21 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles. We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”
21 Sep 2017
Openness and transparency are markers of a healthy Christian community. Honesty about one’s struggles and needs leads us to reach out to Christ and others for the help we need. But this is harder for believers who live with same-sex attraction.
One would think that with a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians becoming more visible in the culture there would be a corresponding acceptance within the church of Christians who follow God’s word on sexuality and who live with same-sex attraction.
But at Harvest USA we continue to see this issue remain hidden in the church. That means there are lots of brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction whose lives remain shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want to disclose their struggle because of the possible consequences of doing so.
The most obvious reason for staying silent is the fear of rejection. The most intense fear is the fear of rejection from your friends (and yes, I know many who have friendships lasting for years and, sadly, they have never opened up about this to them).
Will my friends think any different of me? Will I be treated with distrust? Will I understand their responses? Will they understand me? How might this news radically change the level of friendship I already have? I want more, but I’m deadly afraid to lose what I’ve got.
I already feel alone and different; I don’t want to feel this anymore.
But the fear is greater than the hope that they might finally be known, and loved, for who they are. So in staying hidden, there remains a part of them that never sees the light of day.
Then there is the fear of gossip. You don’t need everyone knowing this about you, but you fear that it will leak out and spread. Keeping secrets and confidences for a long time is a hard thing to do. If everybody knows this about you, then you’ll dread living in a fishbowl. You are certainly not ready for that.
Then there is the fear of hearing opinions that are inaccurate about same-sex attraction, putting you on the spot, needing to explain again and again.
The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
And then there is the fear that, if you stumble and fall into sexual sin, then you know there will be some (many?) who think that sexual sin is the worst kind of offense for a Christian. (And if that’s the kind of church you’re in, there are other gospel-believing churches where that is not the case, and you should seek them out.)
But even if you are in a church that sees sexual struggles and sin as being essentially no different than other faith struggles, these are some legitimate concerns that can keep you from opening up.
But let’s talk for a minute about one other thing that’s hurting you by keeping silent. Not sharing keeps you isolated and feeling alone, which is how you feel almost all the time. The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross of Christ is that although it is marked with suffering and shame, it also swallowed up death. In other words, Christ’s death puts to death our sins and fears. We are now given the power to face our fears and struggles and seek help from God and others. And in seeking help from others, we are, in fact, seeking help from God.
The person struggling with same-sex attraction can freely share what God has done, even if there is fear of rejection. I know it’s hard to do this. I get it. I’ve mentioned some of the dangers and difficulties.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
But when you remain hidden, you won’t grow as you could grow; you won’t experience trust and joy in Christ as you could.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
My hope is that if you are a same-sex attracted struggler, that you would ask God for the grace to share your struggles with a few others in your church. Start small. To be increasingly honest about who you are. And that in doing so, you will be surprised. Surprised that there will be many who will receive you and love you just as you are, and in accepting you, will love you enough to keep showing you Jesus, and walking with you every step of the way towards him.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
14 Sep 2017
Over at Affirming Gender Sam Andreades began mentioning something the media doesn’t talk about: stories of people who transition and the results are nothing like what they hoped for or were promised by our gender-deconstructing culture. This second post from Affirming Gender mentions several more people who did transition and later regretted it.
Here’s Sam’s post of Alternative Trans-Stories.
There is no shortage of stories in the media of how wonderful it is to transition from one sex to another. But the microphone never seems to be handed to the people who did transition and then came to see a better way for themselves. This lack has been addressed by Pure Passion Media/Mastering Life Ministries in their 105-minute documentary, Tranzformed: Finding Peace with Your God-Given Gender, now available on DVD. I have posted before about alternative experiences, but this movie presents us with a cornucopia of stories of going all the way and back again.
The production inserts a few authorities speaking about the matter. These include a Reformed Theological Seminary professor — Go RTS! — and some great footage of Joseph Nicolosi before he died, combined with some helpful history narrative, but the real treasure is the fairly in-depth treatment of fifteen sincere souls, opening up their lives to us and explaining what took them into trans-land and how they traveled thence to gender affirmation. Spoiler alert: Jesus Christ plays a starring role.
