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The Burden of Betrayal

“I have been betrayed.” Everyone has uttered those words at one time or another in life. A friend of mine recently wrote her dissertation on the premise that anyone who is serious about being a leader in the Body of Christ has experienced a major betrayal from someone close to them – and we know of the betrayal Jesus Himself experienced.

A few years ago, I attended a spiritual retreat at a place called Shrine Mont in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The experience and the accompanying reading focused on deep self-reflection. In some ways, by God’s grace, I was right where I need to be. In other ways I found myself wanting.

Not too long before the retreat at Shrine Mont, my father, who was a godly man and one of my intercessors, sent me an e-mail where he shared something the Lord had told him about me in a time of prayer. It was somewhat of a "Revelation Churches" rebuke. The Lord said through my father that I have been doing a lot of good work for Him, but that I had allowed my heart to grow hard.

My first reaction was, “This is just my Dad being critical.”

But I know enough about the way that God works to not stop at my initial reaction. First of all, my father was a man of integrity who prayed often and listened for the Lord’s voice. He was an intercessor, and on this day, he was both praying and listening to what the Lord would say to me – and I had to admit that what he heard was from God. After some prayer and reflection I started to comprehend what the Holy Spirit was speaking to me about taking my commitment to Him to a higher level.

Dad was right – I had allowed my heart to be hardened. At this retreat, the Lord did a work of breaking up that hardened clay, reminding me that it was all about relationship with Him and that He is truly a God of love, despite the failings of mankind that we see and experience in this fallen world.

As I shared at the retreat, I had experienced a betrayal from someone who was close to me. I did everything I knew to do in my power to keep it from happening. But it did happen. And even though I know in my mind that God has given mankind a free will to choose whether to obey Him and to follow His commands, I also know that God is sovereign and He sees the end from the beginning. He knew this person was going to betray me, and yet he allowed me to go through the pain of this relationship.

Though I knew that this person made the decision to betray me, somewhere in my subconscious, I had put part of the blame on God. “Why didn’t you let me know this was what was lingering under the surface?” I wondered. During the retreat I came to the point where I realized that I was struggling with a subtle anger towards God concerning this betrayal.

On the second night of the retreat, one of the professors led us in an object lesson – one that will remain with me for the rest of my life. We were gathered in a rustic retreat center in the western mountains of Virginia, so far from civilization that we had to climb up to the third floor balcony of the 1870s-era hotel to pick up a signal on our cell phones -- can you imagine the inconvenience? The professor dumped a load of grapefruit-sized rocks onto the floor in the middle of our circle and then told us to choose a rock to represent the greatest burden that we were carrying. I selected the largest rock in the pile, since my burden seemed so large to me at the time.

Then he told us to go and pick up the rock we had chosen. Everyone moved in at once and by the time I got to the rock pile the one that I had picked was gone. I looked around and quickly picked up the next largest rock.

This rock was ugly. Other people even told me it was ugly. It was an oddly shaped, discolored, twisted piece of some sedimentary rock – and it was heavy.

I was not pleased later when the good professor told us that we were going to be carrying the rock with us until further notice – at that point there were still three-and-a-half days left in the retreat. He even told us to shower with the rock and to sleep with it. I could imagine showering with this ugly rock; it needed a good scrubbing. But I drew the line at sleeping with it. I placed it on the desk next to the bed and said goodnight to it each evening. That was enough for me.

I didn’t like taking the rock with me wherever I went. It was ugly. It was heavy. It was twisted and dirty looking. Other people had nicer rocks – I was actually jealous of them. Some of the other rocks were very nice shapes. Others were much smaller than my rock and easier to carry around. Some were so nice looking that I could see how they would be able to sleep with it without any problem, like a teddy bear or security blanket.

Mine needed a good scrubbing, but it would not come clean. It was stained. It was twisted. It was a pain. It reflected well the burden of betrayal that I had been carrying.

I didn’t like carrying that ugly, twisted thing with me everywhere. The metaphor was working.

