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.
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc
Friendships are great. We need them, and we are drawn to them. But some friendships can get too close, especially friendships that involve someone who is married to someone else. Do you know the warning signs if this is happening to you, or someone you know?
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: “Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 1.”
27 Jul 2017
I used to lie in bed at night and pray to not wake up. I wanted to be gone, I wanted it to be gone. I struggled, prayed and did the right things. I still do the right things and put in the work, but I am still, for as long as I can remember, a woman who is attracted to other women. Call it bisexuality or same-sex attraction or fluid sexuality or an abomination or a natural affection, it doesn’t change the fact that my same-sex attraction is unwanted.
I never wanted to be this way. I had enough problems already. Born to an alcoholic mother, abandoned by my father before I was born, placed in foster care at 4 to spend the rest of my childhood in homes that never felt like my own. I was already set apart in the loneliest of ways.
But it’s all I’ve ever known. I would fantasize about my mom coming to rescue me, taking me home and promising to never leave, loving me the way a little girl is supposed to be loved by her mother. It never happened.
To add to the avalanche of painful circumstances, I was sexually abused by a foster father, kissed by a youth pastor, experimented on by a female family member—the list goes on and on of sexual brokenness finding me and owning me.
The fantasies of my mom morphed into fantasies of any woman coming to rescue me, and since much of the affection I received was overly sexualized, these fantasies became sexually charged, too.
Feeling loved, accepted, approved of, and wanted by a woman became the defining pursuit of my life. Since I was abandoned by a woman who didn’t value me or cherish me, in my mind, the only way I would have worth or value was to be loved by a woman. My troubled heart translated friendship into sex, fueled by an intense jealousy.
There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day.
Amid all this confusion and shame was a deep-seated self-hatred that completely blinded me. I saw nothing in myself worth pursuing. It magnified the worth I placed on other people, especially other girls. I worshipped these peers who were beautiful and loved. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be them, consume their best traits, I wanted them to worship me in return, and the closest I could get to being them was to engage in a physical relationship with them.
All this time I longed to know Jesus as personally as I could, but I was never enough, never felt whole. I looked for comfort in porn, masturbation, drinking, cutting, and adolescent sexual encounters in alley ways, behind garages, in basements, dark stairwells, with both girls and guys.
I believed this particular struggle was the worst one you could possibly have. The constant crushes on my girl friends, the fear of exposure and rejection, the aching need for connection that was never quite fulfilled brought me to a place where I felt like I had no hope and I sunk into a heavy depression. The shame surrounding this temptation forced me into isolation and despair and a loneliness so deep and dark it made me want to kill myself.
I felt cursed and punished by God, like I was tainted from conception and at one point was convinced that Satan owned me and God was not powerful enough to get me back. I wanted to be a “good Christian girl,” but felt like that would never be me, unless God healed and delivered me. I prayed after I flirted with friends, I prayed after spending the night with a girl, I prayed as I pined away from unrequited love. I prayed alone in bed when the crushing weight of my brokenness could only be alleviated by a blade across my skin.
I begged for healing, but there was no deliverance. There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day. There was only me, burrowing into God’s heart and begging him to be enough for me, to fill the cavernous emptiness inside me, to comfort me with his love so completely that I wouldn’t settle for a love that feels good but draws me further from his heart with every flutter in my stomach, every furtive kiss, every secret touch.
When I was 19, homeless and hopeless, I was faced with the choice to pursue God or pursue a woman I was in a relationship with. I had an opportunity to move to Chicago to serve in a ministry I could make my home, where I could be discipled and known. God spoke to me, telling me my sexuality was expressed out of brokenness, loss, and grief. I knew, even in the darkest, dirtiest corner of my heart, that if I acted on my desires, I would be choosing to live from my fear, my deficit, my huge, gaping mother-wound.
