact, the more they hurt you, the more room there is for God’s softening, sweetening mellowing spirit of mercy to dwell in you. The bigger the hurt, the more sweetness you get from God.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it. It’s the coolest thing. The moment you choose to forgive (again)… the presence of God sweeps over you. It’s a process. It’s a journey. And you discover your appetite returns. You wash your face. You dress nicely. You feel attractive all over again. You walk with your head high. You stop “worshipping” your significant other, which was something you were never supposed to do in the first place. You start to objectively evaluate their behavior, not let yourself be bowled over by empty words.
Best of all, you discover you no longer feel the need to punish yourself for what someone else did to you. You know intellectually not to sabotage yourself for what someone else did. But by forgiving, it makes it a reality. It brings heaven closer – the place where we are all loved all the time and know it.
Because giving to someone who can’t pay you back is what God does to us every day. If we give up the prideful lie that we’re better than the person who hurt us, and forgive instead, we get to live in a world of joy, a world where we’re not afraid to mess up and apologize from the bottom of our hearts because we know we will always be forgiven. Always.
So to finish my story, because I know you want to know, I decided to stick with that boyfriend. I decided I would be careful with him, and stop accepting his words at face value. I would observe his behavior, not listen to the Big Story of How Perfect He Is. I had the slightly self-pitying thought of “oh, well, maybe in this world no one ever really loves you and you can’t expect it, and this is all you get. Only God really loves me.” But I replaced that with a decision to love him and trust God.
I thought that was the end of Caroline’s little lesson on forgiveness. And then I heard Joyce Meyer say that often we don’t hear directly from God for a host of reasons, but that if we do hear from God directly, we should do it.
“Huh,” I thought. “What have I heard from God directly recently?”
Boom. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And in that moment, God pried open my eyes. I saw I wasn’t just supposed to forgive the stupid email exchange. I was supposed to forgive my boyfriend EVERYTHING. God was asking me to forgive EVERYTHING he’d ever done to me. All the tiny little petty grievances I’d been holding on to, all of them, I was to let go of. I was to forgive him daily, hourly, minute by minute, all the time. I was to let it all go. The magnitude of God’s command blew me away. I hadn’t even comprehended the scope of His word to me.
So I did forgive. I started letting go of everything, the moment the devil blasted it in front of my eyes and reminded me of anything that boyfriend had ever done. What happened blew me away. The relationship got rich and amazing and blessed me. Joy swept through me constantly. I laughed more. I was carefree. I loved without fear. It was incredible. Every time I felt the need to bring up some petty annoyance from the past to him, I bit my tongue. I forgave. He lit up whenever I actively forgave him inside, as if he could actually sense the supernatural change going on inside me, as if God was making me glow on the outside, too.
And then God pried my eyes open even wider. A few days later I saw I wasn’t just supposed to forgive my boyfriend on a daily basis (who is no longer my boyfriend but for totally separate reasons and I’m delighted to report I’m happily married now). I was supposed to forgive EVERYONE everything, all the time. All the people who bump into me on the streets of Manhattan; all the people who slight me; all the people who ignore me; all the people who “betray” me by treating me as less than a child made in God’s image, I was to forgive them all.
In place of my anger, I could receive not just streams of joy flowing through me but rivers, oceans, sky-full joy. It’s overwhelming. It’s real. It forces me to accept my own humanity constantly. It has brought me to the place where I am thankful even for that betrayal, because it moved me from knowing forgiveness as a intellectual command to experiencing it in its richness and power to break me into pieces to remake me into someone kinder, softer and more vulnerable.
I am undone.
posted on September 18, 2014 by Caroline Coleman