|Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
For the next hour, she shared heart-wrenching details of a relationship gone bad. It was the disinterest that tipped her off that something was wrong. Though only married 3 years, the problems began in earnest 18 months before. He stopped doing the little things like, playing with her hair and surprising her with small thoughtful gifts. Her personal favorite was when he would show up at her work with a mocha from Starbucks, she adored that just because it came from his hand. But he hadn't done that in well over a year now.
Shortly after they were married, they were blessed with a beautiful daughter. With parenthood, comes a lot of responsibility. Maybe the extra chores of life had just begun to suck some of the vitality of their marriage away, she reasoned. Life is much busier with a baby than either of them had imagined it would be.
Still that didn't explain the distance that she was beginning to feel with her husband. He was becoming short with her, often getting angry at the smallest of things. He would stay up late at night away from her, waking up in the morning with just enough time to get to work, but no time to talk. She began to think after about 3 months of this pattern of life that maybe someone should help them with the problems that were beginning to arise.
She mentioned it to him one unusual night where they actually planned a date with one another. He assured her that there was nothing in their marriage so wrong that they couldn't fix together. Besides he didn't want to go to someone else and lay out all their dirty laundry in front of them. He seemed to listen that night and it gave her the assurance that everything was going to be alright.
However, the change was short-lived. About two weeks later, things had reverted back to their normal state. And the questions started filling her mind, "Why didn't he want to spend time with her?" "Was there something wrong with her that she needed to change?" The questions led to suspicion and the suspicion led to action.
One day after her husband went to work, she stayed home and began to snoop for any clues that might offer a reason for the change that she was seeing in him. She hoped and prayed that whatever she found would be something that could be fixed and she secretly feared that he had simply fallen out of love with her and found another.
What she stumbled upon, she wasn't prepared for. She discovered that he had been frequently visiting porn sites. The feelings of shame and betrayal flowed through her consuming her every thought until he came home from work. She confronted him on it in a fight of epic proportions that she was sure changed the relationship forever.
He promised to change, he was remorseful, but two months later he had fallen back into the pattern again. Only this time it was worse. He didn't try to hide his addiction anymore. He used it to blame her for not being intimate enough with him. All of the little things that she had noticed in her relationship going wrong earlier was now being blamed on her and her lack of intimacy toward him. The irony and the guilt heaped was unbearable. But she managed to hold up under the pressure for nearly 9 months now.
She was only in my office now because of a note that he left her confirming the worst of her fears. He no longer loved her and had found another. He was planning on leaving at the end of the month and wanted to divorce her as quietly as possible, so not to disrupt the life of their 18 month old daughter too much.
She finished her story, sobbing uncontrollably, directionless and afraid of what the unknown future held for her. She didn't want to be a single mom. She had never been alone in her life. She went from being a daughter to a wife and never thought she'd have to face her current situation as a reality.
And all I could do was wrap my arms around her and tell her that God will help her through this time...and pray.
I cannot tell you how many times a scene like this has unfolded in my office over the last 12 years. It isn't always a wife, sometimes its a husband or a parent of a child with a situation that has gotten out of control. However, no matter the issue the root cause is always the same...pride.
By the time the people walk into my office, the damage has already been done. They aren't walking into my office to repair a problem that can be fixed. They are shattered and need a whole new life.
The real tragedy occurs when people who have troubles entering into their lives pretend to the world around them that these things don't exist in the first place. Many times, when counseling hurting people I will ask, "Who else knows about this?" The answer I receive is predictable because I've heard it many times before. "No one" or "Only my parents" are the most common responses.
It had taken the dismantling of a life to humble a person enough to walk into my office and finally admit that everything wasn't alright. They had been deceived--by the enemy or our culture or just the shame that their lives weren't what they thought it should be--to stay silent about their "dirty laundry".
What's worse, in many cases, the people who come into my office are people who have been a part of our congregation or daycare for years. I've rubbed shoulders with them, asked about their families and tried to live life together with them. But in the most important interactions of their lives, I, like everyone around them, was left out for fear that their dirty laundry would leave an indelible stain on our relationship. In their mind, the fact that they didn't have things all together in marriage, with their kids, in an addiction, in their financial difficulties, etc. is somehow going to change the way that I (or God) views them. So they try to act perfect in hopes that no one will see their marks, while crumbling on the inside because no one is there to help them in their time of need. Help they have denied because of their pride.
They have forgotten that it is the role of the body of Christ to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) to fulfill the law of Christ. Not to pretend that we have no burdens to bear.
