“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
I grew up in the church. I knew/know the structures, the acceptable postures and what a Christian wife “should” be. I was indoctrinated with it and boy, was I good at it.
Then my marriage imploded. The discovery of my husband’s acting out was literally center stage. He was the worship leader. He had an affair with one of my closest friends and spiritual mentors who was also on the worship team. He sexted or tried sexting with other women in the church, also close friends.
Because of these details, the betrayal I experienced was not isolated to my husband. As such, I also had to reconcile the betrayal by women I loved, respected, and admired. The details of the betrayal were even more hurtful; a friend from my wedding, the betrayal that took place in my home, and the blind trust and building of relationships with my sons. It was, and remains to be, an additional aspect of trauma.
But when the Shepherds Come to Feast? When the men I entrusted to protect and Shepherd fell short, that blow has and continues to be altogether devastating to the core of my beliefs.
We have to go back to discovery and even before. I attended this church faithfully for 10 years, a decade of my life. I served as Children’s Ministry Director at one point. I also co-led a care group for young adults and was on youth staff when discovery took place. In addition to serving in these ministries, I contributed to at least three devotional journals that the church produced. I was involved (remember my reference to how “good” I was at trying to be the perfect Christian woman?).
When my husband partially confessed (we had a staggered disclosure before a formal one), I was called into a meeting with the elders of our church. They had asked for me to pick 3-4 women who would walk alongside me during this difficult time. These ladies were also in attendance. At that meeting I asked that my husband’s issues as well as the larger issues of sexual sin in our church, to be “brought to the light.” There were prior sexual sin issues with other people in leadership in previous years that had been quietly swept under the rug. I didn’t want this to be another circumstance where the truth was suppressed. My only request was that I would be involved in how it was presented to the congregation.
This did not take place. On a Sunday morning, not even a full week after discovery, the elders announced during a Sunday morning service that my husband was caught in “multiple sexual sins” for which he was disqualified from leading worship. They asked that if anyone else had any more information, would they please come forward?
As part of their “process” for church discipline an action plan was created for my husband. Among other things he was forbidden to go to our church or any other church and told to have ZERO contact with anyone from the church. For me, the elders collected “letters of confession” from each of the women involved from the church. There was an idea put out that I should meet with these women if I wanted. That time was such a fog for me but reading those letters was horrific. I would have never wanted to do so if I were in a healthier place. I emailed the Elders asking for more time to process before being expected to meet with any woman. I had lost 12 pounds within two weeks and my hair was falling out. I also had a full-time job and two young boys to tend to in my new role as “single mother”. I had asked my husband to leave and although he was more than present and willing and wanting to help, I still had to deal with my new reality.
Less than two months after discovery, with scattered if any contact from the Elders, I received an email that the women involved would be returning to church. There was an end line about “thank you for being Christlike.” Upon reading that email the Saturday night before Sunday morning service, I shakingly wrote back that I would no longer be attending that church.
There were two more meetings following this email. One in which the elders questioned about “boundaries” and wanted to know details of the physical relationship between my husband and me. At another separate meeting between the pastor and my husband, when asked why there had been zero support for our marriage and healing, the response was “well are you two even having sex?!” I never knew my intimate relationship would be so public in so many ways.
Now we are 8 months out from discovery. I am invisible. No one has contacted me since the meeting I requested in January. My husband is still under church discipline with no end goal of restoration to fellowship in sight. When I asked the pastor about coming back to church (me and the boys) he said, “that would be complicated” and “probably wouldn’t even be good for you.”
Sadly, through my new connections with wives of sex addicts around the country and around the globe, this mishandling of our trauma is common within the church. Many times, it comes from pride which manifests itself through ignorant statements. Women have shared how their husband’s addictions have been minimized as “normal”. In other cases, the blame is put back on the wife. She needs to be more “sexual”, more willing to engage in the behavior he is seeking on a screen or in his fantasy life. She needs to have dinner on the table in time, she is too opinionated, or she is not supportive enough. I see the Garden of Eden and the blame shifting happening and sadly the Shepherds are qualifying that deflection of sin.
I believe at the core of this mishandling by some, are three main issues. One, I think many of these men are engaging and entrapped in their own bondage to similar sexual sin. To expose and call it as such would mean they would have to look in the mirror and do the work. The second issue I see is pride and a commitment to that pride to a point of negligence. The Elders admitted they were in uncharted waters and needed to bring in “help”. They followed the “cast out the sinner” method with my husband and unfortunately my sons and I were the “baby” that was thrown out with the bathwater. Really, my husband was the baby too. They didn’t know how to support restoration and turned to punitive measures instead.
The last issue is we are women. I know that’s hard to see and hard for me to write but I realized how invisible I was even prior to this situation. I didn’t golf so the pastor rarely spoke to me. I was automatically placed into children’s ministry. My giftings were put in a category and box based on assigned gender roles that they felt comfortable with. My personhood as a fellow image bearer was not valued. I think this issue is connected to the first. If men are struggling in isolation with pornography and other sexual addictions, it will alter how they view women. They begin to objectify and fail to view us as daughters of the Most High.
This journey has allowed me to see this and also realize how much I am valued and of worth to the Lord. We will experience hurt; we will share in the sufferings of Christ in betrayal by those we love. It doesn’t make sense; sin never does. Others will wound us even in a genuine attempt to support and love us. All of this messiness will point us to the only one who can bring true healing. Jesus.
Ephesians 3: 14-21