Betrayal, Forgiveness, Empowerment

Years ago, I experienced a great betrayal. It could have been a devastating experience; indeed, it almost was. Were it not for the fact that I had a strong support network around me and that I had been “building” something in my life for many years before that betrayal, I believe it would have crushed me. (See my three-part series on How I Study the Bible for insight in to how and what I was building.)

Without sharing the details, let me just say that during that season of my life my sentiments were not unlike David’s lament in the Psalms, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” (Ps 55:12).

My whole world was rocked. I questioned myself, my faith, the word of God, etc. In the end, however, God won out. I acknowledged that He hadn’t betrayed me; man had. And because I valued His relationship above all others, I had no choice but to follow His command in such a situation and “forgive my debtors.”


Within a few short weeks after the climax of that betrayal, I was recovering and already somewhat stabilized (I have seen others never recover from such a blow. I was truly experiencing God’s grace). I was getting back to “life as normal” when one day, as I drove into a familiar parking lot, a wave of memories suddenly washed over me—memories from my last time at this precise location, a moment in time in which the betrayal was coming to light.

My mind reeled. I was blindsided by the rush of familiarity and the wave of negative emotions that seemed to come from nowhere. I parked the car and sat there trying to get my bearings. What was going on???

I felt the anger and hurt all over again as I vividly recalled the circumstances of my last visit at this very place. I fought off the tears that were quickly filling my eyes (I was momentarily meeting up with a group of people). I was sorrowful, and I was also deeply disappointed in myself. I thought I had forgiven, and yet here I was experiencing these all-too-familiar emotions once again.

The previous few weeks since the “great betrayal,” I had been working valiantly on forgiving and moving on. Forgiveness was not optional; anything less would result in my internal destruction. And now, here I was back at square one, it seemed. It felt as if I had made no progress at all, that what I thought was forgiveness was just some kind of facade.

One Memory at a Time

As I sat in the car that day, surprised by the return of painful and vivid details, and also reeling from what I perceived as a spiritual failure (failure to forgive), I mumbled a heartfelt, though very simple, cry from the very depths of my soul. “God, how can I forgive…” and I enumerated the list of offenses that this location had evoked from my memory.

It was then that I heard His calm, quiet Voice speak within: “Forgive one memory at a time.”

I thought I had worked through a process of forgiveness during the prior weeks, but in hindsight, I see that I had really only made a choice and a commitment to forgive. The thorough act of forgiveness would only take place over time—as fresh memories of deceit, betrayal and wrongdoing were revealed or recalled. Each time a memory rose to the surface of my consciousness, I would have to work through the process again: remember it, experience the pain, make the choice once again to forgive—i.e., relinquish the right to resent, repay, be bitter—and leave any retribution (or not!) in the hands of God. Then move on.

A one-time dose of forgiveness may be possible for petty offenses, but for those offenses that might better be described as “betrayal,” it takes time. Lots of it. This does not mean that you seethe in bitterness while working through the process. No, it’s much cleaner than that. It means that you break the forgiveness—true forgiveness—down into “bite-sized” chunks and deal with each issue that must be forgiven thoroughly and completely.

The quicker we make the initial choice to forgive, the more “natural” the follow-through will be. There won’t be the struggle of “Will I?”; instead it will be more of an acknowledgement of “Here I go again” and a commitment to the completed process.

Making that initial choice to forgive was a defining moment for me. It shaped my life in ways I could not know until years later. It kept me from becoming bitter, resentful, cynical and hypocritical. Was it hard? Oh, yes! Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Setting the Offender Free

I once heard forgiveness described as “setting your offender free.” That description produced a mental picture for me of a couple of prisoners shackled together at the wrists and/or the ankles (we’ve all seen this in the movies). As I thought about that scenario, it dawned on me that neither prisoner was more or less bound than the other. They were both equally shackled.

What a revelation that proved to be! Even though I was the “victim,” the one betrayed, I was just as shackled as the betrayer if I persisted in any form of unforgiveness or retribution. This brought things into perspective for me. It motivated me to quickly and completely forgive—or as I came to refer to it, to release my offender.

From this visual, it becomes clear that forgiving others is doing yourself a favor! This sheds light on the proverb, “A kind [forgiving] man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” (Pro 11:17).

Defining Moment

This experience took place years ago, but as I said, it was a defining moment in my life. I have shared the principle of forgiving one memory at a time with many, many people, and it has proven to be just as powerful “second hand.”

