Brothers & Sisters,
I've been thinking a lot about second chances lately. I think this is the next layer of the "forgiveness onion" that has filled this site over the past couple of weeks. If you haven't read my posts on forgiveness, you might want to start there and then come back to this one. You can read my original thoughts here.
After we've started to understand that we need to forgive to move on from when someone has wronged us the next decision if they're a person who was present in our lives is whether or not this person gets a second chance to continue to be present in our life. One thing is, and we should get this out of the way right now, it is impossible to give someone a real second chance without forgiving them. I also believe that by forgiving that person you've broken the chain that has been wrapped around you by them, and you now will find yourself at a crossroads in your relationship. Do you take one path and mend the wounds that were inflicted upon you together or do you take the other route, walk away and carry the baggage that is those wounds with you for the rest of your days? I'm presenting two stark differences here for a reason (and probably for some dramatic effect as well). I want you to know that while you indeed can turn back from the single road at any point and try to repair that relationship you've already started to pack away tiny little bits of hurt that won't ever leave you and will make the return trip much, much harder.
Let's talk about the first path and its challenges. You've forgiven the person that has betrayed you, and you want them to be a constant in your life still. Amen, I say to you, Amen! Forgiveness and openness aren't easy, it's scary, and you're putting a lot of trust in this person never to do you wrong again. Could they betray you again? Yes, absolutely. And you'll be presented with the two paths all over again. What are your family or friends going to think about you allowing this person to stay in your life? I'd hope that they all know you well enough to know that you're an intelligent and compassionate human being that has thought this through and see that you made the right decision. I'd also hope they support you in this decision and not mock you if this person betrays you again. For if they do mock or show no support, they aren't any better than the person that has betrayed you for the second time.
One of the glorious things that could happen through all of this is you now get much closer with this person than you ever were before. You need to have the conversation about why they did what they did to you. And it needs to happen sooner rather than later, and it's going to be painful. I'd caution you do not have any expectations of the outcome of this conversation and make sure that you continue to have an open mind. You're both in a vulnerable spot right now, and you need to open your hearts to each other and show support as you step through this. Don't treat this as if you're going through it all over again, that's not the point. The point here is to find out the why and to make sure that the person who betrayed you understands more than ever that all they had to do was have a conversation with you in the first place and you would have helped them in any way you possibly could have. Perhaps you'll learn that even though you thought you were close, there were things you kept from each other that you should never have. I guarantee you won't do that again.
I find most times that we are the victims of betrayal it's because that person is in such a dark spot that they see no other way out. We've all been there at one point or another in our lives and if we could do it differently, we would. There's no denying this. But if we just knew in our hearts that before we betrayed someone we knew we could reach out to them for help then perhaps we'd still have that friend, wife, brother, mother in our lives today. So while this letter is mainly for the person that was betrayed, please understand that at some point in our lives we're all going to be the one doing the betraying, we aren't perfect. I'd also argue that there is a certain level of unconsciousness that happens when we ultimately betray someone, but that's a much broader topic for another time.
After you've gotten through the why's of it all, you now have the challenge of trusting this person unconditionally as if they were your brother or sister. Trusting someone who betrayed you can be a difficult step for you to make but remember you already took the most significant step and forgave them and the next step by choosing to walk down the path with them together. So really this next step isn't even close to being as big as the other two, and yet I am sure this is the one that is going to give you the most trouble. Forgiveness isn't easy but requires an entirely different set of tools than trusting someone does. Forgiveness is much more about you not holding onto any hate or malice in your heart that you might have for someone. Trust involves your heart and mind working together and understanding that the person in front of you is going to be present in your life and you must accept them. Put away their past transgressions and embrace who they are right now in the present.
I firmly believe that this is where the wheels often fall off the veritable bus. What's sad is you've made it so far, and yet you allow your mind to take over and fill your heart with that darkness that you felt when the betrayal happened. Dealing with our overactive minds is difficult because for most people as our brains are wired to incessantly worry about the past and dread the future when placed into a situation like this. Eckhart Tolle gives us a simple lesson that fits this thought perfectly:
You see my brothers and sisters once we're able to fully forgive someone, welcome them back into our lives, trust them entirely we start to mend our wounds, break our chains and fully embrace what it means to be loving human beings. You will struggle with these things but understand that the other person is also going through their struggles which directly mirror yours. Showing the person that betrayed us great compassion and immediately lifts them up, fills their heart with our love while at the same doing the same for ourselves.
This my friends is the dangerous path to take and I'd caution you against ever going this way. As much as you want to believe that it is not you who burned the bridge in the relationship and it's the person that betrayed you please understand that a bridge has connections at both sides and while one person can burn one side it also takes a conscious effort from the other person to burn the other side. So please, before you torch it all, pray, talk to someone whose opinion you value and know they will point you in the right direction. Do not go it alone.
Did you forgive the person and still decide to walk away? I'd challenge you on the why. Did you need to feel better about being you? Do you feel better? I'd like to think that you don't feel better. At this juncture forgiving someone and walking away is an egotistical move that doesn't heal you, doesn't give you any grace and won't ever make you feel better. Your wounds will continue to fester, and at some point, the wrongs that you've never shed will start to take over who you are and become part of you.
Some of you might say "but Jeff I'm great at compartmentalizing things when someone does something to me." I'd be the first one to tell you that I also used to think I was excellent at compartmentalizing things but it turns out all you're doing is bottling up the poison for another day. After a while, the cork starts to rot, and the poison slowly begins to seep into your heart and soul.
I'd also challenge you to consider the broken soul you're leaving behind on the ground, weeping and weary knowing they wronged you and probably waiting to see what your first step is. There's a good chance that the person who hurt you will apologize and then be waiting for you to act. It's on you to make that decision, and they cannot decide that they still want to be present in your life. That decision was taken from them when they betrayed you. Now, if you decide that you want them to stay in your life, they are now presented with the option to accept or walk away. I'd venture to guess most will stay and hardly will ever walk away. Do you see the circle that we've just created? Wonderful isn't it?
Now some of you might be thinking that I'm not talking about what to do when you decide to walk away from a relationship after someone has betrayed you. There is a simple reason and one that should be quite clear by now as to why I'm not talking about it. It's because you shouldn't. It's the wrong path 100% of the time. How do I know? Because I've been betrayed before and have done the betraying and every time I walked away and was walked away upon I felt more broken than I ever had been before and it took years to recover from it. To this day I still suffer from some of the effects of betrayal that happened to me years ago. Could you imagine how many marriages would still be together if the two people worked through the deception instead of taking the easy road to divorce? Ever wonder what a former friendship might be like now had you decided not to walk away from that person? All things to ponder I suppose.
This is hard
I never said this was going to be easy. It's not and don't think for a minute that it ever gets more comfortable. Forgiveness in and of itself takes years, and very few people can ever forgive entirely without taking years to develop it. Trust is a significant pillar of our being. If a trust has been broken we often feel that it has to be earned back but never want to give the person who needs to earn a path to do so. If you're giving someone a second chance at gaining your trust, then you must be willing to trust them entirely and not just go through the motions believing that they'll betray you again.
I'll walk with you to the ends of the earth my brothers and sisters even if you betray me. We'll get through the hardships together; we'll learn from each other and most of all show each other love and compassion.