Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In the Absence of Trust

    So you've been betrayed. Your marriage vows have been dishonored and the world around you seems to be spinning. Today, I want to share a little bit about Hannah and I's journey through the issue of broken trust. Trust is a commodity in a marriage, and we've all heard that once it's been broken, it can be challenging to mend. Well, that's the understatement of the century in my observation.

    A person's word has a sense of equity, and it can either gain or lose value. Dishonesty is so heinous because it cheapens the words of the person who weaves a lie.  On the night of my confession, we were facing the bankruptcy of our marriage in terms of trust. I was insolvent.  How could we proceed under the constantly looming shadow of all my lies? As we sat, trying to sort out the path before us, a simple concept stood out in my mind.

   I heard a sentence bouncing back and forth in my head, so I said it aloud.  "In the absence of trust, we will accommodate."  Maybe it would take months or even decades to restore value to my words, but I knew that I had to remain willing and open to accommodations to survive the coming weeks.

   This can mean a lot of things. Maybe it amounts to handing over your smartphone, reporting your whereabouts, or even quitting your job. I'm here to tell you today that your marriage is worth accommodating if trust has been broken. No cost is too high when your relationship hangs in the balance. Accommodation is not a thing of shame, it is a brick on the road to your recovery. No matter how awkward, navigating through the harsh reality of broken trust means you're getting one step closer to healing... so keep walking

   Do not be misled by the culture around us that clamors for married couples to maintain distance -- separate logins, hidden bank accounts and distant lives. That's not an option right now. Embrace these changes as a battle for your relationship's survival. A loss of privacy is a small price to pay.

   In the absence of trust... accommodate. If you've betrayed your spouse, become exceedingly honest with them as a sign of goodwill.  Refuse to be merely reactive, choosing instead to be proactive. If you've been betrayed, search your soul for the remedy you need to regain trust, and don't be afraid to ask for it.

   Your marriage is worth it.  Perhaps having your email account scoured is uncomfortable, and  maybe a loss of freedom is inconvenient, but let's keep the big picture in mind. Your marriage is worth accommodating. Don't let your pride or sense of personal space rob you of a beautiful future.

    We've done a lot of accommodating, and I'm not afraid to admit it.  I'll spare you the fine details, but if you want to discuss this with me or Hannah, you can always reach us at themeaningofrepentance@gmail.com. We write this blog because we care about you, so don't hesitate to contact us. If you are navigating through the obstacle course of distrust, we're praying for you. You can always rest assured that you're not alone.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Exception

     In my last post, I explored the scriptural idea that Christian marriages should parallel the gospel story, as outlined in Ephesians 5. I'm convinced that this idea only becomes more beautiful as you unravel it in your mind.  Think about this parallel coming to fruition. Our marriages can become illustrations of grace and redemption to a world that desperately needs it. Our relationship with our spouse is a witness of Christ in itself. That's powerful.

   Despite the wonder and mystery of this grand idea, we have to face the grim reality that the Bible also reserves a place for divorce under certain conditions. Our marriage is meant to reflect the love story of God and His people, but there is an exception. In Matthew 19:9, we learn that divorce is permissible in the event of sexual immorality(adultery).  How does this play into the idea of the gospel parallel?

   Before we answer that, I have to reflect on how this concept in Matthew 19:9 relates to my personal story. There's no doubt about it -- Hannah has ample grounds to leave me if she chose to do that. I believe that repentance includes accepting the price you should pay. I should be alone. I don't deserve the grace I've been granted, and I never could. My failures should carry the price of separation, but she has chosen to forgive me regardless. In my observation, it can be easy for transgressors to fall into the trap of making excuses and statements such as "it was just a one-time mistake!" or "I've been a good husband... aside from this". Comments such as these do not indicate deep, thorough repentance.  Instead, they demonstrate that the tendrils of pride are wrapped around your heart, defending yourself from the depth of your own guilt. 

   If these attitudes exist in the wake of an affair, they must be uprooted. For healing to occur, we must freely and willingly accept the potential cost of our errors. But back to the question at hand: if God commands us to reflect His gospel of love in our marriages, why does He permit divorce in the case of adultery?  Unfortunately, I think this is a question with no clear answer, but there are a few possibilities we can consider.

   First of all, God refers to His people as the Bride on several occasions throughout scripture. He is preparing his Bride, and as Ephesians 5 states, He desires to present her as spotless, righteous, and without blemish.  He sacrifices Himself  to accomplish this, but the Bride must accept this in order for redemption to occur.  Repentance is the key to renewed purity. Just like in our marriages, a calloused spouse who feels justified in their affair creates an obstacle to recovery by their attitude. Living in denial, making excuses and concealing the facts do not display a broken spirit. In the aftermath of infidelity, the heart posture of the one who's strayed has a tremendous influence on the marriage's trajectory, and this seems to be true in the spiritual as well.

