Ryan and Jen’s kids have always been active in church and school, involved in extracurricular activities, and have great friends. Their parents have modeled godly living to their children from a very early age. Like most parents, they hope to see their kids finish school, start a career, and raise a family. They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary since the children have never given them cause for worry.

Their son, Bobby, just finished his junior year of high school. He has always been a quiet kid but performed well academically and is naturally obedient. One day, when Jen asked to use her son’s phone, she discovered that Bobby was visiting gay porn sites. When Jen asked Bobby about the porn, Bobby became very withdrawn. After more questions, he finally confessed, “Mom, I’m gay . . .” Jen was in disbelief.

Jen wondered how her son could possibly be sure that he was gay. She thought he must simply be a confused teenager. The truth is that Bobby has wrestled with these feelings since middle school. He tried to ignore these desires but always found himself longing to be in a relationship with another guy. Ryan and Jen hadn’t the slightest clue that their son struggled in this way.

Living in the middle is place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision.

Many Christian parents share Ryan and Jen’s experience of a child self-identifying as gay. Cultural messages about sexuality are influencing young people to define their sense of self and identity with their feelings and emotions. When a child embraces the identity as a life direction, in contrast to Scripture’s view of sexuality designed by God, parents and family members are thrown into crisis. They feel caught in the middle between their love for their child and their convictions to stand firm in what God says. Living in the middle is a place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision. Anything short of that feels like a crushing rejection to their child.

It’s a difficult path for parents to walk, and they will need understanding and support, especially from their church community, to help them. Here are some ways pastors, church leaders, and friends can do so.

Where to begin?

Parents in this situation struggle to know how to make sense of what they are feeling, much less what to do. Helping them to identify some common initial reactions and know how to guide them will help them move forward.

Anger

Many parent’s first reaction is shock, which is often followed by anger. Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to us? Questions and strong emotions like these are understandable. Helping them to channel them well is critical.

The first thing is to encourage them not to direct anger at their child. It took a lot of courage to say what he or she said, and while it hurts, it’s still better to know than to be kept in the dark. Healthy relationships require honesty. Help them to acknowledge their child’s courage. If they have already expressed anger at their child, encourage them to go to their child and ask forgiveness, modeling humility and repentance. The relationship will need this healing.

Then help them deal with what might be anger toward God. Why are you letting this happen to us, God? Haven’t we been faithful in raising our children? Encourage them to express such troubling questions to God, as their own relationship with him requires honesty also. Suggest that they read the Psalms, which can provide them with a God-given language to voice their powerful and tumultuous emotions in a way that still directs faith back to him. This will be a safeguard against bitterness taking root. God is strong and loving enough to hear our words of pain, and even to identify with them.

Grief

Parents will grieve over the fear they have of losing the life they anticipated for their child. They will grieve the loss of the son they thought they knew, along with the hopes and dreams they attached to him. Because the child’s revelation feels like a deathblow to the family’s future, give them space to grieve unreservedly and without judgment. Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Validate the pain and loss they feel. Having the support of friends in their moments of grief will help them to move toward their child, learning to love him as he is, in this new reality, but with new eyes of faith. Adjusting to this new reality will be difficult to do. Help them to see that continuing to love their child, just as always, will be an important connection to God that can give hope for the future.

Guilt and Shame

Almost every parent will think that they have failed in some way, asking where they went wrong. Ryan and Jen began to believe that maybe they could have done something, if only they had known how Bobby felt when all of this began – but they didn’t realize what was going on, and now they feel like terrible parents for missing it. The feeling of guilt may be consuming. It will be helpful here to listen to their anguished questions, and point out that such questions, though legitimate, may have no answer, nor could they have known what was kept secret. To get stuck here will only hurt them further. What counts now is to live in the present and release these questions to the One who does know all the answers.

Because parents fear others’ opinions and judgement of their parenting, shame will often accompany guilt. There is a feature to sin and suffering where shame attaches not only to the individual, but also to those who are associated with him. It is not uncommon that parents will feel marked by their child’s decision or actions. Invite them to speak their emotions and not feel ashamed for wrestling with such thoughts and feelings. Shame pushes us to hide in the shadows and stay away from others. But isolating from others is spiritually dangerous, so help them to remain connected to their church community. Sadly, families that keep silent and isolate themselves over this situation are more likely to resolve the tension they live in by changing their view of Scripture and affirming their child’s gay identity. Staying in the middle is very hard to do, and faithful friends are critical in helping them find a measure of peace in the midst of that tension.

Fear and Despair

A child’s coming out takes parents’ normal fears to another level. Ryan and Jen fear what their son’s declaration means for his future and how people will treat him. They fear that their son has fallen away from God, or never truly knew God. Fear loses sight of God’s sovereignty, and can give way to despair. Parents of gay children struggle to see a sovereign and righteous God on the throne when the “wisdom” of the world’s view of sexuality infiltrates their homes. They need an anchor, so keep pointing them to images that describe God the way David saw him, as one whose “way is perfect,” whose “word…proves true,” and who is “a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God remains on the throne even when everything in life feels out of control. God is still at work in this situation. Their child is not beyond the reach of God’s arm, as Isaiah proclaimed to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 59:1). Remind them that the timing of God’s work is perfect. So, encourage them to acknowledge to God all that they fear, and to patiently hear God speak to them through his word and his people.

In all these ways, patiently listening to how they process this experience will give them a lifeboat in a tossing sea. Their responses may not be pretty. Especially in the early stages, remain unruffled at the parents’ raw, emotional responses, leaving gracious room for what they are experiencing. Consider the Psalms as you ponder your response to them. God does not rebuke his children for expressing the breadth of their suffering to him, so neither should we chastise parents in their anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear, and despair. Rather, it is much wiser and more profitable to help them explore what they are feeling, and learn to see how God is cultivating their faith in the midst of their turmoil.

Ongoing Care

Once the initial storm subsides, parents need help navigating questions about how to love to their child while standing true to biblical convictions.

It will be difficult for parents to know how to have conversations with their son or daughter. Typically, parents will either want to make this the primary topic of conversation with them, or they may ignore the issue altogether, hoping their child’s struggle will quietly disappear. Parents in the first category can unknowingly slip into relating to their child solely on the basis of this issue. Parents panic and want to change their child because they realize the seriousness of sinful sexual behavior. Just as parents mistakenly fear that they caused their child to become gay, they can also erroneously believe they can somehow change their child, which becomes their chief focus. But they need to be reminded that the work of sanctification belongs to the Lord. We do influence our children’s lives, and we want them to live faithfully before God, but our faith must acknowledge that God is the one who is sovereign over our child’s life. God is not just after a child’s behavior; he is after his or her heart.

Those who fall into the second category believe that “keeping the peace” and not talking about it is better than speaking the truth in love. This may be out of fear to keep a close relationship with their child at all costs. Speaking into their child’s life, or keeping quiet, will be a tough balancing act. Help the parents to move beyond their fears to seek wisdom and wait for opportunities to speak, even if it may be upsetting. But remind them that to make this issue the primary focus will seriously hurt the relationship. Let God lead the way in this.

Most importantly, remind parents of their child’s greatest need: the gospel. A child’s sexual orientation/behavior can consume a parent’s vision, but parents need to remember that their child’s fundamental need is to see their need of God’s love and redemption in Christ. The goal for our children is not heterosexual happiness, but grasping an identity in Christ that becomes their chief focus in life. Looking at the situation from this perspective helps the parents see that what their child needs is no different than what everyone needs: to live by faith in Christ and learn how to follow him in obedience, glorifying him even in the brokenness of life (see Philippians 2:12).

Finally, we can remind them to continue in the assurance and hope of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may not be the best passage to give when parents are really hurting at the beginning of all this, but over time this glorious truth will resonate with them. In the midst of our confusion, God is faithful to draw us closer to himself, make us more dependent on him, humble us in our need for grace, and strengthen us in our faith that he does care for our families. When we embrace this reality we have eyes to see that God works his redemptive purposes most powerfully in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Waiting on God and praying for a child is no guarantee that God will cause him to turn away from a gay identity, but it does guarantee the cultivation and deepening of patience, faith, and love in the parents’ hearts and lives—and isn’t that how God reaches the world, displaying his love through the transformed lives of his people?

If you want to connect with Chris, you can reach him at chris@harvestusa.org. Or you can make a comment at the end of this post.

