affair recovery · spiritual growth

Sexuality: the Plan, the Problem, and the Promise

eye contactJust this week, I received two emails from individuals who are on opposite sides of the sin of adultery. One person is trying to salvage her marriage after an affair which won’t seem to end, and another confessed to being on the verge of choosing an adulterous relationship and (coincidentally) stumbled on my blog. Their emails have blessed and humbled me in ways I am unable to describe.

Their stories are why I continue to blog.

The church my husband and I attend is quite large, much larger than the one we came from, and for the most part, I am unknown.  It is a very freeing experience. About a month ago I attended a woman’s retreat and I was blessed to have made a couple of new friends. It won’t come as a surprise to those who know me that I shared some of the journey my husband and I are on.

After the retreat I became Facebook friends with three of the women, knowing that being FB friends meant they might see my blog. I decided that I was okay with that. I have opened myself up to people around the globe, how different could it be to open myself up to people with whom I worship, study, and serve?

This weekend I experienced the difference. 

In the latest post, Gossip, Pride and Adultery, I made mention of an awareness that I was capable of falling in the same way I had fallen before–or at least having the same temptations rise.  I felt brave when I acknowledged this about myself. Like a girl with a sword, I fiercely cut the enemy down in the exact place where he would like to destroy me. There was victory in my confession. It didn’t occur to me that I may be opening the door to a level of accountability I never bargained on–or what it would feel like.

Last Sunday between church services I was talking with one of my new friends who has read and ‘Liked’ a couple of my blog posts. Our conversation was weaving through different topics. We talked about The Best Yes study we are both doing. We talked about my new job. It was in that moment she asked me a point blank question about my boundaries.

“You are fit and pretty. I would imagine there might be men coming into your work who would find you attractive. I’m sure you always try to look nice. So…how are you going to keep things from crossing a line? How are you going to let men know you are off limits?”

A couple of things happened when she asked me the question. Two things were immediate, the third came a few days later.

I realized I had a plan

Realized I had a PlanShe paused as she waited for my answer. There was nothing rhetorical about her question. She wanted to know my plan of action.

What would I do if a man who came into my workplace were to make it apparent that he found me attractive? How am I going to keep preferred boundaries with male coworkers?

Without hesitating, I answered her. “Eye contact.”

The outward boundaries in maintaining sexual integrity starts with eye contact. Looking back, I recollect that my own affair began with looks and glances long before anything “inappropriate” was verbalized.  The outward manifestation of the inward sin started with eye contact that lasted longer than was necessary or appropriate.

The plan for purity starts with the heart. It’s internal.  This is true not only for marital fidelity but for all forms of sexual purity. That being said, I can only watch over my heart–and I cannot see into the heart of the people I encounter as I am doing life. I do not know what someone else may be struggling with, and I have to navigate my actions in a polite manner which will protect both myself and my husband.  If I am going to live in a world acknowledging my weaknesses, I have to change my behavior based on what I acknowledge. Merely recognizing a problem but not amending it is stupidity. 

I was reminded I have a problem

Reminded I have a ProblemAs I walked away from my friend, and into the worship service at my church, I didn’t feel good at all. There was a nauseousness rising inside of me. When I listened to the first song being sung, I felt downright sick. How did I become someone who would need to be asked such an invasive and personal question? How embarrassed should I feel for the things I am revealing about myself in my blog? What do people really think about me? Is the Scarlett Letter getting bolder and brighter over time?

I spent the rest of the day pondering the conversation. I shared what had happened with my husband. When I shared what my response had been I felt embarrassed. What kind of wife has to tell her husband her plan for keeping boundaries with other men? What kind of wife shares with her husband what she has learned about the initial advances of an affair? The incident left me feeling shameful and tearful.

I crawled onto the couch with my husband, and we watched our new favorite NFL Football team win again  🙂 But, my Sunday afternoon was somber even as the sun fell behind the mountains.

Why was this call to accountability causing me to feel dirty all over again? The reason was simple: it bristles my skin to be reminded of my true weakness. It is uncomfortable to have someone hold me accountable for areas dealing with my sexuality. I would rather be held accountable for something we all struggle with.

Ask me if I am reading scripture–maybe it was a good week. Ask me about my prayer life–we all struggle with that one, right?And, by the way, did I ask you to hold me accountable? And, on a Sunday morning? I thought we Christians had certain unspoken agreements:

  1. After I come to you and ask for accountability, then you may ask me how I am doing. But only on the designated day that we meet at a coffeehouse for our “Time of Accountability”
  2. Church is not the time for making another believer feel uncomfortable.  When we gather, it is for “fellowship” and your job to make sure the people you encounter feel loved and valued. The way people “feel” is of vital importance. Disrupting another believer’s time of worship by having awkward conversations may result in someone forsaking the “fellowship” of the believers altogether.

That was my attempt at sarcasm.

When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.  -C.S. Lewis

I rejoiced in the promise

Rejoice in the PossilbilityIt didn’t happen right away. Rejoicing was pretty far away for a couple days.

