What Does It Mean to Lament After Betrayal?

by | Mar 27, 2024 | Abuse, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 27 comments

With thanks to Brazos Press for sponsoring this post.

Forgiveness is possible only after we’ve had the opportunity to name our losses.

That’s how Susannah Griffith opens the chapter on lamentations in her book Forgiveness After Trauma. We talked about the book on the podcast on Thursday, and I wrote a synopsis of some of her main points about what we may not understand about forgiveness on Friday. 

And the book launched yesterday, so you can now get it right away on Kindle or other e-reader, or get it delivered to your door!

Susannah Griffith Forgiveness After Trauma

This book made a profound effect on me. She calls it “trauma-informed forgiveness”, and she goes through the whole process of what biblical forgiveness means, what reconciliation means, and what reunification means, and how they are not all one and the same thing.

I’ve often struggled with a lot of the advice in Scripture, because it can seem contrary to mental health. We need boundaries. We can’t keep subjecting ourselves to abuse. 

And that’s what Susannah knew as well. She’s also a theologian and a pastor, and as she opens up Scripture on forgiveness, it becomes so much richer! And we see that it is actually rooted in our well-being, our wholeness, and on the health of the whole community.

Today I want to focus on one of the stages of forgiveness that we often ignore: lament.

When we’ve gone through a crisis, we often get in survival mode. We try really hard to function. We often still need to show up at a job. We still need to care for kids. We really don’t have time to process everything after a husband discloses porn use; after infidelity; after a separation over abuse. 

And that’s where Susannah was. She was coping, she was functioning, but she wasn’t healing.

So friends suggested that she lament–that she write out what she had lost. 

Here’s just a sample of what she wrote:

I lament the loss of innocence that came with the unfolding violence. I am not the person I was, nor will I ever be again.

I lament the loss of home, as the spaces I shared with [my husband] became unsafe.

I lament the loss of a dream of a family we would have together. 

I lament the loss of physical health, which emerged in different ways through this process, especially insomnia durin the peak of the abuse and the autoimmune diseases that I will have for the rest of my life. 

I lament that I was in the position of having to emotionally stabilize someone who had just abused me. 

I lament the overwhelming moments of fear and pain that I had no choice but to live through.

Susannah Griffith

Forgiveness After Trauma

And many more.

Why should we lament?

Because we have to acknowledge what happened and honor the emotions from it.

The opposite of lament, Griffith says, is toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity ends up hurting victims and survivors. It minimizes their pain and places the burden for their attitude on them. If we are not cheerful, happy, and optimistic, we might become bitter, heaven forbid. But toxic positivity is at odds with forgiveness.

If we understand forgiveness as being genuine when it emanates from a recognition of the reality of a situation, then honesty in communication is necessary.

Susannah Griffith

Forgiveness After Trauma

Let’s revisit one sentence there in particular: toxic positivity is at odds with forgiveness. And why is that? Because you can’t forgive what you’re not allowed to name.

The Bible is full of lament

And yet how often do we lament as a community? How often are the songs we sing dirges, rather than joyful celebrations? Perhaps our form of Christianity is missing out on the richness of the spiritual experience that includes lament, and that is very present in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. 

Lament helps us combine the confusing emotions of both-and, Susannah writes. 

Especially in difficult situations, like my situation with my husband, the either-or way of thinking simply can’t encompass how complicated things really are I love my husband….and he was abusive. I want him in my life….and the thought of being near him hurts me.

In moments of loss, whether through a separation, a divorce, or even the death of a loved one who has been abusive, feelings of both-and can seem especially confusing. I take comfort in the fact that in Scripture we see lament holding the tension. Biblical lament models how to hold together complex emotions.

Susannah Griffith

Forgiveness After Trauma

Susannah Griffith Forgiveness After Trauma

Lament lets us process complex emotions without having to explain them away. They just are. And in lament, we simply tell our story, to the community, to God, to ourselves, perhaps for the first time. We get to be a witness to what happened to us.

Susannah calls this process “becoming our own story-tellers.” 

Lament can give the power back to those storytellers.

In Scripture, lament is often a form of setting the narrative straight and acknowleding injustice, and often lament was the job of women (who were so often the victims of injustice). 

