02 Feb 2023
When our first discipleship workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was published in January 2013, I was thankful and expectant. Thankful because producing this resource had been a long, somewhat challenging process and finally, after more than three years of book “pregnancy,” the workbook had been birthed. I waited expectantly to see the response and impact on women’s lives.
One message came in on publishing day from a woman: “You do know, right, that 99% of women in the church will never engage [with] this? Most churches won’t even consider this!”
I admit my response wasn’t, initially, fueled by one drop of compassion. I didn’t wonder what sort of backstory would lead someone to express this. No. Instead, I felt frustrated and angry. I didn’t want balloons and accolades—but perhaps a little encouragement and thankfulness!
Yes, but God rescued me from myself and I sensed his gentle, truthful wisdom. “Ellen, are the one percent worth it? Maybe she’s right. But that still leaves many hurting, gospel-desperate women who have expressed the need for this resource.” My heart changed in that moment.
God’s Stories from God’s Daughters
Praise be to God that the Spirit of comfort and counsel radically flipped my anger and frustration into tears of not just joy, but also tenderness. I’d had so many discipleship conversations with beautiful women who were the humble, needy, one percent.
Now, ten years later, I’ve had the priceless gift of hearing stories from all over the country and world of how God has used Sexual Sanity for Women to help women grow into Christlikeness as they pursued sexual and relational integrity.
From a biblical counselor:
Sexual Sanity for Women has been the most helpful, profound, and influential book I have ever used in women’s programs. For the past four years I have been using it regularly to walk with women of all ages in discipleship, as a chaplain teaching life skills in a shelter, and to my surprise to heal from my own history with sexual brokenness that I never realized permeated into every thought and behavioral pattern of my life. With the grace of the Lord, I have seen this study transform hearts and minds to grasp the beautiful rest, shalom, and freedom that only King Jesus can give. I am deeply appreciative to the Harvest USA Tree Model and the SSFW study for taking a sensitive and incredibly complex topic such as this and making it relatable, reliable, and redemptive. Thank you, Ellen Dykas & Harvest USA for such a wonderful and accessible study!
Valentine Curiel (MA), Counseling Director, Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA
From a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA:
Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness (SSFW) has been a life changing resource for me. I learned what I knew about sexuality through my own experience of sexual abuse, as well as being exposed to my father’s pornography from a young age. On top of that, I attended church and even pursued a Bible and seminary degree with little to no training or discipleship in the area of sexuality from those experiences, nor did I have any meaningful teaching or discipleship on these topics in the church. This ought not to be! By my 20’s I was confused, ashamed, and stuck in deep patterns of relational brokenness, as well as dabbling in my own pornography use. As a woman, I was confronted by silence from the church on these street-level issues that I was facing to an increasing degree. I reached out to Harvest USA as a broken and hopeless woman. I remember saying, “I don’t feel like I am in control of my own life anymore.” When I bought a copy of SSFW, I kept it hidden under my bed, and only read it in secret. Through God’s kindness, this resource was a significant part of how the Lord set me free. Topics like how our past informs our present struggles, temptation, and how to embrace God as our true Father, comforter, and home set me on a totally new trajectory in my Christian life. The Lord has shown his kindness to me in many ways, and I can’t speak of his work in my life without mentioning this life-changing resource.
An Exciting Future for Women’s Ministry
And the woman who sent that message to me on publishing day in 2013? After the Lord comforted and corrected me, I reached out to her to find out why she thought the way she did. It turned out that this dear sister in Christ had shame and painful experiences with the church in her background. She had felt missed, silenced, and utterly un-helped.
Wow. She was herself in the 1% but didn’t know where to find caring, Christ-centered help. Our interchange began a relationship that continues today. In fact, this very dear woman became a faithful financial supporter to me. She became an advocate for Harvest USA to women’s ministry leaders, pastors, and churches—several joined my support team!
Harvest USA is committed to a vision for ministry that includes robust, Christ-centered, gospel-driven discipleship for women. Thank you to every woman who has entrusted your story to our team. Thank you to every woman who has journeyed through SSFW with college students, singles, married women, women in prison, and hurting women forced into shelters. Thank you to every male church leader who has trained others up for this essential work.
Truly—as Jesus regularly and boldly sought, loved, touched, forgave, healed, and set free so many women during his earthly ministry, may the church continue to grow in extending this vital kingdom work to women of all ages.
19 Jan 2023
Shame-filled tears streamed down my face as I said to a friend, “I can’t go to God again! This is my own fault.” I described a scene that, in my mind, perfectly captured my relationship with Christ. It’s now infamously known as “the sledgehammer illustration.”
It went like this: God is the owner of a luxury car, and each morning I’d wake up and take a sledgehammer to the windshield of God’s car. Then, at the end of the day, I’d go to him crying for forgiveness. God would forgive my sins and comfort me. And the very next day, I’d walk right back up to his car, sledgehammer in hand, and smash his windshield again.
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness? The pain and ruin I was experiencing were undoubtedly my own fault. My friend looked at me and said, “Caitlin, God is a Savior. That’s just what you need—a saving, rescuing God.”