The documentary features three times as many guys as girls, which is true to life in terms of the numbers suffering from gender dysphoria. The stories come from around the country. (Although, apart from Maine, the North East is unrepresented. A reason for this, perhaps?) They are all great, and all different.
We watch Walt Heyer’s story of his grandmother cross-dressing him from four years old and how being molested by his father’s adopted brother led to feelings so strange he felt sure that God could not understand them. When he finally made it to the top doctor in this area, he was advised after 45 minutes to get sex-reassignment surgery.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are
We learn from Diamond Bell, who was introduced on his paper delivery route to porn by his molester, and how he moved to she-male stuff after he tired of regular porn. We meet Jeffrey Johnston, repeatedly sexually abused by his Dad’s business partner; Daniel Jones, whose mother told him very young that he should have been a girl; and Paul Pickering, who was molested by his mother’s boyfriend from 5 years old to 12 years old, and unable to tell anyone about it.
We learn how, when Kerry Potter’s parents found Kerry cross-dressing in the bathroom, their condemnation wrapped his problem in a blanket of shame; how Daniel Diago, after escaping from his diabolical father, met the Drag Queens and was competing in pageants by 18 years old; how Joe Grant’s gender dysphoria led him to homelessness in Georgia, looking for a way to commit suicide; how Antonio Prodegy’s dad, fresh out of prison, sexually abused him, all the while telling him, “That’s the way a father loves his son.”
The movie lets us walk with Joseph Cluse, sexually molested at Catholic School, gang-raped in the Boy scouts, who went on to pursue the trans experience for affirmation; and Arlen Upshaw who learned that he could get much more of the attention he craved by being a girl.
The women’s side presents us with similar tears: how Kathy Grace Duncan learned early that it was bad to be a girl; how Susan Takata’s rape at ten years old left her with no sense of boundaries; how Joann Grace Harley became the child least wanted; and how Linda Seiler developed her obsession with becoming a man.
All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity.
All of these stories, though told without fanfare, are heartbreaking (and I haven’t relayed the half of it). But they are necessary to hear, as the tellers certainly see their path to transitioning to the other sex as a beginning in these tragic events and unaddressed wrongs.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are. All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity. He took Linda on an eleven-year journey of transformation. Jeffrey came to loath his implants. Daniel Jones saw his decision to transition as an act of selfishness. Kerry came to realize that he wanted to know God more than anything else. Diamond was accepted and loved by Pastor Abner just as he was. A man praying for Daniel Delgado told him that he was God’s son, and he felt like a brand plucked from the fire. Antonio had an eight-hour wrestling match with the Almighty. Susan’s pastor convinced her that she wasn’t a failure. The Most High became Pa-Pa to Joseph, and Daddy to Kathy Grace.
You really have not seen anything like this documentary. If we want gender dysphoria and transsexualism to be understood, don’t these stories deserve to be heard also?
Our friend Sam Andreades of Affirming Gender has a couple of posts on something you rarely read about in the media: Stories of people who transition and the outcome was not what they were hoping for. These transition stories are important because they present a reality that the general media blithely ignores. Our culture’s aggressive push to disconnect gender from biological sex, rooted not in reality but ideology, does not always lead to “authentic lives” and happy endings.
Here’s Sam’s post of Transgender Regret Stories and Where to Hear Them.
Talk about regrets of folks who transition to the gender opposite to their body of birth is liable to draw a blank stare from people today, maybe from you too. What? You have never heard of anybody regretting such a decision (or, more painfully, their parents’ decision) to adopt a self-chosen gender? You think that there are only stories of happy, now-wonderfully well-adjusted trans-people who have finally found themselves?
A leopard changing its spots always goes well? Stop for a moment and think. You’ve never heard even one story of regret in the media? Given the novelty of surgical treatment for gender dysphoria, the prevalence of suicide and comorbidity even after the operations, and just the complexity of the matter, doesn’t that strike you as a little fishy? Even a little bit?