Women, who are to “teach [their] daughters a dirge,” [Jeremiah 9:20] hold the power to narrate trauma. Those who have been powerless gain, through lament, a foothold in cultural memory.

Susannah Griffith

Forgiveness After Trauma

And it’s amazing in Scripture how, when people get a chance to express what really happened to them, everything changes. Being allowed to name your pain and write the narrative is a form of reclaiming the power in your life that was taken from you. It’s an important step. 

Susannah goes on to talk about how lament can lead to praise, and how addressing the injustice is necessary before true forgiveness takes place. But lament can’t be rushed. It must be thorough. It’s a chance to name your pain. And this is a sacred practice that is honored, modelled, and encouraged in Scripture. 

How would our churches change if lament were encouraged?

It would allow us to look injustice full in the face, and then put our energies at correcting injustice, rather than just trying to make the person who is hurt be quiet. 

Susannah’s chapters end with such truth bombs that I found myself almost dancing around my living room (which is quite different from the desire I often have with other books to chuck them across the room). 

Let me leave you with some of her parting words of wisdom of lament:

Rarely have I heard within church contexts that lament is encouraged for survivors of domestic violence. The pressure to forgive and reconcile is intense, while the invitation to detail, as much or as little as desired, what has done lasting harm is virtually nonexistent. In the Bible, lament takes up more space than teaching on forgiveness….

Here’s a message for church leaders out there: Don’t talk to me about forgiveness unless you’ve made space for me to lament the full story–the messy parts, the painful parts, the parts I wish I could forget, even the parts I’m grateful for. Don’t talk to me about forgiveness until you can sit through my entire lament. If you can’t bear to sit and hear me lament, then you probably aren’t in a position to tell me what to forgive and what to retain.

Susannah Griffith

Forgiveness After Trauma

I’ve been thinking that the collective experience of so many who come here regularly needs so much to be the subject of lament.

We need to lament purity culture. We need to lament the joy and passion of sex that was taken from us in the name of obligation and duty. We need to lament the shame we were given about our bodies. We need to lament the shame that was given to us about our sex drives.

To lament how we were made to feel responsible for other people’s sins, and were never permitted to just exist without being blamed for being a temptress. There is so much pain.

And in this chapter of Susannah’s book, I got a model of how to address it. I’m going to mull that over, because I would love at some point to take us as a community, and even the wider church, through a period of lament. 

But for today, I want you to hear: you are allowed to name your pain. Scripture encourages you to do so, and is so clear that God honors those words and holds them for you. 

And, in fact, we can’t truly heal until we can name the pain. So honor your pain and wade through it, even if it’s hard. That’s the path to wholeness once again.

Please pick up Susannah Griffith’s book Forgiveness After Trauma! It’s beautiful, and it’s healing, and it’s so needed. It will change how you see healing and forgiveness, and it’s available now!

Susannah Griffith Forgiveness After Trauma

If you were to write a lament, what would it be for? Have you ever walked through the lament process? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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27 Comments

  1. Evelyn Krache Morris

    Oh, wow. My husband is 6 months sober from a porn addiction that started before we were married in 1999. We are going through the Full Disclosure process with our therapists, which includes a Victim Impact Statement (i.e., a lament). I ordered the book and sent him the blog post – and then *he* ordered the book. I have been oscillating between fury and dismissiveness (“but now he’s sober”, “but it was only porn”, “but it’s not like he hit me”). Lament has been missing, in part because it hasn’t seemed “Christian”. Shouldn’t I be practicing gratitude? Shouldn’t I view this as sanctifying? I think this book is going to be quite literally a Godsend, at least for me and maybe for him, too.

    Reply
    • Valerie Quarrie

      ” What would I lament?” Wow.
      All those 26 wasted years with my abuser.
      Raising kids in a nonthriving environment.
      I was not allowed to thrive. He would tear me down when I had opportunities for business or ministry leadership. I suppose it threatened his ego?
      Now the kids are adults and we are all deconstructing our beliefs.
      Thank you for what you do

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That is a lot to lament. I’m so sorry. I think naming the specific hurts can make you feel not so crazy when you have down days. It’s like–there’s a reason! And when we are able to face the enormity of it, I think the healing can start.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad, Evelyn!