I’ve learned there is no escape on these days. Any attempt to escape only prolongs the journey. It’s better to lean into it.  Rather than asking God to take the burden away, we need to ask Him to refine us through the uncomfortable feelings–to let us see His heart in the matter.

It was in this time I was able to see Him, and what He wanted to show me.

I can write until the cows come home, and do you know what I will have? A bunch of blogs and cows in my home.

All the writing and blogging in the world is never going to be enough to remove the effects of my sin. The consequences of sin are things we cannot see. I cannot wipe away the effects of something that dishonors the Lord simply because I write a paragraph that makes me feel like I am wielding a sword.  My past sin affects the present day confidence of the one I love. My past sin works to make me feel shame in the present.  There is only one way to receive relief from sin, and it’s completely spiritual.

He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

The truth is, I am incredibly blessed that the Lord has seen fit to bring a woman into my life who, without us having had a conversation where I asked her to help me grow, had the wherewithal to broach a sensitive topic.  We can all learn from her.

If this is to be a turning point in my life, a chance to live differently–then I have to actually live differently. I have to live with real accountability to the small things.  The struggle is how to accept accountability in the area of sexuality without letting those questions diminish my self-esteem.

The way to do that comes in rejoicing over the promise that this kind of accountability has to offer.

When we seek accountability it is because we desire to achieve a goal. When we arrive at the goal, the promise on the other side invalidates all of the uncomfortable feelings we felt on the journey. Those uncomfortable feelings will have been transformed into tiny testimonies of times we clung to God’s grace. We will remember them differently without the fear of failure looming large.

Keeping an eye on the promise, without dreading an uncomfortable conversation is key.

This promise is a big deal. Quite bluntly, this promise reminds me that God has something erotic planned for me.

The word erotic has received a bit of a bum-rap over the years. We associate the word with things like, well…an affair. The thesaurus list some of its synonyms as carnal, filthy, and raunchy. Those are culture norms we’ve assigned to the word and they do not describe the true meaning of erotic. The word comes from the Greek word erōtikos, which is derived from the Greek root erōs. Eros is defined as a love with a sexual and sensual desire. God created erotic love.

Trusting God’s promise for my future means believing I will have erotic love within my marriage. The belief that I need to push down my erotic desires is a lie. The belief that this kind of sexuality can only be achieved in a way that is sinful is a tactic of the enemy.

Trusting in God is believing the path to the promise of marital erotic love is found by a woman who controls her sexuality rather than having her sexuality control her.

An accountability plan is not a punishment because I have a problem. It is a step towards the promise God has for me and my husband.


affair recovery · spiritual growth

Gossip, Pride and Adultery

When you are flat on your back, the sky looks bigger. There is no time in my life when I can recall the skies being as luminous as they appear to be now. There are mountains to the east, to the west and to the south. These jagged rocks, corroded with time, have been on earth since the beginning of time. They stand watch over Arizona’s desert, being fully aware that long after I am gone–they will remain. But something about these mountains feels different than other mountains I’ve known.

The difference is ever so slight. These mountains break the horizon, but only doing so as they settle under the heavy hand of the sky. It’s as if the sky is holding them in place, rather than their terrain breaking up into the sky. I lived previously in the California foothills, and when I looked at that terrain it was as if the mountains were creeping up into the skies territory. These mountains seem to submit to the power of that which no man can touch. The evaporated goodness of God holds His mountains in place.

Superstition MountainIn the same way the skies appear to be making the mountains submit, it seems as if they are making me submit. The powerful skies remind me of how small I am, and how big God is. I look up and I wonder: am I getting smaller or is God getting bigger? The truth is, I am not getting smaller, and God is not getting bigger. I was always small and God was always big. But sin inflates us, and we become bigger in our own minds.

It isn’t just sexual sin which causes distortion and inflates the ego. Being blunt, I will say that long before I had an affair, something worse was brewing inside me. Hindsight may be 20/20, but hindsight is only precious to us if we use our enhanced vision to alter the choices we make in the hereafter.

Long before I had an affair, I made poor choices in the relationships I cultivated. What I am about to describe may seem like a common struggle for many women–for many Christian women. That’s partially what makes it disturbing.

I met and began to associate with women whose lives were tinged with a spirit of competition and negativity. It was a brood of judgement, masked under the veil of opinions. The self-righteousness led to gossip. The gossip was poison. I did my best to not participate, but not talking was just a ruse. Even though I held my tongue, just being around such negativity was still involving me in sin in a way I never imagined. Looking back, I wish I had bravely confronted their gossip, and trusted there was a greater good in it for them, and for God’s kingdom. I wish I had been able to see how lovingly confronting them may have changed the choices I myself would make in the time period after.

The reasons for not confronting these women was a form of pride in my own heart.

While I didn’t participate in the gossip, knowing it was rampant and that I was not involved caused me to overvalue myself. Rather than comparing myself to the Savior, I compared myself to these ladies. In short, I had little respect for these ladies, and I was using them. I was allowing them to fill a part of me. I viewed myself as being better than them in some way. They were gossiping and they were filled with negativity–since I wasn’t living in “their sinfulness” I allowed myself to believe I was on a better path. Because of my pride, I wasn’t showing them the love they deserved. 

