As a performing songwriter I am privileged to have listeners tell me all sorts of intimate things (and, as aside, I do not want to know if you make love to one of my songs. Ew.). After a recent show, two women talked to me about the effects of betrayal, one unwittingly, just by observing my countenance.
The first said that she and her husband were glad they attended the show, because they hadn’t been alone together in a while, and they hadn’t even wanted to be. Her story was hard to hear, but beautiful, because she and her husband are committed enough to keep pursuing each other despite deep betrayal that both faced in their first marriages.
Right after that, someone else shared that she had noticed a change in my energy and expression on stage. Someone that has seen me many, many times over the years. She felt strongly that she should tell me this in case it meant something to me, or in case “Spirit,” as she calls the great Other, had something for me to pay attention to.
I was amazed, because I had, indeed, been processing some heavy betrayal and shocking, aggressive rage from a family member. Looking back, it was like I took stage bearing a deformity, or like when you’re first pregnant and the life changing fact of the little person growing inside is all occupying (not to compare deformity to pregnancy). It was so heavy in my heart, that it’s no wonder it came out in our countenance. Even though I’ve toured for 15 years now, and I know how to lay down mental burdens before picking up the guitar on stage. The real wonder, I guess, is that no one else seemed to notice it.
As hard as that betrayal was, and I wondered if it would lead to an unearthing of my dream of how the world should be, it wasn’t horrifying. I learned the definition of horror one evening in July, driving back from a gig. It was taught to me through the phone. I kept shaking my head “no” without meaning to. For minutes. I did not want to allow the news into my reality. It put an end to what I considered bedrock, my foundation and family identity. That time it was the murder of one family member by another. Too hardcore to even write about here. But the world changed for me that day.
How do we forgive? How can we get through the angst, the anger, the unanswerable questions, the raw humiliation of harm and betrayal? How can we accept the world as it is now? How can we let go of how it SHOULD be? Forgiveness is mysterious to me. It’s counter intuitive. It’s counter to any natural strategy of survival.
Jeff and I have hurt each other at times, and even things we did before we knew each other have hurt. It is healing to have the other person listen to how much and why something hurt, and to be sorry. Does that go without saying? To internalize the harm we have done, and to be sorry for it, demonstrates how valuable the other person is to you, and it restores their dignity.
Sometimes the harm is so extensive, that I feel the perpetrator should be destroyed. But what when that person is my friend, my cousin, my brother, my husband? (And in a way, all people are.)
The only sense I can make of it is to go to God. Sometimes that means wrestling with what he allows, and arguing. Sometimes it means allowing him to comfort me with the knowledge that he is present, kind, and in control. I remember the beauty of the moon on a breezy night shortly after my parents started down the (long, obnoxious, sad) road to divorce. I wondered how it could possibly shine so bright, unmoved by my sorrow, and it was healing to realize how small my pain was to the world, though so large in me.
I know that God cares about what happens to me, and that he is larger than the offense. I know that he has given me a place in this world and a purpose; that I have been called to my situation. There is honor in that. Also, I’m not God (what?). I like to be treated well, and praised. I like for people to see me as capable and intelligent and bright and shining and delightful. But I’m foolish, made of earth. And there is a lot of relief in the acceptance of my humble state. It’s a duality, like sex is. You know how sex is mysterious and powerful and awesome? And how at the same time it’s earthy and silly and much ado about nothing? It’s not my job to be perfect or even really great. It’s not my job to be praised. And, although I am made in the image of God, to be treated with respect and to be delighted in, it’s not my job to assure that treatment. God doesn’t give me the guarantee of being treated well. He didn’t ask it for himself.
I am loved by the God of the universe. He is holy, high and lifted up. He hates sin. He HATES for people to hurt me, his daughter.
I have 2 children. They are confident in Mama’s love for them. They are equally confident that there will be duress for the one who intentionally harms the other. (Occasionally the one who gets hurt will intervene on the other’s behalf, which is a whole other Gospel story). But God allows things to happen that make me crazy! There is so much trauma and suffering. I often advise him to intervene. It’s bad PR if nothing else. It’s a wonder he doesn’t just end us, as in Noah’s day.
While we’re on the notion of my infinite wisdom and better-than-God’s judgement, I assure you that I find, when I am honest, that I am the betrayer, the liar, the rager, the murderer, the addict. How can I ask for forgiveness but be unwilling to forgive? We are the Lord’s. We can let go of being the victim. And we can let go of retaliation. We can trust God to do what is right with his world, even in the face of devastation.
The real mystery of forgiveness is how God, never having needed anyone to forgive him, still made a way to forgive us, reaching down for love’s sake, to take our punishment onto himself so that he could welcome us home. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.