For a deeper examination of these issues, a few of our popular mini books give further insightful and practical help for parents, pastors, church leaders, and friends. Go to www.harvest-usa-store.com for these resources:

Can You Change if You’re Gay?

Your Gay Child Says, ‘I Gay’

Your Gay Child Says ‘I Do’

Homosexuality and the Bible: Outdated Advice or Words of Life?

Dr. Clair Davis, retired church history professor from Westminster Theological Seminary, writes on church and gospel issues. When he writes on sex and sexuality, he has a lot of good things to say, so we thought you’d like to read it also. Dr. Davis wrote in respomse to the Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court’s decision enabling same-sex marriage in all states has gotten much attention, positively and negatively. It will facilitate unbiblical marriages everywhere, and God and his law will be massively mocked. Of course that is very serious. Going ahead, will those opposing this decision be convicted of hate-crime? It is very possible.

But how is this anything new? Some of us can remember when states followed biblical norms, permitting divorce only in cases of adultery. That was when people went to Reno, Nevada, to live for six weeks until they could obtain a “no-fault” divorce there. Those finding that inconvenient were able to enlist private detectives to help them set up a phony adultery in raids on hotel rooms. I can’t remember how believers responded to Reno, but wasn’t that just as serious then as the Court’s decision today?

No doubt there are legal and social advantages to “marriage,” but in a hook-up culture, that has little to do with sexual activity. Puberty comes earlier and marriage much later; do the math yourself. No one says “common-law marriage” any more, but what could be more common? Has the evangelical Christian church, along with Catholic and Orthodox churches, been consistently clear?

This has nothing to do with our welcoming people. Jesus welcomed all us sinners, and we are so glad. But along with our trusting Jesus Christ comes repentance for our sin, and that is what we know ourselves and seek to tell others. I tell this story, one that I actually experienced, about getting drainage pipe for a plot of ground and asking for a much bigger pipe than the clerk suggested, prompting his response as he sold me the really big one, “You do have a drainage problem.” That the Beloved Son of the Father should give up his life for us sinners, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—that wasn’t to show off, that was because of our sin.

We are called to welcome all to Jesus, but clearly turning to him means turning away from whatever idol you worship, including same-sex relations. We need to show and tell that this means us too. We are not called to be Pharisees, to look down on those not as holy as we are. In no way are we worthy.

Were we sloppy about Reno? Hook-ups? It is time for us to repent of that and our own respectable sins too. The Court has gotten everyone’s attention right now, so why should we delay our own repentance? And along with that, calling the world around us to Jesus the Savior? Not just same-sex people—that suggests their sin is greater than ours, and it isn’t. That suggests cultural narrowness, and our calling is to the whole world. The Court has people awake. Now is the time to talk—more clearly and consistently than ever before.

Silent Sisterhood 

What I have been asked to share with you is not so much my story of how and why I came to Harvest USA, but rather what has happened to me since then. I will not pretend to have answers to many questions. This is a story of a ‘work in progress’ and how God ceaselessly and actively works in my life.

I came to Harvest USA because I was convicted that there was something very wrong in what I wanted from people and women in particular. I remember the night I finally began to see the subtle differences in what was good and bad in my friendships. It was a New Year’s Eve party to which a certain few had been invited. As I sat there, I was aware of, as if for the first time, the lingering, meaningful gazes, the exclusive conversations and private jokes, the hand resting too long on a shoulder. I had the sensation of being sucked into something that was no longer alluring. Everything worked in this group by hints and insinuation; nothing was ever said openly; so nothing could be defined. I remember it being a long, long night.

The next morning, I spoke to someone who shared with me her New Year’s Eve. She talked about how she and her friends had come together and prepared a meal. Then during that meal they renewed their friendships and prayed for the coming year and what it would bring. I walked away from her, into another room–and cried. The openness and honesty of the events of her evening contrasted sharply with the complete lack on anything meaningful in mine, and this cut me to the bone.

The Silent Sisterhood to which I belonged required secrecy, and for maintaining the secret my reward was an aching hollowness that gnawed deeper and deeper into my soul. I was a living, breathing lie. I had spent a lifetime building a pleasant, inoffensive façade keeping all but a tiny few out. Now this façade was so thick that it seemed impossible to break through. This is testimony that God can pulverize even the thickest walls around our hearts.

If God says, “No, this not the lifestyle to which I call you,” then to what does he call me? There has to be more to living than just not being gay anymore. For me Harvest USA is not just about walking alongside men and women coming out of the homosexual and lesbian lifestyle. It is a mistake to think that when someone stops acting out the gay lifestyle that it ends there. In most cases all you’ve got is a celibate homosexual or lesbian who lives in an androgynous twilight world of simply knowing what they shouldn’t do. Having been there, I found it’s a cold, comfortless place to be. Those who stop there find little to rejoice about; their hearts are rarely open or warm, their anger something to be avoided.

So, as I came to know what I shouldn’t do, my heart cried out to God to know what he was calling me to be! There had to be more, my heart yearned too much for these deep changes to stop there. What was it? What was it I was tasting, glimpsing, that drew me to the cliff edge of choices, and to the realization that I had choices. It was in this place I first began to understand what it was to be a child of God–the child of a loving father.

Though it sounds simple, to move from seeing myself as a child of God to being his daughter was a momentous step. I could easily have held on to the idea of being a child, seeing myself simply as a child–not even as a little girl, for the rest of my life and effectively never grown up.

But God calls me to be his daughter, his beloved daughter, to grow into womanhood, capable of seeing and experiencing him, people, and life in a totally unique way through my femininity. He teaches me in Word and leads me to women in church, in groups, and in friendships who, as in the words of Proverbs 31, are clothed in strength and dignity, who do not fear the future because of him and who speak with wisdom and faithful instruction. These women move freely and enjoy the respect and confidence of others and shatter my old notions of strength, independence, and freedom. These women are interdependent, they do not see themselves as separate, and they are connected closely to others and enjoy it! The connection is neither smothering nor exclusive as I found in lesbianism, but springs from being present to one another even in the hard, raw times that God uses to shape his daughters.

I am at that point of my journey where I have begun to explore my femininity, this intrinsic part of me–and it is not without fear. I am often frightened by the newness of everything. In a world in which I have heard femininity described as a ragbag of discarded female values to be passed over in search of something better, allowing my life to be shaped by God through his gift of femininity is also frightening. But to expose myself to the refining fire of my Father, to feel the sharpness of his knife as he cuts deep into the shadowy corners of my soul is also to expose that fear for his attention so that he may deal with it.

And I also know this: God sets me on a high cliff, and there I feel the breath of God; it can burn like fire, searing through me and separating sinew from bone. And all the while as I come apart he reshapes me for his purpose, and all the while the protection of his love holds my feet firm in that place. Only God protects and gives safety as I look in things long buried and discarded and am willing to pick up and own as part of me.

From the safety of his protection I face the temptations to go back, to strive at being strong and independent, and consequently to being untouchable in the core of myself. For these temptations are still there. But in God’s love I no longer welcome them as old friends, but see them as the soul destroyers they are.

My femininity, my sexuality, my place as a daughter: These are all gems for the taking from my Father’s hands. How I will wear such precious gifts is something that only time can reveal. But as I look on these well-cut stones, their facets catch and reflect the light of my Father’s love. The luster of his promises never fades, they are promises more enduring than the hardest diamond. Promises worth dying for; and Christ died so that I might receive these gifts.

To receive is something that was impossible for me not so long ago. There is beauty in this that I know I am just beginning to understand. God has lifted the curtain and I have glimpsed something wonderful–that promises more. I want to know, see and be more of what he is calling me to be. As he reveals more, I know this process will not end in this lifetime, but this a journey I want to make; I want to make it hoping and trusting always in him, my loving Father.

Updated 4.13.17

Introduction
A weary traveler is looking for shelter on a dark stormy night. Off in the distance, he can see lights coming from a city. Since it is the only place of refuge the traveler can see he sets off towards that city to see if he can find shelter there. As he comes to a clearing where he can see the city more clearly he stops to study it and consider his options.