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    This feels validating.

    I have been hurt by someone. They did not intend to hurt me. They want me to “stop living in the past and move on”. “nothing good can come from dwelling on it”. “It’s done. You need to move forward in a positive way.”

    I have tried to explain how hurt I feel. I try to explain I have scars. Perhaps what I need is to lament what could have been, the loss I feel, that I cannot get back the things I didn’t get to have. Lament that I may have allowed the hurt by not speaking up and setting firm boundaries which I didn’t know I deserved. And yes, lament the betrayal I felt even though the hurt was unintentional. Also the betrayal by a culture and belief system which led to this hurt. I need to lament the fears I have that it could happen again… if hurt happens unintentionally, how do I know it won’t happen again.

    Lament and grief don’t necessarily follow a timeline. But some want us to just forget the wounds and be vulnerable to more wounds.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, even if they didn’t intend it, the hurt is still there and it still matters. I’m sorry.

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I hate when I am told to “just let the past be in the past.” That is a statement made by someone who is not interested in helping you heal, but only in not having to face the pain that they caused. IT DOES NOT MATTER IF THE CAUSE WAS UNINTENTIONAL!! Bottom line is, an action on their part caused pain on your part, and that is something that the causer MUST face.

      And the bottom line now is, if you need time to process your pain from that unintentional hurt, then you get to take all the time you want, and the one who wants you to hurry up and get past it so they don’t have to face their action can blow it out their ear. Take all the time you need; I sit with you in spirit.

      Reply
  3. Nessie

    Toxic positiivity… I think many people could handle a bit of others’ lamenting if we knew when it would end… the not knowing can make us feel extra uncertain about if we are up for helping them. The irony is because we push for instant positivity so much, we make the pain last even longer. We drag it out for the victims because we won’t stay with them and mourn and recognize their very real losses. If we took the time up front to do that, I think a lot more people could begin healing sooner, which would get the victims out of the deepest part of the negativity sooner. In trying to protect ourselves from having to share fully in their grief, we prolong their suffering and ultimately prolong their healthy positivity down the road that we could be sharing with them instead.

    Scripture tells us to share our joys with those who teach us… but I believe that is based on the assumption that those who have taught us were there during our grieving, too. If someone kneels with you in your grief, we should share the joys with them as well when that time comes, however long it takes. If someone is unwilling to share in our grief, they probably shouldn’t be the first person we go to with our joy. Just my opinion.

    Reply
  4. Nessie

    Also, I think lament needs to include the pain that our community continued hurting us with and how that affects our view of God. I have realized a lot of what I also need to lament is how much it has impacted how I view God and how cognitively dissonant it made Him feel to me.

    “Love does not delight in evil *but* rejoices with the truth. It always *protects*, always trusts, always hopes, always *perseveres.*”

    We cannot rejoice with the truth until we admit the truth. Only then can we rejoice that it is out there and now can be worked through.

    I think we have distorted what is entailed in “love.” We want it to make us happy, make us feel good. And it can… but it does that by *also* being present in the hard times, seeing them in the light of truth.

    So much to take in through this series. Thank you for it.

    Reply
  5. Nathan

    Lamenting is hard. It brings out all that messy stuff that we’d rather not talk about. it’s easier for the victims to shut up, paint smiles on their faces, and act like nothing happened. Meanwhile, the abusers need do nothing except mumble “I’m sorry” every once in a while, and get off with no consequences.

    Toxic positivity (a very good term) is the easy way out, which is probably why so many people, churches, books, etc. do it and push it on others.

    Reply
    • Jane King

      Toxic positivity is the easy way out and it shifts blame to the victim. In short order, it’s not about what the perpetrator did, but that the victim isn’t moving on cheerfully enough.

      Reply
  6. Jo R

    Wow. THIS. THIS is what so many of us are (or I am, at least) RAILING AGAINST when we aren’t super sweet in our “tone” and are using somewhat jarring vocabulary. We are HURT, and we are expressing that hurt. We are, in fact, LAMENTING.

    Toxic positivity, spiritual bypassing, and no space to lament are killing people’s spiritual lives, spiritual growth, their view of other people, their view of themselves, and their view of God Himself.

