Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beyond Redemption

In our society, there is a collection of phrases that have somehow been canonized as empirical truths. They cite no sources and often have no observable evidence to back them up.  They are the proverbs of a disbelieving and cynical generation, and I find most of them to be utterly absurd, to be honest with you (like "following your heart", for example).

In the past few weeks, we've received a handful of comments and emails insisting that Hannah is wasting her time by giving me another chance, because of one such saying:

Once a cheater, always a cheater.  


Well, this little mantra may sound wise at face value, but the response I always want to blurt out to our critics is this: If you think cheaters can't change and shouldn't be forgiven, I sincerely hope you don't think you're a Christian.

Now, it may seem audacious of me to assume that our naysayers are Christians, but an enormous percentage of the US population claims to believe in this faith.   For many, religion is merely a social construct. It is the way you're raised and the values you inherited. Nonetheless, the masses overwhelmingly claim to believe in forgiveness in one breath and cast a stone of condemnation at the same time.

This doesn't mean that infidelity is not unbelievably painful or that a person should subject themselves to further wrongdoing. It also doesn't mean that forgiveness is owed to me -- it's not. Grace is a gift by definition, and it often comes at great cost to the one who dispenses it.

If you do not claim any ownership of the Christian faith (or a multitude of others that allow penitence), then by all means, let loose with your graceless catch phrases. But if you even call yourself a believer on a superficial level, you must realize the absurdity of placing hope in the cross while damning your fellow man.   In fact, Jesus acknowledged the nonsensical nature of this contradiction Himself in Matthew 18:21-35. Read it for yourself.

Calling someone irredeemable is literally the opposite of Christ. Christ's love shows us that there is a path to absolution, and that He has paid the price of redemption for us despite how massive the debt may have been. To say that there is no forgiveness for cheating (which someone told me just last week) is to say that Christ's sacrifice wasn't enough to cover that. His suffering wasn't sufficient to truly restore us. Your emotional trauma supersedes His divinity. Now that is audacious.

Again, if you place no faith in the blood of Jesus, the popular phrase "once a cheater, always a cheater" is totally logical. Unfaithfulness is heinous and totally despicable. But if you believe in the gospel of love and yet find yourself repeating societal proverbs that preach the opposite of salvation, you are profoundly at odds with yourself.

It must be said that, although this post is boldly stated, I do not think I deserve forgiveness for my wretched actions. I cannot stress this enough, and I hope that my previous posts show you this as well. I deserve solitude, sorrow, and damnation. My boldness comes from my faith and understanding of scripture, which expects believers to forgive radically in the same way that God has done for us.   The gospels are not about getting what you deserve. Without a doubt, forgiving someone for such a tremendous transgression must be unspeakably difficult, but God's word shows us that it is possible. In my state of absolute and soul-piercing guilt, this is where I find hope.

In conclusion, I have one simple reminder for every believer who feels conflicted about their ability to forgive. Let us not lose sight of Matthew 18's core message, because it is of vital importance:

 Forgive radically, because you were forgiven for a much greater debt than the one owed to you.  


You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We encourage you to subscribe via e-mail for regular updates.  Please share your thoughts on this post by emailing us or commenting! 

13 comments:

  1. You are absolutely right. I am the betrayed spouse. Everyone thinks they know what they would do if their spouse cheated on them until it happens. I sure thought I'd know what I'd do and to be honest I'm still not 100% sure that I will or should stay in my marriage. Had we just been married with no children, I think I definitely would have left but when d-day happened for me, I had a two year old and newborn. I had just returned to work from maternity leave, no family close by. Rock meet hard place. My husband isn't owning his sh*t yet the way you are and he's certainly not publically speaking about it...but you give me hope. The pain of his betrayal is agony many days. It undercuts everything, our entire life together. But here's a little bit more about me: I am an only child. My parents split when I was 12. My father was cheating. Again. My mom had tried to forgive his first affair eight years earlier but my dad never created safety or transparency. They didn't go to counseling- my father refused (not to mention the difficulty of finding quality counsel- a whole separate topic). Our finances went in half. Gone were piano lessons and private school. Eventually my father married the other woman. When I married, we had two ceremonies because I coul;dn't deal with the stress of having both sets of parents together. Divorce is terribly painful for children.