He can see signs of life and the comforts he longs for in the city. This seems like the refuge he is looking for, yet he has heard such strange and conflicting things about this city from other travelers. Should he enter the city hoping for a warm welcome or stay where he is taking his chances alone in the darkness of the storm? Sound familiar? If we’re honest, we have all had times in life when we have felt some of the same things this traveler is feeling. Life is full of difficult choices. Choosing to do what is right isn’t always easy or popular. Sometimes making those difficult decisions takes us on a journey away from the safety of the familiar and into the stormy darkness. It takes a lot of courage to enter an unknown city or situation asking for refuge when we are not sure of the welcome we will receive.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus uses the image of a city to describe the church. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (ESV). Since we are the city on the hill, we need to decide what kind of a welcome we will offer travelers seeking refuge from us. In many ways, we already do an excellent job of offering the hope and grace of Christ himself to our communities. The issue of gay marriage seems to be so emotionally charged that our ability to minister to others who seek truth and refuge from us might be hindered. What do the weary travelers see when they look at the church? Do they see a warm, inviting place to talk about truth and the deceptiveness of sexual sin, or do they see our confusion and fear?

In anticipation of writing this article on gay marriage, I conducted a number of impromptu interviews with people impacted by this issue. Just mentioning the issue brought about a variety of impassioned responses. I was able to talk with several pastors who are dealing with their congregation’s concerns and questions. I spoke with parents and family members of men and women who are struggling with the issues of homosexuality, some of whom are already married to someone of the same sex. I also interviewed a number of believers who shared their concern about how God expects them to respond to the gay community in light of the current political debate.

While everyone I talked to had an opinion about gay marriage, few people agreed on what defines gay marriage. It seems that gay marriage means different things to different people. Gay marriage also means different things in different states across the country. All of the people I spoke with agreed that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for mankind. Their other thoughts on gay marriage seemed to fall into three general categories: (1) Some responses reflected a concern that the gay community is trying to force acceptance of their beliefs and lifestyle on the rest of our society. (2) Other people feel that the sanctity of marriage is threatened by the labeling of homosexual unions as marriage. (3) Lastly, a group of people believe that the gay community is justified in seeking some forms of social change, but most of these people were not sure exactly what should change or in what ways.

Is it any wonder with so much confusion over the issues involved in gay marriage that it has become a divisive issue? While these issues are cause for great concern, we do not have to let them be. We can use them as a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of these issues, the gay community, and one another. This might allow us as a community of believers to become a more welcoming refuge for men and women struggling with these issues.

Acceptance of gay unions
Everyone wants to be accepted; God has built this desire into us. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction have this same desire in them. It is only after much pain and heartache that a man or a woman will come to the conclusion that they are gay. These men and women have found acceptance in the gay community that feels like light in their darkness. They have found a relationship with one specific person that they want to make into a life commitment. Now they would like everyone else to accept their lifestyle and share their joy.

As believers, we do need to accept men and women who struggle with homosexuality. We need to accept them as men and women as precious because they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We can admit that, like us, they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Homosexuality is not a worse sin than any other. Yet, we are never supposed to be silent in the face of sin. Our response to the gay community should be open and welcoming, full of grace and truth.

This type of acceptance might be harder for some believers than for others because acceptance of these unions was by far the biggest concern that others shared me. The gay community is not going to stop pursuing their agenda just because resolutions to legalize gay marriage were defeated in 11 states in the presidential election of 2004. The gay community is fighting for freedom that they believe is in their best interest. To be a more effective light in the world, we need to establish ourselves as a refuge that is ready and waiting to accept men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction without condoning homosexuality.

Civil rights and taxes
Listening to gay rights activists, it would seem that gay marriage is all about attaining the same legal and tax standings as heterosexual couples. The issue of gay marriage raises some interesting questions about our system of taxation and civil rights. Should people be taxed at a higher rate or denied certain benefits because they do not marry a member of the opposite sex?

Being married, I never gave thought to the benefits I have because of that choice. The rights to medical insurance; sick, parental, and bereavement leave; and death benefits are among the rights that the gay community is seeking. If I did not have these rights, I would feel a significant loss of safety and freedom. The US General Accounting office reports that there are 1,049 benefits the US government provides to married couples. The most important benefits listed were the entitlement to receive social security benefits, pensions, tax breaks, and visitation rights in hospitals or prisons.

Taxation is a political issue of importance to everyone. It is also an important spiritual issue. We are all called by God to pay our share of taxes. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees were looking to trap Jesus with his words. They tried to put Jesus in a double bind by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Whether Jesus answered yes or no, the Pharisees knew that he would alienate some of the people. But Jesus avoided the trap, silencing his opponents, by going straight to the heart of the matter. In verse 21 Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus by seeking to walk wisely on this issue of taxation. In one short sentence, Jesus separated the tax issue from the spiritual issue. His directives to us as believers are clear: We should be willingly pay what is due to the earthly nation

This means that we should want to establish a system of taxation that is in the best interest of all of our citizens, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Our country was founded on the premise of no taxation without representation.The current cultural norm for taxation is a working husband and a stay-at home wife. This norm reflects the lifestyle circumstances of less than 10% of American households. It would seem that a more equitable tax system that better reflects our culture might be in order. After carefully considering this issue one can conclude that this tax issue is not a heterosexual versus gay issue at all. This is a married versus single taxpayer issue. There is no Biblical prescriptive to support giving married people tax incentives and benefits that are withheld from single people.This practice may not be appropriate any longer.

How might addressing the taxation issue help the church minister to the gay community? First, it will allow us to avoid the trap that has been set for us over taxes. Jesus was careful to avoid the tax-trap question. Are we? Secondly, it will allow the real heart issues to come to the surface in the gay marriage debate. If the tax question is removed from the debate, then the deeper issues can be seen and addressed.

Marriage
The Defense of Marriage Act amended the constitution of the United States and went into effect on September 21, 1996. This amendment legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Although this amendment might face a legal challenge in the future, for now marriage is defined as a one man and one-woman union. Many people feel that the gay community’s desire to call their unions “marriage” threatens the sanctity of marriage. While there is no way to accurately gauge the validity of these concerns, there are two factors that will continue to add to the confusion of the gay marriage debate. These factors are domestic partnership and the infallibility of God’s Word.

The term gay marriage is often used in reference to domestic partnership. Laws protecting and defining the rights of individuals under domestic partnership are already in effect in 12 states. In most of these states, any homosexual or heterosexual couple over the age of 65 who do not want to be married can receive legal status through domestic partnership. Older people often make this choice over marriage because of the financial consequences a new marriage will have on their standard of living. This does threaten the sanctity of marriage. Older generations are choosing not to marry because of the financial consequences that entering a new marriage will cause them. As models on relationships for successive generations, elders who choose domestic partnership definitely threaten the sanctity of traditional marriage.

No matter what the courts decide, how a congressional vote is cast, or what the gay community would like to demand of us, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot condone gay marriage. The church cannot condone gay marriage because we do not have the power to so. This is the spiritual issue at the heart of the gay marriage debate. The gay community wants to feel at peace with God without making peace with God. The Word of God has clearly declared that marriage is a covenant relationship between three parties: the man, the woman, and God (Genesis 2:24). Each party enters into the covenant relationship by his or her own choice. God will not enter into a marriage covenant with a homosexual couple. We cannot change the Word of God. He has been clear that homosexuality is wrong. God is against gay marriage, and there is nothing the church can do to change that.

Conclusions
The issue of gay marriage will be an ongoing challenge for the church. Developing a full understanding of the underlying issues will be critical to being able to address the subject. This will be important in offering the world a godly and biblically accurate understanding of God’s Word as it pertains to gay marriageHopefully, this deeper understanding will lead our congregations to become places of open dialogue where people can wrestle with what it means to love those who struggle with sexual sin in practical terms, like how to accept the sinner and not the sin.

In order to be places of refuge, our churches need to become places of safety. We will need to offer a safe place to disclose our struggles. We will also need safe places to wonder aloud about the questions of civil rights and the inequality that the gay marriage debate has raised. We are called to actively wrestle with what kind of men and women God wants us to be on behalf of others who want to live apart from him. This is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Christ by giving of ourselves for people who might never respond to the Gospel. It might also be an invitation to become part of the social change process.

As the darkness continues to overtake our culture, we will need to have a clear voice of truth to speak. We will need to establish our light to be able to impart the truth to successive generations. We have been entrusted with the truth of God’s own Word. As his ambassadors, we have been commissioned to speak for him, sharing his grace and mercy to a lost and weary generation.