You can approach the question of trans-regret from a data perspective. (But if you rely on scientific studies for the answer, pay attention to:
1) Longitudinality—that is, the cohort of patients over a long period of time.
2) Sample preservation—that is, how many of the people they operated on remained in the cohort.
3) Who is doing the study and who stands to gain from the results.
In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly.
You can also approach the question from a qualitative perspective, just being willing to listen to people who have regrets. In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly. The silence is deafening because it is so strictly enforced. Even as late as ten years ago, you could find a roundabout regret story in the New York Times, even with the word “Regret” in the title. That won’t happen today.
Yet there are public places to listen. World Magazine, in a recent bold issue, lets some of those stories out of the box with some excellent reporting. That issue also introduces Walt Heyer, a living vocal testimony of regret and a long-time opponent of the use of body modification to address gender dysphoria. In an upcoming post I will review one of his books on its own, but you can check out his resources at www.sexchangeregret.com.
Another place to look is in the heart of Denise Shick, who founded Help4Families and has worked with transfolks for over fifteen years. While not the most culturally engaging book ever, her Understanding Gender Confusion is well worth reading. The last part gives you chapter-length testimonies of the gender dysphoric who have come back and how they were redeemed. Note the themes.
These are some of the places where one hears voices of regret, beyond the din. I also know some of these regret stories firsthand from those I have worked with and walked with. Though I am not at liberty to discuss these cases here and now, I can suggest one more place, the best place really–the real gender strugglers in your own life.
Gender dysphoria is only going to increase, which means that it will be more and more likely that you will encounter close friends or loved ones who have made trans-decisions, and those who, with time, regret them. Be open to the experience they will share. Be willing to be involved. Offer the hope that is available to all people who have serious sadness about what they have done with their lives.
The stories are there. We would do well to listen.
31 Aug 2017
For those who struggle with life-dominating sexual struggles, repenting is something that is hard to do. We resist it. We run from it. Why? Bob Heywood talks about the reasons why it’s so hard — and what the one key thing you need to do to stop resisting.
Click to read Bob’s blog on this: Repentance and Resistance.
31 Aug 2017
Repentance and Resistance
Repentance is a hard thing to talk about. We might have a certain confidence in our ability to articulate what the Bible says about repentance, but when we take an honest look at our repentance, in the light of what we know the Bible teaches, we can become very discouraged. Truth be told, we don’t know what a life of repentance is supposed to look like. When was the last time you talked about it in your home Bible study group? Around your dinner table? With your friends?
Are we modeling repentance in our churches? Jack Miller, the author of Repentance and the 20th Century Man, said that the leaders of the church (pastors, elders, deacons, etc.) should be the lead repenters. In other words, the congregants should know what repentance looks like by observing the lives of their leaders.
How true is that in your church? Martin Luther said, “When Jesus Christ said, ‘Except you repent you will all likewise perish,’ he was not talking about a one-time event but rather a life time of repentance.”
I resist repentance because of my deep sense of shame over my sexual sin. I find it hard to believe God could love a pervert like me.
I think about this subject a lot because the men who come to Harvest USA struggle with the reality of going to church and feeling like they’re the only ones who need to repent.
For them, not only is repentance not modeled well for them, repentance is a hard thing to do. They resist it and believe me, I know what that resistance is like in my own life.
I resist repentance because of my deep sense of shame over my sexual sin. I find it hard to believe God could love a pervert like me. Feeling like a pervert is a shame-based self-identity that sticks to us like tar.
I resist because I feel like I’ve sinned my way past God’s desire to pursue me. I’ve gone too far, I’ve sinned too much. He’s not going to want me anymore.
I resist because I haven’t made myself good enough again for him. I first need to pray more or read the Bible more or tell more people about Jesus. I got work to do.
I resist because I simply can’t believe he would accept me right here and now.
To be honest, I resist God simply because He is God! He is too big for me to take in. Too much holiness for me. Too sovereign for me. He knows too much about me. When the Psalmist says “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psa. 139:6), I think to myself, I’m not even going to go there! I resist some more.
These are all lies that shame tells me about myself.
