We both love how Matthew has taken the concept of sin and given a breath of fresh air to the topic. You must read this book because in its pages you will finally gain a biblical perspective on sin and what it takes to free yourself from the bonds that so easily entangle!

Gary and Michael Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
When mental illness afflicts a loved one, how can we understand what is happening and respond appropriately? This biblically-literate and scientifically-informed book offers helpful insight, encouragement, and practical advice. For pastors and for those who hurt for those who hurt, Matthew Stanford offers sensitive and welcome guidance.

David G. Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Broken Lives

Adultery (infidelity as the media calls it) has been in the news a lot recently. Senator John Edwards, Governor Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock’s husband Jesse James all choose to break their marital vows for momentary pleasure and as we have unfortunately all seen, thanks to the media, proven that the effects of sin are far reaching. The suggestion that an individual only hurts himself through his poor choices is simply not reality (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). Hidden sin is destructive; it undermines relationships and debilitates families. Once exposed, sin produces a violent shockwave that damages everyone in its path. In many instances the resulting physical, psychological and spiritual wounds are so deep that they will be felt for a lifetime. This post is about the results of adultery; an innocent woman and her children whose lives have been broken by a selfish, sinful choice. As I listened to her story, I was reminded of how desperately we need a Savior, and I pray that as you read it, you also will be.

Like all little girls, Susan had dreamed of what her life would be like when she grew up. Those dreams often included the picture perfect family: a handsome and strong husband who would love her forever and beautiful, healthy children that they would raise together. When Susan met Kevin in college, she believed that those dreams were beginning to come true. He was everything she had dreamed of … handsome, strong and athletic. Kevin was part of a college military training program that was preparing him for service after graduation in the elite Navy SEALs.

Although raised in a strong Christian home, Susan was living the “normal” college life of too many parties and too much drinking when she met Kevin who was living the same way. Susan described their dating relationship as “up and down”. “Kevin was very hot and cold. Some days his affection was all consuming. He couldn’t get enough of me, he couldn’t see me enough, talk to me enough or be with me enough. He was also overly jealous. Other times he would ignore me and say ‘I don’t know if really I love you”. Susan’s parents were concerned about her relationship with Kevin and cautioned her against marrying him. “They had seen how he treated me and they also questioned his Christian commitment.” They dated for two years before getting married in their senior year. Susan became pregnant and shortly before they both graduated she gave birth to their first child, a daughter.

After graduation they moved to California so that Kevin could begin training for his service in the Navy. “The first year after graduating was great. I had the husband that ever woman wanted and together we had the perfect family.” After one year in California, the family moved to Virginia, and Kevin began his service. “He went from being home everyday to being gone over 200 days out of the year. He also started to be hot and cold much like he had been when we were dating in college. Sometimes he would call or be home and smother me with love and attention, while other times he was distant and cold. He never missed our daughter when he was away. Once he even told me after being away for several months that he had not missed us. He was drinking heavily and would regularly visit strip clubs with the other men in his unit when he was gone.”

It was during this difficult time in their marriage that Susan became pregnant and gave birth to their second child, a son. Much like their first child Kevin didn’t really want the baby and was absent and distant as a father. “I was so depressed, especially after the birth of our son. Kevin would call and say that he didn’t love me anymore and that he didn’t want to be married. I felt worthless and started blaming myself for our problems. I was also starting to have thoughts about hurting myself, so I called my parents for help.” Susan’s father drove to Virginia and moved her and the children back home. “I stated having recurrent nightmares that Kevin would abandon us; I feared that I would be unemployed and unable to care for my children.” Within the first month of living with her parents, Kevin began calling. “He said he wanted me back. He wanted to fly me to Spain to be with him. When I asked him why he had said such hurtful things before, he just said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Susan’s visit to Spain went well, and when she returned to the States, she and the children quickly moved back to Virginia. Susan told me that during this difficult time she started crying out to God to restore her marriage. “I had moved far from my faith. Since getting married, I had tried several times to get involved with a local church, but Kevin was never supportive. I decided that I was going to give my all to God. I started praying regularly and attending a bible study. I also (wrongly) blamed myself for our marital problems and dedicated myself to being a better wife.”