Updated 4.19.2017
14 Jan 2014

Lust

The church pianist arched her back and stretched her arms in preparation for the opening hymn. The man in front of me didn’t miss one movement. His wife, painfully aware of the object of his gaze, jabbed him in the side, he shot back angrily, “I wasn’t looking at anything.” His remark seemed well-rehearsed, perhaps from countless other occasions of being caught stealing looks at attractive women. The couple’s hurt and anger betrayed the endless cycle of accusation, defense, guilt, effort, helplessness, and failure so often associated with struggles of lust.

Lust is a battle for us all. Christians—both men and women—have struggled with it for generations. Many have measured their or others’ spirituality on the basis of their freedom from lust. Yet for all the interest focused on lust it would seem that we ought to be far clearer about the problem and its solution. What exactly is lust, why is it so hard to change, and how can we deal with its power to shape our lives?

The color of lust

Most people have come to equate lust with sexual desire. In many cases in Scripture, lust does refer to illicit sexual desire (1 Peter 4:3). Consequently, if we are not struggling with illicit sexual thoughts or behavior, we assume we are free from lust. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The word in the New Testament that is translated “lust” means strong desire. The word can be used to describe a legitimate, godly desire. Jesus said to His disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Elsewhere Paul said he strongly desired to depart this life to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23), and yet he also strongly desired to be with his friends (1 Thessalonians 2:17). Strong, passionate, eager desire or lust is not inconsistent with God’s purpose for our lives.

On the other hand we know from the Bible and from experience that strong desire, or lust, can be immoral and destructive. I spoke to a thirty-five-year-old man, “Craig,” who had fought an obsession with pornography since he was eight years old. He was alternately victorious and then overwhelmed by his lustful desires. His occasional lapses endangered his ministry and threatened his relationship with his family.

But this man’s battle with lust was not confined solely to sexual pictures and mental images. In fact, his lust manifested itself in workaholism, extreme absorption in hobbies and reading, and an obsessive desire to please others. To focus too narrowly on his sexual lust would have caused us to lose the bigger picture of his battle with addictive desires.

“Diana” was struggling with the desire to have a fifth child. Every time she saw a newborn baby, she ruminated and obsessed about how to convince her husband. She lusted after being pregnant. Her battle was not sexual, but I would suggest she had just as great a problem with lust as the man who struggled with pornography.

When desire goes awry

When does lust become destructive? Destructive lust is any consuming desire that is either out of bounds or out of balance.

An out-of-bounds lust is a desire for any person or object or idea that is inconsistent with God’s expressed desire for our life. To feel sexual desire for our spouse is appropriate; to covet our neighbor’s wife is an illegitimate desire.

An out-of-balance lust is any legitimate desire that blocks our ability to serve God and others. For example, a student who is so consumed by getting good grades (a legitimate desire) that he is unable to spend time pursuing God is consumed by an out-of-balance lust. Likewise, a neighbor who can’t say no to her friend’s desire to go to a movie is equally imbalanced in her lust for acceptance.

Defined in this way, no one is free from the battle with lust. Why do we battle so often with its forces? And why do those battles yield so little fruit and victory? In other words, why is lust so hard to change?

The power of lust

The answer to those questions requires a more thoughtful analysis of the design and function of lust. God made us with desire—desire for intimate relationship with Him and for meaningful service in His world. The fall perverted those desires. The quest for intimacy was replaced by a desire for its quickest counterfeit: elicit sexual pleasure. Our God-given desire for meaningful service was twisted to a lust for power over others. The longing for impact become a lust for control.

These counterfeits appeal to us because they seek to replace God and His high standards with something that is familiar and undemanding. Paul says fallen man replaced the worship of God (Creator) with worship of people or things of this world (creature) (Ro. 1:18-23). The creature does not require repentance or gratitude. The creature does not demand brokenness or service. Creature worship only requires denying the true emptiness inside and hiding the shame that arises in turning our back on God and others.

Why is that form of lust so difficult to overcome? Because it is the best alternative to satisfying our empty hearts without dependently bowing our knee before God. Changing it not only requires giving up something that has worked, to some degree, to fill our empty hearts, but it also necessitates embracing a God who invites us to experience what we deeply despise— brokenness, poverty, weakness and dependency. In the face of a walk through the valley of the shadow of death, an addiction to pornography, a fifth child, or saying no to a friend seems like a lark in the park.

Even if the lust is destructive and life-threatening it may be preferable to a God who calls us to love those who harm us and serve those who in fact are below us. True worship is too costly; creature worship is, at first, less demanding.

Two faulty strategies

What is required to deal with our battle with lust? Let me first take a look at two contemporary Christian routes for dealing with lust that at times make the problem worse. These two routes—self-denial and self-enhancement—offer some help, but often lead to even greater struggles with lust and addiction. Craig eventually followed both of these paths.

1) As a new Christian, Craig viewed the struggle with lust as an overwhelming desire for sexual pleasure or relief. He saw the real enemy as sexual thoughts and feelings, and the cure as merely choosing the right procedure for conquering his lust. Victory came when he felt sufficiently guilty over his thoughts, avoided opportunities for lust, and chose to discipline his wandering mind.

Sadly, the fruit of this view is often self-hatred, shame, and contempt, which lead to increased sexual struggles. After decades of failure, many with this view either conclude they are oppressed by demons or doubt their salvation.

2) Another approach to lust is found in an adaptation of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step recovery process. This approach sees lust as a symptom of deeper hurt. The cure is to admit that everyone is addicted, Once denial is removed, then the shame of feeling deficient can be eliminated and the real roots of the problem—loneliness, insecurity, and past trauma—can be healed and the addiction controlled.

While the first approach to dealing with lust often encourages self-hatred and denial, the second approach may increase self-absorption. When Craig adopted this approach he gained more control of his sexual lusts. But he then struggled with new, equally strong addictions. He became a group-aholic, attending several recovery-type groups per week.

He was also a self-aholic. He became absorbed with making sure no one violated his personal desires. He began sharing his feelings whenever he wanted to, no matter how inappropriate it was. He lost a great deal of sensitivity and care for others.

Craig acknowledged that he had turned from a man who lacked a self to one who put self above others and ultimately above the God who called him to serve. Unfortunately, he never looked at the deeper structure of sin involved in his lust. In part his efforts to control his lust were God-honoring; but on the other hand he never faced the fact that his lust was far more than merely a struggle with sexual thoughts.

Why discipline isn’t enough

Lust is a failure to exercise the will toward righteousness. People who battle any form of lust must work at strengthening their wills. But it is never enough merely to address one’s lack of discipline. It is crucial to view lust as a product of hatred: hatred of our loneliness and our circumstances, and hatred of the God who requires us to love in spite of our pain. Lustful addictions are the vehicle to flee from the ache in our souls and use our helplessness as an excuse not to love others and God.

What is required for destructive lust to be transformed into passionate, lively, and loving desire for God and others? I don’t believe there are pat answers or even easily-articulated steps that relieve our battle with the flesh. The ultimate cure is Heaven; until then, all change and certainly all steps are mere approximations of what is involved in knowing God and being transformed by his presence. Yet I can offer a few tentative thoughts to help the process of change.

1. Face the problem. Addictive lust feeds on the darkness of denial. “I’m not an alcoholic. I just drink to sooth my nerves—or to feel more relaxed.” “I may masturbate a lot, but doesn’t everyone at one time or another?” “I know I work too late, but it’s only until I get more settled in my job.” Deception is the ally of lust in that it allows us to serve “two masters” and make it look as if all is well (Matthew 6:24).

For example, Diana viewed her desire for a fifth child as natural and reasonable. Beneath the surface, however, her motives were less than pure. Another baby would keep her from facing the eventual loss of her youthfulness and worth as the mother of young children. And as a busy mother, she would not need to face the growing distance in her relationship with her husband. Her rage at his unwillingness to have another child masked the loneliness she felt in their marriage. Every lustful obsession serves the desire to be satisfied apart from God. If change is to occur, denial must be lifted and the ugly parts of our soul exposed.

2. Wrestle with your heart as well as your behavior. Without question, lust will not be changed without a willingness to discipline the will. I must be willing to fight, scratch and claw toward holiness (I Peter 4:1-3). If I can’t say no to avoid situations where my lust will be given room to flourish, I must make the right choices. But choice is not enough. More is required than merely the effort to avoid lust and focus on godly desire. We must repent of the deeper issues that are feeding our lust. But one cannot deeply repent of what is unknown. We need to pray that God will reveal the secret things of our heart (Psalm 139). Some of the subtle categories of the heart to be considered when dealing with a tenacious lust problem are these:

One, what is the context for my struggles with lust? Many find that lust is more severe after a stressful event, such as a failure or success. It is very important to keep a journal that records the experience of lust, the context, and the battle to deal with both the heart and obedience.

