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Thursday, April 23, 2009

COPING WITH BETRAYAL

J. Grant Swank, Jr.


When I was first in ministry, I wondered why older clergy and their spouses frequently looked tired and aloof. At gatherings, they would be somewhat distant. It was as if a screen had been put up between their inner selves and the rest of the world.


Even among the more gregarious, there was that subtle, wary look that kept the eyes surveying the scene, a protective radar at work.


I would say to myself, "Aw, come on, let your hair down and be yourself. Open up a bit. Enjoy!"


Yet the shielding continued, so that for years I never really knew some of the colleagues I would see the most often.


Now I have been in the pastorate over 30 years. I believe I have figured out why the older ones had been distant.


With some of them, they had died inside due to betrayal. With others, they were struggling to survive.


What brought this on?


In large part, it had been the surprise of betrayal--not realizing that it was really there. Those pastors and pastors' wives started in the ministry with the sincere desire to save the world for Jesus. They wanted to be a friend to mankind on behalf of a kind Creator.


However, as time went on, they discovered that their naive, open vulnerability cost them something.


Betrayal's sword the worst to bare.
For friendship promised, treason seized,
And thus dared prostitute the name
Of honored Friendship, crushed its reed.


Betrayal is an experience that we do not want to admit to; therefore, we do not talk about it. After all, we are professionals; many of us are perfectionists with extremely sensitive personalities.


Most of us have lofty achievement aspirations; to admit defeat in friendship bindings can be traumatic.


Consequently, it is one of the most painful of the occupational hazards.


Too often as giving pastors and wives, we have been regarded by our parishioners as being so close to God that we have no feelings. If they turn on us--subtly or obviously--they think we can take it, for we are not all that human. We can withstand anything.


However, we are human; and aching desperately to embrace the human race for God, we are cut deeply by these surprise attacks from our parishioners.


No one told us that when we visit regularly and try our best to deliver those stirring sermons, and at the same time craft a smoothly operating church program to meet the needs of the young and old, there would still be some who would turn in dissatisfaction "to do us in."


I have had fellow parsonage couples say to me, "The very ones I gave my blood for have turned on me."


"I thought I was doing what they wanted done; now they tell me I'm not doing anything right."


"The ones I had in for evening meals are the ones who have set up the coalitions to get rid of me."


"The ones I had thought to be trusted are the ones who have been the most vicious."


Because we fear being considered inferior to the task, the wounds of the job are whispered only in private with the very select; and even they are held in guarded suspicion.


After all, political snares are here and there, who knows where? After a while, we wonder if anyone, especially within the ecclesiastical machine, can be truly trusted with the inner questions of the occupation.


I recall one pastor and wife who--in an off-guarded moment--opened up to his superior. He candidly spilled out his frustrations, only to be grilled by the very one who should have extended an understanding hand.


In sharing this with still another parsonage couple, the minister seeking help reasoned that his superior had attacked him because of the latter's own jealousies of the pastor's accomplishments in other endeavors.


Somehow there has to be a solution, at least a partial one, if we want to conclude that it is too soon to die inside.


1. For starters, we must admit to reality. We must confront the truth of betrayal in the ministry, some of it coming from parishioners and some coming from other clergy.


It is simply one of the negatives of existence. To gloss over it is to submit to a positive thinking that is not true to fact.


Some of us think we are unspiritual if we admit that betrayal exists in the church. We are always playing a game of erasing the hurting facts.


We keep manufacturing mirages, usually furnishing these with traditional, religious clich├ęs. All of this merely complicates the process of analysis and solution seeking. Calling a spade a spade is not admitting to being an unspiritual disciple. It is using the logic of
Jesus, who commanded His followers to be as wise as serpents.


2. We must turn the betrayals over to God, even though this is
particularly difficult emotionally. When we give so much to help certain persons, only to have those same individuals silently leave or stab us in the back, the shock is hard to take.


Nevertheless, the wounds are to be given over to the Lord for His balm. Thankfully, He can heal our pain. After all, He has been betrayed since the Fall. We are the visual victims of the continuing betrayal against God. Imagine the ache that has been forced upon the eternal heart. It anyone can empathize, it is He.


3. We must share the frustrations of the vocation with our family. They will sense our dilemma, for many times we have taken our hurt out on them. We need to ask for their understanding during the severe seasons by telling them about our disappointments. They will surround us with special care. This can often be the life that God uses to keep our inner self alive.