The only way I can do what I need to do—which is to resist those lies!—is to speak truth to myself. Truth about what repentance really is.
And it starts with this truth. You need to first repent of your inability to receive God’s love and grace for you. Let me explain how this first step leads us to freedom and joy.
I believe that faith and repentance are opposite sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. You obviously need faith and repentance to be saved, and I don’t believe God is asking for two different things. As you begin to believe — you are starting to repent. That’s why if we take an honest look at our faith we can get discouraged. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).
So this is again what I’m saying to anyone struggling with sexual behavior you can’t seem to stop—you need to first repent of your inability to receive God’s love and grace for you.
I don’t know about you, but when I read this, I realize that I must have very little faith. And while that’s true, here’s a bigger truth I have to speak to myself: It’s not my faith that saves me, it’s the object of my faith that saves me.
It’s the same thing with repentance. It’s not my repentance that saves me; it’s who I’m turning to. It’s not how sincere I am, but how sincere God is. That is the reason we are saved by faith and not by love. If our salvation depends on our love for God we immediately turn love into a work that we have to do.
Then our conversations with God sound like, Why don’t you believe I love you, God? Or, What else do you want me to do? Let’s stop looking at what we bring to the table and look at what Christ brings to the table. Hey! That’s something to repent of! God doesn’t need to believe us. We need to believe Him.
So this is again what I’m saying to anyone struggling with sexual behavior you can’t seem to stop—you need to first repent of your inability to receive God’s love and grace for you.
But here’s the second thing to know about repentance. God will take you places where you can’t avoid Him. The verse before Psa. 139:6 says, “You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
God has cornered me with nowhere else to go but to Him. Perhaps you are feeling this right now. But the good news is, when I look at my behavior as the very thing Jesus died for, I’ve got no other alternative but to submit to Him. Nobody else points directly at my sin and calls it what it really is. His blood is the only honest solution for my dilemma.
I submit to Him when I’m honest with Him about my sin. When I learned that my sexual struggle was not just a habit I couldn’t stop doing, but it was idolatry and turning to something else besides God for my source of comfort and strength, then I could confess accurately. I could thank God for opening up my eyes to see things as they really are.
Then another truth hits me: I have really sinned, but God really loves sinners!
To me, that is what a life of repentance looks like. Appreciating more and more God’s character that we can’t help turning to Him. His perseverance with us is disarming. We can’t avoid Him. So we find ourselves acknowledging the movement in our hearts away from Him and His will, but that doesn’t have to stop us from turning back toward Him. Because we know of His eternal commitment to us for His glory.
Understanding the reasons for our resistance enables us to truly repent.
You can watch Bob talk more about this on his accompanying video: Why Do I have Such a Hard Time Repenting? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.
After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.
If you’re the single person
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.
- Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
- Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
- Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
- Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.
If you’re the married person
- Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
- Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
- Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
- Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. 
- Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
- Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.
If you’re the spouse who was betrayed
- How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope.
- You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!
Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about. He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word. It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.
 For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here: Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Ending an emotional affair is hard. It can be so hard that some choose not to end it even when it’s clear that the relationship is wrong and doesn’t honor Christ. But there are practical steps you can take to know how to get through this process—and come out stronger on the other side.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 3
Navigating life when you feel lonely is tough. When God-given desires for relationships go off the rails of what is holy and wise, we’re headed for a mess. Sometimes, the result is an emotional affair.
In my first post, I described an emotional affair as an unholy connection between two people (one of whom is married, if not both) that involves a level of intimacy that rightly belongs in marriage. Perhaps you’ve realized, like Josh from my first blog post that you are in a relationship that has moved into this dangerous territory.
To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself
If you’re in this situation, what do you do now? To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself. Here are three steps to take.
First, you need to confess the sin of this relationship to God, your spouse (if married), and to at least one, if not two, trusted and spiritually mature friends. DON’T confess your sin first to the person with whom you are having an emotional affair. If that person isn’t ready to let go, he or she might try to convince you to stay. Go first to God, and then to a friend or two you can trust. Those friends can help you discern the best way to communicate the situation and your decision to the other parties involved (the person you’ve had the affair with, and your spouse, if married).