Two, what significant current or past wounds am I ignoring in my struggles with lust? Many times a lust problem is easier to bear than a deep wound that seems impossible to erase. For example, Craig found that he often gave in to sexual fantasies after phone conversations with his critical and demeaning father. His sexual addiction masked the lonely wounds and anger related to his parent.

Three, what do I feel unable to do or be—because of my struggle with lust? Sadly, a struggle with lust may subtly serve as an excuse to not make choices that may seem more frightening. Craig refused to honor his father by talking about their relationship. He quietly endured his father’s reproach rather than praying and agonizing over what God might have him do to deepen his love for his father.

Repentance in the ongoing process of sanctification is not a once-for-all event. As we face our denial and repent of our rebellion against God, then we will find greater insight and increased sorrow over sin.

Honesty and repentance are crucial to change. The ultimate antidote to lust, however, is love. It is very, very difficult to destructively lust after someone you love. It is very hard to lust after something that does damage to someone you love. Lust is a consuming and absorbing possession of someone in order to dull our own pain rather than a delighting in and enhancing of another.

An engaged couple may look at one another with enormous passion and keen anticipation of their merger as one flesh, but if love prevails, then they would refuse to do anything that would mar their individual or corporate beauty. In the same way, a man and woman who work together may enjoy one another’s physical or personal beauty, but if love prevails, then each will long to increase one another’s beauty rather than stain it by the violation of destructive lust.

It is tragic that many men attempt to deal with lust by avoiding rich, intimate and honorable relationships with women. They believe that distance insures safety; in fact, reserve only seems to increase private fantasies. The only real safety net is love.

In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to meditate on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. Somehow being caught up in that which is lovely is incompatible with the ugliness of destructive lust. Ultimately, the fairest and loveliest of all meditations is Jesus Christ.

Paul says the deception and enslavement to all kinds of passions begins to melt in the light of the kindness and love of God (Titus 3:3-4). The brutal power of lust will not succumb to any force of the human will unless the heart is captured by the glory and tenderness of the gospel. As the good news of freedom from God’s wrath increases our wonder, laughter, and passion to live, then the dark desire to possess, to consume, and to destroy will have less power in our lives. The joy of being forgiven, not only of behavior but also of the sin deep in our hearts, will increase our desire to love (Luke 7:47). And an increase in a desire to love will deepen our desire to see beauty enhanced in everyone whom we have the pleasure and privilege to encounter.

Lusting for godliness

Unfortunately, we will battle with lust for the remainder of our lives. But with hearts redeemed by the gospel, we will be freer to turn toward the path of beauty rather than pursue the track of hatred.

The passion of the gospel will eventually overrule and defeat the destructive lust of consumption. The pursuit of holiness will become far more than a desire to do right but a desire, or a “lust,” for the character and beauty of God. In that sense, the gospel frees us to lust after what our hearts are made for—godliness—rather than after that which leads to decay, death, and despair. Godly lust leads to life. In that sense, go and lust well.

Updated 4.20.2017

The following is an excerpt from Vicki Tiede’s new book, When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2012 by Vicki Tiede. This Harvest USA resource can be used individually, in a one-on-one discipling relationship, or in a small group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore: www.harvest-usa-store.com.

“Trust was definitely lost and took years to rebuild. There have been times of relapse, and those have taught us how to rebuild trust on a continual basis. Initially, I felt like I had lost my husband. I didn’t know who he was anymore. Were the vows we made years before even valid? I had been lied to for so long.”
– Jessica

Be∙tray∙al, noun: the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals.

Falling in love is an indescribable feeling. Do you remember when you fell in love with this man you call “husband?” When you stood in front of the minister and made a covenant before God and others to love and honor this man, I’m sure it never occurred to you that giving your heart away to him gave him the ability to break it. While the official definition of betrayal describes the breaking of a contract, trust, or confidence, the practical definition should include the breaking of a heart. When your husband’s addiction to pornography was revealed, you learned firsthand that the betrayal of love and trust doesn’t happen only to other people. It can happen to you. It did happen to you. As you sort through the debris in the aftermath of the discovery you find your heart lying in the rubble with deep, painful wounds. And you may wonder if you’ll ever trust again.

Let’s get one thing clear: Acting on a pornography addiction constitutes a betrayal. If your husband, well-meaning friend, or a misinformed therapist told you otherwise, he or she is wrong. God designed sexual intimacy to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage. As soon as sexual pleasure is sought outside the marriage—whether with a partner or in self-gratification while looking at porn—it is adultery. Such choices will devastate trust and have repercussions in the marriage and in the husband’s relationship with God. Sexual infidelity is a tremendously difficult betrayal from which to recover, but there is hope.

Did you hear that? There is hope. The journey of a broken heart on the road to healing will take time, and broken trust leaves scars. But remember, a broken bone is stronger after it has healed than it was before it was broken. In the same way, in time your heart will heal to be stronger than it would have been if it had never been broken at all, especially if you understand that time will not heal your broken heart, God will. I know you are up for the journey or you wouldn’t still be reading this book. Persevere. In time, you will reach your destination, and God will heal your wounds. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, ESV).

Lies are the backbone that supports an act of betrayal. You have no doubt heard your share of stories. When you asked, “What were you doing up until 2:00 a.m.?” or “Why did you have the office door locked just now?” your husband wouldn’t look you in the eye. He gave a vague response, and your trust was damaged. (When I confronted my husband about graphic sexual photographs I’d found in his filing cabinet, he claimed he was doing research for a book. My husband had a very respectable career and was not a writer [neither was I at that time in my life], and if he had written a book describing what I saw on those pages, it could have been sold only in an adult bookstore.)

When the full spectrum of the betrayal was revealed, your damaged trust in your husband was exchanged for full-blown devastation, and you were ushered into the present crisis. Let’s consider for a moment what possessed your husband to lie in the first place. I’m going to be honest and give you the bottom line first. Your husband lied because he could and because, for a time, it worked. In addition, he lied because he was self-deceived, he hoped to avoid conflict with you, he feared the consequences of you knowing the truth, and he feared the possibility of not being able to “have it all”—you and the outside sexual opportunities. Ultimately, it backfired. As you know, lies are the tool of the devil because they kill trust.

I wonder if, like me, you find yourself creating new categories of time: before I knew about the addiction, during the unveiling, and after the fact.

I know you did not sign up to travel on this road. It stinks. At times, it may even feel unbearable. I recall many nights of crying until I was physically sick. A broken heart is agony.

You don’t need to spend much time in your Bible to recognize that God knows precisely how it feels to give his heart to someone, only to have her give her heart to someone or something else. God made a sacred covenant (like marriage) to the people of Israel, and throughout the Old Testament we see them reject him again and again. They committed spiritual adultery, and God was hurt, angry, envious, and betrayed. Does any of this sound familiar? Yes, I thought so.

Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
– Psalm 78:38–39

The real showstopper is that very little has changed in the last four thousand years. The Word of God chronicles a wild rescue story. First, there is a need for rescue (Genesis 1—11), next the rescue is proclaimed (Genesis 12—Malachi), at last the Rescuer arrives (the Gospels), and finally the rescue is fulfilled (Acts—Revelation). You would think we would all bask in our glorious freedom from the chains of the enemy, chains from which the Rescuer saved us. You would think—but that’s not the case, is it? Instead, we betray our Rescuer every time we run back to the lies and temporary pleasures with which the enemy tempts us.

Yet despite our repeated betrayals, God stands with his arms outstretched, waiting for us to turn to him so he can forgive us and welcome us back into his arms. God doesn’t differentiate between his prodigals. He longs for all of us. Whether we bear the title “betrayer” or “betrayed,” God is waiting for us to turn to him so he can begin the relationship again. That’s what God does in the face of betrayal. He begins again.

God could choose to grab us under the armpits, pluck us out of our rebellion, and stick us safely back in his arms where we belong. He could, but he wants us to call out and move toward him. He could force the restoration of our relationship, but God allows us to be responsible for our actions. Thus, it is the responsibility of the unfaithful one to own his actions and take the steps to restore trust.

Likewise, you must surrender your attempts to control your husband’s life. Let him be responsible for the choices he makes. It is his responsibility to take the first steps to restore trust in your relationship. He will have to earn your trust by demonstrating trustworthy behavior. This isn’t going to be a ten-minute tidy. His past lies have probably caused you to question the truth about absolutely everything he says or does, so you can expect that the cleanup from those lies and the rebuilding of trust will take time.

Trust is an asset we don’t fully appreciate until we don’t have it in a relationship. Before you were aware of your husband’s addiction, you may not have given trust a second thought. Since the unveiling, however, you conjure up countless possibilities in your mind every time your husband walks out the door, or you walk out the door leaving him alone, or he gets on the computer, or he pauses while flipping channels, or he . . . . You get my drift. It’s torture.

You and your husband will not rebuild healthy trust unless you are both sure you are heard, understood, and loved by the other. It is liberating to know you are known and accepted by your partner. Then and only then can you be who you are—without pretenses. That is what it means to trust.

Trust is when you are secure enough in your relationship that you don’t need to edit everything you say and explain everything you do. You can be yourself without fearing that the relationship will end if the other person sees your flaws. This is your goal.

You will choose to trust your husband when you are ready. Don’t worry— trusting and forgiving are not the same thing. Rebuilding trust will probably take much longer than it will take to forgive. You will know it’s time to trust when your heart helps you choose to believe that he will make the right choices. His behaviors will become your trust barometer. If he wants to demonstrate his trustworthiness and he is making right choices, he will have no problem being accountable and undergoing a reasonable degree of scrutiny. (This does not give you license to be the porn police!) If, however, he insists that you should be able to simply “get over it” and take his word that he’s “done doing that,” and he resists accountability, you should be cautious about trusting. This is a direct indication that he is not serious about healing from his addiction and restoring trust in your marriage.

I can’t promise you that this will be an easy road to travel. Nor can I assure you that if you arrive at your destination and choose to trust, your husband will not fall again. But I can tell you that God will heal your broken heart.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.

Updated 5.29.2017

Look for the signs 

In a broken world, we all must face the consequences of sin—our own sin as well as the sin of others. For a woman whose husband is addicted to pornography or sexual sin, this dual battle of facing both her husband’s betrayal and her own struggle to respond appropriately can be excruciating. How can she best love her husband during his gradual, often lengthy, journey of growth, maturity, and change?
And how can she endure if he refuses to work on restoring their marital unity? These are important questions for wives whose husbands struggle with any form of sex addiction.

The shock of discovery and his initial pursuit for help often give way to an unsettling sadness and real confusion about how to move on down the road. Fortunately, some women married to sex addicts eventually find that their husbands’ movement into change and accountability has actually strengthened their marriages. Spouses who choose the path of ongoing honesty and repentance can enjoy the reward of a more satisfying union. However, many wives find themselves facing an ambiguous husband, a husband not committed to working hard on his issues, a husband who promised faithfulness but won’t sever ties with his idolatry of lust. How is such a woman supposed to live as God’s daughter in that kind of circumstance?

There are, of course, no easy answers. Wives of sex addicts are on a path that is both frightening and largely uncharted. But there are signposts that mark this path of marital disappointment, landmarks that identify for travelers that they are on the road that will bring them to their destination. When the way to a destination is new, it is comforting to know what to expect. What signposts can a disappointed wife expect to see along her journey toward renewal in her life and marriage?

Signpost #1: Anger, shock, and numbness

When the issue of sexual unfaithfulness comes out into the light and a wife finally is confronted with the reality of her husband’s struggle, it is common for her to react with shock. There will likely be much anger and crying, which may not be pleasant but is healthy and normal. However, within a few weeks it isn’t uncommon for the wife to then feel numb. The initial adrenaline of discovery and the burst of energy to find help wear off as the realities of daily living settle in.This is a crucial time during which a woman needs support and guidance. Her overwhelming pain will surely tempt her to shut down emotionally or to build walls, protecting herself from more hurt. Under the layer of shock and numbness are her broken dreams about marriage and life. She rightly expected marital faithfulness but found betrayal, and it is enough to stagger even the most pragmatic wife. Having discovered her husband’s addiction to pornography or sexual sin, her life has been profoundly altered. Certainly no wife is foolish enough to think she has married a perfect man. But living with a husband who has deeply failed her at the core of their intimate relationship plunges a woman into huge ambivalence. She longs for the intimacy of marriage, but how can she go on giving her heart to her wayward husband? This part of her journey is neither pretty nor simple, but it is, in fact, God’s invitation to the redemptive process of grief.

Signpost #2: Good grief—mourning the loss

Grieving is not a popular experience, but it is absolutely necessary for the restoration of a marriage in which a spouse has crossed moral boundaries. Grief is a deep, emotional reaction to a loss. Our culture legitimizes mourning the death of a person who is important to us. Less supported, however, is grief when something less tangible “dies.” Moreover, the shame attached to sexual sin and the fear of exposure to others (especially in the church) makes this experience of loss even more isolating.

Scripture, of course, is not silent about grief. In fact, mourning is often spoken of as a normal part of living in a fallen world. Did not Jesus say in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (ESV)? Comfort comes to those who mourn, and Jesus was speaking to a very large audience when he said those words. The psalmist reinforces this concept by reminding us, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). God seems to expect that our hearts will be broken relationally, and when we experience this, he intends that we bring our crushed and broken hearts to him for his comfort. Nor does God expect our expressions of sorrow to look pretty or to be worded in calm and logical prose. David’s psalms were anything but serene. He often began by complaining or beseeching God to pay attention to his circumstances and to punish those who were harming him. Of course he usually made a shift from distress to worship and from anger to gratitude for God’s love. But never does he pretend that life is not difficult.

Many other men and women in Scripture struggled with painful relationships and disappointing events, and they did not hesitate to bring their grieving hearts to God in earnest prayer, telling their Creator how they felt. Consider Moses’ complaint in Numbers 11, Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1, or Job’s many lamentations, especially in Job 23. Even Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” as he faced his imminent death (Hebrews 5:7). God’s people do not run from grief. Rather, they boldly enter it, for there they find the waiting arms of their heavenly Father.

Our culture, unfortunately, seldom teaches us how to handle our emotions when our world is shaken. People today don’t often share the Scriptural perspective that sin has altered the experience of life and all of creation groans in waiting for the finality of redemption. But we can take God’s word for it: It is normal to groan about damage to one’s heart and marriage. Naturally we want to know how long this grieving stage will last, but there is no perfect timetable. Grief must run its course. We will know when our grief has crossed the line from healthy mourning to entrenched self-pity. God will surely show us (even while we’re still grieving) how to move toward loving others who have hurt us. And be prepared: God always starts with the person whose attention he has at the moment—which may be the offended one, not the offender.

One winter’s day while journaling about my own heartache at having been disappointed by someone I trusted, I (Penny) felt entitled to list for God all the reasons I should never trust my heart to anyone again. Tired of being hurt, I was on a roll. My litany of mistreatment went back to childhood, including such sorrows as sexual abuse, being stood up for two proms in a row, and several experiences of being betrayed by close friends. I ended up feeling justified for never letting my heart be mishandled again. “It just isn’t safe!” I self-righteously concluded. Quietly I waited in the sun-drenched warmth of my room, confident that God would comfort me by affirming my self-protection. Instead he gently guided me to this question: “And just whose definition of ‘safe’ shall we use—yours or mine?”

I was caught; the sin of my own heart exposed. My view of safety had been entirely self-focused: I wanted to never be hurt again. Furthermore, my commitment to safety meant I would never love deeply again, and thus I would cease to reflect the Father I was called to imitate. My own self-consumed heart was juxtaposed to my Father’s long-suffering heart, he who had not spared his own Son to insure my eternal safety. In repentance I saw once again God’s commitment to love the unlovely, which of course included me. How could I not show to others the same love I had myself received? Grief does not nullify our obligation to love others. Rather it reinforces it.

Signpost #3: Accepting the risk of loving the unlovely

Any woman married to a sex addict wonders how to move from the anguish of betrayal to the risk of trusting her husband again, knowing she is likely to be re-disappointed because sensual gratification is such an easy-to-obtain commodity. If she understands that her husband’s sin is to seek refuge from stress and to sexualize his disappointment with life, she knows there will probably be further failures. But a wise woman becomes a helpmate ever better suited to her husband if she will remember that she no less than he is tempted to handle the pain of life in sinful ways.