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness?
Have you ever felt like I did? Have you ever felt as though God didn’t want to hear from you again? Have you imagined that God is withholding his help and care because your suffering is a direct result of your sins, failures, and choices?
Perhaps you’ve taken a costly step of obedience and confessed your infidelity to your spouse, and now you’re engulfed in the destructive consequences. Or maybe you’re in a season of loneliness and grief because you walked away from an unholy relationship you never should have pursued in the first place.
Does God Care When We Have No One to Blame But Ourselves?
In Psalm 107 we’re introduced to four vignettes, each describing someone in a dire situation who cries out to the Lord for help. I recommend you read the entire psalm, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the third vignette found in vv. 17–22:
Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
We’re introduced to a fool who, because of his iniquities, suffered distress and needed deliverance from his own destruction. Does that sound familiar?
But this is truly good news for the ruined sinner. Can you see why? God gives the same healing and deliverance to the foolish sinner (vv. 19–20) as he gives to the other case studies presented in Psalm 107—he doesn’t measure out his help based on our merit.
This Psalm puts the character of our Savior on beautiful display. Is God a compassionate Savior? Psalm 107 gives a resounding YES!
The hymn Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy beautifully summarizes this idea:
Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.
What Am I Really Believing?
Do you find yourself mired in the anguish of your sin’s fallout? Below are some diagnostic questions for you. Perhaps you can talk through these questions with a pastor, counselor, or trusted friend.
- Is there a part of you that wants to bring a work to your repentance (a changed attitude, a new resolve, a step in the right direction) to merit God’s compassion?
- If you believe God is against you because of your sin, what, in your mind, would cause him to be for you in the future?
- What are you believing about God that’s keeping you from going to him in confession and repentance today?
- Do you believe God warms or cools his compassion toward you based on your behavior? Why or why not?
Jesus: The Rescuer
Do you feel your need for Jesus amid the consequences of your sin? Are you weary and heavy-laden from your own destructive decisions? Do you need comfort in the firestorm created by your own failure? Oh ruined sinner, look to Christ! Cry out to him in every trouble, even if the trouble is your own doing—look to Jesus.
We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices.
Our hearts naturally push against the humility and dependence this requires. We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices—he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22–23).
12 Jan 2023
Brother in Christ, do you ever feel there’s a switch in your brain that gets turned on, and once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself back in the gutter of pornography? Does porn feel inevitable? Sister in Christ, do you experience triggers, such as suggestive posts on social media, that lead you onto a highway to porn with only one exit: “Give In to Temptation”?
Many people fall into the belief that once desire has been awakened, the only way to silence that nagging voice is to give it what it wants. They believe the porn interstate has one way off, and that’s to give in.
But before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
Use Strategic Speed Bumps to Slow Down
While many people feel they “fall into” porn, there were dozens of decision points along the way that led to that destination. Slowing down is critical to seeing those earlier exit ramps. To do this, we need to place speed bumps on the highway to porn.
Speed bumps include anything that makes pornography difficult to access. If porn is right in your pocket on your phone, you’re flying down the highway at 150 mph. No wonder you missed all the other exits! Speed bumps force you to slow down. These may include filters and accountability software on all internet-enabled devices, removing all social media, or perhaps getting rid of a smart phone altogether. It sounds painful to limit your access to many good things, but I hear testimony after testimony of the peace and freedom many people experience when they couldn’t look at porn due to lack of access.
Before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
The reason these measures are speed bumps and not brick walls is because there’s ultimately no guaranteed way to restrict access to someone who truly wants to find pornography. People will go to great lengths and spend incredible amounts of time and money just to get their next fix. Where there is a will, there typically is a way.
But the fatal flaw I hear from so many is that because speed bumps don’t guarantee success, they don’t even try them. This is a lie from the depths of hell. Any distance you can create between yourself and access to sin is to your advantage. It gives time for the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and turn you from sin. Putting speed bumps up also shows you’re sober minded about what’s at stake in the battle against sin. Scripture explicitly commands us not to make any provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). Your willingness to limit your access to porn shows you take sin seriously.
Earlier Exits Off the Highway to Porn
Believe it or not, this highway is chock-full of exits that don’t involve sinning. Once you slow down, you’ll see they’re everywhere! What are some of these earlier exits?
- Switch locations. Pornography prefers privacy. An obvious exit is to leave your private room and find a place with other people. If you’re the only person at home, go for a walk or study at the library. For those who work remotely, take your work to a café, remove all curtains and blinds from your home office, and maybe take the door off.
- Reach out for help. Don’t expect one person to be everything you need when it comes to reinforcements. As soon as tempting thoughts enter your mind, out yourself. Text six friends and then systematically call each one until one of them picks up. Fight the lie that says you’re annoying them. The sooner you bring those tempting thoughts into the light, the less power they have over you. James wasn’t lying when he promised, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- Access truth. The most obvious decision here is to open your Bible and flood your mind with truth (Phil. 4:8). But there’s a plethora of creative ways to do this if you’re hesitant to pick up your Bible in those moments. Always have an audio Bible on-hand and fill your airwaves with God’s precious promises. Turn on Christian music or listen to a sermon or Christian podcast. Perhaps you have “Fighter Verses” in your wallet or posted on your wall—these are specific verses you’ve found particularly strategic when you’re tempted to sin.
