Can you love someone who has betrayed you? In a mix of Norwegian fairytales (influenced by the Greek Cupid and Psyche and European Beauty and the Beast), author Joanna Meyer weaves a tale that feels familiar and foreign in her book Echo North. A young woman named Echo agrees to live in a house with a wolf in order to save her father. In Beauty and Beast fashion, she falls in love with the human version (named Hal) of the wolf whom she is able to interact within a magical way (without realizing it’s the wolf). He’s under a spell, however, and his only way out is to trick a girl into living with him for a year in a magical house. When his plan fails, Echo (the protagonist) travels to the magical Queen who ensnared him in order to rescue him, undergoing great suffering in her travels. Once there, the Queen reveals that he had lied to her, and Echo has to decide if she will still rescue him or close her heart to him.
It’s Not That Easy
She chooses love, but it’s not that simple. After they win, and they begin their journey home, she thinks, “I’d thought the journey and the rescuing would be the hard part, but it’s not. I don’t know the man standing just paces away from me, looking old and young at once…How can I still want to love him, knowing what he did, even if he did it because of the Queen? How can I forgive him?” Her love for him is complicated because trust has been broken. In most situations, that would be enough to end a relationship. We know it is possible for trust to be rebuilt, but it is the task for heroes.
The Challenge to Forgive
It is also a task for people of faith. When I was in college, a fresh new believer, I encountered my first opportunity to forgive. I had grown up in a broken chaotic home, so my defense mechanism had been to shut people out. When I became a believer in my second semester at college, I realized that this wasn’t the way God designed me to live. I became more intentional about my relationships with family and friends.
When I moved to a new Christian college in Georgia, I noticed a Hispanic-looking girl who stood out amidst all the blonde and fair-skinned students. As a daughter of a Cuban mother and Bermudian father, I didn’t exactly fit the American mold either. I approached her and found out her name was Rebecca, and we began a close friendship immediately. She came from a pastor’s family in a Spanish-speaking area with strict views on protecting their daughters. It was a huge step of faith for them to let her move so far away. I, however, was the daughter of a single father who let me move to another country to go to college alone. She was sheltered, and I was independent, but we both needed each other.
The first year in college, we were pretty inseparable—to the point that our other friends were annoyed by our closeness. We shared everything, including our hopes and fears concerning our crushes. In the romantic arena, I was even less of a risk taker than in my friendships. I couldn’t let myself get romantically attached to someone.
The Courage to Love
Ironically, one day, I actually told myself to have a crush. My dorm room was in the basement of the women’s dormitory, so my window was at ground level. Standing there looking out the window, I observed my friend Steve walking by on his way to lunch. I decided in that moment to have a crush on him. I was tired of my inability to take a romantic risk. Even though I knew he had a long-distance relationship, I encouraged myself to have feelings for him.
The three of us were close friends, Steve, Rebecca, and I, but nothing ever romantic happened between him and me. An opportunity to go to China for a year came up, and to Rebecca’s chagrin, I took it up. Looking back now, I didn’t see how scary that was for her to be left behind, but I also see how it helped her to step out of my protective presence. She made new friends while I was gone which was good for her. We wrote letters to one another and kept in contact though.
After my year was up, I wasn’t quite ready to go back to college. My experience in China had been emotionally draining and made me question a lot of things about myself and my dream of being a Christian missionary. I missed my friends though and flew to the college right as the semester began in order to see everyone for a few days. During that time, Steve was unusually attentive to me. My hopes were reawakened during those few days when he talked to me and seemed to single me out.
Not What I Expected
I flew home and a few days later saw an email from Steve. My heart sped up as I opened the email. He wrote about God’s plan and how he had been blind to someone near him who had become special to him. Then he stated that he was dating Rebecca. I was so surprised that I actually emailed back, “Rebecca who?”
He confirmed that it was indeed my best friend. My best friend who had not told me anything. Who never even hinted that she had an interest in him. Who had seen him flirt with me and heard me speak of my hopes with him. Who also did not reach out to me for several days after I heard from him that they were dating.
I was crushed. It wasn’t even that they were together (they really were a better fit in every way). It was that she didn’t tell me anything, either before or after. I felt blindsided, humiliated, and abandoned.
I was living in Bermuda at the time, and I took my moped out to a beautiful overlook of the ocean and cried out to God. It stung so much because it was my first real hurt after becoming a believer. I picked up a rock as a tool to remember and said to God, “I will forgive them for you.” It was a sacrificial offering that I laid on the altar. It hurt, but I was honoring God with my decision.
Trust Was Broken
I did forgive them and went back to school in January and actually hung out again as the three of us. We even, years later, after getting married (Rebecca to Steve and myself to another college student) were neighbors as Rebecca and my husband attended the same seminary. We had our first children while living there, went on walks with our babies in our strollers, and shared our marital woes and hopes.
And yet, despite my decision to forgive and despite our many times together, I could not get past that I didn’t really trust her. I continued to feel deep down that she could and would betray me. After we moved away, our contact became sporadic and eventually fizzled out.
That was the first test of my forgiveness or lack of ability to truly forgive in my adult Christian life. It has been the haunting of my life ever since. Once I feel betrayed, it is almost impossible for me to renew trust again no matter how hard I try. In other relationships, I continued to face again and again this hardness, this fear.
I Didn’t Trust God Anymore
In fact, I started to realize that after several painful events in my life, that I no longer trusted God. The kernel of fear and distrust that at first had been directed at certain people in my life, had grown to a full-sized distrust of God. I saw again and again that God had allowed hurt and betrayal in my life. That despite me trying my very best to be the model Christian, it did not protect me.
I have no desire to walk away from God though; instead, I walk with him with the same uneasiness that I walked with Rebecca. I forgive, but I don’t get comfortable. I have given up the illusions I once held that I understand Him, that in some way I am different from others who don’t know God like I do. My hurt and fear has humbled me.
Choosing to Hold On
In the book, to break the spell, Echo has to hold onto Hal even though the Queen keeps turning him into different animals in order to loosen Echo’s grasp. It brings unbearable agony as he (against his will) continuously transforms, battering both their bodies. She does this even after understanding his betrayal, a betrayal he is forced to reveal. But, in the end, she hangs on.
In my case, God has not betrayed me. There is no promise of ease given in the Bible for those who put their hope in Him. However, even though He isn’t breaking His word, the suffering in this world feels like a betrayal. It tests whether I believe He’s trustworthy, whether He actually cares about me at all. Like Hal, he seems to shapeshift, and I am holding on despite the pain.
And I will keep holding on because, like Echo, I am doing it for love. Not some romantic crush, not even a friendship that spans years. The love that the world was built upon, the old Magic. So I hold on, and I weep and I mourn and I hurt, but I do not let go. It takes all my courage to do so.