How to Forgive a Friend Who Betrays You
“You don’t even know us well enough to not like us,” I wanted to say in a smirky tone. I could tell from day one that the new computer teacher didn’t like me or my husband. He wouldn’t smile or joke around with us as he did with the other staff and faculty, and when I asked a question, he mumbled an answer without looking me in the eye.
Baffled by an Unexpected Admission
For twelve years, I wore a few different hats at a Christian boarding high school founded in 1924. I served as activities director; oversaw the publications, including the student newspaper; and coached an award-winning cheerleading squad.
Michelle, who taught art, was my closest friend on staff. She was an exceptional artist—creative and fun. Through a string of events, Michelle was appointed superintendent in the middle of a school year, which changed our relationship. She was more aloof, but I didn’t let it bother me. She had a lot on her plate, and it was generous of her to fill the gap when the previous superintendent resigned due to a family emergency. But as our friendship continued in a downward spiral, I wondered, what had changed?
Several months passed and the computer teacher warmed up to us. One evening we invited him and another teacher to dinner in our home as a break from cafeteria food. During the conversation, he told us that on his first day, he had been called into Michelle’s office.
“I was informed that you didn’t want international students at the academy.” Turning to my husband, he said, “I knew you designed the website and she said you had sabotaged it so the international students couldn’t find the school. And so I didn’t like you.” After an embarrassed pause he added, “It’s obvious you love the international students.”
My husband and I were baffled. It was one thing for Michelle to grow cold toward us, but quite another to tell a deliberate lie. I tried to push this to the back of my mind and concentrate on my work and my involvement with the students, which I loved. But it wasn’t easy in a small school with staff and faculty living in campus housing and sharing meals in the cafeteria.
Impure Motives and Unforeseen Changes
I wasn’t innocent in all this. There were many un-Christlike responses in my head. And then I did something that I thought was a good thing until I fully realized my wrong motive. As that school year wound down, I scheduled a meeting with Michelle with these verses in mind from Matthew 5:23-24:
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
The meeting was a disaster.
I confronted Michelle not for the sake of making things right between us, but so she would know that I knew she lied (more than once) about us. I didn’t clearly see this until afterward when the Holy Spirit was kind enough to prod and poke as I recognized my true motive.
When it was time to let the administration know our intent for the coming school year, after much prayer, I submitted my resignation. Not because I’m a quitter, but because my husband and I felt that God was using this incident to push us out of a comfortable nest, a nest where we were the beloved Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.
On the Monday after graduation, I was scheduled to chaperone a group of students on a two-week, educational tour of Europe. A handwritten note showed up in my box in the office: “Please have your home vacated by June 24.” Which would allow one week to pack after I returned from Europe. One more blow to my bruised places.
If an enemy is defined as someone who is actively opposed to you, who spreads lies about you and tries to defame your character, then my once-close friend had become my enemy.
3 Steps to Forgive a Friend Who Betrays You
That entire next year, I worked at forgiving Michelle. And then, going about my day in our new life in a new town, something would remind me of the past events, and I’d feel a tension well up in my chest. This went on for a while—the forgiveness, the remembrance, the anger, the forgiveness, the remembrance, the anger. And eventually the victory.
There were three specific ‘forgiveness practices’ that helped me during that season that I hope can empower you, as well:
Pick up the sword of the Spirit.
In Ephesians 6, the Word of God is likened to a sword when it comes to spiritual warfare: “Put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil … and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
I memorized a verse so I would have my ‘sword’ handy when my spiritual enemy harassed me with the hurtful memories: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
When a hurtful memory surfaced, I’d wield my sword (speaking the verse out loud when I was in a private location).
Pray for your enemy.
Even when I didn’t feel like it at the beginning, I prayed for Michelle. “Father, may she know your goodness and kindness this day. Guide her steps, give her wisdom in her work, draw her closer to your heart. Bless her out of your abundance.”
I may not have meant every word of those prayers at the start, but as I practiced praying good things for Michelle, I eventually meant them.
Control your tongue.We have the power to speak death or life to ourselves and others because words are powerful: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue …” (Proverbs 18:21).
There are at least two ways that it does deep harm to speak ill of people who have wronged us: A) It taints how the listener feels about that person, and B) it embeds the old hurt and anger deeper into our own spirits.
And so I asked God to help me control my tongue, and I told my husband about my prayer so he could help hold me accountable.
Revisiting the Hurt
A year later, we were to attend our family reunion in the same town as the academy. I had a feeling that Michelle—who had never acknowledged any wrongdoing—would show up at our campsite and give me a hug as if nothing had happened, and I knew it would take grit and grace to face her with kindness.
By that time, it seemed I had truly forgiven her, so the thing I dreaded most was if her appearance would drudge up all those old feelings of animosity. I dreaded beginning the long forgiveness journey all over again.
Sure enough, Michelle parked her car and walked across a meadow in my direction. She smiled and gave me a big hug, as if she had not spent an entire school year letting us know we were not wanted on campus.
But here’s the coolest thing: I felt none of the old anger or resentment. I smiled back and made small talk, and there were no negative emotions present in any of that exchange. Thank you, Jesus!
Not long after, I learned that Michelle had been let go from her leadership position because of mishandling of finances. When I heard the news, instead of rejoicing that a reckoning had come to my enemy, my heart was saddened. This is when I knew that I had truly forgiven my once close friend who had campaigned to be rid of us.
God Is Our Advocate In the Hard Places
I learned two important things during that painful season of rejection from a place of ministry that I loved: Even when we’re unaware that we need an Advocate, God is working behind the scenes defending us. And I learned that forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. But it does happen as we persist in repentance and prayer.
I look back and see several good reasons for us to leave that town and that job when we did. We couldn’t have known that my husband would be diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and we’d need the excellent medical care that came with the new location. I didn’t know I’d get a job at that cancer center and make a slew of friends—co-workers and the cancer community that we served—who would surround us with so much love and compassion as my husband was dying.
When an event happens that we wouldn’t have written into our stories, what if we looked for the good that could come from the hard places?
I’m living proof that we can.
Are you struggling with the thought of forgiving someone who did you wrong? It might help to look at forgiveness this way: