I believe every person will experience betrayal at least once in their lifetime. I (Joel) had George and Brody. Jesus had Judas. The Father had Lucifer. If you’ve never experienced betrayal, you may want to earmark this session for later. (You’ll likely need it.) I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been hit by betrayal at least once in their life. This session will prepare you to navigate betrayal, heal from it and grow more mature and loving through it.
Skill 4: A Mature Love
"Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”
(John 13:21 MSG)
Jesus had a Judas and Jesus was quite gracious and relationally generous to him. Jesus chose to let his betrayer bring out the best in him, not the worst. We must learn to do the same, if we are ever going to reclaim and retain wholeness of heart.
Hours before Judas’s kiss of betrayal, we find this courageous king washing Judas’s feet. Can you imagine doing this for a man who had already received payment for his assistance in plotting your assassination? Though Jesus was God, he was fully human. Can you imagine what he must have been experiencing? What he was feeling? Remember his fierce intentionality, disruptive truth telling and masterful maneuvering, we discussed in Skill 2. He’s a lion of a man, choosing now to act like a lamb. The emotional fortitude and self-control he displayed here was heroic. Jesus desires you to learn to do the same.
None of us can soar in the more expansive world God has for us until we set our betrayers free first. Like in birth, the exit from the wilderness is only big enough for one. If we are going to transition into a better life, we will have to learn to let go of those we often hold onto inside.
1.) Almost everyone remembers their first kiss. Shed some light on your first: How old were you? Where were you? Who was it with? How did the relationship conclude?
2.) Jesus had a Judas (and was betrayed by his kiss). Who did you “have” (or who was one of your betrayers)? (Please use aliases, if appropriate.)
3.) Did your betrayer bring out the best or the worst in you?
Skill 4: A Mature Love
Breaking Free from Betrayal & Goodbye Letter
Breaking free from "betrayal" may be difficult, but it's not impossible. The following 5 steps will lead you into greater freedom and deeper into the "better" life Jesus prepared for you.
1.) Forgive yourself. We’ve all made decisions that we regret—and experienced the guilt, shame and anger that often accompanies it. Whether it was through our own choosing or not—it’s easy for us to self-identify with those painful moments of our past. But— please hear this—you are not the sum total of your choices or experiences. No, at the deepest level, you are—and will always be—God’s beloved child. As we discussed in Skill 1, this is your true identity and no decision you make will ever change that fact. (You, my beautiful friend, are not powerful enough to alter your status as God’s beloved.) You are loved as much as Jesus by the most loving Parent of all (John 17:23 NLT). Why? Like Jesus, you too, are his much beloved child. So the first step to maturely loving others is to forgive yourself for every past decision you’ve made and/or to reject any identity other than that of a beloved child of God. You are not—nor ever will be—defined by your past experiences. (Remember, we humans so often make decisions in pursuit of healing the pain of our past wound(s)). God understands this. He’s not ashamed of you, your past or where your pursuit to alleviate the pain may have taken you. God adores you and has fully forgiven you. Now it is time for you—Beloved Child of God—to do the same and fully forgive yourself for every regret-filled decisions and release every negative experience of your past. I have included the following prayer, to use as a guide:
Father, I am your beloved child. Nothing can change my identity or separate me from your love. You know every choice I’ve made in the past and the negative experiences I’ve endured. These do not define me. I am your beloved child and you love me as much as you love Jesus (John 17:23). Your Word says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT). I declare that I am free, because you have made me free. I am free from my past—from what I have chosen to do and/or the negative experiences I have had. I forgive myself and release myself from all self-rejection, self-contempt or shame I may be experiencing now. Once again, I declare that I am your child, not the sum of my past decisions and/or experiences. I am a beloved child of God and nothing can ever change my true identity!
Next we must…
2.) Grieve the loss. We have to let it touch our thoughts and feelings. We must do our best to resist diminishing, blocking our denying the pain associated with what was lost through your episode of shattering. So we must ask ourself:
- What did I lose?
- What was taken or stolen from me?
- My time (years, a whole season of life)?
- My Peace?
- Other opportunities?
- My sense of security?
- My innocence?
- A combination of the above?
- Identify any other loses you experienced not mentioned?
(Write your answers down on a separate page or on a clean sheet of your journal. This list will be incredibly helpful as you engage with step 3 of this exercise.)
Once you’ve identified your losses, you must allow yourself to grieve them. You must allow the sadness, hurt or sorrow reach your heart, thoughts and emotions. For most of us (especially in the West), we’ve been taught not to take account of life’s losses—let alone, grieve them. Rather, our culture often “encourages” us to suck it up—keep pushing forward—ride wounded. So this may be new territory for some. Yet I promise, taking a moment to grieve them, will help to expedite the healing of your heart and mind (thoughts and feelings. See Graph (CLICK HERE)). The only way to move beyond the pain of your past is—not by ignoring it, but—by pressing into it and, ultimately, through it. You must grieve it. If tears arrive—do not attempt to hold them back—for they are the way to recovering everything the shattering stole. As the psalmist promised, “…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NIV). Or as Jesus assured, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21 NKJV).
Take a moment to grieve each loss you’ve written down. Let it touch your thoughts and emotions. Again, do your best to not diminish, block our deny the pain associated with what was lost through your wound. The next step will help you do this.
3.) Write a Goodbye Letter
Write a letter to your betrayer(s). (You will not in actuality be sending this letter to them or anyone else. This letter is a powerfully freeing exercise just for you.)
