Coping with Betrayal

Rev. Deb Koster

April 11, 2021

Betrayal can come in many forms. Your child blatantly defies you, your husband is caught cheating, a dear friend stops returning your calls, a colleague claims credit for your work, or maybe God did not heal a loved one's illness as you expected. Betrayal in any form awakens in us a desire for justice and a righteous anger.

It is hard to keep the positive attitude that Job professes. He experienced great loss, and yet said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”(Job 1:21).

So how do we keep the pain that we experience from crippling us?

Assume good intentions

Sometimes the behavior speaks for itself, but often our minds want to jump to conclusions about the intent behind the hurtful actions. We are tempted to think first of the worst possible motivations. It is easy to jump ahead to anger, but it is wiser to start by giving one another the benefit of the doubt. Tell yourself to assume the best intentions. Perhaps your child lied because they are desperate for approval, or maybe a coworker genuinely misunderstood what was being asked of them. How might our outlook change if we choose to believe that as broken people we are all doing the best we can with what we have. This is not to dismiss bad behavior, but prevent us from assuming the most evil of intentions and rushing into self-pity or anger.

Express your concerns

Some burdens are too heavy for us to bear alone. God has given us the gift of community to carry us through the challenges of life. A listening ear is a blessing in difficult times.

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6.2).

Find safe people where you can express your concerns and pour out your heart. A wise counselor can help you process the pain, speak truth to power, and set boundaries to keep you from being injured in the same way again. Sharing the burden you are carrying can lighten the load.

Grieving the loss

The pain of betrayal is a loss that needs to be grieved. The break in trust rocks our foundation and leaves us disoriented and emotional. God cares about each tear that falls. Tell God about the pain your heart is feeling. The Psalms are full of lament poured out before God. It is okay to be not all right and weep over the loss. We don't want to get stuck in lament, but it is healthy to express our hearts to God and leave our pain at his feet. He understand loss and betrayal and he can carry our pain.

Express righteous anger

Anger makes us uncomfortable as it does not feel like a godly emotion. We recognize that anger can be expressed in destructive ways. Yet anger in and of itself is not wrong. We are even told to be angry about the injustices that anger God.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).

If you are feeling angry, recognize the injustice that is at the root of your feelings. Anger is a secondary emotion that springs up out of our own pain, fear, and sense of threat. We should be angry about injustice and let it inspire our hearts to enact justice. Betrayal should be held accountable. A healthy expression of anger is to set boundaries around unhealthy behavior and allow people to experience the consequences of their actions.

Give yourself grace

We can often experience betrayal as trauma that gets lodged in our bodies robbing us of peace and rest. Elijah, on the worst of his days, spiraled into despair. The angel that attended him choose to look after his most basic needs by seeing to it that he rested and ate some food.

And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again (1 Kings 19:5-6).

A nap and a snack were acts of care for Elijah as his body was weary with the trauma he carried. It is important to avoid getting overwhelmed by our emotions by pausing to care for our physical needs. Rest and nutrition are healing acts of self-care. We may want to curl up in a ball and retreat from the pain but God doesn't want us to stay there. God calls us to engage in life and pursue the ministry that he has set before us, but he knows our frailty and looks on us with compassion and cares about our human needs.


We can forgive those who injure us and free ourselves from holding on to bitterness. Forgiveness is fundamentally giving up your right to vindication and letting God worry about justice. Yet, forgiving does not necessarily mean that there will be reconciliation of the relationship. Maybe trust can be rebuilt with time, or maybe, having followed Jesus' instructions in Matthew 18:15-20, you no longer align with them but pray for them as a sinner needing repentance. Significant boundaries might be needed to prevent further harm. Regardless of the status of the relationship, you can find healing by releasing the anger and allowing God to be responsible enact justice.

Trust God

Through a challenging season I found that God had placed an old hymn on my heart, reminding me to trust him even in times of sorrow. "Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne'er forsaketh." The words of Children of the Heavenly Father resonated with Job's testimony in scripture.

In painful seasons it is hard to trust God, much less praise him. It is sometimes hard to process the pain that we experience in this life, but God redeems it all for his purposes. Nothing will go to waste in God's economy as he uses our struggles to advance his kingdom. There will be a blessing in it even when it is hard to see.

Betrayal can feel isolating as we question if we can really trust again. But we are never truly alone. God walks with us through every challenge we face. He has promised to walk with us through the dark valleys (Psalm 23) and stay with us until the very end of time (Matthew 28). May you draw near to God in this time of pain and take comfort in the unfailing love God has for you as his beloved child.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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