   Perhaps God has permitted this exception of divorce because He understands our sorrows, and He comprehends the profound challenge of recovering after adultery. After all, God understands the feeling of rejection. In The Bible, we see that God makes concessions for mankind over and over, and maybe this is one of them. Though He does not prefer for a marriage to be dissolved, He concedes out of compassion for the human experience. This concession speaks to the severity of damage that an affair can do.

   Although there is no clear answer to why God permits divorce, we know that He wants to demonstrate His forgiveness towards us in all circumstances.  We've learned that God considers His people to be His Bride, and a curious thing happens in the book of Hosea. God commands one of His prophets to marry and bear children with a prostitute as a symbol of His people's unfaithfulness and His commitment to them anyway. Wrap your mind around that -- God sees us as the unfaithful spouse, and He embraces us.  Furthermore, He didn't wait for us to confess before He decided to suffer for redemption's sake. He took the first step, wanting us even when we don't want Him. On the cross, Christ was pursuing his Bride despite the fact that she had already rejected Him. She wasn't sorry yet; she had not accepted her guilt. That's heavy.

      So, whether it's in a successful marriage or the turbulence of relational misery, the fingerprint of God's grace can be seen. God sees us as the Bride, and even in our moments of calloused wandering, He desires us. By reflecting on how divorce fits into the gospel parallel, we can learn more about His love for us.

     Lastly, I want you to know that, even if your marriage has been marred by transgressions as grave as unfaithfulness, you can still reflect the gospel through your relationship. God does not command us to have perfect relationships, He desires redeemed relationships.  Even in our willingness to forgive one another, we can reflect the love of Christ to the world around us.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We urge you to subscribe via e-mail and consider sharing this blog on social media if you support our message of hope! 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Gospel Parallel

   If you're a Christian and married, there's no doubt that you're familiar with the often-quoted passage from Ephesians 5:21-33 that details how marriage relationships should operate. There's books, devotionals, and sermons devoted to it, specifically around the concept of "love and respect".  I'm convinced, however, that we are missing a much more pivotal point to this scripture in our search for practical marriage advice.

   Before we get into that, I have to admit that I've struggled with the apparent lack of marriage-related verses in the Bible in the past. If marriage is such a big deal, how come the New Testament doesn't teach us more about how these covenants should function? At face value, it seems like all we get for guidance is these few verses in Ephesians, which only provide a very high-level overview of the male and female needs for love and respect.  Considering the fact that marriage is so important, those few verses don't seem like enough. Just being honest.

   Through this struggle, however, I've realized a far greater truth. Just as a Christian's life should reflect Christ's likeness, the Christian marriage should reflect the gospel story. When people read Ephesians 5, they often take away practical directions from it. Wives should submit, husbands should love. I think we're missing a bigger picture in this passage. This isn't a list of tips for a happy marriage... This passage is telling us that the marriage relationship parallels the gospel story. The love story of our marriage should be the love story between Christ and His people.

    Marriage should be a testimony of God's grace. It should also be a living witness for the world to see, a beacon of hope in a world full of turmoil. With this idea in mind, we can also observe that, though the Bible does not provide much in terms of practical marriage advice, we can find truth about marital love in virtually any verse that talks about God's love for us. 

     If you want to know how love and respect play out in practical terms, look it up in another passage. When a husband wants to know how love should look in the context of marriage, all he needs to do is parse through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to see how Christ displayed his affections for us.  If a wife wants to see what submission looks like, she can read about how the church submits to Jesus. When we look  at the Bible through this lens, it becomes a book filled with marriage advice and wisdom, instead of a book that curiously lacks it.

   Perhaps one of the most terrifying implications in this parallel is the idea of divorce.  God says that our marriages reflect the gospel, and yet His word also allows an exception for marriages in the case of sexual immorality. Think about that. God's love is everlasting and he expects our marriages to be the same, and yet He allows divorce to take place if unfaithfulness occurs. This is how big of a deal infidelity is to God. If the Bible tells us that the God-humanity relationship parallels the husband-wife relationship, then certainly this notion of unfaithfulness and divorce carries serious spiritual weight.

    In my next post, I will be discussing this exception and the dark shadow of divorce  both theologically and practically. I encourage you to read Ephesians 5:21-33 and then use this new understanding of God's word to enlighten your studies and enhance your understanding of marriage. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Strength in Numbers

    When you're facing a tragedy, you might hear a voice in your head that tells you to isolate yourself from the outside world. Run away, hide your wounds, protect yourself.  This response is a reflex for many people, and it's totally, outrageously wrong.  You need help, and there is no condemnation in reaching out for it.

      When I first confessed my terrible actions to Hannah, we mostly drew away from our circle of friends for awhile.  Before too long, however, we realized that the weight of this catastrophe was too much to overcome on our own. We changed churches, because we knew that we needed spiritual guidance desperately.  In the following weeks and months, we told family and friends, and their support has been so crucial to our recovery.  Supportive and like-minded people can provide assistance, perspective and wise counsel when you feel totally lost in the shadow of your own difficulties.