- Reach up to God. According to Hebrews 4:16, we’re called to enter God’s throne room of grace in time of need to receive mercy and find grace to help. You know temptation to look at porn is not just any old “time of need,” this is DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war! You also know your resources to fight this temptation are limited and ineffective on their own. You need divine help. Grace is not only God’s gift of forgiveness, it’s also his power that he freely gives you in Christ to battle temptation. But you need to come to him for it. You need to get on your knees and pray for his help. Pray to God for eyes to see him in his glory, so the “things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Ask God to make you sober-minded to the devastating consequences of pornography. Ask him to meet you in your trials that so often underlie the temptation to escape them.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far.
- Find someone to serve. Pornography is the epitome of selfishness. It’s exploiting someone else for your own pleasure. A powerful weapon against selfishness is to proactively find ways to serve. Serving others is much more fulfilling and doesn’t leave you with guilt and shame. Looking at pornography in the morning can ruin your whole day, sometimes your whole week. But serving someone else in the morning can brighten your day and become the highlight of your week. This doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be as simple and powerful as praying for people in need, calling a friend who struggles with loneliness, or doing the leftover dishes in the sink.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far. Remember, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). As you grow in sanctification, you may still find yourself back on that highway—but the early exit signs will become much clearer. The more you take those early exits, you’ll find yourself less frequently on the highway at all, instead opting for the scenic route of God’s glory, beauty, and grace.
05 Jan 2023
Written by a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA
Have you ever been blindsided by pain from the past erupting unexpectedly in present circumstances? It can be disconcerting and even terrifying. I’d like to share my experience of this in the hope that it will help others walking out faith and obedience regarding not only sexual sin, but also the wreckage of painful relationships.
I’m an older woman and thought I’d worked through my issues from the past, including a difficult relationship with my mom. I love the Lord, have sought to be immersed in the truth of God’s Word, and have also benefited greatly from counseling as well as Harvest USA’s discipleship for women. I experienced same-sex attraction (SSA) in my teen years and early adulthood but, by God’s grace, those desires dissipated profoundly. I’m thankful for a kind and godly husband who has journeyed with me. Amid these blessings, a few years ago an incident occurred that brought me to my knees with a sense of desperation to understand what had been triggered that I was seeking to escape.
The Trigger and the Memory
There had been a change in leadership at the job I’d held for many years. During supervision with my new boss, she didn’t want to hear a word I had to say. Things were tense. After the meeting, I found myself wanting to run out of the building. I thought, “Maybe if I go pick up coffee every couple of hours, I’ll be alright; I just need to get out of here!” This familiar sensation is what I’d come to understand as a fight or flight response, common in those who’ve experienced trauma. Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
After a couple of days feeling out of control, I came before my heavenly Father on my knees in prayer, crying out, “What is wrong with me?” Exhausted, I rested in his presence. I believe the Lord helped me connect a childhood occurrence with its emotion and feelings. These feelings were the same as those I felt in that office with my boss.
Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
When I was a very young child, I remember standing by my mother’s chair in the living room wanting and asking for her attention, but she would ignore me with a mean and callous look on her face. I felt rejected—as if my personhood was not even worth being recognized. I hadn’t felt those feelings again until I was in that office decades later, with my boss who didn’t want to hear a word I said.
Significantly, my lack of connection with my mother—something I always wanted—was a key component when it comes to my disordered desire for emotional and physical intimacy with older women. I realize now that my mother was greatly troubled and had mental illness. I’ve forgiven her. I thought I’d fully worked through this loss until this triggering event.
What should we do when past trauma is triggered?
What the enemy intends to use for evil, God desires to use for our good (Gen. 50:20). I’ve found the following action steps helpful, and I hope they help you, too. As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
- It’s important to realize something is wrong. This sounds simple, right? However, sometimes we don’t take time to slow down enough to sort through our feelings. We need to identify what is going on in our hearts to work through our problems and pain. In Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Diane Langberg states:
Pain is the only protest in the human constitution that something is wrong. It is the only thing that raises its voice against existing abuses. If you jump to silence pain, you will fail to find the wound. Pain is the Martin Luther of the human framework; it plasters the wall of the city with the announcement that something is wrong.
- Take time to process what has happened. Like the grieving process, we need time to work through our loss. Many people find journaling helpful. This is an especially important step that must not be overlooked to work through the triggering event and how it relates to past trauma. Some will benefit from talking it out with a trusted friend or counselor to be guided through processing deep pain safely.
- Identify feelings like anxiety, anger, and fear and the “whys” behind each. Also, challenge corresponding thoughts that do not line up with what God says about you, replacing lies with the truth of God’s Word. Knowing who you are in Christ is a firm foundation on which to stand. Emotions can be powerful! When a past trauma has been triggered, it’s helpful to remind yourself that the past event is in the past and that you are safe in the here and now.
- Seek help. Your symptoms (and those strong feelings and emotions) should settle down over time. If you are continuing to struggle—having difficulty with your daily tasks, falling into old negative patterns, experiencing flashbacks or nightmares—help from a counselor may be warranted.
- Remember you’re not alone. Your heavenly Father is with you and will uphold you (Is. 43:1–3). He will never fail you! He longs to comfort you (2 Cor. 1:3). He desires that we pour out our heart to him, and yes, he will meet us in our most challenging times (Heb. 4:16). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).
- Don’t isolate. A natural reaction to trauma is to withdraw from others. However, it’s extremely important to maintain relationships and connections to your church community. When you’re hurting and feeling delicate, allow God’s people to love you. This doesn’t mean you share your struggle in every large group setting. But choose to lean on trusted friends who are spiritually mature and have modeled a compassionate heart toward sufferers. In the hard things of life, I have never felt so loved as to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters who care for me with the love of Jesus.
- Self-care. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting enough exercise. These things are known to be helpful, increasing our ability to cope with the stressors of life. If you are not feeling very motivated, take small steps in a positive direction and build on those steps as you begin to feel better. And don’t neglect to do things you enjoy!
As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
Know that God has good plans for you (Jer. 29:11) and desires to use you in the lives of others (Eph. 2:10). Look to Jesus always (Heb. 12:2–3) and run to him when your past pain is triggered—he is our help and our eternal healing.
15 Dec 2022
I love Christmas. Glowing tree lights illuminate sentimental ornaments, candlelight glints on red berries—everything gauche and shiny and celebratory. Christmas books adorn the coffee table. My long-suffering family endures endless repetitions of “Carols from St. Paul’s Cathedral.” There’s meal planning, card sending, and gifts.
This—receiving gifts—is where my family’s Christmas celebration can get derailed. Anyone else? We can begin to believe we should get precisely what we want. For all its convenience, the Amazon wishlist can become a petty tyrant, serving our bullying demands. This is self-focused—greedy rather than grateful. When it comes to Christmas presents, we can spot that.
But what about how we respond to the life God gives? We all live in a reality that, in some way, is not what we wanted. I never expected my husband to face young-onset Parkinson’s Disease, yet he does. I don’t want to see him growing weaker, yet he is. You may not want to struggle against sexual sin or singleness or discontentment. And family gatherings can make the season extra difficult, highlighting estranged relationships, grief, or loneliness. In all this heartache, do we see God as the tight-fisted arbiter of our life’s wish list—holding out on the good stuff? Or will we trust our heavenly Father?
God’s plans are better than our wish list life, even when we can’t see it and don’t feel it. He is good. He’s able and willing to do us good. Whether or not we believe this truth impacts everything.
Four realities about God’s providence nourish our belief:
1. God Works for Our Good
You may be happily married or aching with loneliness, struggling to care for a gender-dysphoric child or enjoying family life, daily fighting sexual sin or living victoriously. Whether you’re facing the best or the worst things, God’s Word says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, my emphasis).
It’s hard to think of trials as gifts in God’s hands. And it’s true that evil itself is evil. Yet God sovereignly works even evil things for good to his children. In this light, we can receive all things as gifts tailored to us from the wise hand of our good Father.
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us.
“Do not mistake me,” writes Puritan Thomas Watson. “I do not say that of their own nature the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, yet the wise, overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good” (21). Joseph answered his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20a).
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us. Whatever the pain, your wise Father is using that very thing for good in your life. As William Cowper wrote,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
2. God Gives What Is Necessary
Our Father also takes the worst things and uses them as medicine to refine us. “Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation,” writes Watson (22). This is not an optional treatment. It’s spiritual chemotherapy—a violent cure, without which we die.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7, my emphasis)
Our framework for this hard truth is the reality that our greatest need is spiritual. Apart from salvation in Christ, we are eternally lost. The best gifts of this world will vanish like mist in the morning sun. But Christ, and him growing ever dearer to us, is everything we need for all eternity. Truly! Anything that helps us let go of this passing world and cling to the One who lasts forever is essential medicine.
3. God Gives Abundantly
But this medicine is not only bitter. It also carries the sweetness of union with Christ and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
He provides all we need each moment to walk through this vale of tears, and he is himself our eternal, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3–5). Fernando Ortega’s song “Give Me Jesus” says, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” What better gift can we have, for life and eternity, than fellowship with our Savior?
Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
And believers—we have Jesus. He is ours and we are his, now and forever. Jesus walks with us; he does not leave us alone in suffering but comforts and guides us as our sympathetic High Priest. In our suffering, Lord, give us Jesus. In our painful circumstances, our lost hopes, our discouragement—give us Jesus.
4. God Gives What He Requires
God delights to answer this prayer! Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10–11). Our Shepherd Savior is our hope and rest.
In our sin and sorrow, we default to wishlist thinking, but Jesus never did. We question our Father’s character and work—but Jesus trusted his Father unto death. We are weak, but Jesus obeyed in perfect strength. And those who look to him in faith are united with him in his righteousness. This is good news! Even as we doubt, we receive Jesus’s perfect track record and Jesus himself—what can compare to this eternal reality?