Sometimes we keep our hurts to ourselves rather than burdening our spouses. In turn our spouses may also harbor their own bruises rather than communication them to us.


Eventually, the pileup of pain produces a network overload. Something, then, has to give. And more times than not, the "giving" is not pleasant.


The wise move is to share the hurt with our spouses. Dialogue develops understanding. Opening up eases the hurt and gives a more precisioned perspective. A practical, team spirit forms, which enables both partners to have greater strength in carrying the load.


Coupled with this, we need to keep our families in high priority. This does not set well with those of us clergy who have been taught to put family way down in the listing, thinking that such sacrifice is expected by the Lord.


Nevertheless, nowhere in the Bible does God ask such from the pastors; instead, it has been a part of the ministerial myth, particularly within religiously conservative groups.


As the wounded pastors and wives, we can find great solace from our families if we have been keeping close to them all along. This obviously means then that we enjoy our spouses and children by spending time with them--partying, picnicking, making time for recreation, sharing the children's homework, reading to the younger ones, buddying up with the older ones.


We can then conclude that if any persons can finally be trusted not to be betrayers, it will be those under our own roof. What a boon!


4. We must develop meaningful friendships outside the congregation. It is so easy to become so hounsebound with our parishioners that we put aside to a future date the making of companionships "on the outside." Yet when betrayals surface, where will we go? To whom will we turn?


After all, the ones within the congregation cannot be our closest friends. Parishioners want a respectable, professional distance with their clergy even in this supposed relaxed age when everyone is trying to be so open with one another.


The Bible commissions us to perfect our people in the image of Christ; this can be best done when we do not allow ourselves to be open to compromise for the parishioners' laxities. Instead, by maintaining a proper distance with our own in the church, we give ourselves the leverage to still pronounce with freedom, "Thus saith the Lord,."


Friendships outside the congregation are a must. These may be with other clergy. More importantly, they may be with clergy of other groups.


The latter, after all, pose little if any threat when it comes to betrayal. They are not a part of the political machine in which we find ourselves.


Making ties with laity outside the local church is also helpful. Such alliances permit friendship sharing that will not revolve around the shoptalk of the local group. These friendships engender freer relationships. Fellowship on the outside may find a meaningful level by mail and telephone contact.


I have a very good friend who lives 3000 miles away; yet we communicate openly by letter. Another minister friend is half a continent removed; he phones regularly for an hour's chat!


When the betrayals surface, these friends will be used by God as legitimate buffers. They will be there--tried and trusted.


They will listen. They will empathize. They will understand.


5. Understand that betrayal is a part of life in general. The hurts of the ministry are especially deep in that frequently the betrayals are double-edged--betraying God and the minister of God.


Further, the betrayals often trigger eternal consequences with the chance that souls may be forever lost.


Yet on lesser levels betrayals are common to the Fall. Therefore, to sympathize with laity who experience the death inside, we must also walk that path just as Jesus walked it.


6. Look on the betrayals from the long range. Ten years from now it will be difficult to recall the names of most who betray today.


Yet how often do we wake in the morning with the faces of the opposition staring at us from the mirror?


Let us wipe away those faces as best we can and move on to other things, putting into working practice the guidelines above.


Moving on to other things can healthily mean that we do something other than church work for a day or two. Get away to another part of the country. Go to the library or coffee shop for a day. Enjoy some sport. Travel overnight to some relatives.


It is encouraging to note how the change of scenery--even for a short while--can drain our retaliatory feelings relating to betrayal. Simply seeing another environment, chatting with other people, moving the body into other activity does rejuvenate the mind. Then when returning to the job, the air is clearer. The burden is lighter.


One day a friend of mine phoned from out of state. He wondered if he could bunk out at our parsonage for several days.


He had been undercut; the pressure was too great at home base so that he simply needed to get away.


Fortunately, we had been friends for years, so that his house was always open to me, and my house was always open to him.


After he had completed his visit, he thanked me for "the island" our home had provided him--an escape from the vice that had been squeezing him in.


At least he had sense enough to deal positively with his emotions when under fire. He had realized that a change of place was what he needed in order to get back on the track. This holds true for pastor's wives as well.


Having experienced betrayal, we are more cautious in choosing close friends. However, we must not be so gun-shy as to give up. There are those out there whom God will reveal to be true.


I know what it has been to be tossed about by ones I counted on as friends; and I also know--thank God--that He has provided others to fill in the vacuum. And these others are more dear to me than life
itself.