Jesus plainly said that it wasn't those who were well who needed a doctor, but those who were sick. He came to call those who were sinners, not the righteous (Mat. 9:9-13). Jesus spoke this to the Pharisees who didn't believe that they needed anything from Jesus either. You see, the help is for the broken and needy, not the self-deluded self-sufficient.
Paul boasted in his weaknesses and all the hardships that he was enduring claiming that when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10). His weakness showed him his need for Christ, but he didn't try to hide it, he exposed it so that others would see that where he failed and was lacking, Christ is sufficient.
This, I believe, is one of the most important subjects I could ever write about. It strikes at the heart of what causes us to become the type of church that so many in the world believes exists. Why are we perceived as judgmental? Why do we worry so about our weaknesses? Why are we afraid to admit that we don't have it all together? Because when we cover for those fears, we become the very Pharisees we have tried all of our lives to avoid.
We long for healing. We desire authenticity. But we want someone else to go first. We deliberately forget that the weight of burdens are much lighter when they are spread amongst many shoulders.
So what can we do to stop this destructive cycle that is crippling believers everywhere?
1. We need to convince ourselves that there is no shame in having problems, even serious ones.
Remember, we are told in Scripture that no temptation has seized us except that which is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). What often gives us shame is the perception that we are the only ones going through problems.
Right now, there are people in our congregation and daycare having difficulties in marriage, struggling with porn, drug, alcohol addiction or homosexual desires, secretly financially struggling to pay last month's bills, having rebellious children that cause hatred, discord, and pain (even to the point of having them kicked out of the house) or have gotten pregnant, etc...(the list is endless).
This isn't some breaking of confidentiality toward those who have entrusted me with some dirty secret...this is common! We have fooled ourselves into believing that problems and temptations disappear once you become a Christian...at least the really big ones, and we desperately need to get over that if we are ever to find true healing in the name of Christ.
2. We have to be brave enough to share our problems and sins with those who genuinely care for us with the love of Christ.
Stepping out and being vulnerable with our lives is hard for anyone to do. Because it's hard, many don't do it at all.
However, like my account above, the worst culprits are guys. Guys who don't act like men and convince their wives and families that the best way to deal with problems is to pretend that they don't exist...and set before their families a pattern of self-sufficiency that often leads to turmoil in individual lives and the destruction of the family. Many men simply refuse to ask for help for anything...and I often have to deal with the aftermath of their selfish decisions.
If this seems harsh to guys, it's nothing compared to the destruction given to wives and children who have been constantly rebuffed by their husband/father in efforts to deal with problems by bringing someone else in who truly cares for them. The ignorance of the problem often leads to very bad outcomes.
We have to become good at sharing our problems as they happen, not when they grow too big for us to handle. The fear of shame or rejection becomes less and less the more we share with those who truly care for us as Jesus does. We realize after each sharing that we are valued for who we are, not what we have done. The actions may have consequences to be sure, but consequences administered by those who love you is always easier to take than those whom you think only wish to condemn the person with the action.
By sharing our problems early, we also have the opportunity to heal a relationship before the damage done is impossible to fix.
This isn't to be confused with gossip that just blurts out any and all information to everyone and is destructive to the very relationships in jeopardy. This is a deliberate sharing with mature believers in Christ who will seek a Godly type of restoration for relationships that have been damaged. (Gal. 6:1-10; James 5:16-20).
3. We have to love Jesus more than we love ourselves.
In the end, all of this is just obedience to what Jesus said we should do when conflict arises. Conflict, no matter the cause, is a distraction to the mission of making disciples and growing in our faith in Christ. It's hard to want to tell others about Christ when you are constantly worried about your marriage, children or some wrong that has been done either by you or to you.
Over and over again, Jesus says that when conflict and wrongs have been committed, we should deal with them right away (Matthew 5:21-26; Luke 17:1-4; Matthew 18:15-17).
There may be some who would say this final point is over the top. Of course, I love Jesus more than myself. Just because I have fallen in this one area doesn't mean that I don't love Jesus. But it was Jesus Himself who said that "if you love Me, you will obey my commands" and "he who doesn't love Me will not obey My commands" (John 14:15-24). What is tragic is that many Christians are being silent about the most important relationships in their lives at the expense of obedience to Christ!
Are we going to trust Jesus enough to trust Him with every aspect of our lives...even that which isn't so pretty and exposes the fact that we actually need Him?
Remember, it was the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the people who had all the problems, who came to Christ with their exposed baggage and were healed (Matthew 21:28-32). The Pharisees, who believed they had it all together, chose instead to crucify Christ.
We may just find that if we were a little more shameless with our dirty laundry, we not only would have a lot less of it to deal with, but we might find the only true solution to get rid of it altogether.