My wife knelt in front of me, taking my hands in hers and looking into my eyes.
“I feel like there’s always been this ‘thing’ between us,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, it’s just this weird feeling.” Oh great, I thought, suspecting exactly where her concerns were coming from.
“Tonight I’m going to ask you to tell me everything about you,” she said. “I really want you to tell me everything. So think about it. I’m going to be a big girl. I’m not going to be upset.”
That Saturday Evening now marks a most important point in time for me. It’s the night I told my wife about the sex I had with other women while she and I were engaged to be married. And about the pornography use that had occurred during our marriage. She had no idea about my infidelities, with the exception of a couple of telephone and internet porn incidents I had tried to explain away. That Saturday Evening God began a new work in me. My secrets were out, and the compartments in which I kept them – dark, ugly, lonely places – became filled with the light of Christ Himself.
I had begun the critical, manifold steps to true repentance: admit everything, deny yourself, turn toward Christ, never go back. It truly takes all four of these elements to receive God’s grace. I’m a forty-one year old follower of Christ and a “regular attender” at Mars Hill Church looking forward to membership, fellowship, and service.
I’ve been a church lay-leader and close advisor to more than one pastor over the past seven years. I read, study, and indeed understand God’s Holy Scriptures. I’ve sat through countless sermons, read books by renowned theologians, joined Bible studies and led them – I’ve even taught kids’ church and worked in the nursery with my lovely wife. On the surface, my life had been all peace and beauty and strength – a sturdily crafted box, richly dorned and ornately designed for your admiration. If you had turned the small handle on the side, you would have heard the melodious tune it played. How wonderful it was!
But inside was different. Inside was the evidence of a life under siege: scorched earth, scarred walls, polluted environs. Turn that handle enough times and the unhappy jack on the inside threatened to pop out, his face twisted with fear, his eyes dark with depression. I had been afflicted for most of my life – since I was a teenager – by a desire to look at naked bodies engaged in sexual acts. Through two marriages and a shaky, fakey walk through God’s kingdom, I had hidden this sexual addiction deep inside so that no one would know about it but me. I have deceived my friends, my pastors, and my wife. The intensity of the shame I have experienced during my struggle is eclipsed only by the intensity of the desire that burned for it to remain in secret. Which led to lie after lie after lie.
My wife is grown up from a little girl who had dreams: dreams of an intimate life with a faithful husband, dreams of living in a beautiful story, dreams of a house full of giggling children. Her dreams were a sweet, small flower that I crushed under the jack-booted foot of secrecy, shame, and sin. After I told my wife about the lies and the secret behavior, I felt like I had pushed her in front of a moving train. We lived for weeks in that place between the push and the impact. Eventually the train hit her. But Jesus Christ, in His infinite mercy, picked her up and even now heals her.
Despite the admission of my secret sexual sin being the most difficult trial I’ve ever undertaken, it had to be revealed. Despite the fact it deeply injured my wife and nearly killed our marriage, it had to be revealed. For on the other side of the task lay pain, but also progress; fear, but eventually faint hope, then more progress. On the other side of the task lay the only hope for a crippled walk with Christ and marriage co-founded by a liar.
Today, because God is so incredibly merciful, I am out of the box. Like a great physician, He cleans the wounds, applies His healing balm, dresses them. I am on the road to healing and recovery. Mercifully, so too is my wife. She stands next to me despite tremendous pain, feeling alienated by this man whom she loves but does not know. Her strength is profound, her forgiveness in place.
The revelation of my sin to the world has been the key to my repentance and salvation. Telling my secret was the step God has been waiting for as I flopped and floundered through the Kingdom, not even sure I would ever be healed. God cannot work in the heart of anyone who thinks his secret is more important than spilling his guts to God and everyone else (often referred to as walking in truth). The true intimacy with God that comes from knowing about Him, and acknowledging that He knows all of you, is beyond the grasp of anyone with a secret sin.
Soon after That Saturday Evening, my wife and I contacted a Mars Hill pastor and discussed our severe plight. He helped us find the right road to recovery. Thursdays I meet with other Mars Hill men in a group called For Men Only, comprised of guys who have all struggled like me, more or less. We’re utterly transparent with each other. Because we understand. My wife is happier every day; and she’s getting to know a whole new man. God’s man. A man who really understands Christ, comprehends the Holy Spirit’s leading, and is totally on board with God’s sovereign plan.
An anointed preacher recently said that regarding our salvation we should ask: “What has God saved me from?” If God has not saved you from something, then you don’t have anything from which to repent. This true repentance is a key element of God’s saving grace – and it cannot come without exposing your own sin, turning your back on it completely, and striding confidently away.
Note: “That Saturday Night” occurred in November 2005. This story of it apeared in VoxPop, the newsletter of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, in June 2006.