God is good. See the cross of Christ and the empty tomb for proof. Whatever you face today, your good, caring Father is working good for you in all things, and you’re headed for an eternal glory more satisfying than any earthly wish list.
This guest blog was written by Tara Hallman, former Harvest USA women’s ministry staff member.
Christmas can be difficult for a betrayed wife. This Christmas may be the first since discovering her husband has been using pornography or had an affair. For others who’ve known about their husband’s struggle for years, the holidays mark another year of suffering without seeing hoped-for changes.
The Christmas season is a time to be around family and friends as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when a marriage is broken, the holidays can be excruciating. Wives usually feel disconnected as many relatives and friends have no idea about the secret pain they carry. They put on a smile, trying to be ‘merry and bright,’ while inside, they’re hurting. A husband’s sexual brokenness can make once-safe things, like time with family and friends, feel unsafe.
What can a woman do when fear, loss, shame, and disappointment follow her into the Christmas season? How can she find longed-for hope, peace, and rest?
Mary’s Life, Redirected
This Christmas season, we will again encounter Mary in the nativity story. I hope that a hurting wife can see Mary as an example of a woman of faith who faced unexpected trials in life with strength and dignity. As we focus on the birth of our Savior this year, I want to encourage women who have been betrayed to notice Mary and watch how she responded when her life did not go the way she planned.
In Luke 1, we find Mary headed in one direction. A young Jewish woman, she had faith in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She knew the Scriptures, as evidenced by her song, the Magnificat, which contains at least 14 Old Testament references (Luke 1:46–55). Mary was likely just a teenager planning her life, wedding, and future when the angel Gabriel showed up. He told her she was favored, perplexing her. He said she would bear a child to reign over the house of Israel forever. Since she was a virgin, she asked how this would happen. He told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she was to name her little boy, the Son of God, Jesus. The angel delivered a message that would take Mary’s life and turn it in a different direction, and she chose to respond in three significant ways.
- Mary chose to believe God.
Her first response was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary took God at his Word, which is no little thing. All through Scripture, from the story of Abraham (see Gen. 15:6) through the New Testament, God calls his people to trust him—to believe his Word and act on it.
Mary’s story fits right in with the many biblical examples of people trusting God with dependent faith. Centuries before, Abraham believed God’s promise that one day the Savior would come through his offspring. Here, young Mary believed God’s Word that she would give birth to the promised One. Now all who believe in Jesus belong to him and are truly Abraham’s seed, heirs of the promise.
To wives who are in pain and betrayal, wondering how to make it through this Christmas season: I want to encourage you to take the first step to trust the Lord. Like Abraham, who trusted when it seemed impossible, and Mary, who trusted when it was not what she would have chosen, believe God. He is bigger than your circumstances. It is no little thing to believe Him. Betrayed wives report feeling unsure of what is real in their life. They say it can feel like walking in quicksand, and it would feel so good to find solid ground. Jesus is that solid ground; those who are in him can stand firm.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
We learn from Mary that the Lord may set us on a path we prefer not to walk. Mary faced shame, being misunderstood, fear, and the unknown. Many wives who come to Harvest USA find themselves in circumstances they did not choose. We cannot change their circumstances, make their husband change, or save their marriage, but we can help them know the Lord truly, love him deeply, and trust him with their lives.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
- Mary chose to seek community.
Mary’s second response to God was to seek community when she went to Elizabeth. Wives will be blessed to move toward safe, wise women who will provide them truth and comfort. Today, we are being taught by everything around us. If you’re a wife facing betrayal, be mindful of who or what is teaching you in this vulnerable time when you’re hurt, angry, and fragile. I love that God put Mary and Elizabeth together at a time when they both faced serious changes in their lives and were potentially misunderstood by those around them.
- Mary chose to worship her Savior.
Remember, Mary didn’t know what Joseph, or her community, would say about this shocking news. But in the uncertainty of her future, she chose to praise God. In the Magnificat, we see the joyful faith of a young woman who has been set on a path that would include joy intermingled with suffering. May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
The very last place we see Mary in the New Testament is in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14). Not surprisingly, we find her doing these same three things: believing God, seeking godly community, and worshiping her Lord. By this time, she was a believer in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She had seen him live, die, and be resurrected. Her Son lives! May we also fix our eyes on the One whom Mary undoubtedly could not take her eyes off. Jon Bloom writes, “Mary’s greatest blessing was not being the mother of The Child. Her greatest blessing was that her Child would save her from her sins. And this blessing is given to everyone who believes in him.”
May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
If you are a wife whose marriage has not turned out the way you dreamed it would, and your husband has hurt you deeply, know that your heart and your losses matter. This new path you find yourself on, though you’d never have chosen it, is not plan B in God’s eyes. He can and will do good things in and through you. And the things you’ve lost, precious as they are, pale in comparison to what you have in Christ through faith.
May your response to your unchosen circumstances of your life mirror Mary’s response. May you choose to respond in faith and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’re facing the fallout of sexual sin in your marriage or know someone who is, consider downloading Harvest USA’s newest resource. Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal is a 10-session discipleship workbook available at no charge.