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  2. Also, each of us has done something that makes us just cringe in retrospect. I have several of these such moments in my own life. I try to remember to treat others how I would want to be treated after revealing my failings. After I found out about my husband's betrayal, somehow I managed to not just treat him with abject cruelty. I didn't exclude his laundry or refuse to serve him meals that I had prepared. Often I had nothing to say to him and other times I was overwhelmed with anger and pain. It was SUCH an utterly bizarre and painful time in those days and weeks and months after. It was awful but somehow I managed not to treat him the way I felt he treated me. Honestly, I don't know how I made it through the first year. I guess having small kids just pushing you forward to function everyday helped a lot.

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    1. I'm assuming that you are the same anonymous commenter from the previous comment above, so I am going to reply to both comments here. I grew up witnessing a divorce situation as well, and it's interesting how it colors your perceptions of marriage and relationships. Affairs have an intimate effect on the couple and also a wide-spanning impact on finances, children, and even friends. It can send your life in a tail spin.

      The last part of your comment is very interesting to me -- that having small kids pushes you forward. I've been pondering this a lot lately and I will be posting two entries about this around Father's Day. Kids can bring you so much healing. It's a topic that really deserves further exploration. So... keep checking back, and thanks for reading!

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  3. Timely words! Thank you. As the betrayed spouse AND a Christian I am learning what it means to truly forgive. I have had many talks with God about this. I see it is a process...not a one and done kind of thing. And some days I ask God to help me forgive, because I cannot do it in my own power. I have recently figured out that since the enemy was not successful in his attempt to destroy our marriage through the affair itself, he will now use "triggers" and play with my mind & emotions in hopes of destroying our marriage. I said all that to say this...I spent a great deal of time praying about all this last night...and this morning as I was dressing for work the enemy hit me with "once a cheater, always a cheater". The sins I have committed are no less than the sins my husband committed. Did his sin hurt me directly - yes. Does forgiveness erase the hurt? No (I wish it did). But, my sins have directly hurt God. Because HE can and does forgive me, I must extend the grace I was given. Again, this is a process - not a one time thing. As a Christian I have found this is possibly the hardest lesson to learn...and one I wish I could have learned in practice, rather than theory before now.

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    1. The timing of this post was certainly interesting for us. We had been discussing the general idea for a few days, but I wasn't feeling particularly inspired creatively, so we put it on the back burner.

      Then, one night, I felt moved to write... and as I sat down at my computer, I got an email at that very instant by a critic. This particular email was very straightforward. The critic was insisting that Hannah should re-think her decision to stay, and should abandon our marriage immediately. That was such a confirmation to me that this message was needed.... so here we are. It's funny how things play out sometimes.

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  4. After 3 months in a relationship with my bf, he confessed that he was cheating with his girl best friend. I tried to listen to his explanations and when they didn’t make sense, I expressed my anger (even slapped him) and told him “okay, you keep your ‘friendship’ with that girl and let’s break up.”
    I think that totally shattered him and made him realize the severity of his actions. I saw that he was really sorry. After all, he confessed to me. It’s better than me finding out.
    I took him back and he dropped that ‘friendship’. I tell you, it wasn’t easy going through that. Even months after that, I can still feel the pain when I remember what happened. The good thing is when I talk to him about how I feel, he would reassure me again that he was sorry, and he would thank me for giving him another chance.
    I’m happy with him now and we’re going stronger every day.
    I think that’s what grace is all about. It’s undeserved mercy. If my friends find out what happened, they’d probably tell me I’m crazy for giving him another chance. We were not even married yet. But that’s how crazy Christ is, too. He died in the cross for us. All I wanted was to mirror to him the mercy I received from Christ. It would be a different story, of course, if he wasn’t remorseful. I’d still forgive him but not take him back. :) It would be a sign of self respect, wouldn’t it?
    Keep up your work! I like reading them. :)

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    1. "If my friends find out what happened, they’d probably tell me I’m crazy for giving him another chance. We were not even married yet. But that’s how crazy Christ is, too. "

      And that's exactly it. I wrote this post because so many critics had contacted us, literally telling Hannah to leave because she was crazy for giving me another chance. The world, poisoned by cynicism and disbelief, hates grace and mercy. Grace is Christ-like, and the world hates Christ. It's sad, but it's certainly not surprising. Thanks for reading!

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  5. My husband had an affair, and I have had a lot of people tell me that he doesn't deserve forgiveness. Thankfully I have a supportive family and church friends who encourage me that I am doing the right thing. I find your blog very encouraging.

