07 July 2011

Betraying Ourselves

But it was not your fault but mine,
And it was your heart on the line.
I really f***** it up this time,
Didn't I, my dear?
-Little Lion Man, by Mumford & Sons

She'd been away from home for a long time, this girl, and had returned largely against her will. Upon coming back, she found out that her most beloved brother had, years ago, been involved in something large, dark, and awful. Just in case that wasn't bad enough, she had become a victim of this awful darkness, though neither she nor her brother knew of the other's involvement. 

Several days after the horrifically awkward situation where they found this out, he managed to catch her alone. "What must you think of me?" he asked. He had to know.

She ponderd her tea for a minute. Old anger and rage filled her, but she knew her brother. He gotten carried away by rhetoric and let other people tell him what greatness was. Like her, he'd spent years forgetting the person he was and trying to replace him with someone a bit more dazzling. She could not hate him.

"I think," she said, then paused for a moment. "I think we all make choices, sometimes, that betray ourselves and the people who love us. And it's not about whether we make them, because we all do, but about what we do afterwards that counts."


I wrote that, a couple of weeks ago, and stopped. Her sentences, there, are what my book is about. I thought it was about leaving and coming home, and reconciliation, and joining together to fight something bad. And it is about all of those things, but they're all responses to the self-betrayal that she mentions here. They're all part of the "what we do afterwards."

I stopped because I'm in awe of those sentences. I can't quite believe that I wrote them, in fact. Times like this, I know that I don't write alone, because I don't think like that. I don't usually manage to sum life up in phrases that actually make sense. 


Self-betrayal and what we do with it isn't just what my book is about, but what life is about. If we were originally made in God's image, after all, then all sin is self-betrayal. It's something that takes us away from the beings we were created to be, something that keeps us from becoming the people we could be.

It's also endemic. We all sin, we all betray ourselves. But afterwards, we have choices. Whether the betrayal is big or small, we can run from it or we can face it. We can't always undo it or undo the damage done, but we can choose how we move forward. Denial or acceptance, defensiveness or repentance, trying to ignore it or struggling through the truth, there are always choices.

It's hard to come to terms with the evil that we've done, especially when the sin is large and guilt and shame are competing for prominence in what we feel towards ourselves and our actions. Sometimes it takes years to pick up the pieces of the actions we've chosen and move on, to figure out which direction is actually forward and to choose to move that way. 


It's especially hard to come to terms with the evil in ourselves when we've hurt ourselves along the way. It's hard to say, "I would be hurting like this if I hadn't made particular choices," or "I was a bright-eyed little child with so many ideals and I'll never live up to them because of the choices I've made." 

I don't think this is hard because we can't see or feel our own pain, but because it's so hard to hold the fact that we can be both a victim and a perpetrator in the same action, at the same time. That's what my character sees, though, when she sees her brother. She sees the pain he's felt at his own choices, and she chooses compassion for the wounded brother rather than vengeance on the stupid one. 

Of course, the only reason she can see all of this is because she's experienced it in and of herself (she's a perceptive one, that girl). And maybe that's one of the most important reasons we need to face our sin, acknowledge all of the victims including ourselves, and choose truth as we move forward. If we don't, we can't choose compassion on other sinners, either. 


My characters aren't all happy in the end. They aren't all living the lives they'd have lived if they hadn't made the choices they made. And, though I think they'll do it eventually, they haven't all chosen to look truth in the eye, to choose to walk in who they really are and not who they want to be.

I think that's real. I don't know that seeing sin for what it is is something that everyone can do, though I do know that many capable of doing it won't choose that. But I do know that seeing the truth is the best way. And asking our own forgiveness may seem like it's only something that sentimental musicians do in popular songs, but I think it can take us far. 


alittlebitograce said...

Wow. I say often that it isn't that we make mistakes, it's what we do afterwards. You've expanded so beautifully on it, capturing the frustration, disillusionment of making mistakes and then the grace that comes too. I really want to read your book!

P.S I follow your blog and I am praying for you.

Sarah said...

Thanks alittlebitograce - your comment is so encouraging. It's such a blessing to find out people are praying!

Joelle said...

Oh my, Sarah. I need to say your character's words--your words, wisdom, wonderfulness--to someone I love today. Perfect timing. I hope you kept writing the story eventually, after waiting to soak in the beauty of that truth. I'd love to read the rest of it....

emily wierenga said...

sarah, your book sounds so powerful. i was riveted. keep writing, friend, for you're correct in that we don't write alone. they are all his words...

Heather said...

Wow. That passage is beautiful. I can't wait to read more.

christianne said...

I agree with Heather: that passage is BEAUTIFUL. And so profound. I really appreciate hearing it summed up that way. Thank you. xoxo

terri said...

i'm with everyone else here. can't wait to read the book.

it's so clear to me that the beauty of your work comes directly from your willingness to feel and know and learn things that are hard. i know you write fiction, but you're not fooling me.

thank you for sharing what is so dear and so painful. (she's a perceptive one, that girl)