     Staying connected is terrifying when you're shouldering the burden of something as personal as an affair.  Both the offender and the victim can feel intense shame and guilt, and embarrassment often drives ailing marriage's into hiding. This hiding place, where no one's around to speak words of encouragement or offer a shoulder to cry on, is dangerous. It can become the graveyard of your relationship, where a couple can quickly succumb to the constant throbbing of their wounds. 

       Now, don't get me wrong. There may be a time when buffering your family from the world may be necessary, especially if the affair happened within a circle of friends.  Discretion must be used when it comes to who you tell and what time frame you follow.  Especially for the victim's sake, every couple must proceed cautiously when it comes to discussing their story, because moving too fast can only cause more harm.   Hannah and I are obviously more open than most, but we desperately want to help others with our experiences and if that means exposing our flaws for the world to see, we can accept that.

     Community is essential. Of course, this is a focal point of the Christian faith, but even if you are not a churchgoer, you can seek out like-minded people to help you along your path. Join a church, talk with trusted peers, meet with family. Do whatever it takes to find support. Sharing your wound is a risk, but it may transform your journey. If you are willing to travel the path to recovery, then you can certainly muster the strength to seek others who can under gird you on the way.

     In the book "START." by Jon Acuff, the author explains that everyone has an inner voice, and the most common misconception is that this influential voice is on your side.  It's the voice that tells you to refrain, hide, flee, avoid risks, and isolate yourself. You may not realize it, but the inner voice doesn't have your best interests in mind.

     If you are hurting, defy the voice which pleads for you to disconnect from your community.  You need others, and trust me, there is someone out there who likely needs you too.  Connectedness is power. Embrace it, because it may be the deciding factor in your marriage's trajectory.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Identity Crisis, Part 1

How many times must you perform an act before it defines you?

    This is the question that's stared me in the face on so many occasions.  After my affair, I faced an identity crisis like none other in my life.  I've made a lot of mistakes, to be sure, but I've never done something that would so distinctly define me in the eyes of others, my spouse, and my mind.  One series of horrible errors had burdened me with a new and miserable title: Cheater.

   We spend our lives performing tasks. Some of these actions are tied to labels. Musicians play music. Artists create art.  Preachers preach and liars lie. Our actions become our new name. Some actions carry more gravity than others. You can spend your whole life engaging in the same kind of behavior with no consequence, but there are some grave deeds that will define you in a single moment.

     This is what happened to me. I became a cheater. Suddenly, my understanding of the person I saw in the mirror was utterly undone, replaced by a foreign reflection that I honestly despised. I had become something that I hated. This problem is really not about others.  I've never been one to care much for the opinions of others. This is about how I view myself, and how my wife sees me. In the solitude of my own mind, when no one was around to cast a judgment, I was a monster.  My guilt and my shame were not relative to the people around me. This sorrow was absolute.

    So how did I overcome this? I'm sure that some of you may have experienced a similar crisis of identity, and I want to share a little bit about my personal journey from the depths of self-loathing.

   It was tough, and it still is. In the beginning, I wanted to become a moping, helpless zombie of self-deprecation, but my marriage needed my attention urgently. At times, my self hatred was a kind of self absorption, where I focused too much on my own feelings and not on my wounded spouse's needs. That's when I realized I had to defeat this for the sake of our future.

   Without a doubt, prayer has been a key component to the entire healing process, and I've mentioned it on many instances in previous posts. It certainly played a role in overcoming this self-image problem, but I want to focus on a very different angle right now:    having an outlet.

   Beyond prayer, having an outlet has been the most vital part of my personal battle with my identity.  If you are dealing with this type of issue, having an outlet is crucial, and your outlet cannot be the spouse that you've betrayed.  They will not have the strength to support, reassure, and coddle you while they are dealing with a very distinct crisis of their own. 

    During moments of intense stress, men can become pressurized like a steam valve, waiting to explode on anyone in the area, no matter how innocent they may be.  Many men struggle to find a way to process their feelings, burdens, and baggage, and in the wake of an affair, handling your own emotional health is so necessary. 

   As a musician, I am naturally expressive, and that worked in my favor. I used my music to flesh out my own self-loathing.  I outsourced these dark thoughts and worked through my demons using creativity.  Many men may ask, at this point, "How does that help me?!"  Most people are not artists or musicians, but the underlying need for an outlet is the same. Your release valve does not have to be creative, but it does have to be something.

      In fact, one of the other outlets that profoundly helped me was fitness. This may sound totally strange, but by exercising, I found a way to sort of punish my flesh, bringing my body into submission. My higher person, the person I wanted to be, gained traction over my fleshly instincts through running. A lot of running.

   Find an outlet.  I don't care if its exercise, writing, carpentry, or anything else.  Bottling up your frustrations and disappointments doesn't work, and it will likely result in the injury of a person you love.  Let it out, or you could damage the people around you inadvertently.  This topic is one of immense complexity, but this area of self-expression has been so influential in the way I view myself.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their road to recovery after unfaithfulness. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook, and we urge you to contact us if you need help with the recovery process. We offer support services in-person and via Skype(video).