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    1. So sorry for the delayed response! Sometimes comments get lost in the mix.

      Those people are actually right... your husband doesn't deserve your forgiveness. 99% of the time, none of us deserve grace. But that is the very definition of grace. Grace and forgiveness are meant to be given freely. Holding on to the transgression of others only weighs you down.

      Now trust on the other hand, does need to be earned. But continue to forgive your husband in spite of the fact that he doesn't necessarily deserve it. Lean on your family during this time for their support!

      Thanks for reading! God Bless!

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  6. I have a question. My husband and I had been married for 7 years. We had 2 small children and I was 7 months pregnant with our third. I had been a stay at home mom since shortly after we were married. We had yet another argument when he called me in his lunchbreak one day. After work he called me and said he was on his way home. He never showed up. It was February and had started to snow. He had an hour commute home. I called everyone we knew that lived between us and his work thinking he might have stopped because of the snow. I called everyone we were related to. By 3:30 in the morning, after having had his sister notify rescue personnel and them telling me if his car had gone over one of the many embankments, they wouldn't find him until the snow let up, I was sitting in my bathroom floor crying and wondering who would give the eulogy at his funeral. The next day at 10:30 A.M. he finally calked me from his Dad's and told me he wasn't coming home. For weeks he wouldn't even speak to me. Long story short, he came home 3 days before our son was born. I then found out he'd been with another woman that first night and 3 more in the following weeks. The first woman had been wooing him for months at work. I was numb and despondant for months. We went through trying to rebuild our marriage and he did everything he could to make that possible for me. Working tirelessly to prove his love, faithfulness, and newfound respect for our vows. I rejected everything for quite some time. Then I felt guilty for still being so troubled by it after so much time had passed. I pretended to be okay. I stopped crying in front of him. I stopped talking about it and everyone, including him, thought I was finally over it. Then I decided going back to work was what I needed. That it would truly help me turn over a new leaf. After having worked for a while, I was placed alongside a new doctor. He was confident, and handsome, and just different. He made me feel like he could see my real worth. How valuable I really was. Often saying things like, "I don't understand how your husband doesn't see this about you." He was also very wealthy and a world away from small children and worrying about making ends meet. We began an affair that lasted almost 2 years. The whole time I justified it by saying to myself that it was my husband's fault. That he destroyed our marriage and I was just following suite. Toward the end of our affair I began to see what my husband found out in a much shorter time. That our marriage was more important, worth too much, to throw away for stolen moments and secret meetings. I ended it and left that job. Anyway, I was suddenly able to forgive him completely and totally. Our marriage is wonderful and what it should've been all along. The only hitch is what brings me to my question, should I tell him? He never suspected. He never knew. I had become so adept at hiding my feelings that he couldn't see even the slightest change in me. Is it worth putting him through all that, ruining what we have now? Can I just forgive myself and move on?

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    1. This probably isn't what you want to hear but.. yes. You absolutely should tell your husband. Omitting the truth is the same thing as lying and a marriage built (or rebuilt) on lies is going to have problems in the future. It is definitely going to hurt him to know the truth, but you're not doing him any favors by lying to him.

      He needs to know. Transparency in a marriage is 100% necessary. And I can say from experience that it made a big difference to me that my husband confessed his sin. It would have hurt that much worse had I found out through someone else.

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  7. I am a betrayed spouse. After 36 years of marriage, 3 children and 4 grandchildren my daughter found out her dad had been cheating on me for the last 20 years. She confronted her farther and he did confess all. My world was rocked my heart broken, my grown children were heartbroken and all
    they had thought about their farther were questioned. Quietly God asked me to forgive him and I can honestly say right then and there I did. Did it change my hurt or pain absolutely not, but what it did do was allow God to take over. My husband was amazed that I could forgive him because of my obedience to God. His eyes were open to a loving God . This has allowed God to begin a restoration in him . We have been through separate
    counseling and joint marriage counseling which has placed us on a path to reconciliation. This has been a very trying time but I truly believe that non
    of this would have been possible without forgiveness.

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    1. That is truly incredible! The strength that it takes to heal from a betrayal that big is huge. The word of God is 100% true.. nothing is impossible with God on our side. So thankful to read a bit of your story and hear about how God's love and grace is healing your marriage.

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