It was one of those “punch in the gut” nights that will likely be etched in my memory forever. One where, toward the end of the night, all I could do was laugh at the absolute absurdity of the situation at hand to remind myself that laughter and joy still existed, even though the darkness seemed to be winning.
I can still feel the way the bathtub dug into the back of my ribs as I sat outside it, wedged on the floor in the corner of a bathroom, stroking the hair of the violently ill, brokenhearted girl in my lap. After a few minutes, my laughter faded and I could hear my neighbor sitting outside the room, playing her guitar and beating back the spiritual darkness the way the Lord has gifted her most clearly– line by line, worship song by worship song. I leaned my head against the bathroom wall and sang along with her until I was crying so hard that words wouldn’t come out anymore.
I cried a lot that night.
I cried because my students were clearly hurting after the night’s events and their pain broke my heart. I cried because I was afraid, both of the natural consequences of my students’ actions and because I was afraid to be the “mom” of the situation– the one who would have to lovingly and logically discipline the students I adore. I cried because my expectations for the night had been broken, then seemingly lit on fire. But above all, I cried because the trust and relationships that I had been working to develop with my students had been shattered by lies and poor choices, and I felt incredibly betrayed.
Since coming to the TLC, I’d been warned of the “eye-twitch moment”, aka the moment when you lose control of your body from stress, exhaustion, or sensory overload, and your body starts to revolt against itself. That night, as I sat squished in the corner of a bathroom, holding one student and staring into the confused eyes of another who had come in to check on us, I blew past the infamous eye-twitch and graduated to the full-body rage tremor. My heart was indignant and overflowing with every emotion possible, but the only thing I could articulate was that I was hurt. And when I’m hurt, my Aztec heritage kicks in and my immediate emotional reaction is almost always ugly and hostile.
I wanted to scream, but instead I bit my lip, moved my eyes from those of my student to the floor, and in my best restrained mom voice, said, “Someday we’re gonna need to have a conversation about what happened tonight, but now is not that day. You’ve betrayed my trust and hurt me really deeply. You are forgiven and loved… but you should go…”.
That night, after the situation was mostly diffused and my students were in their respective beds, I knelt in my boss’ living room and bawled. “I. Don’t. Understand.” “I can’t trust them anymore.” “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to give up on them, but I feel so betrayed. I can’t take it.” “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” Fragmented sentences and bodily fluids poured out of me while my boss patiently listened and handed me Kleenexes.
“I know you’re really hurt by what happened tonight, but our calling is to go the extra mile with those Jesus has brought to TLC. And that’s what we need to do.” My boss gently responded over my heaving sobs before going on to explain a few practical ways that we could “go the extra mile” with them.
I sat and listened, seething and angry at my students, and angry at the ugliness of my heart while he spoke. When he was done, I managed to sputter out, “I CAN’T go anywhere with them right now, let alone go an extra mile; I don’t want to…”
Betrayal at its core is a break of relationship and trust. And it sucks.
Betrayal makes us indignant in our woundedness. It causes us to go to the darkest, most stubborn places in our hearts, sit down, and throw a baby fit. And that’s exactly what I did.
That night as I knelt on that floor and talked with my boss, I spun into myself, dug my heels in, and internally refused to move forward in trying to rebuild those relationships– essentially becoming the antithesis of the calling Jesus has given those who have felt betrayal within ministry (or in life in general).
I couldn’t see it as my emotion and exhaustion clouded my brain that night in December, but I was reminded in the days following that Jesus is a God who understands betrayal on the deepest level possible.
After all, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest confidants, someone in His inner circle. He knows what it is to have His carefully built trust shattered. Within that, He showed His followers how we’re supposed to respond to betrayal through His interactions with Judas. (And last time I checked, His response wasn’t to throw a baby fit, cry, or purely dwell in the betrayal itself. Not that I would ever do any of those things… Ahem; moving on…)
Jesus responded to betrayal with grace and love. From the dawn of time, Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, but that betrayal wasn’t without purpose; it was so that His Father’s perfect plan for reconciliation of man and God could be carried out.
Let me repeat that– Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him from the get go, and yet He invited him into His life and His heart anyway. Not only did Jesus take a life changing risk in building trust that He knew would one day be broken and lead to His death, but He treated Judas with just as much love and grace as He treated His other disciples. So much so in fact, that when Jesus said that one of the people at the last supper was going to betray Him, everyone began asking who the traitor was.
Had Jesus treated Judas, the traitor, any differently than the other disciples I feel like that moment around the table would’ve included a painfully obvious (and awkward) shift of everyone’s eyes to Judas. Alas, it was a mystery who the traitor was until Judas showed up in the garden of Gethsemane with the Roman soldiers, servants, and Pharisees.
Jesus loved Judas well until the bitter(sweet) end and at a great cost.
But because He was just as human as He is God, Jesus also experienced emotion, there by reminding us that the pain of betrayal is real and something to be taken to God in prayer, rather than something to be brushed aside. We see in Luke 22:42 as Jesus called out to God, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” that there was agony in Jesus’ knowledge that He was about to be betrayed. But the story doesn’t end with Jesus sitting in His emotion or agony; it “ends” (and I use the term ends in the loosest way possible here) with loving sacrifice in the midst of betrayal.
A month later, I’m able to acknowledge that the feelings that accompanied my betrayal were completely valid, but I also realize that dwelling in my emotions and battle scars cannot be the way this specific story ends either.
At the end of the day, I have to apply the Gospel to feelings of disappointment and betrayal when they come. Shaking them off and expecting them to disappear won’t work. Dwelling in them and refusing to move forward in relationship with my students doesn’t do anyone any good. And withholding future love because I’m afraid my trust will be betrayed again? That might be the easiest way out, but it isn’t what Jesus has called me to as His follower.
Jen Hatmaker says it so well in her book Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity:
“Jesus came to the foulest, filthiest place possible (earth), a place full of ungrateful, self-destructive people who would betray Him far more than they’d love Him (a whole planet of Judases). He became the offering for people who would slander His name with ferocity, yet His grace was theirs for the asking until they drew their last breaths, even if all they could offer Him was a lifetime of hatred and one moment of repentance.
We don’t get to opt out of this gospel. We don’t get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We’re not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised or misunderstood.”
When the pain of betrayal comes, we have to look to Jesus and remember that ours is a God who understands betrayal, yet chooses to love anyway.
In fact, He chooses to love me, even though I kiss His cheek every morning and manage to wander away and betray Him for prettier, shinier, “more exciting” gods by lunch time every day. Yet His love for me is constant and perfect, unfailing and unafraid of my imperfection.
Jesus never promises us that we won’t get wounded in doing His work, but He does promise that those wounds and imperfect moments will become beautiful and for His glory if we give them to Him, (even if we don’t get to see this in this lifetime).
“As I have loved you, love one another.”