I made a deal with God. I told him I would go. I promised that I would stop living a double life and be painfully honest about what I was wrestling with, that I would answer any question with absolute truth. I also told him that if He didn’t meet me in Chicago I would never go back to him. I kept my end and he did too. I was taught the transforming energy of transparency and confession, the desperate need for accountability, and the expulsive power of a new affection.
Healing has a different meaning now. . . I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface.
A few years ago a woman I knew was writing a piece about faith and homosexuality, and I offered her my story. She let me down easy, telling me that she wasn’t in the market for any “ex-gay” stories. I wish ex-gay referred to me. I wish I could be summed up that easily. But nobody can be reduced to so few syllables.
For myself, I don’t find it helpful to allow myself to identify as gay. My sexuality does not define my identity. It’s a small part of it but not enough for me to choose to identify by it. I am so many other things than same-sex attracted. I identify more accurately as a sci-fi geek girl than a girl-who-likes-girls.
Pursuing wholeness, for me, doesn’t look like becoming fully heterosexual. It looks like honoring God through obedience in mind and body. Putting on Christ, dwelling in him, suffering with him, and experiencing transformational change that draws me closer and deeper, as I live out and live in the God-breathed Word that saves and heals.
I love God. I want to live a whole life. I may not be able to choose being same-sex attracted, but I can choose what I do with it. Nobody chose it for me. I chose a life of drawing near to God as best I could every day. I chose to say no to myself in a hundred different ways, not just when I wanted to hook up with the cute girl I just met, or look up that high school crush that almost was. The other hundred ways I say no to myself are the ones that might not be as flashy and dramatic, but they matter just as much, if not more.
I’m 44 years old. I’ve been married to a man I love for almost 20 years. I have a beautiful daughter who I smother with love and attention so she knows, in her deepest places, that she is loved, valued, wanted, and cherished. I am still attracted to women, I still feel the pull sometimes, I still struggle with crushes and fantasies. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I am not overpowered by it. I am not without hope. Even though it doesn’t look or feel the way I want it to, my prayers have been heard and answered, and God’s promises of faithfulness and a future have defined my life and identity more than my attractions.
I no longer daydream about being rescued by my mother or a lover or a friend, I am already rescued by Jesus who loves me like a father and a mother. When I left my first foster home, the mom put a little prayer card in my hand. It had that classic image of a child leaning into God’s hand with the verse from Isaiah: “Behold, I will not forget you, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” I can still picture it. I still lean into that truth.
It’s taken years of counseling, group therapy, prayer, hard choices, vulnerability, excruciating confessions, and brutal honesty. It’s taken a strong community-now-family, good friends and a great husband, but I am more convinced every day that I am delighted in, rejoiced over, comforted, forgiven, and deeply, truly loved.
Healing has a different meaning now. I always assumed that its significance was only in its past tense, but I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface. Deliverance has also showed me a new facet of its many sides. I was so obsessed with being delivered from same-sex attraction that I forgot that I was being delivered to something, or rather, Someone. And that was the more needful thing.
To read other articles by Tammy and Harvest USA writers, you can read our harvestusa magazine here.
It’s easy to fall in love, but to rebuild it after one spouse sexually sins has unique difficulties and challenges. Ellen interviews one couple who worked through the challenges and discovered how God knit them back together.
After Drew’s admission of years of secret pornography usage, he and Tilina got involved with Harvest USA’s biblical support groups. Ellen Dykas, Harvest USA’s Woman’s Coordinator, asked them to share their story on what helped them reconnect and rebuild intimacy back into their marriage.
Ellen: Can you share briefly what happened in your marriage?
Tilina: Two years into our marriage, Drew confessed to years of pornography addiction. Our sexual intimacy had grown distant and infrequent, as his sexual sin caused him to experience arousal only through images and not a real human being: me, his wife! When his years of deceit came to light, my trust broke to pieces.
Ellen: What was most difficult—and most helpful—in rebuilding trust?