- In your shattering story, who is (are) your betrayer(s)? (Is it an ex-spouse, ex-business partner, a parent(s), a family member or friend?) Please address the letter to them using their name.
- Did Jesus bring to mind any other person(s) outside of your story of shattering that he would like you to extend forgiveness? (Please include them in this letter, if appropriate, or write a separate letter addressed to them.)
- Use the list of “losses” you wrote down during step 2 and, for each one of those losses, express what you experienced because of that individual(s) decisions and deeds.
- What are the things you want to say to them (or have ever wanted to say) to them? (Write to them about it.)
- How did their actions harm you? Hurt you? Then and now?
- Did it negatively impact your perspective? How you saw yourself then or see yourself now?
- Lastly, please do not edit this letter. I want you to write the words that most appropriately describe how you feel—whatever those words may be. No one else will see this letter, so I want to discourage you from feeling forced to make your words neat, tidy or even nice. You have the freedom to (and should) write this letter “raw.”
When you feel you’ve exhausted your words, place the letter into an envelope. If you are going through this as a small group, bring the envelope (with the letter inside) to your group’s next gathering. You will not be asked to reveal what’s inside this letter. You will only be asked to “let it go.” Your group leader will give you further instruction when you arrive at your next group session. You won’t want to miss it! (Goodbye Letter Instructions for individuals (CLICK HERE))
4.) Forgive them
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
(From The Lords Prayer - Matthew 6:12 KJV)
God has forgiven you. In step 1, you forgave yourself. Now, we must forgive those who’ve wronged us.
For this step, we must remember that forgiveness is primarily a gift to the forgiver, not the offender. It sets the forgiver (you) free. It says to the offender, what you did was wrong, it hurt, it wounded me, it matters, but I am choosing to let you (and what you did to me) go free.
Remember, when you forgive, you free the offender from the pretend prison you’ve placed them in and return to yourself the hours and energy you’ve waisted playing prison guard to someone who was never really there. Yes, forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and then discovering you were, in actuality, the prisoner! For your own sake you must forgive, but, as we discussed at length in this chapter, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you must be reconciled with them. (Reconciliation requires that trust be rebuilt first.)
Some humans make it so hard to forgive them…
For many of us, the person we are forgiving is the one who played an “active” role in our story of shattering. Yet, Jesus may also be using this exercise to bring up other people he’d like you to forgive as well. (Remember, forgiveness is primarily a gift you give yourself.) Potentially, they may be individuals who played a much more “passive” role in your wound. It took me (Joel) more than a decade to realize that I needed to forgive my mom, for her more passive role in my season of shattering with my stepfather (and even longer with the less direct role my biological father had in it). Doing this, isn’t about placing blame on others. Rather, it’s a critical step to heal and free your soul. It's impossible to extend true forgiveness, until a person recognizes that they have been wronged in someway by someone.
Jesus reveals, “You can’t get forgiveness [healing, wholeness, restoration and freedom] from God, for instance, without also forgiving others” (Matthew 6:14-15). In other words, if the “hands” of your soul are holding onto unforgivenss, they are not open to receive all the forgiveness, healing and wholeheartedness God is generously pouring out. We must do our part—forgive those who we need to forgive—so God can fully and joyfully do his part! We will never fully enter into the better life Jesus prepared until we do.
If other people that need your forgiveness come to mind, don’t just rush past it. It would be wise to go through the steps above with any other persons you feel Jesus may be prompting you to forgive. It would be appropriate to grieve the losses associated with those individuals (step 2) and (either now or in the near future) write them a “goodbye letter" too (step 3).
It would also be wise to recognize that forgiveness is not a feeling. Generally speaking, our emotions follow our thoughts. When we choose to forgive another, it may take a while for our feelings to catch up. If there are individuals from your past that you need to forgive, it would be beneficial to do that now. (I’ve included the following prayer as a guide.)
I choose to forgive [name(s)]. What they did to me was wrong, it hurt and it matters. I choose to release them now into your hands, God. I choose to let them and the circumstance go. I give it all to you, God.
If you are struggling to forgive (others or yourself) or to pray the above prayer, I (Joel) get it. More importantly, so does God. (If you recall, our Heavenly Parent had his Lucifer.) Sometimes it feels impossible to let it go and forgive. If you're experiencing this, it would be appropriate to ask God to help you forgive. He will. A great place to start is by praying something simple like this:
God, help me forgive [name(s)].
(It may not come instantly, but the grace and power for you to forgive will eventually come. Don’t get discouraged or give up!)
5.) Let God love you deeply, especially in the place of your shattering. By inviting God and allowing him to enter your heart and soul, he will begin to heal your wound and restore your Shalom (peace).
Jesus I invite your presence into this area of pain, loss and hurt (name the specific area). I invite you, Jesus, and your powerful presence, Father, into that wounded broken place in my heart. Heal me. Restore me and make this area of my heart whole.
(There are also “”A Mature Love” scriptures and prayers in the Appendix that will be very helpful in continuing to free yourself from your past, grow in healing and wholeness of heart.)
For many, the powerful and symbolic act (above) will be the conclusion of many negative feelings towards the people they’ve written to. They may no longer feel the need to hold anything against them. They are likely to see their betrayers of the past—simply as the imperfect humans that they are—without all the adverse emotions attached to their memories. But if you’re like me (Joel)—in the case of George and Brody—and, experiencing what I just described in this paragraph, doesn’t readily come, you may want to try the “Patching” exercise I underwent. (It’s located under the subtitle “Patching things Up” in Skill 4: A Mature Love (Chapter 7).
Podcast on Session 5