24 Nov 2022
My name is Joy Worrell, and I’ve been part of Harvest USA’s Parents and Family Ministry staff since June 2022. I work remotely from my home in South Carolina, helping parents and family members of LGBTQ+ identified children and adults through one-on-one counseling, resources, and group sessions. My husband and I first heard of Harvest early in our marriage through our church at the time. We greatly admired their work and desire to reach the LGBTQ+ community.
Over the years, my husband and I continued to keep up with the work of Harvest USA. A few years ago, a couple of staff members visited our present church, First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia, for a sexuality and gender conference. We were again exposed to this excellent ministry and saw the need for Harvest USA to come alongside the church in this vital area.
Fast forward, and a staff position with Harvest became available. Because of my involvement in biblical counseling over the years with my husband, an ordained pastor, it seemed like a good fit for me. Since coming on staff, I’ve been tremendously blessed by working with the godly parents who come seeking help, support, and encouragement during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
A significant Scripture for me has been Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” When I’m tempted by discouragement from my own sin and this sin-sick world, this verse reminds me that there is beauty—it’s found in the truth of God’s Word and the incarnate Word himself, our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. I am to dwell on the unfading and beautiful Word of God. He is all that is true and will sustain me through the storms of life.
Tim and I have five children and two grandchildren. I enjoyed being a homeschooling mom for many years and found it rewarding to participate in our local homeschool co-ops by teaching English literature, public speaking, and mock trial. I enjoy reading, walking, biking, cooking, and interior design.
I remember the founder of Harvest USA, John Freeman, sharing with me recently about his call to serve sexual strugglers back in the 1980s. He said had every intention of returning to his home state of Tennessee after seminary. Feeling led by the Lord, however, he approached the leadership of a large center-city Philadelphia church (Tenth Presbyterian) and inquired about being part of a new ministry focus they were exploring to an unreached people group in Philadelphia, the LGBTQ+ community. That really struck me—the idea of LGBTQ+ being an unreached people group. The need was great in the mid-1980s when Harvest USA was founded and is no less today. If anything, the need is greater. I am so honored and privileged to serve the Lord in this crucial ministry.
17 Nov 2022
The glow of her computer screen gone, Lexi sat in the darkness of her apartment. I can’t believe I did it again, she thought, seething with self-hatred after viewing pornography. To escape the swirl of shame and condemnation, Lexi put on a movie. It would be nine long days before she would pray or acknowledge God. I’ve messed up too many times, she told herself.
Perhaps you struggle with pornography or have an ongoing relationship of sexual temptation and failure in your life. You think, I can’t go to God again when I keep pursuing this! Or maybe you’re a friend, counselor, or pastor trying to understand another’s pervasive shame.
How can strugglers and helpers move out of the shame-spiral and toward real gospel hope?
Words of Death and Words of Life
Psalm 32 can guide Christian confession for your own heart and be a helpful map if you’re discipling someone burdened by unconfessed sin. It immediately gives a sobering prognosis and a rich assurance:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps. 32:1–2)
First, the bad news; three words describe our evil hearts. “Transgression” is breaking the law. It connotes smashing or breaking ties in a relationship—always the case when we seek our own way outside of our loving relationship with our Creator. “Sin” signifies failing to meet the standard of God’s perfect law, while “iniquity” indicates the twisted, perverse nature of our hearts as we turn away from God and pursue sin.
God knows we simply cannot clean ourselves up enough to lift the weighty burden of our sin; we need help outside ourselves.
But there’s good news! The three words of life in these verses reveal what God accomplishes for us, meeting us in our sin and shame. “Forgiven” speaks of the lifting or removal of a burden that is too great—God knows we simply cannot clean ourselves up enough to lift the weighty burden of our sin; we need help outside ourselves. “Covered” indicates God removing our sin from his sight. When God “counts no iniquity” against us, he calls us his righteous children, clothed in the spotless robes of Jesus himself. Lexi is no longer identified as a “porn struggler” or as “shameful.” In Christ, she’s a new creation.
If you’re stuck wondering how to move toward God after sexual sin or what to say to help a sexual struggler, start here. By faith, Lexi can take hold of the amazing gospel truth that when we confess our sins, our God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Burden lifted! Sin covered! Righteousness declared!
The Sickness of Unconfessed Sin
Why did Lexi wait nine days to lift her eyes to God? What was happening in her heart during that painful time? Psalm 32 pictures the dangerous gap between sin and confession:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Ps. 32:3–4)
Of Psalm 32:3, Charles Spurgeon says,
When through neglect I failed to confess, or through despair dared not do so, my bones, those solid pillars of my frame, the stronger portions of my bodily constitution, waxed old, began to decay with weakness, for my grief was so intense as to sap my health and destroy my vital energy. What a killing thing is sin! It is a pestilent disease! A fire in the bones! While we smother our sin it rages within, and like a gathering wound, swells horribly and torments terribly.
Lexi is suffering spiritual anguish and shame. Psalm 32 points Christians toward humble confession of sin as the only solution to this sickness.