The ground is always level at the foot of the cross, each of us carrying our dignity and depravity in ways unique to our own particular history and temperament. And because of the hope of the gospel, a marriage can be rebuilt when both husband and wife enter together the humility of being sinners who need grace. The process may be long and painful, but the rewards are sweet. One major part of loving the unlovely, therefore, is the risk of offering forgiveness, which essentially means not “holding on to wrongs suffered,” as described in 1 Corinthians 13:5. My pastor says it like this: “Forgiveness means taking the snapshot you have of this person (a snapshot that may have been at one time accurate) and shredding it.” How can a wife begin to shred this picture of her husband as infidel? This is the work of warfare praying.

Signpost #4: Prayer warfare

A wife begins to risk her heart as she prays for God to change her so she can love her spouse as God himself loves him. Inviting God to show her his view of her husband will allow her to see him not only as a sinner, but also as a man designed to reflect God’s purpose in a dark world. How would her husband be if he no longer were in bondage to sexual sin? What kind of man would he be if he understood the depth of God’s love? What would it look like if he became the protector to her that he was designed to be? How might their marriage change if his heart was captivated by the beauty of God ‘s gift of sexual unity in marriage and he cherished his wife as he found himself cherished by his Holy Suitor?

Seeing her husband from God’s perspective can rejuvenate a wife’s respect and passion for him. As a woman reflects on how her husband is caught in the foolish web of illicit sexual gratification, she can begin to pray for his soul in ways that honor him as the image bearer he is called to be. In prayer she can re-commit herself to her marriage, longing for her husband’s restoration and allowing God to bring his grace to her so she can in turn offer it to her fallen husband. Such a wife cannot stay hard or bitter. When she aligns herself with God’s purposes, offering her heart to God to soften and fill, she will be able to love well the man who has caused her much sorrow. What a reflection this is of God’s own love, which ever extends toward those who have caused him sorrow.

Signpost #5: Facing an ambiguous outcome

There are times, however, when in spite of a wife’s perseverance in warfare praying, her husband remains in bondage to sexual sin. Despite her seasoned prayer on his behalf he refuses to become the man God and she are inviting him to be. What can a wife do in the face of his hard-heartedness? Such was the plight of Abigail, as described in 1 Samuel 25.

She was married to a foolish and rude man, Nabal, and though we know little about her, surely her life with a boorish man occasioned many moments of intense prayer between her and God. And out of the wisdom and faith nurtured in Abigail’s walk with God, she took an amazing risk, jeopardizing her life to save her household and to protect David’s reputation as God’s man. This she did by literally standing in David’s way as he marched to take revenge on Nabal for disrespecting him. Abigail’s intervention not only saved the lives of many, but it also changed the course of David’s personal history. Then, when Abigail went home to her drunken husband, she shrewdly timed her intervention of truth telling for when he was sober, at which time Nabal appears to have had a stroke. Scripture then says, “About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal and he died” (v. 38, emphasis mine).

For ten days, God let Abigail live in a situation that had gone from bad to worse with no guarantee of a positive outcome. If I had been Abigail, I would have been furious. “Oh, great! This is how I’m rewarded for following you? Now I have to take care of an abusive stroke victim?!” How could Abigail have gone on? I am convinced it was only because of her connection with God. Only by his grace could she have lived without allowing her circumstances to harden her heart toward God. For wives whose husbands are in bondage to pornography or other sexual sin, it will take much prayer and shrewdness—which only come from hours spent in prayer, asking the hard questions about what the next step should be. It also will involve at times a willingness to fight with her husband as well as for her husband’s soul.

Signpost #6: Productive fighting—hard consequences for hard hearts

How can a wife engage in productive fighting on behalf of her marriage? For one thing, she must choose her battles carefully, discerning which issues are worth being addressed and which must be overlooked. Nor should she struggle by herself. She may need a mentor to come alongside her, helping her to see her situation with “new eyes.” Also, if her husband is a believer, she may be able to bring her situation to the attention of the elders of their church. The discipline outlined in Scripture is designed to reach a soul dulled by sin to matters of conscience. Moreover, the hardest consequence a wife may face because of her husband’s continued disobedience could include divorce, and she will need the support of good men from her church to pursue this difficult step if it becomes necessary.

In the meantime, keeping a soft heart but a hard line is a difficult balancing act. A godly wife’s tone and mood should be firm, winsome, and brave. She must require what God requires of her husband: faithfulness and holiness. A wife can say hard things to her husband if her words communicate her sorrow if he persists in sin. For example, in order to protect her health, she may need to require that her husband be tested for sexually transmitted diseases before she can receive him again sexually. She might say something like, “It grieves me to enforce this, but it is necessary for our future relationship. I will be deeply sorry if you refuse, but I will also celebrate your repentance as I see the steps you make toward restoration in our marriage.” A hard line need not be drawn with a hard fist. Being available to fight with her husband for her marriage will require much strength.

A wife focused on challenging her husband in these ways will need support. Talking with a counselor, being involved in a support group and coming to her pastor with her concerns will be an important practice to keep her from feeling isolated. She also needs a wise ear to help her discern her own motives as she plans how to respond to her spouse.This work will be exhausting.

To love another this well will cost her dearly. She must compensate for the sorrow she embraces by seeking rest in her Heavenly Father, who promises his presence to “those who are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Allowing mature friends to walk along side her as she does this work will also provide her with strength and refreshment.

Conclusion

These then are six signposts along a wife’s path toward wholeness when her husband’s sex addiction has been exposed. Recognizing the signposts is not always simple, nor is the journey linear or clean. But it is a journey of hope for any woman who will allow her heart to be broken by the effects of her husband’s sin, and yet be softened toward God and toward her husband. Only as she commits herself to spend time with her heavenly Father can she love from a heart that longs to see her husband restored and conformed to the image God has for all his men. On such a journey, no woman is ever alone, for Christ himself will companion with her and bring her finally Home.

Updated 4.25.2017

The discovery of sexual sin in a marriage is usually a devastating experience for the faithful spouse. In an instant, everything is forever changed by the disclosure. The marriage you thought you had does not exist. Maybe it never did. Your whole world is turned upside down.
You might not be able to think straight, sleep, or eat. Your emotions may feel out of control. All these are typical responses you might have to the relational betrayal of sexual infidelity.

Sexual infidelity is clearly contrary to biblical teaching (Matthew 5:27 –28). As the reality of sexual betrayal sets in, the first question that you may begin to ask yourself is, “What do I do now? Do I stay in this marriage or do I leave?” This is never an easy question to ask or answer. Leaving a marriage is clearly an option in the aftermath of sexual sin (Matthew 5:31-32). However, there is no biblical mandate that requires leaving the marriage after sexual sin.

As difficult as it may sound, waiting a while before making this important decision is often the best option. The betrayal of infidelity triggers a trauma-like response that can last from six to eight weeks. During this period of time, it is often difficult to think clearly, making it unwise to make important life decisions. Only after the initial trauma response has subsided can difficult decisions be addressed. Inviting wise counsel and resources to join you in the process of making those decisions may be profitable to you and your marriage. This is not a decision that should be made alone or impulsively.

So how do you decide whether to stay or go? Wrestling with this issue after sexual betrayal is normal. It is natural to look for ways to eliminate and reduce pain. If your goal is to feel better or lessen your pain, leaving might do that, but it probably will not bring you the relief that you desire. Unfortunately, broken hearts are painful, whether you remain in the relationship or not. Leaving the marriage will cause separation, but not necessarily pain relief.

Remember that while the marital covenant between you and your spouse has been breached, the relational covenant between you and God is still intact. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we are called to fulfill the commandment to love God and others well (Matthew 22:37-39). As difficult and insurmountable as the issues in your life seem, God can make a way through the current difficulties for you and your spouse, if you choose to pursue that path. Your goal then should always be to do what loves your spouse and points him or her towards God. Whether you choose to stay or not, you need to first answer the question, “What loves my spouse best by pointing him or her to God?”

There are three issues that might be helpful to think through as you wrestle with your decision: safety, repentance, and reconciliation.