Tilina: Rebuilding trust certainly required effort from both of us. I needed honesty from Drew at all costs, no matter how minor the situation, because I had no gauge of what was true anymore. Hiding or omitting anything would be detrimental to me emotionally. I also needed answers to many questions, even those to which I feared the answers. I started with trusting God, knowing he had my best interest at heart and would help me to trust Drew again.
Drew: It was difficult to disclose and then handle the harsh results of my sin. I had to trust that God could redeem and heal the relationship by shedding my pride and selfishness, learning that the two of us couldn’t rebuild the intimacy of our marriage on our own. The most helpful thing for me was learning how to depend on God by being on my knees and crying out to him. Only the gospel and prayer allowed Tilina and me to grow into a restored marriage.
Ellen: How did Drew’s sexual betrayal impact your sexual relationship?
Tilina: I was stunned when I found out why Drew was so lacking in sexual desire and response to me. After discovering that, I not only lacked any desire to be intimate with him, I felt unattractive, unloved, and, most of all, not good enough as a woman. I didn’t trust him, and I didn’t feel safe around him. But I also desperately wanted to be enough for him. I felt trapped. I didn’t want to share myself sexually, but I would force myself in an attempt to keep him from viewing pornography, and he feared me thinking he was going back if he wasn’t petitioning me for sex. A year after Drew’s confession we were having sex often but not exactly for the right reasons. Our sexual relationship was driven by fear.
A year after Drew’s confession we were having sex often but not exactly for the right reasons. Our sexual relationship was driven by fear.
Ellen: So if you realized that your sexual relationship at that point was unhealthy, what did you do then?
Tilina: In order for us to reconnect inside the bedroom, we first had to develop a strong connection outside the bedroom. The most important thing was being vulnerable. We wanted our sexual relationship to be the “icing on top” of our increasing emotional and spiritual intimacy. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to fast from sex for 90 days.
Our purpose was to grow emotionally and spiritually, and also for Drew to attempt to rewire his brain from the damage caused by years of pornography. This trying and grueling task showed us how God knit us more closely together even when sex wasn’t an active part of our relationship. During that time we daily prayed and read devotions together. We also practiced extended cuddling and uninterrupted listening, both of which allowed us to grow closer. All this helped us to put our sexual relationship in a much better place.
Ellen: How would you encourage a hurting spouse who is fearful about moving forward sexually, post-betrayal?
Tilina: Rebuilding sexual intimacy is tough, because you’ll both feel so far apart. You may find that what cannot be said can instead be felt through touch. Other times, you may be able to talk but still be unable to let yourself be vulnerable enough to touch each other intimately or make love like you used to. Talk to each other directly about your feelings. Be honest if you don’t want to have sex. If you’re open to being physical, but not sexual, tell your spouse what those things are. If you both feel safe, this can move toward sexual intercourse, but it doesn’t have to. Touching, hugging, snuggling, or even showering together may be the goal for the first few weeks or months. Try to be patient with one another and take your time.
Let me encourage you that there is beauty in the struggle. I heard a pastor once say, “Whatever we seek to cover, God will expose it. Whatever we expose God will cover.” Through all this our desperate need for grace becomes illuminated by a perfect loving Savior who grips us into his arms.
Drew: I would encourage a husband who was the betrayer that moving forward is going to burn. I cannot sugarcoat this. But it’s not a furnace of annihilation; rather it’s the grace of refinement. Your pride and self-worship will be chiseled away. Though at first fear and uncertainty may set in, don’t give up; when you realize that God is working all things for your good, you can be more vulnerable to expose your weaknesses and disclose the warfare in your heart. You’ll see your spouse as a helpmate, a friend who truly loves and cares for you, rather than feeling like she’s a drill sergeant or CSI detective.
During this time take steps to build your relationship with your wife vertically; that is, reintroduce God. Pray together, read the Bible together. Horizontally, set up date nights, sleep naked with each other, and fast from sex to rebuild intimacy as you learn to love each other once again without the mask.
