© 2004 by Jean Bernstein
Loyalty is a noble characteristic found in strong relationships. In our family, loyalty was evident having been imbedded deep within me from my mother’s example. Unfortunately, it has been my experience, when loyalty exists, a person may be vulnerable to betrayal.
Not only were we the closest in age of all six children in our family, Debbie and I had a close relationship. We shared school clothes, secrets about boyfriends and frustrations with our parents’ high expectations of us. Debbie was a spirited, daring, strong-willed child and I was her ally within our structured family. Dad was overpowering which caused disobedience in Debbie. Being sensitive and unsure I found comfort in attaching myself to her and going along with any activity she proposed. Often I didn’t agree, but would succumb to her pressure just to be accepted. She sank deep into rebellion, I into co-dependency.
Our family moved during the summer so I began my freshman year of high school friendless, afraid, and insecure. Thankfully, I had Debbie and her friends and was quite content to be her shadow and the keeper of her secrets. There wasn‘t, and never would be, any situation to change that, or so I thought.
One day, while standing at our front window, I watched in disbelief as Debbie walked defiantly down the driveway and out of our lives. She didn’t look back as she took my world with her. Alone, I stood to face the questions and heartbreak from our parents as they learned their daughter had run away from home.
I wasn’t angry with Debbie; instead, I clung tighter when she got word to me where she was hiding and with whom. I was scared as I cut school to visit her several times. This action worked to her advantage for I was able to further protect her whereabouts. How unnerving after the visits with my sister to come home and face questions from parents, police and detectives. Out of loyalty, I would divert the authorities’ search to friends and places far from where she really was located.
Each day, my shame and regret increased with every word spoken to my parents until I thought I would suffocate. Three months passed and while Christmas presents for Debbie sat unopened, I sat wrapped in my internal turmoil.
Finally the day came when parents and daughter were reconciled and reunited. Perhaps this would be the end for my dilemma as well. When I could no longer endure the weight of the lie, I told Debbie I needed to confess to our parents what I had known all along. Adamantly, she told me, “Don’t you say a word!” This sister, who I believed knew me so well, suddenly knew nothing of my heart, my pain or my conscience. After pleading with her to no avail, I finally decided to do what was best for my relationship with my parents.
In shame, regret and humility I walked into the kitchen and confessed openly to Mom who was always easier to talk to and certainly more understanding than Dad. I was ready for her heart to break before my eyes. I was ready to cry with her over her disappointment in me. I was not ready for the words she spoke.
With unmerited compassion, Mom calmly spoke seven words I shall never forget, “I know, honey, Debbie already told us.” My throat seemed to close up and I could not get air into my lungs as the impact overtook me. After my conversation with Debbie, this betrayal was devastating and overwhelming. With great sadness, I looked into the eyes of my mother, who somehow looked past her own devastating overwhelming betrayal. Her eyes were filled with compassion for the daughter who betrayed her and saddened for me for the months I endured the pain of deceit. My loyalty should have been directed to my parents or so I thought. This lesson was not over.
Many years passed and our lives changed. One Sunday while sitting in a church service, I heard the preacher say that every time a person is hurt or wronged, there is sin involved. Someone has sinned. If those words were true, who had sinned years prior in the situation with Debbie? I wondered if betrayal is a sin, but I knew loyalty is definitely not. Obviously, it was Debbie’s sin that caused this heartache. She went behind my back, she betrayed me, but didn’t I do the same to my parents? Intentionally focusing on the relationship between Debbie and me, I prayed about it for a long time. I was beseeching God to show me who had sinned yet in my heart, I knew I wanted God to show me that it was Debbie’s sin. However, God was not willing for me to remain blameless. I too was at fault. There was an important lesson of misdirected loyalty for me to learn but I had been too hurt to grasp it.
Sitting on the floor of my bedroom fifteen years after the incident, I learned the truth. As if sitting there with me as I read my journal written at that time, it seemed God gently, but with authority, opened my eyes. “But God, I was being loyal to my sister, wasn’t I? That is commendable, isn’t it?” “No, my child, your loyalty should belong to me. Had you been loyal to me and obedient when I instructed you not to lie, to obey your parents who also instructed you not to lie, you wouldn’t have been in a position for Debbie to betray you. There wouldn’t have been an opportunity to betray. Your heart would have been safe with me. It always is.” Loyalty belongs to parents through the command of God. When our loyalty is properly directed, it is indeed a noble characteristic void of vulnerability.