Safety 

If it is unsafe for you or your children to live in the same house with your spouse, then separation is recommended. Safety is not simply related to dealing with a violent or threatening spouse. Safety issues include how the spouse is responding to concerns about medical testing. If physical sexual contact has been made with someone else or is suspected, issues like testing for STD’s and HIV need to be addressed immediately, regardless of any decisions about the future of the relationship.

A marriage that feels unsafe to a betrayed spouse can be made safer by the assurance that comes from knowing that the sin is being addressed through appropriate accountability, church discipline, and counseling. No one can promise that the infidelity will never happen again, but strong stop-gap measures can be put in place as some insurance that it will not. Sufficient attention to stop-gap measures that address the sinful behaviors and relational patterns that accompanied them can make a distressed marriage feel safer. Restoring trust in your spouse is going to take a long time, but you can feel a certain level of safety when such measures are invested in for positive changes in your marriage.

Repentance

Repentance is turning away from sin and towards holiness. Nothing can give you more hope than watching your spouse actively pursue repentance by deepening his or her personal relationship with Christ. Failure to see this, on the other hand, may be a sign that repentance is not really taking place. Sometimes when there is a long history of the sexual sin, what loves a spouse best and points him or her towards God is the exact opposite of what has been tried in the past. Old sin patterns often need new interventions, and sometimes this might include separation or divorce.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation requires a decision from both you and your spouse to re-enter the marital relationship. Reconciliation is an emotional process that will include many difficult ups and downs. God will invite each of you to reconciliation with him and then with one another. Invariably, the marriage at the end of this process will be stronger than the marriage was when it entered the process. In the midst of this, there will probably be times that you will question your decision to stay all over again. If there is a focus on reconciliation by both partners, then there can be perseverance through the hard times.

Finally, there is nothing more that you can do than attempt to fulfill the law of love that Jesus has given to each of us. Whatever your decision, to stay or to go, you will have loved well if your goal is to bless your spouse by pointing her or him to God.

Updated 4.25.2017

My long journey to Harvest USA began more than 10 years ago. It was then that my husband confessed to me that he had a problem with pornography. He told me that it had started when he was twelve years old.

Married for five years then, I had sensed that something was amiss in our relationship. Something was drastically impacting our ability to relate to each other, both emotionally and physically. His confession made sense to me, but it also devastated me.

I had been raised in an evangelical Christian home. I had no previous exposure to issues of this nature. My husband was resistant to counseling. This was extremely painful to me. He took the attitude that, “We’ll solve our own problems.” What little counseling we did receive was harmful, especially to me. I was basically told that I must be sure to keep having sex with him and this would, eventually, solve his problem. This further exacerbated my feelings of blame and shame.

Along the way, many unanswered questions lurked in my mind. What was the matter with me? Why did my husband need to look at other naked women? Why hadn’t just getting married cured him of the pornography problem as he had thought it would? What if my husband got involved with or decided to leave me for one of these other kind of beautiful women?

There seemed to be nowhere for me to find solace. I felt obligated to protect my husband’s reputation, so I hid our problems and his for years. I didn’t feel that I could walk up to a girlfriend at church and say, “My husband struggles with pornography; what does yours struggle with?”

I felt that this was one of the church’s unacceptable, politically incorrect sins. I also didn’t share this situation with my own parents or friends. Nor did I feel that I could actually talk with my husband about it at all. He had rejected the idea that he might actually have a sexual addiction. To my husband, the pornography wouldn’t really be a problem—unless I let it be—unless it bothered me. More blame. I was also angry that God had allowed me to marry a man with this addiction, although I had prayerfully sought his will in seeking a marriage partner.

It was as if I was in a car being driven along the interstate. My husband was driving. I kept asking him to stop—to get off at the next exit, or the next, or the next. Yet he was committed to traveling on the same dangerous route, unabated. This left me feeling unprotected and insecure.

The loneliness, together with his refusal to seek help, led me into a state of denial for years. I always knew the problem was there, but felt paralyzed to effect any change. My motto became to make the best of my marriage and family life and continue trying to keep it together with my three daughters. I lived in this place for over ten years!

Then, three years ago, I discovered that the problem exceeded just pornography. My husband was also having an affair. It was at this time that I was at a conference at another church where I saw a brochure for a Harvest USA seminar. I was astounded that there was actually a ministry to those struggling with these kinds of things. I called to find out if there was something available for wives. There was.

I began to attend the Wives Support Group. I felt immediate love, acceptance, and understanding for where I was. Talk about a shelter in a time of storm! There’s an old hymn that says, “There is a balm in Gilead that heals the wounded soul.” This group became my Gilead, where God used other sweet sisters in Christ to lovingly begin the process of helping and healing.

You see, there are no words to express the relief the first time I heard one of my sisters in the group share her gut feelings—and tears—over how her own husband’s problem with pornography affected her. I was able to say, “That’s me! She knows all about what it’s like. I’m not crazy!”

But it wasn’t just the comfort of having others there who were walking the same road. No. I was often challenged to see my own sin as well. Others confronted me about my own self-protection strategies throughout these years. I came to see that my determined self-sufficiency was sin as well—a basic lack of trust of God. In my own attempt to control my reaction and response to this situation over the years, I discovered the harm I also had been doing.

In my own anger, in hiding my pain throughout the years, and in not being candid or honest with my husband, I had basically bought into protecting him from the consequences. Years ago I had made a commitment not to convey to him how wounded I was by what he or the pornography was doing to our marriage. I, too, had been pretending. God began to show me how much I had become enmeshed in my husband’s issues—and the damage I had done in my own commitment to protect his secret.

I had participated in much false pretense. My silence had also served me well.

I began to learn that I did have a voice in the relationship. I did not have to keep silent. Most importantly, I could trust God to be all I needed him to be for me in the times when my words to my husband would not be well-received. Many times they were not. I realized that for years I had been using my husband and my family for my own personal comfort and happiness; these things had become idols in my life. Over the past two years, I have also discovered that God is not so much concerned with my own personal happiness as he is in enabling me to find him in the midst of every trouble and circumstance.

Despite my desire to see my marriage healed, I now walk through the dreadful valley of divorce. Grieving the loss, right now I know that divorce is God’s way of protection for me and my daughters. Looking back over it, I now realize that we were a family that needed to be disrupted. God, in his goodness, has allowed my family’s world to be turned upside-down. Once I would have been very fearful of this kind of disruption—done anything to prevent it—and hated the idea of brokenness. Although I still don’t relish it, the Lord has allowed me to be broken, and I realize that it’s in this place where I am the most teachable. I have realized that he and his promises will never forsake me—as a soon-to-be single mom with three children.

Through all this process, the Wives Support Group has been a lifeline which God blended with my own personal counseling. He has used all this both to redirect my life and to give me hope in God, especially when things appear hopeless. A Puritan prayer says it best.

“Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;
Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty,
your glory in my valley.” 1

Puritan Prayer from The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, Editor, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1975.

* This is a guest post by ‘Sharon,’ a pseudonym.

Updated 4.26.2017

It was halftime during the 2011 Super Bowl. We were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him.

He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.

I am in my mid-forties, a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, they assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included images with violent sex, orgies, and graphic sexual positions. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest, my ten-year-old son.

During the rest of the game, I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say—words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night, and our family was starting to fade. My ten-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer. He said, “Goodnight,” and I said the same back. Before he hit the stairs, I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly, and with confidence, replied, “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “Okay, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that (pointing to the desktop computer)?” He paused, looked away from me, then to the floor and said, “Yes.”

When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of Internet pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours, he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours (when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight). Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their iPod Touches, Internet-capable game consoles, or smart phones to surf pornography websites. Through his tears, he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.

The hour was now 2 am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger, I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed, I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: After a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to relax in his arms, tell it all as it really is, and then find the peace to collapse in his arms…that’s exactly where he wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets, and going it alone.

Once I placed my son in his bed, he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.

I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long. I was desperate to help my son, and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of whom was John Freeman from Harvest USA. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, “Will my son be all right?”

John didn’t take the role of an expert, but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn his back on me. John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly, but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.

John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease” so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.

Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me.

The subsequent days were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first, but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home Internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule, which allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school, and our naïveté of allowing him full access to Internet-capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.

The weight that was on our hearts that Super Bowl Sunday lightened as time passed. In the weeks that, followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel, or see were many.

We now have a top-rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle, it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless and never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in his arms; give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets; and then to find rest in him.

Updated 4.27.2017

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