    The church needs to look at the first seven days that Job’s friends were with him, when they all STFU (ooh, look, more of that unsavory language) and let Job LAMENT, rather than what they did afterwards, running their mouths and making life so much unbelievably worse than what he was already going through.

    Let me LAMENT. If you can’t, then get out of my life.

    Reply
  7. Laura

    I have so so so much to lament over. Thankfully, the lament is no longer about the abuse I went through in my marriage. In the last few years, I have been lamenting over the harm our American ancestors has caused for the marginalized as many of them are being gaslit and told to “get over” the past. I believe the marginalized groups are lamenting and grieving over the way their ancestors were treated. Unfortunately, through this harm being caused, the people doing the harming claimed it to be of God due to some verses in the Bible that get interpreted incorrectly (I’m referring to the Roman household codes mentioned in Ephesians 5). The way many people have interpreted certain Bible passages and used those passaged to harm others grieves me.

    The way I have viewed Christianity thinking I had to vote a specific way or God would punish me, to stop believing in equal rights for women because to do so would mean I am not really a Christian, to allow others to believe differently than me meant I was following man and not God, to judge others who have lived differently than me meant that I was being a good Christian, when in reality, I was judgmental, etc. I grieve that I felt I had to be a certain way in order to be accepted by other Christians thinking that I was pleasing God. I thought to “not be like the world” (as Romans 12:1-2 suggests) meant that I could not believe in equal rights, want to set goals for myself such as pursue higher education, save money for the future, enjoy nonChristian music, or even want to get married because that’s “what the world does.” Could not being like the world also mean not trying to fit someone else’s mold of what everyone should be, including the ideal Christian mold?

    I am lamenting how harmful teachings from pastors, women’s Bible studies, Christian friends and acquaintances, and books have distorted my view of God. I lament that I allowed myself to be influenced by those mentioned sources instead of just turning to God myself and trying to understand the Bible and allowing myself to learn from different denominations (other than mainstream evangelical or Protestant churches), other thoughts on theology, etc. But, no, I had been told that knowledge is not trusting in God and the Bible (whatever approved English version pastors insist on) is the only source I needed to understand God.

    In all my years of being a Christian (got saved 30 years ago at 17), I hungered for God more than the ways of Christianity and learned that I needed to think outside the box of organized religion (especially American Evangelical Christianity that is tied with right-wing politics). In the three years I have discovered Bare Marriage (when it was To Love, Honor, and Vacuum), Holy Post podcast, and other sources that are Christ-centered, but think outside the box of mainstream Christianity, I have felt my love for God increase. While I am still a work in progress in my faith journey, I feel God’s unconditional love for me more than ever.

    Reply
  8. JG

    I lament my brother dying in a car accident over 23 years ago.

    Lost relationships because of false teachings.

    Bad decisions because of “honoring my parents” and being convinced that I was listening to godly counsel.

    Fighting depression after attending a toxic seminar in the middle 1980s.

    I praise Jesus, knowing that he still loves me in the middle of dealing with the laments and grief. Thank you for a safe place to share this.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother. I can’t imagine. Yes, there is much to lament. I’m so glad you’ve felt Jesus through it all.

      Reply
  9. Taylor

    One thing I dealt with when I was working through betrayal and divorce was a person who glommed onto my pain, took on my pain as their own, and put me into a position of having to manage THEIR pain for what happened to ME. That was awful. I felt like I didn’t have the right for my pain to be mine, or the right to refrain from sharing private details. Like my story was really all about THEM. And if I didn’t cooperate with their agenda, they acted injured or offended. (I don’t share this person anymore.)

    The secondary experience of the listener/community should not take precedence over the primary experience and rights of personhood of the victim/survivor.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I am so sorry this happened to you. I truly hope that you have been able to find a place of lament and healing from that as well as everything else you went through!

      Reply
  10. Jane King

    I’m not sure if anyone else has experienced this but, I was told that my lament and grief, over the death of my spouse was in fact, grumbling. And the grumbling was a sin that I needed to repent of. And I was told this in the first six months after his death.