You’ll need courage, friend, and resolve to take this step! You wouldn’t be in an affair if you weren’t getting something out of it. Peter wrote that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV), and that power includes taking steps to end your emotional affair. God never expects his children to muscle their way through hard and costly obedience; no, he calls us to trust in him to empower us to do the right thing. He is able to strengthen you as you humble yourself before him and others.
After confessing to God and key people, your second step is to break off this relationship and prepare to grieve, as letting go of it will hurt! You need to communicate clearly that the relationship cannot continue. I often find that some women stay stuck in sinful patterns or relationships because one, they fear the pain which comes from letting go and are unsure how to grieve the loss of the relationship or two, they can’t imagine how God will comfort the deepest parts of their hearts. So, they stay stuck.
Peter went on to say that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials “(2 Peter 2:9 ESV). He knows you! He will rescue you from fear and give you comfort as a huge part of your heart will feel empty. One of the painful consequences of any relationship that has become too big in our lives is the way it can block intimacy with the Lord. Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him.
Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him
What do you do if this person goes to church with you? Is a coworker? A member of your extended family? You’ll need wisdom to navigate this terrain (which is why having mature believers alongside you is crucial). You may need to find a new church or job, or have a season where you avoid family gatherings. When hearts become emotionally entangled in an emotional affair, the disentangling process often requires radical steps like these. They are painful and costly, but worth it!
If you can’t remove yourself from being around this person due to circumstances, you need to be sure you have specific accountability. This means having people ask you:
Are you being faithful in not having any contact with this person?
Are you doing everything you can to pursue your spouse and godly friendships with others?
How are you guarding your heart in unavoidable circumstances when you are around this person?
Finally, what is God calling you to pursue and cultivate in your life now? Your emotional affair allowed a person to displace the central place of God in your life. With that person out of the picture, drawing near to God may feel emotionally unappealing. Give it time—but keep taking steps toward your relationship with God. It usually is a long process for emotions and hearts to heal and become untangled. God is calling you back to himself and will work to give you “the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13 NLT).
Meeting with a counselor or wise friend to address the deeper issues in your life which made you vulnerable to this emotional affair is important. For the married person involved, you and your spouse will be helped by a season of marriage counseling to help you grow together in Christ and in your intimacy as a couple (more on this in my third post, as I explore what help the offended spouse needs).
Let me end this post with how Josh and Sara dealt with their emotional affair.
Josh did not go to Sara or her husband first to confess the sinful relationship. He contacted a Christian friend and shared what was going on. The friend prayed with Josh and offered to go with him to one of the elders for counsel.
Josh decided with his elder’s support to set up a meeting for the two of them to meet with Sara and Craig. At this meeting, Josh confessed that his attachment to Sara had grown beyond what is appropriate. He realized he needed to break ties with her and thus attend a new church for at least a season. He kept his focus in this meeting on his behavior and sin, not “confessing” for Sara.
Faced with Josh’s humility, Sara broke down and confessed her unfaithfulness to Craig, as well as using Josh’s attention to feel good about herself. Shocked and hurt, Craig was silent. In the weeks that followed, he and Sara began to talk more honestly about their marriage than they had in years. Craig acknowledged ways he had allowed ministry responsibilities to distract him from his family. The sin of Sara’s emotional affair was not his fault, but he humbly recognized that the foundation in his marriage was fractured and needed attention. The elders gave him a sabbatical with a mandate that he and Sara pursue counseling and the rebuilding of their marriage.
How can we avoid emotional affairs? By growing in wisdom and living in the truth of Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires“(ESV). If you’re married, consider reading our magazine issue on godly sexuality that addresses several key issues for couples. If you’re single like me, consider reading my online article, “Sexuality and the Single Christian: Godly Answers in a Confusing World.”
Next week I’ll finish this series with thoughts on what the process of healing looks like over the long haul, for everyone involved.
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
God calls us to friendships that are rich and deep. But for some friendships, as they grow over time, a warning line is crossed, and an emotional affair begins. Friendships that become emotional affairs may be enticing, but they are a relationship catastrophe waiting to happen.
