God has been working in me – again. Ever since I started my recovery from sexual sin, it has been my desire and my prayer that God would allow me to minister to other men struggling with sexual sin. I now serve my local Celebrate Recovery ministry in a leadership role; I maintain an anonymous Twitter account, through which I have become acquainted with a few men needing help in this area; and now, I write this blog as both my journal and a ministry. Additionally, I have stepped outside the box of my incredible shyness and disinterest in interpersonal relationships and allowed myself to make acquaintances, and even a friend, at work. All of these outlets allow for ministry, and for that I am grateful and humbled.
But, what about my marriage? Surely, God wants me to relate to my wife better than to anyone else, right? Why has He allowed these other relationships to exist at all, while the one with my wife has withered on the vine? Her primary complaint has been that I don’t spend enough time with, or pay enough attention to, her. I have a theory why the other relationships came first.
Through these relationships, I have been learning how to speak to people, how to care about them, pray for them, and how to meet their needs when I can. I’ve learned how to encourage them in their victories and failures. I’ve also learned, as much as I have always dreaded confrontation, to get in their face over their sin, when that’s needed. So, all this learning…is it accomplishing anything in me? Sure, it’s helped those to whom I’ve ministered. But, I believe it has helped me, too. I believe it has helped me learn how to be a friend, and how to relate to people in general. I believe it has taught me empathy and furthered my emotional development, which was stunted severely by my dysfunctional family, my sexual confusion and the sinful acting out that marked most of my life.
Before I can be my wife’s husband, I have to know how to relate to people, in the most elementary way that most people learn naturally while growing up. I did not learn it then. That’s why it has been excruciatingly difficult for me to forge a relationship with anyone – even my wife. So, I realize that it’s time to apply what I have learned from the secondary relationships that I have developed to the primary human relationship with which God has blessed me: the one with my wife.
But, that’s not the wake-up call to which the title of this post refers. That came two nights ago – and the next morning.
That night, my wife and I were watching TV in bed, and she fell asleep before me. After she did, I noticed that a man who is seeking help with a sexual addiction had sent me a message. It was much later than I usually converse with people online, but I went ahead and replied. She woke up while I was sending him a message. She let me know that she did not appreciate it.
Trust, or rather the lack of it, has been a major issue between us, due to all my incredibly foolish decisions around sexual sin and the use of Internet-capable devices late at night. And, although not only innocent, but basically the exact opposite of what I used to do with men online (helping them escape sin instead of helping them participate in it), I was communicating with a man I don’t know personally, online and late at night. This is a hot-button issue for her, and understandably so. What was I thinking? Regretfully, in my sleepiness and high emotional state from being scolded, I didn’t see the problem.
My wife did not use soothing words or a civil tone when expressing her concerns over this activity with me. In fact, to me, her tone and her words sounded pretty hateful. Now, given the horrendous pain I’ve caused her over many, many years, perhaps that tone was called for. Guilty or not, I still don’t like being yelled at, and I responded badly. My natural response when I feel attacked has either been to clam up (counselors call it stonewalling) or to defend myself. And, defend myself, I did. I told her I wasn’t taking time from her (she was asleep). So, here was a relational problem which was fraught with emotion, and I was responding to it with logic and defense. That didn’t turn out well. Unlike our norm of staying up until something is resolved, we fell asleep without resolution, though I told her I would set boundaries on my ministry to those I have not met personally, ensuring it did not interfere with my relationship with her.
I woke up sleep-deprived; she woke up with a splitting headache. It wasn’t the best of mornings for either of us, but I hoped the day still had a chance of being salvaged. I started it by removing myself from a Facebook group for Christian men who wanted out of same sex attraction (that’s where I met the man I was messaging with that night). I did this for a couple of reasons. One, because I committed to her I would, to cut down on the number of men I ministered to who I do not know personally. Two, because I decided I do not need the same sex thing in my mind so much, now that God has revealed me to the many-faceted reason for it in me and since it is not an issue I deal with regularly anymore.