Lately, new circumstances have caused some old memories to rear their ugly heads. At first, I was a little oblivious to what I was experiencing—until I began to recognize some of the internal agitation that accompanies an unforgiving heart. I began to practice the one-memory-at-a-time forgiveness, and again, I experienced the same release that I felt all those years ago.

I would add one more observation from this more recent round of releasing my offender(s): It is empowering. True forgiveness removes any sense of victimization and puts you in the driver’s seat. I mean, if you have the “key” to remove the shackles, how could you possibly be a victim or a prisoner?

Picture is from the movie, The Defiant Ones, starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.
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18 Responses to Betrayal, Forgiveness, Empowerment

  1. Dell Ann Widemon says:

    This is great. Thank you Diane. Going through the processes of forgiveness did not happen for me over night. It was really quite an ugly process. But yet so freeing and Beautiful on this side of it.

  2. Baraka says:

    Thank you so much Diane for this, it meant a lot and I agree with every word and process up here, I’ve been painfully betrayed and I can’t help but marvel at how natural you put stuff up there. Like how you think you’ve forgiven then one memory takes you back to square one… It’s been months for me but I realized that in as much as it’s a deliberate personal move to forgive and let go from the shackles, the greater bit is surrendering to God to help you through it. There are days I literally feel I can’t take it anymore or I don’t know what direction to take but that trusting in him and fully surrendering helps me know that in this storm I am in, someone is walking with me and will not let me drown of I put my focus on Him.
    Thanks for this refreshing post.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for the comment, Baraka. I’m sorry for your betrayal, but I know for sure that you CAN make it. I hope you have close friends that you can lean on. For sure, I know you have a loving heavenly Father that has your best interests at heart. Lean on Him!

    • You’re not alone, Baraka!! I am so sorry you are going through this – it is so hard! Let’s agree together to let God plant a rose garden in our piles of poop! 😀
      He is a Redeemer! In time we will all be amazed at what He worked in us and through these crazy nasty seasons-
      The cross was crazy and nasty-

      look what He did with that 🙂

      • Baraka says:

        He Diane and Jennifer,
        For sure all we have in this whole forgiveness process is to trust God to redeem us through and help us release. Infact the hurt gets worse when it’s froma member of the body of Christ. But like you’ve all said we lean on God in this and pray that with the recurring bitterness and memories one day all these will be gone and we’ll probably laugh out at the whole process while helping someone who’s in a similar situation.
        I strongly believe Diane’s process was for me, to help me see that it’s possible with God and time and so as I re-read this post I am resting assured that my story will help someone someday and in that all glory will be to God who allowed it. One day we’ll say we went through the murky waters and He got us out and cleaned us from the inside out.
        Thanks lovelies.

  3. Sherri says:

    I remember. I remember watching you from afar. I remember praying for you. I remember seeing God’s hand upon you in such a powerful way. I remember visiting you just a few years ago and seeing that same mighty hand of our God still upon you. I saw His faithfulness to His daughter who loved Him first.
    I had to forgive, too. Forgiveness is hard and sometimes messy but the journey brings amazing closeness to the One who forgave us all.
    You have written it down beautifully and was such loving truth. Truth with a plan and purpose. I highly respect you and honor you for the women of God that I see as you live joyously for your Lord. 💗

  4. jason says:

    Great post Diane. I believe this will be very valuable for some of my patients.

  5. This is so amazingly poignant for me. I was gob-smacked at the first section of the post – as I felt it was my own blog- but curiously not written by me??! Haha
    I had the same “triggered by location/pull into a parking lot and unravel/snot all over the steering wheel” moment well after I Thought I was “better ” as I had also committed to forgiveness and was making tremendous headway in feeling normal again.
    I can’t wait to try the individualized, specific forgivenesses and see what freedom comes! Lord, let it be!

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. I trust for great freedom and empowerment for you! I can encourage you that, after all these years, the pain is gone. God is a Redeemer! Press on!

  6. Maria Kehr says:

    Thank you so much for writing this down, Diane! I can say from experience it is true, when we forgive it sets us free, too and things can begin to grow that would never otherwise.

  7. Kimberly Baird says:

    Thanks so much for sharing so authentically Diane! Your process is such an encouragement to me 🙂

  8. Mele O'Brien says:

    Thanks Diane. I’ve been taught the truth that whenever I am put in any crises it is how I respond that makes the difference; now coming across your experience it seemed very detailed and practical in how to deal with unforgiveness and other similar negative experiences. I can only thank God for your obedience to God that is now benefiting people across the world.

I love to read your comments!