Thursday, May 17, 2012

Betrayal, Forgiveness and Thank You, God!

We both sat on the edge of her bed with tears streaming down our cheeks. 
This story began a long time ago.
Betrayal violently assaulted me. I had loved and along with me, that love was betrayed. The betrayal surfaced in layers, one revelation worse than the last until I felt filled with the hurt.

I am a follower of Jesus, a Christian. I say that with no pompousness or supposition that it somehow makes me holy. I am not particular holy. But I love Jesus. I have attempted to allow that love to dictate most of my middle-aged decisions. I have come to believe fully that God loves me – broken and so less-than-perfect. I am convinced he loves me anyway.

That conviction led me to fight against that betrayal. I feared that if I let my spiritual guard down for even a day the hate would overwhelm me. I didn't want that – none of me wanted that.

So I prayed – for my betrayer. I prayed a lot for him in the beginning, not as much now. Two chaplain friends helped me. I don't think I could have done it without them. They are beautiful people with open loving hearts. They knew what I was fighting. They helped me walk that very dark road. In between the prayers were sobs. I just couldn't help sobbing. You need to be brave to listen to someone's wailing. There were a lot of brave friends and family walking with me then. I will always be grateful for each and every one of them. 
Maybe it was my understanding of God's love for me that helped me to want to live. I knew my children needed me. I wanted to live for them but it was more than that – it was an attempt to see myself through God's eyes that kept me going. It was fall. I walked almost every day with my Saint Bernard, Winnie. We would walk along the river and through the pastures of a park nearby. They were not happy walks but something kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself that if I walked enough I wouldn't need anti-depressants. The beauty of the season was balm for my aching heart.

There were so many wonderful people loving me during that time. Friends still asked me for dinner even though they knew I wasn't good company. My sister welcomed me to her home. 

One day dear neighbors brought a bunch of goodies to my sister's for me -- a wonderful big pillow with pigs all over it that Kristi and her son made for me, pumpkin pancakes and a jack o' lantern. Each gift lovingly selected to make me feel better. 

It is my simplistic faith that allows me to think that's how it is with God. He loves us even at our worse.

A few months later I was again assaulted with information nobody should have to know. This time the betrayal spread. I learned I had been married to not only an adulterer, but a monster. 
I began the work of forgiveness again. I prayed for him. I sobbed again. This time for all the people hurt by his selfish narcissism. I still wanted to be whole. I wanted to be a woman of love and not hate. I was struggling. The horrible images of his offenses would haunt me. They would come up and never leave my stunned and shattered mind.

My loyal chaplain friends came and prayed over me. Michaelene begged Jesus to help me. Russell anointed me and prayed very specifically for those images to be gone. God answered those prayers. The night I was anointed I slept without my horrible companions prancing around in my mind. They have not returned to haunt my sleep. Thank you God!

Still, I continued to struggle with forgiveness. I could pray but I could feel no forgiveness. I could never envision saying, “I forgive you.” It was too big and too bad and just too much.

I heard about a healing retreat.  Forgiveness was one of the themes. I couldn't afford it and I needed to work.  I was working all the time by then in order to try to keep my home, still a huge source of solace.

I was praying with my friends in front of the Blessed Sacrament when Russell challenged me about why I wasn't going to the retreat. I explained that I couldn't afford it and I had to work. He whipped out three one hundred dollar bills and offered to fill in for me at my weekend job. Thank you God for wonderful friends.

So I went. 
A cocky priest gave a talk on forgiveness. I went to confession to him later. I said I was really struggling with forgiveness and he told me, “You just have to do it.”

I felt despair.  How could I possibly go beyond what I had done? I thought praying for him was enough but no, I had to forgive him.

One of the reasons I wanted to be at this retreat was to see one of the presenters, Kathleen McCarthy.  I had spoken to her on the phone about my situation. She had a similar experience.

It was her I wanted to talk to about this forgiveness question. She was in demand from the other retreatants.  At 12:45 in the morning, I received a life-changing gift.

I told her of my dilemma, that I prayed for this man, saying empty words but saying them anyway. Then she blew my mind.
Kathleen said, “Think about Jesus.”
But I had been thinking about Jesus.
“He was beaten, He was mocked. He was spit upon. He was stripped of his clothes. He was nailed to the cross,” she continued.
“What did he say on the cross?”
“He didn't say, 'I forgive you.' He said, 'Father, forgive them.' If Jesus couldn't do it. Why do you think you have to? Just ask our Father to forgive him, he'll take care of it. You don't have to.”
I stood there sobbing, but this time it was relief that fed my tears. The beautiful release washed over me, knowing I didn't have to try and do the impossible. I simply asked God to forgive him and that was enough.

Fast forward three years -- there I was with one of my precious psych patients. She was sobbing. She too was being asked the impossible. I was able to share the beautiful news that when we just can't will ourselves to forgive we can give it to our loving Father who will take it off our hands. Thank you God!