Later that morning, she sent me a couple of devotional articles, which she has done before, and I have always appreciated, even though they sometimes sting a little when I realize I have something to fix in my life. Even though I could regard them as being sent in an accusatory way (as if she was telling me, “you need this, so read it!”), I instead choose to believe she sends them because she knows I need them, and as my wife, she has a right to keep me accountable in my relationship with God, with her, with our kids, and with others. And, I figure, if she didn’t care about me at all and intended to leave me, she wouldn’t bother sending me anything to help me improve myself.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m in college, online. I decided to take time that morning to work on an assignment in my Developmental Psychology class. We are studying the development of people in each stage of life, and we have arrived at end of life issues. The assignment was to give our answers to five questions, all of which deal with living wills, who makes your medical decisions if you are unable, down to what you want done with your remains and what your memorial service or funeral should look like. It seemed to me like a pretty straightforward assignment, which wasn’t going to be difficult at all. Boy, was I wrong.
I was right that it wasn’t difficult – academically. What blindsided me, however, was how difficult it was emotionally. I was a total wreck! It was all I could do to hold back tears; had I not been in my office at the time, they would have been flowing. Part of the assignment was to tell what emotions you were experiencing while writing it. At first, I thought the tears were coming because I had never dealt with decisions like this for myself (only for already-deceased relatives), and I was dreading the thought of my own death, to which I’ve given very little thought in the past. But I soon realized that wasn’t it at all. I’m really not afraid to die, since I know where I’m going. What was bothering me was this (a quote from what I wrote in my assignment):
I just kept thinking of my wife and kids sitting in our church at my memorial service, tears flowing. But, not tears of sadness over my passing. Tears of regret, that my life had not counted for more than it did. Tears shed for all the time we missed out on, all the happy times we didn’t have (though there were some, of course). Tears for the many things I didn’t give my wife that she so desperately needed – most importantly, the feeling of being loved by her husband. Tears for the many things I didn’t do for my kids, like teaching them everything I should have about Christ and about life in general, and spending more time with them. Those are not the tears I want shed at my service.
I got so emotional not because I didn’t want to die, but because I didn’t want to die before I start living as the new man that Christ is making me into. I want to do that for my wife and kids, I want to do it to show others that there is hope in Christ to change even the most hardened and sin-stained heart, and ultimately, I want to do it for the glory of God.
I realized, as extraordinary as the turnaround that Jesus has made in me in the area of sexual sin is, I have so much more that needs to be changed! I have clung to the fact that I have over a year of “clean time” from the sin. I know that’s only because of Him and not through any strength of my own. And, that clean time is a wonderful thing! However, maybe I have allowed some pride to seep in. Maybe I have allowed that success to cloud the fact that virtually every other part of my life is a train wreck, especially my marriage. Maybe I have allowed myself to bask in that accomplishment that He has empowered, instead of moving on and starting the hard work that is needed in other areas (which He will also empower). I’ve been deceiving myself. Yes, that’s what it is. Delete every instance of “maybe” from this paragraph. I have deceived myself into thinking that I deserve a break after this enormous change. The truth is, there is still much, much work to be done – and the sooner, the better.
So, where do I go from here? Perhaps it’s time to make a list. I do well with lists. If my wife asks me to do a couple of things around the house, I may or may not get to them. But, if she writes them down, I almost certainly will. Perhaps there is something psychologically satisfying for me when I check items off a list – a sense of having accomplished something. The list that I need to make now is of things I need to change about myself, to be the husband she needs and that Jesus desires me to be. I can’t work on something if I don’t know what to work on. I’ve just realized what that list will really be: not just a list, but goals. One of my wife’s complaints about me over the years has been my lack of goals. It’s time. I need some concrete, achievable goals (achievable with the help of Jesus, through whose strength I can do all things, as stated in Philippians 4:13). That’s my next challenge: along with my wife, brainstorm and make that list. Then, the real work of God in our marriage can begin.
My wife and I had a two-hour talk last night. It went reasonably well. She is understandably skeptical about my new enthusiasm for our relationship, after all these years of neglecting it, and her. She tells me I’m going to have to prove that I love her and care about her – to pursue, or chase her. Okay. I will. God, help me know how and guide every step!
God gave me the beginning of that list of changes this morning, during my morning time in the Bible. I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians, and came upon the 13th chapter (the “love chapter,” as it’s sometimes referred to). Well played, God. His ability to bring together multiple messages to tell me what He wants me to learn never ceases to amaze me. In this case, He used our “discussion” the other night after my messaging infraction, my school assignment, two devotionals she sent me, and the next chapter I came to in my regular morning Bible reading. Here’s the whole chapter, which is meaning more to me now, as it’s the beginning of my goals for how to treat my wife:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.