Scripture applies to life. I realized this last week for the forty hundredth time. Yes, forty hundredth is a number. Meaning, a lot. Anyway, last week I re-realized that scripture applied to life. My life. I missed that truth for most of my life. Having had a spiritual awakening in my own recovery, I try not to miss that truth any more.
Our couples Bible study teacher sent my wife a text on Saturday. She let my wife know the next day’s lesson would be from 1 Corinthians 7, reviewing God’s design and purpose for sex. She wanted to cover the twelve steps that counselors agree lead to an affair. Our teacher knew our story. She participated in part of it with my wife, praying with her the night before our disclosure. She stayed connected to her throughout the last two years, watching our story unfold.
My spouse and I walk together every day. We catch up, check in, hear each other, build intimacy, practice transparency. On our walk, she received that text from our Bible study teacher. Anxiety and fear welled up in me as first responses. She grabbed my hand, initiated conversation about it, and allowed the moment to become productive and intimacy building. We discussed how the next day might unfold. I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit.
“Maybe I should say something to the class.”
“What would you say,” she asked?
“I would say I identify with the steps that lead to an affair. I had multiple affairs. I slid so deep into my own sin and shame. I hid from God and from everyone else, not believing He could forgive me or that I could tell anyone else, especially you.”
“Ok,” she said.
“Ok? What do you mean?”
“Ok, I think you should do it,” she said.
We called our teacher and asked her thoughts, should I say something in class, what did she think? She asked to let me know. She wrote back and said she wanted me to speak at the end of class. She would signal me in class.
The lesson centered on 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. She led us through the verses, summarizing God’s design for sex in marriage.
“God designed sex for marriage. He meant it to be:
- Exclusive – not for others, within marriage only, with one spouse only
- Selfless – focused on your spouse, fulfilling the goal of oneness
- Mutual – equality in sex within husband and wife roles
- Generous – the result isn’t depriving, holding back
When we act outside his design, we can expect temptation to come,” she said.
She paused, allowing her words to settle with us.
“Temptation comes to destroy our marriages. These aren’t all inclusive, but the following is a list of twelve steps that many counselors identify as leading to an affair:
- Readiness – emotional readiness
- Alertness – awareness of another person
- Innocent meeting – chance contacts with another person
- Intentional meeting – subtly planned meetings
- Public lingering – Time spent together in a group
- Private lingering – time spent together alone
- Purposeful isolating – plan for legitimate time alone
- Pleasurable isolating – plan for illegitimate time alone
- Affectionate embracing – hugs when greeting, leaving
- Passionate embracing – passionate hugs
- Yielding – giving in to temptation of an affair
- Acceptance – rationalization of the affair
When I prepared this lesson, I sent a note to my friend, to let her know what I was going to present today. She and her husband called me to let me know that he wanted to share part of his story with the class. I lived through part of their story with her in the pantry at my house, praying over her for healing. What they are doing requires courage and trust, so please listen with compassion and understanding as he shares part of their story.”
She then stepped aside, nodded to me, and I stood and walked to the front of the room.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I have been married to my wife for 29 years. Our marriage almost ended at 27 years due to my own withholding of intimacy and honesty from my wife,” I said. I paused, composed myself, and continued.
“What she didn’t know until two years ago was I had not only withheld an intimate relationship with her, I had lied to her about my repeated infidelity throughout our marriage. See, I didn’t think our marriage could survive my sexual sin becoming known to God or to my wife. I had allowed shame to define me and to limit what I believed God could and would do.
Thankfully, God is a loving and graceful God, and my wife is a loving and graceful woman. Neither gave up on me or our marriage. Through my wife and through men who walk along side me, God gave me hope where I thought hope didn’t exist.” I looked across the room of sixty or so people, mostly couples. Some cried, some smiled, some looked down.
“Over the last two years, I learned intimacy can’t occur unless I practice honesty and transparency in all areas of my life, starting with God, with my wife, my friends, and in community with other men. Men, if you need to build community, join me in Bible study. We meet on Thursday mornings, a small group of us. Just trying to build intimacy and support.”
I wondered early in my own recovery whether God would abandon me, then whether He could love me, then whether He would allow me to be used by Him. He reminds me my story is His story. His story of grace and hope and redemption.