Acknowledge—Do Not Cover—Confess
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Ps. 32:5)
As a helper, know that there’s always a strong pull toward partial confessions. You may need to use targeted or even open-ended questions such as, “Is there anything more you’re not sharing with me?” True confession happens when Lexi stops attempting to deceive, hide, or conceal her transgressions from God and trusted helpers.
Unbelief and Satan’s lies thrive in our hearts in this dangerous gap between conviction and repentance.
Acknowledging sin before God and a trusted helper is the path to freedom. In the shame and secrecy of sexual sin, there’s a strong temptation to cover, hide, or conceal. If you find yourself, like Lexi, considering the costly step of fully coming into the light, let me encourage you—confession is the path to life! God will forgive the iniquity of your sin.
Are You Living in the Gap?
Are you holding on to unconfessed sin? The Bible never makes a case for a “probation period” or establishing sincerity before running to Christ when we see our sin. Unbelief and Satan’s lies thrive in our hearts in this dangerous gap between conviction and repentance. In this place, we turn to useless, sinful “remedies”:
- Atonement: I will double-down on serving in church and reading my Bible. I’m a changed person; I can make up for this fall.
- Penance: I will punish myself with negative self-talk and emotional self-hate because I must pay for this sin.
- Self-Pity: I am going to comfort myself with more sin because I’m sad about how this will impact me or my loved ones. I am the victim.
Oh sin-sick Christian! God invites you to receive the true comfort, joy, and counsel you need when you’ve made a shipwreck of your soul in sexual sin. Step out of the gap and run toward your gracious Savior.
Accept God’s Invitation
Psalm 32 goes on to say that God will tenderly instruct, teach, and counsel you with his eye on you (v. 8). He will surround you with steadfast love and give you times of rejoicing—even shouting for joy (vv. 10–11)! He gives these things freely, only asking that you confess before him in humility, believing his promises by faith.
Can Lexi dare to believe God will forgive her? Can you point Lexi to the glorious truth that God gives grace to the humble? Hear this rich invitation:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa. 55:6–7)
Do you find yourself in Lexi’s story? Are you a woman struggling with sexual or relational sin? I encourage you to seek help and discipleship in your local church. And please, reach out to Harvest USA. We offer targeted discipleship and Biblical support groups for women in a supportive, Christ-centered environment at our Dresher, Pennsylvania, office or remotely on Zoom. The women’s ministry team is here to serve you and point you to Christ, our only hope. Here is your invitation to step out of the gap and into the path of confession and repentance.
27 Oct 2022
Hello! I’m Caitlin McCaffrey, and it’s my privilege to join the Harvest USA team as a women’s ministry staff member. I’m originally from the Philadelphia area but have been living in Los Angeles, California, for the past 15 years.
I’ve known about Harvest USA since I was a child; in fact, my mom worked in an administrative role there for several years in the ‘90s. I have a memory of helping fold letters to send out to potential donors at my kitchen table so, naturally, I’m going from folding letters to full-time ministry!
Jokes aside, I’ve been blown away by the resources coming out of Harvest USA, particularly in the last few years. My passion to see the church equipped to step into areas of sexuality, gender, and relational issues has only grown. I’ve pursued different avenues of equipping for ministry over the last decade or so—some formally, through higher education, and some through the ordinary and glorious life of the local church.
Many women in the church are suffering in silence and shame, and I’m eager to bring the gospel to bear on these sensitive issues for the women God is bringing to the ministry. Isaiah 61 spurs me on as Jesus talks about the ministry he himself has fulfilled (spoken of later in Luke 4):
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, the he may be glorified. (Isa. 61:1–3)
In my short time as a staff member, I have seen that what we do here at Harvest USA is simply following Jesus and allowing him to minister to the broken parts of our hearts. Pray for me as I seek to follow Jesus in proclaiming liberty to captives and binding up brokenhearted women, so that they may praise him and become oaks of righteousness—for the glory of God alone!
Caitlin is in the process of developing ministry partners in prayer and monthly financial giving. Would you consider joining her support team here? Caitlin is relying on the generosity of people like you to enable her to continue in the ministry God has called her to.
20 Oct 2022
This post follows my previous blogs, “Single Christian, Are You Enjoying Your Union with Christ?” and “Discouraged in the Battle Against Sin? Commune with the Living God!”
Understanding the dynamics of our communion with God can help us in the battle against sin, which, at times, can feel deeply discouraging. But it also sheds light on the deeper need in our hearts—to pursue joy and satisfaction in Jesus alone. As we seek freedom from sexual sin and say “No” to temptation, it’s important to feed the deepest longings in our hearts through communion with God.
Practical Ideas for Fostering Communion with God
In this life, we enjoy and commune with Christ by faith, so anything offered here is seen through that lens. Also, though the intent is practical, nothing will be a magic trick. There’s no “1, 2, 3 steps to victory!” or “Just do ______” quick fix for enjoying Jesus more. But, as we turn toward the practice of communion with God, here are 11 practical ways to pursue Christ.
