Leading Your Family Through Betrayal

by Clay Gibbons

Dad stares out a window

A part of me hopes you don’t read this post. It is not one that I have enjoyed writing (and I’ve certainly not enjoyed experiencing betrayal!). Yet, we live in a fallen world and we are and do coexist with fallen people. Some are believers and others are not, but all are capable of doing grievous harm to a believer’s soul. The betrayal of a friend is even more pronounced when that friend is a believer, and yet even more so when it comes from an elder. I am not referring to a disagreement or a miscommunication but an outright betrayal.

A short time ago, we as a family placed our trust in a friend who unexpectedly turned on us. We watched in confusion as he broke his word and became contemptible towards us. The fallout of this betrayal was substantial for our family; all the children were aware of what had happened. As I have spoken to many other believers and elders following our episode, we have learned this type of hurt is depressingly too common.

Most likely, as believers we will all go through situations when a friend will sin against us, and it will hurt. This will most likely be a sin of the tongue: gossip, deceit, promise-breaking, slander, or some terrible combination. Since this hurt was not limited to me, what became immediately apparent and burdensome was the effect on us as a family. We were all asking “why?” Why would God allow this? Why would a Christian man act in such an unbelieving way?

I needed God’s wisdom to help navigate these treacherous waters of bitterness. I did not want this to become a moment that engendered doubt or animosity in my children’s hearts towards God himself and his people. As we have imperfectly walked through this experience, here are a few points to consider:

Search your heart

There are two sides to every conflict. No one is above sinning and offending a brother. As with any interpersonal conflict, the right thing for you to do, no matter who you are, is to see where you have sinned. The right thing for me to do in this situation was to determine if I was guilty of harming my brother.

This is Christ’s principle of removing the log in Matthew 7:1–5, but it is an exceedingly hard act to implement. Before dwelling on the sin of my offender, I had to humble myself and ask God to show me where I had sinned. Once those sins or benign blunders became clear, no matter how insignificant, I was bound by God to seek out my brother and confess and seek reconciliation. This is such an important rule for marriage and for parenting, as well.

It is right to initiate reconciliation by confessing your own guilt even if it is so slight and the other party’s sin is so egregious. Paul clearly warns us (Gal. 5:25–26) that a conceited mindset will provoke our brothers and prevents us from walking with the Spirit. The converse of conceit is humility and meekness.

Guard your heart

Sin hurts and betrayal especially stings; our flesh wants retribution. This desire for justice is natural and can be Christ-like but it can easily become fleshly. To guide my family correctly I had to start with my own response. I struggled with wanting to show him “who he was messing with” and vent my anger. Paul’s words struck me to the heart:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil… (2 Timothy 2:24)

By God’s grace, I am to patiently endure evil. This reminded me again of one of my mentor’s common admonishments about our attitude: “It is never wrong to be gracious.” My heart didn’t want to be gracious, rather I wanted to be caustic. I had to ask the Lord daily to help my heart because out my heart my mouth was speaking.

Guard your tongue

When I speak, my heart’s thoughts and desires become public (or at least open to my family). Our children had never experienced this type of hurt before, so they looked to us to know how to react. I needed help to guard my tongue. My flesh wanted to erupt in sinful rants. The man that hurt us is a believer but made a grievous sinful error. I could not repeat his sin by slandering him and gossiping about him to my wife and children.

As we had so recently experienced, words inflict wounds that often take much longer to heal than physical injuries. Our words have a lasting effect. Truly the tongue is a fire and can bring about instant and ardent hurt. So rather than using my tongue to bring about further destruction and provoking wrath (Proverbs 15:1), by God’s grace I should use my tongue to soothe and bring about peace and growth (Proverbs 15:4). Not an easy task when we have been hurt!

Don’t ignore the hurt.

One mistake that we might often make is to ignore the hurt. Because it is so easy to sin with our tongue, we often avoid talking about how we are hurting. Admitting pain and weakness is a hard but very necessary thing. It does have a ripple effect. We don’t like to show and discuss how much we are hurting in our church family, within our own family, or even with God.

It is easy to think that the best Christian and father is immune to pain or can just grit his teeth and press on. God has provided us with other believers to pray and comfort us in times of hurt. While I was wrestling with the hurt, my wife came alongside and encouraged me. Likewise, at other times, I encouraged her with God’s faithfulness. I openly asked the children what they were thinking and feeling about the hurt. I was surprised by hearing how clearly they perceived and how acutely they felt.

Our talks exposed some of those seeds of doubt, bitterness and anger. We then prayed about these things and applied the scriptures to them. If we had just decided it was too painful to discuss (which we considered doing because it seemed easier), then I would have missed those indicative thoughts. The children could have nursed them for months and years to come allowing them to fester in their hearts.

This is an ongoing process; one of the main themes to which we are frequently circling back is the promise of God’s providence. We don’t know how God will use this for His good and ours, but we are anticipating answers in the months and years to come.

Pray for the Lord to protect

Here is where we continue to live. We are flawed parents and we need God to do the work. This has to be the posture of any godly growing father. The children we are stewarding need God to quicken and shape and protect their hearts. I can do my best from the outside but only God truly knows their hearts. We have gone back to God daily and asked Him to protect the children’s hearts against bitterness.

There is no shortage of stories in churches today in which a young person has been through something traumatic and it grows into a watershed moment of trust to bitterness. I am sure we all know people who blame God and His people for their hurt. These individuals can react wrongly, but the sin of others could be a constant stumbling block.

As a father I can do my best to prevent a hurt becoming such a stumbling block, but most of all I need God to protect their vulnerable hearts.

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