But I had been betrayed at a very deep level and it continued to affect my life. As I pondered the ramifications of this situation with a friend we talked about the kind of forgiveness that was required in this level of betrayal. I have always believed in the adage that ‘forgiveness is given, but trust must be earned.’ I could forgive this person, but I could not imagine allowing that person close to me again. “How can you build a relationship with a person who has betrayed you publicly – and who never asked for forgiveness?” I asked.

“What about Jesus forgiving and restoring Peter?” my friend responded. “Peter never asked Jesus for forgiveness.”

I knew my friend was right. I bet he would have done the same for Judas had he lived, I thought. That’s why we need our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. They give us perspective that is sometimes clouded by our emotional state.

On the final night of the retreat we were led to an outdoor cathedral on the side of this mountain. This peaceful sanctuary had been built by hand over the years by Christians who volunteered their time to pull the rocks from the hillside, wash them, hewn them, and then join them together into the shape of an altar, a bell tower, and a baptismal. It was after dark when we arrived at the cathedral and we were greeted by dozens of burning candles on the altar. The professor stood before us and declared that it was time to lay our burdens down at the foot of Christ.

I was amazed at the turmoil that churned inside of me. This was a time of intimacy with God. It was a confrontation. He was requiring me to lay down my burden at His feet and at the same time to forgive Him.

It was an almost ludicrous thought – how could you forgive a holy and perfect God who is the embodiment of love? And yet there it was. There was no escaping it. By being a God of love, He had created a world in which His creation would have a free will to choose His path or to choose their own way. There was no getting around it. Love does not create robots for fellowship – that would defy the definition of love. Love must give freedom for others to not love in return. Love must give freedom for others to choose to go down their own paths, even if the end of that path is destruction.

Love must give freedom.

I carried my twisted, ugly, heavy rock, still in need of a good scrubbing, by myself to that stone altar in the midst of that wonderful cathedral. Even though my classmates sat on the hard wooden pews behind me, I was as alone as the day I was born and the day I will die. It was just me and a holy God. I knew that He knew my heart. I knew that He knew me better than I know myself. He knew my anger. He knew my frustration. He knew my loneliness. He knew my pain. He knew my fear. He knew that it was all real. But He also knew that I loved him.

And He knew that in the end, I trusted Him.

I understood that true love must include free will. I understood that a true Father disciplines His child. I knew that regardless of my feelings of self-importance and self-righteousness, I was just another sinner in need of a Savior.

I knew that the same love that gave us the free will to reject Him and to make the free choice to sin was the same love that sent a Savior to redeem us back to Himself – even when we didn’t want to be redeemed. I understood that it was His Spirit that wooed me from my earliest childhood to recognize Him as Father.

It was His Spirit that gave me insight into the meaning of First Corinthians, chapter 13, when my third grade teacher would discuss it in religion class. From my childhood I knew that God was love. And I knew that God was calling me to love.

Now, all these years later, I truly knew the cost of giving love and the consequences of choosing to love even when that love was not returned.

I knelt down before that altar and I raised that ugly, twisted, heavy rock, representing my burden that needed a good scrubbing, but would never come clean by any labors of my own, and I placed it with a thud on that stone altar.

“I surrender to You, Lord. I am yours. As long as I live I will serve you and obey you to the best of my ability with the help of your Holy Spirit.” I paused for a moment in my thoughts then continued. “I ask you to forgive me for my anger toward you.” Again I paused, forming the thought within me and then releasing the essential and inevitable final phrase, “And I forgive you for allowing me and my family to go through this trial.” I sighed deeply.

“I love you, Father. I love you, Jesus. I love you, Holy Spirit.” I looked up at the cross above the altar and at the flickering glow coming from dozens of small lit candles and determined to leave the burden there in God’s hands.

It was done. I will never forget Shrine Mont, that ugly rock, and that beautiful candle-lit altar. Like so many other biblical altars of remembrance, where righteous men and women wrestled with God, I too struggled at the base of this altar – and then I surrendered.

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