Let me encourage you that there is beauty in the struggle. I heard a pastor once say, “Whatever we seek to cover, God will expose it. Whatever we expose God will cover.” Through all this our desperate need for grace becomes illuminated by a perfect loving Savior who grips us into his arms.
Drew and Tilina Chheang have been married for four years. They have a two-year-old son and two daughters, ages 12 and 15, from a previous marriage. Drew works in the housing industry and plans to attend seminary in the near future. Tilina is a stay-at-home mother and intends to continue her education with a Masters in counseling.
Watch Ellen’s interview with Drew and Tilina Chheang here. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Jul 2017
There are few hurts deeper than sexual betrayal. Sex is supposed to be a space of deep vulnerability and intimacy, a place of joyful self-giving. No wonder the Bible calls marriage a “one-flesh” union, where physical nakedness is a profound image of intimacy, of total knowing and complete trust between a wife and husband.
When that trust is broken, a husband and wife will struggle to believe that their sexual intimacy can ever be restored. For those who stay together (and sadly, sometimes that will not be possible), they will need a way forward to become vulnerable and again. It will not be easy, but a focus on the gospel gives real hope and practical help.
To understand how to rebuild trust, it helps to see God’s intention for sexual intimacy within marriage. As Dave White says in his blog, “Just What is Godly Sex?” sexual expression is “analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife are to be devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.”
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness. Whether the betrayal is mental, emotional, or physical (or all three), the sins of pornography, sexual fantasy, masturbation, and adultery are ways a spouse breaks from devotion to Christ and their spouse, for worship of self and pleasure.
It is crucial for relational trust and spiritual togetherness to grow between two spouses before they attempt to restore sexual intimacy. If you are already actively pursuing healing in your marriage after the disclosure of sexual unfaithfulness, then consider the following four steps which can bring the kind of healing that makes the renewal of sexual intimacy a reality. If you are a friend, counselor, or pastor, these steps can enable you to help.
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness.
1. Pray and commit for Jesus to have the first place in your heart. Colossians 1:16-17 describes Jesus as Lord and Creator over all, which means he is to be first in all things. This includes your marriage and your sex life! Ask God to show how this failed to happen in your marriage, and in repentance begin learning what a biblical view of sex within marriage is and how Jesus helps you love your spouse.
2. Turn towards your spouse. Firm and strong choices to turn from all things that led to sexual sin must be another initial step. That means cutting off people, places, and situations that are sources of temptation. Trust cannot grow if the offending spouse is not actively seeking to flee from sin. However, fleeing is not enough! It is just as important for both to choose to turn towards the other sexually. This means making your marriage relationship a priority, as well as learning what cultivates an atmosphere of trust and safety for sexual intimacy, before, during, and after being together.
To move in that direction, pray for God to give you renewed emotional, mental, and sexual desire for your spouse alone. In other words, ask God to make you spousal-sexual: radically oriented and devoted to your husband or wife. God delights to respond to this prayer! After all, godly sex is his idea.
3. Cultivate honest communication about sex. God will use the exposure of sexual sin to open up communication on many topics, but the one that will require major focus will be your sexual relationship. Rebuilding trust will require an openness to share feelings, thoughts, and desires in this area. You need to learn what the other enjoys, what brings pleasure, what is uncomfortable, what communicates being used rather than being delighted in. These are extremely vulnerable topics; go slowly, and remember to continually/actively build up your emotional trust with each other. For some, fasting from sexual activity can enable a couple to communicate honestly without the pressure (and fear) of engaging sexually.
4. Pursue and receive your spouse with patient love. Restoring your sexual relationship will take time. Expressing non-sexual affection is a way to express love for the ‘whole person’ of your spouse. Remember that pain and hurt don’t go away quickly, so be patient with yourself and your spouse as you learn new ways of relating. Patience and perseverance are the key words!