Perhaps God had allowed me to become acquainted with these women so we could journey a road of revealing deeper issues. What makes one sister talk negatively about another sister? Perhaps in bridging these questions with these women, we could have all grown smaller and God could have grown bigger. Perhaps my confrontation would have made me less prideful and more obedient.

It won’t be a shock to anyone to read that my weaknesses eventually became the subject of their gossip.

Before I entered into the affair, my behavior revealed a woman who was struggling. When my issues with intimacy began to surface, they were met with judgement and gossip. The same words I had heard them speak of about others turned in my direction. No surprise, right? 

The thing that was a surprise was how the gossip actually made me more prideful. My pride was enhanced when the ladies saw my weakness and responded with sin… because they were sinning in a way in which I didn’t struggle. When the women saw that I needed help in keeping boundaries with a man who began to show me attention, there was a small firestorm of gossip. This firestorm made me more prideful. Even though I was a mess of confusion, I didn’t look at myself and what I needed help with–instead, I looked at how these women were involving themselves in the sin of gossip.

My pride grew bigger because, in my estimation, “I could handle” my struggles.  In my mind, I hadn’t actually “sinned” and these women had. It gave me an untrue and exalted view of myself. Sadly, my pride was leading me down a path towards destruction, and I followed with arms raised and heart abandoned. I was in the right–my pride told me so.

Because I hadn’t done anything wrong, I believed what I was struggling with was a weakness which I could manage. I walked forward without accountability.  Shortly thereafter, I was placed in a leadership role and on the payroll of a church. This only made me more fearful of sharing my struggles. I mistakenly believed I was going to have to deal with my weaknesses on my own.  My fear at that time was the threat of losing my job if my weaknesses became known. I closed myself off from telling ANY person of the greatest struggle I have ever had. I decided instead to deal with my internal battles on my own. THAT my friends, is PRIDE.

Not talking to others about my struggle made it easier to stop talking to God.

Talking to another believer would have been a step in keeping conversation open with my Lord. It was easier to deny what was happening when I felt convicted by the satisfaction I was receiving from the attention of another man. I had zero accountability to the one issue which has always been a thorn in my side.

The struggle of being swayed and romanced by the words and the wooing of another man has always been my struggle. I know this more clearly now. I don’t think I understood it as being my struggle, because prior to last year, my prideful self believed that I had it reigned in.  It’s an interesting thing when you cross over into a sin that is “bigger than yourself”, you see yourself in the truest light of grace, or you walk away from the truth completely. I do not think it can play out in any other way. Once you have sinned in a way that you recognize as being BIG, ugly, and inexcusable, you will either repent and have an understanding of grace that is deeper than imagined, or you will continue in your rebellion until you finally abandon your faith altogether.

Entering into the affair was the first time I ever had impulses to give myself to another man, and regretfully I acted on those impulses. But, even without the temptations coming to the surface, I could always feel they were underneath the surface. Somehow I seemed to know that my heart would take me into the pit of hell if I allowed it to lead. I just didn’t know how desperately I needed to talk to others and get help.

The world might look different for a lot of people today, if I had been brave enough to share my struggle. This is why I remember the ladies so vividly, the gossip, and the opportunity lost. Perhaps if I had stood bravely and helped them overcome their negativity, they would have known how to respond to me when they saw my weakness. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so busy judging them, I may have been humble enough to be transformed myself.

The desire to be desired is still there. It’s not pretty, but I am not going to pretend that desire is gone in an attempt to be pretty. If I fail to acknowledge that I am capable of being led down this same path, am I not opening myself up to its possibility? I am a woman who allowed this to happen. I am a new creation, but that doesn’t mean I am so far removed from who I was that I wouldn’t be attacked in the same way. I am not going to lie to myself and believe the enemy isn’t going to try to confuse me again. I am not going to ignore my own weaknesses–that would be pure foolishness.

Above all don’t lie to yourself. The woman who lies to herself and listens to her own lie comes to a point that she cannot distinguish the truth within her, or around her, and so loses all respect for herself and for others. And having no respect she ceases to love.  ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

I am blessed by the way things were brought into the light because I don’t have to pretend anymore. I have faced one of my biggest fears. For years, many years, I feared what I was capable of, and I feared what others would do if they knew the “real” me. Then, coincidentally, at the one time in my life when I was in the most public arena I had ever been, I fell. If I hadn’t been employed by a church, this affair would have ended like most affairs end: quietly, with deeply shredded hearts, battered spouses, and bruised family members.

I consider it a blessing that God allowed my greatest struggle to be revealed while I was in a place where it would not be hidden. Living in a place that is not hidden is good for me, it’s good for my marriage, and hopefully it will be good for the Kingdom.

Gossip, Pride and AdulteryI would rather be flat on my back, looking at the unseen hand of God than exalted to the highest mountain and living in fear of  the damage that could be caused by my own hands. The big sky frees me from the sins I perpetuate on myself. I am small and I am blessed by the enormity of the sky.