After a short time in Virginia, the whole family moved to California, so that Kevin could attend the Navy’s language school. “Everything changed for the better. Kevin was always home while he was going to school. He became the perfect family man. He showed more attention to me and the kids. He was drinking less, and we were attending church as a family. I started thanking God; I really believed that my prayers had been answered. God was restoring my family. It was the happiest time of my whole life.” After a year of language school, Kevin left for a six month deployment. “I had to choose whether to stay in California during Kevin’s deployment or move back in with my parents. I wisely chose to move back to my parents’ house. It was Christmas time when Kevin came back. He was like a different person. He was angry, depressed and drinking heavily. He made it clear that he didn’t want to be with our family. After three days, he said he needed some time alone, so he left to go skiing. He was away from us for six months and after three days he left. I now know he went to meet a girl, but at the time, I didn’t know what was going on.”

Kevin moved back to California while Susan and the children chose to stay with her parents. “On the phone everything would seem great. He would say that he loved me and that he missed me. He would visit us about once every six weeks. When he visited, he showed no emotion. He was like two different people.” Susan started getting counseling to help with her depression. She also continued to fast and pray for her marriage. “In desperation, I remember begging God to release me from my marriage. I knew that I couldn’t live like this forever.”

It was soon after that Susan received a call from an old college friend who lived in New York. “She said that she had heard Kevin and I were getting a divorce, and she just wanted to check on me. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about. She then told me about Kevin’s girlfriend. I immediately called Kevin, and he of course denied that there was another woman. I knew he was lying, so I searched through our old cell phone bills, found a suspicious number and called her. She said that Kevin had not told her that he was married. While she did know about the kids, Kevin had lied and told her that he had a great relationship with them and was a dedicated father. I told the woman that we had a family and she needed to back off. She told me that she loved Kevin and was not going to stop seeing him. I confronted Kevin again after I spoke to the woman and he no longer denied the affair. He just said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ Then he hung up on me.

I had always held out hope that he would change, but it was at that moment I finally realized that he was never going to change. My marriage was over. My nightmare was coming true and I felt worthless. It was the lowest point of my life.”

Soon after Susan filed for divorce, and Kevin did not contest it. “He just walked away like we never existed.” The divorce has finalized 13 months ago, and Susan says Kevin has visited the children sporadically. “He comes around maybe once every couple of months. My four year old son has no relationship with his father. Our daughter who is nine longs to know her father. She gets so excited when she knows he is coming to visit only to be disappointed by his lack of interest and affection. She has problems expressing her feelings as a result.”

I asked Susan how the affair and divorce have affected her. Struggling to speak through a flood of tears she said, “It would have been better if he had died during a mission, at least then we could have moved on. Right now I’m just existing, nothing more. I’m depressed and angry. This has changed my view of God. My faith has been shaken. I can’t pray anymore. I haven’t had a quiet time in six months. I now see God as cold and distant. To me God seems more interested in furthering his kingdom than concerning Himself with the problems in my life. Kevin did us wrong and he walked away with no consequences. We are the ones that are suffering. Why would God allow that?”

I hope that this story has put a more personal face on the devastating effects of adultery. It is important to understand that Kevin openly professed Christ as Savior at one point in his life, yet he was drawn away, enticed by his own lusts and desires. He chose the pleasures of sin over his wife, children and faith. This story demonstrates that sin is an ever-present problem even in the church today. It is time that we, the body of Christ, move away from the “us vs. the world” mentality. This mindset has crippled our ministry to the world and to one another. Instead we need to seek to develop a truly transparent and open community of faith, fully dependent on the transforming power of Christ. In such a community, men and women do not struggle in silence with sinful lusts and desires, but openly share and confess (James 5:16) to a body willing to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).

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