- Bible Reading
Jesus’s high priestly prayer in John 17 gives us a glimpse into his own view of the Bible: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). One way to grow in holiness and commune with God is to read his Word. One habit I’ve adopted is to stop before my Bible reading and intentionally call to mind that the words on the page are God’s revelation of himself to me. I pray from Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things from your law.” Enter into reading God’s Word with an expectant and humble posture, ready to receive of Jesus.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus frequently went away to spend time in prayer communing with his Father. As with any relationship, spending time talking to someone will deepen your relational intimacy with them. Though we can’t see God, the faithful act of seeking him in personal prayer will cause you to more deeply commune with him. As we do this, he increasingly becomes our functional refuge: “Trust in him at all times O peoples! Pour out your heart before him, God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8).
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he prays that they might come to comprehend the love that God has for them. But how do they do this? Paul says they do this with all the saints! “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17b–19b, my emphasis). In my own life, I’ve powerfully experienced the local church to be a primary means of learning about and communing with God. When I see a woman—tear-stained face—raising her hands in worship to God, and I know that this dear sister is deeply grieving a miscarriage, I can marvel at the worthiness of Christ as I bear her burdens with her. When I extend forgiveness or am forgiven by a brother or sister in the local church, I can worship God as the one who is faithful and just to forgive all my sins. When I forbear with a difficult-to-love brother or sister, I’m reminded of how Jesus bears with my difficult-to-love self in my many weaknesses! A healthy local church life will help us worship Christ and more deeply commune with him.
Meditation is not emptying the mind. To the contrary, it is filling the mind with biblical truth. Meditation is the Christian’s way of slowly digesting truths about God—from God’s very own words—and intentionally calling them to mind to more deeply draw out these precious truths as we seek to apply them. God’s Spirit is an active agent in this endeavor. He reminds us of the words of Christ and leads us into all truth, enabling us to obey and believe.
Paul gives an example of one of the manifestations of being filled with the Spirit: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). In our day, we have unprecedented access to a repository of rich songs from church history and incredible contemporary writing and music. If your heart is feeling cold, or communing with God feels too remote, try putting on a song with lyrics that specifically talk about God and his character or the gospel. Drawing near to God in song, with an aim to commune more deeply with him, is an often-neglected means of grace in private or family devotional time. Singing is not merely for congregational settings!
- Scripture Memorization
The Psalmist asks, “How can a young man (or woman!) keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word,” and just a few verses later this idea is expanded, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:9, 11). Memorizing verses, passages or whole books of the Bible is a practical way to pursue communion with God. It’s a way to draw near to him, to demonstrate how precious his words are to you, and to submit your heart to him in humility, especially in your time of need. How our Father’s heart must delight in the preciousness of his people drawing near to him using his very own words of love and help!
- Speaking about God
When the writer of Hebrews encourages the readers to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24), he says so in the context of drawing near to God and holding fast to our confession of hope in Christ. I believe the mutual edification of speaking about Jesus with one another can be a means to help us draw near and commune with God. Believers in Jesus, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, have the unique ability to help one another behold and commune with Christ. Let us consider this deep privilege and obey the command to consider how to do just this!
- Enjoying God’s Creation
Simply beholding the beauty of the natural world, the creation of God, can help draw the believer’s heart to worship and commune with the Creator. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Getting out into God’s creation can be a way to help center your own thoughts on the greatness of the Creator. It’s not the creation itself that we worship. Rather, the creation points us to the beauty, power, and majesty of the creator—Father, Son, and Spirit.
- Serving Others
In our service to others, particularly when we use the gifts God has uniquely given us, we can rest in and commune with God. Scottish Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell famously remarked, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” There is opportunity for communion with and worship of God in serving and sacrificing for others. This is one of the dichotomies of the Christian life, that, as Jesus said, “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- Reading about God
The Bible is not the only book that can help our hearts engage with and commune with God. Good books about God can also stir up our affections for Christ and guide our hearts to worship and adore him. Consider reading a book about God’s character, his attributes, or the gospel. Perhaps reading a missionary biography or devotional book can help your heart grow in its affections for God himself. The purpose is not merely knowledge, but knowledge that elevates the heart to worship God for his perfections! Books that do this are a blessing and help to us in our efforts to commune with God.
In Matthew 6:16, Jesus doesn’t say “if you fast” but rather, “when you fast. . .” (my emphasis). The practice of fasting is particularly neglected in the West, but fasting can be a powerful way to commune with God. Giving an intentional time and space to the Lord, to direct your heart toward your dependence on him through fasting, can point your affections toward the truth that we are dependent on him for all things—at all times. For some, fasting from food may not be an option, so consider fasting from another legitimate thing such as entertainment, technology, or other enjoyments.
Persevere in Your Pursuit of Deeper Communion
Does this feel discouraging? Does it feel like a checklist or mountain to climb? Let your pursuit of communion with Christ begin in that very place—the place of your weakness and need. Tell God how you feel. He knows you and wants to help you see him more clearly. Cling to his promise in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” It’s not a daily mountaintop experience we’re pursuing, but rather a faithful and formative obedience—which leads to joy.