    Reply
    • Karena H

      Oh Jane, that is so incredibly painful and dismissive…I can’t imagine Jesus EVER acting this way toward you, or anyone! I am so sorry you experienced pain heaped upon pain when you so needed people to genuinely grieve with you, validate your sadness and loss, and walk with you in true lament. I hope that you will still be able to do this and find community to walk in lament with you.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Holy cow! I’m so sorry. That’s awful!

      Reply
    • Taylor

      Wow, that’s awful.
      Grief and grumbling aren’t the same thing. At all. You matter, he matters, your life together mattered, and your loss and pain matter.

      Reply
    • Waiting

      Is it ok to just say it to the wind? Quietly, in my own spirit, to God, so that I can sort out why I feel the way I do and help myself remember not to leave an easy opening to be hurt again by someone who’s not sorry? I believe in lament. But I also do not want to stay in anger and frustration, which turns into contempt for my husband… because all that does is create an infection at the site of the wound. It hurts me more to let those frustrations turn into an attitude of bitterness. How do I lament the ugly truth, the pain, and the rightful anger over being treated like an invisible doormat except when he wants sex, AND still go on in this relationship in a way that is healthy? How do I acknowledge the hurt, and stay married? How do I grow and heal, and learn to live with a belief that I am worthy of basic human decency, when I feel like I need to emotionally cut myself off from him in order to do that? Can a person stay married when there is not an emotional connection? What can I do, on my side of the equation, to be a content, healthy, vibrant person no matter what my husband does or does not do?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, waiting, I’m so sorry! I think it all depends on whether your husband is willing to hear your lament and have some accountability for it. If he isn’t, you can stay married for sure, but you may never be able to have real intimacy. It just is hard. I’m so sorry.

        Reply
        • Waiting

          Thank you for your reply. You hit the nail on the head. Now that I’m beginning to understand what good sex is, and that I am worthy of being treated with humanity and love, I’m starting to feel desire to experience intimacy… but it’s inheritently impossible to experience intimacy with someone I don’t feel seen, known, and loved by. I’ve brought this up with him 3-4 times over the past 6 months. Tenderly, softly, asking him to show me that he cares. Explaining that it’s directly related to sex, as in, if I feel like you care about me and you want to know me, that’s going to create an environment where more sex is possible. He looks confused, says “ok” and then doesn’t read the things I’ve said would be a good starting place for conversation. Doesn’t do or say anything that makes me feel seen or loved. Anyway. You said it. Staying married without intimacy of course is possible but it would be hard. Grappling with that reality and how that’s going to work, at least for the next 16-20 years. We have kids and I am committed to staying married (barring abuse or infidelity) through their childhoods.

          Reply
  11. Candi

    We aren’t taught how to grieve, nor that we need to grieve. We need to be able to speak our truth and to be heard. We have to express it to process it and process it until we heal. But many time you are expected to just “get over it”. I have found the best way to process my grieving is in journaling; complete honesty, expressing all the pain and anger and sadness and loss.
    Talking about it is another way of processing grief, if you have someone in your life you can trust with your heart.

    When I forgive, I come before God, I name what was done to me, how it made me feel when that person did that to me, what it did to me…to my heart and soul. And I release it to Jesus and leave it at the Cross of Jesus Christ, choosing not to hold it against that person from then on. The other person doesn’t need to repent for me to forgive (though reconciliation can’t happen without repentance). I have found that the grief still needs to be expressed after forgiveness, sometimes for years, sometimes in layers. You, personally, bear all the pain and loss of what was done to you, and expressing that grief helps to process the loss, the pain, whenever it is felt.

    Reply
    • M

      Spot on. Absolutely spot on.

      Reply
  12. M

    Forgiveness is a process, it’s not a switch with two settings: “forgiven, not forgiven.” We’re not forgiving to forget, we’re forgiving to heal. I’ve recently has to go through the process after my husband relapsed after 4 years of not using porn. It was not disclosed, it was discovered amid blatant lying and skirting accountability software. I lament the shattering of trust that built back up over the years, I lament the loss of the feeling of safety in his words and assurances. I lament that I now have new (and old) fears to battle on a daily basis as we work through reconciliation.

    I also rejoice. I rejoice that Jesus forgives perfectly and I can trust in Him when everything else is unstable. I rejoice because He is there to see and value my tears but to also help me take every thought captive.

    Reply

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