January 28, 2013

Ministry & The Secret Sins

In the past year, I've gotten emails from pastors' wives whose husbands are struggling privately with sexual sin. Some husbands are repentant but not sure where to turn for help. Others are unrepentant and their wives are understandably desperate. Frankly, it is difficult to find people in the church who have not at some point dealt with the effects of sexual sin. But when it's the pastor or the pastor's wife, it tends to remain secret or is handled privately without the healing component of the Body's ministry. And when things are secret, shame, isolation, and bitterness multiply. Sometimes we need to know that we're not the only ones or we need an example of God's restorative power to give us hope.

That's why I've asked my friend Ana to share her story. Ana and her husband Brad are dear to us and have been since our college days. They have walked through the devastating effects of sexual sin while serving in ministry, but they have also allowed God to do a great work of healing and redemption in their marriage. I admire his repentance and commitment to holiness and I respect her ability to forgive. They are an example of the gospel, plain and simple. 

Over the next few days, Ana will share their story. Today, we'll hear straight from her. Next time, she'll answer some of my questions. She shares it all with us as a means of ministering to ministry wives who are struggling in private or who are ministering to others suffering through the consequences of sexual sin.  
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In January of 2004, Brad and I had been married two years and were currently in ministry with a Christian summer camp and college ministry in the off-season.   I felt pretty good about our marriage at this time, nothing spectacular, but we were busy with ministry, a new baby, etc.  We were as involved in our church as we could be with Brad traveling to recruit at college campuses and with moving back to the camp (in another state) every summer.  The college minister at the church (Kyle Hoover…sound familiar?) asked us to pray about leading a college Sunday School class one semester.  We were both excited about it and began to seek the Lord about whether or not we could commit with Brad’s traveling schedule. The evening before we were to be introduced as teachers for the spring semester, Brad told me he had talked to Kyle and told him we could not teach for him.  I thought “Huh?  Why not?”  For the next hour, Brad opened the floodgates to a secret life I had absolutely no idea about.  When I say blindsided, I mean I. was. blind.

Brad began to tell me about sexual sin beginning with a pornographic magazine he saw in middle school to topless bars, to sporadic encounters with prostitution.  I sat there on our bed, I didn’t cry, I didn’t shake, I just slowly got up, went to the bathroom and began vomiting.  It was like my mind was completely blank and my physical body could not process what he was saying.  He wanted to keep talking and get it all out, but I couldn’t hear another syllable.  I slept on the bathroom floor that night completely paralyzed by shock, shame, and disgust.

Two days later, we sat in our pastor’s office.  As much as I had respect for this black-and-white, no-holds-barred man whom I had come to love as my shepherd, I was not excited about this meeting.  I was embarrassed.  I wanted to be left alone and cry myself to sleep.  I wasn’t ready.  Brad was.  He felt that freedom that comes from obedience.  He felt this was the beginning of this journey of healing and I was stuck at square one.  But, because I’ve spoken with women in the years after and have heard of such horrible, unbiblical, ridiculous counsel, I want to share some of the questions and directives our pastor gave us during this meeting in detail because it worked for us.  Here is an outline of how this meeting went:

One – “What else?”  Our pastor told Brad, “This is your moment to tell her everything.  What else do you want her to know?  If you tell her something new tomorrow or six months from now, you are a liar and you’ve completely lost her trust.  In this moment, use what little trust you have and tell her everything now.” This was such a profound statement to me.  Brad had no more to tell and I chose to believe that.  

Two—“Do you want a divorce?”  Huh?  Is my pastor really asking me this?  This was his first question to me.  He asked me in front of Brad and again privately.  He said you have the choice to leave him by a biblical basis or you can choose to stick.  As shocked as I was by this question, I knew the answer was “stick”.  I wasn’t particularly confident or thrilled with “sticking”, but I knew it was what God wanted from me and for me. 

Three—“Who have you told?”  He directed us to keep this a VERY small trustworthy group.  Especially in ministry, you cannot be too careful who you share with.  Even if you are sharing alone while your husband is still struggling, don’t tell the world.  Trust a few.  He also said to be quite careful in telling family.  Families are quick to choose sides (obviously, but if you are both committed to making this work, then, wait.)   He actually made a list of mutual godly friends of his and Brad’s for him to call and share with—one being the pastor who married us…ouch.  With this sense of community in place, I felt shelter come over me when I knew these other men would know the whole truth.

Four—I was to move into a spare bedroom for “separation”.  This was a private area that B had to knock to come into.  We had to go through our bedroom to get to the closet and bathroom, so this spare room was completely mine.  This became my hiding place.  I stayed in bed for many days mourning the loss of the marriage I thought I had to the man I thought I knew.  Crying out the Lord in those moments were some of the most tender times I have ever had with God.  Often, now when I am crying out, a picture of that room will come to mind.  I will go ahead and tell you that this hiding place was not all mourning…it quickly turned to worship.  I would turn on worship music literally as loud as my stereo (yes, before ipods J), and scream “I don’t feel this, I don’t think this is true today, but I’m singing it anyway…make it true, God!”  This may sound crazy, but I found my worshipping voice in this time.  I cried out to God with such brutal honesty that I believe my Daddy laughed and scooped me up saying “Oh, let me prove My goodness to you.”  

Five—B was to join a bible study for men in our church using the materials “Every Man’s Battle” by Arterburn & Stoeker.  This was an excellent resource for both of us.  I read the materials and I would suggest any woman whose husband is struggling read this book, even if he won’t.  Also, to know other (many!) men warring against this same stronghold was comforting. Again, we find such strength in community.

Six—I was to meet with an older woman in our church whose husband had come out of sexual sin many years ago.  I also called a woman from my hometown whom I trusted deeply and we talked several times a week.  We need these women who have gone before us to lift us up.  Like Aaron & Hur did for Moses, we sometimes just need someone else to hold up our arms so we can worship.  (Exodus 17).

Seven—He told me to read a book by James Dobson, “Love Must Be Tough”.  This book mostly speaks to women dealing with men in extra-marital affairs; however, I suggest all women dealing with any kind of betrayal in marriage to read it.  The basic principal is, “This is the crisis”.  Like the Israelites used stones as remembrance markers.  (Joshua 4:7) Putting a stake in the ground saying, “This is it. We are dealing with this now. I’m not doing this again in six months or in six years.  If you want this marriage, now is the time to make it work.” This book was an excellent resource for me.

So, the list above is basically what our next couple of months looked like.  Me crying out to God in my spare room, and B meeting with men and letting the Lord bring restoration in his own heart.  We talked often, usually both of us crying, and sometimes with me screaming…ugly cry + snotty cry + screaming = not pretty.  

Ana adds: I was completely in the dark about what was going on and many of you are already aware of your husbands’ secret sins.  Some of you have even “found them out”.  Brad felt the pressing in of the Holy Spirit and he finally reacted.  If your husband has not reacted to the conviction of the Holy Spirit yet, believe me, it will come.  Do not lose hope that this will not happen for him.  God will leave the ninety-nine to come after the one.  His arms are NOT too short to save.

Read the second half of the interview here to find out how God saved their marriage. 
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