Josh had been at a new church for four months when the pastor’s wife invited him to join their community group, which was a weekly gathering of both singles and married couples. Sara and her pastor husband, Craig, wanted a group where married couples mentored singles.
Josh and Sara hit it off, and they discovered lots of common interests between them. Their conversation easily flowed during the fellowship time before the Bible study. Sara was surprised how much she missed Josh when he couldn’t attend. Josh realized that the time he had to talk to Sara became the main reason he enjoyed the group. Not a big deal, it’s just talking.
Then the conversation time moved into texting. Not a big deal, everyone texts. But when the two of them began texting about community group issues, their sharing became more personal. Josh’s work stress and loneliness as a single man, and Sara’s challenges in being a pastor’s wife, gave them ways to grow more emotionally intimate with each other.
Then it happened. Their texting became a nightly ritual as Craig was often asleep by 9 pm, and Sara, a night owl, would reach out to Josh to check in and see how he was in regards to his prayer requests. Their texting often lasted an hour or more. The warning line had long since been crossed.
One night Josh felt compelled to be honest and blurted out in a text: I think I’m in love with you. He waited nervously for her reply, and it came within seconds: Me too…my heart’s grown cold towards Craig. No one’s ever understood my heart the way you do. I need you! Her text gave Josh a rush of intoxication and yet, seeing her words also jolted him: Sara was married, and her husband was his pastor!
Josh panicked. Now the reality of their too-close friendship hit him like a punch to the gut. What was so enjoyable and enriching was now an entangled mess. How would their friendship now go forward? What if this got out? Would he have to leave the church? Would Sara’s marriage survive?
If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone?
Though Josh and Sara never touched one another, they had cultivated an unholy and messy relationship: an emotional affair. An emotional affair happens when two people (one of whom is married to someone else) share a level of emotional intimacy that rightly belongs only to a spouse.
Many men and women miss the alarms going off when a relationship begins to cross obvious warning lines. They assume that because there’s no physical or sexual involvement, the relationship is ok.
But one day an awareness kicks in, and they realize it’s moving in the wrong direction.
Marital unfaithfulness includes any form of shared intimacy with someone other than your spouse. Similarly, it’s not ok when singles become emotionally attached and intimate with a married person.
If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone? Psalm 16:3-4a says, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (NASB).
Here are some diagnostic questions to help discern if your relationship has morphed into an emotional affair, where a close friendship has become “another god” to run after.
Is there any secrecy or deception involved in your interactions?
How much contact are you in (face to face, over devices, social media, etc.) and how does it compare to how much time you connect with your spouse?
If you are single, how does your contact with this married person compare to other close friendships?
Do you have romantic feeling towards her/him? Sexual chemistry? Mental preoccupation? If yes to any of these, are you seeking to feed or flee from these tempting dynamics?
What is the content of your communication? How would your spouse (or mentor, pastor, close friend) react if she/he saw your texts, your emails, or overheard your private conversations?
Does this relationship inspire you towards obeying Christ, or away from him? Does this relationship propel you towards your spouse, or away? Does this relationship motivate you to invest more passionately into loving other people or isolating yourself and focusing on this one person?
Brother or sister, if these questions (and your answers) make you uncomfortable about this relationship, then: PAUSE! HALT! STOP! You — and your friend — are in danger.
Look, God wants us to have rich and meaningful relationships whether we are single or married. God delights in Christ-centered friendships that stay within the boundaries of his Word, boundaries that are healthy for both friends.
But God never intends for any of his good gifts to become a heart-hijacking reality that steals joy and betrays a spouse’s trust. God is committed to removing relational attachments which lead to sin and distraction. Emotional affairs are a cheap substitute for what God graciously gives: unfailing love and true intimacy of the deepest kind which is ours in Christ!
Next week I’ll write about how to get clear of an emotional affair if you find yourself deep into one.
Join me for my Woman-to-Woman webinar on three consecutive Monday evenings in September, the 11th, 18th, and 25th. For more information or to register, click here: Woman-to-Woman webinar info page.