Recently I caught up with one of the women who gave a personal testimony for our wives’ workbook, Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey. I hope this portion of our conversation encourages others who need reminders and evidence of God’s faithfulness amid the slow, painful process of pursuing marital restoration after sexual betrayal.
This is the original testimony of our ministry recipient, known as “C.C.” in the workbook:
I thought marriage would be the place where I would finally come to understand God’s love for me in a deeper way through the example of my husband’s love. Instead, God has chosen to teach me about his love by putting me in a place where I had to study his love so I could show it rather than receive it. I found myself running to the Lord, pouring out my pain to him about my unfaithful spouse and fellowshipping in his suffering. As I meditated on how God understood the pain of an unfaithful spouse (his people) and studied his response to their unfaithfulness, I learned about his long-suffering, pursuing love for me, and saw God begin teaching me how to love my spouse with his love.
Ellen: Hello, my dear sister! What’s been happening in your journey with Jesus since you wrote that testimony for our wives’ workbook a few years ago?
C.C.: In the last few years, my journey has continued to be painful. I needed to take a step which I’d begged God to never let happen; I separated from my husband with no guarantee of reconciliation. It required more courage than anything I’ve ever done. During this separation, God continues to deepen my understanding and appreciation for his character and love. How thankful I am that he won’t forsake me, even if my husband does—that he is always faithful, and his love is predictable. I don’t have to worry from day to day, moment to moment, if he is suddenly going to change!
“How thankful I am that God won’t forsake me, even if my husband does—that he is always faithful, and his love is predictable.”
After separating, we went through a few months where every time we met, my husband was acknowledging how he had sinned against me as he worked toward formally asking for forgiveness. I found myself anxious to tell him I had forgiven him, because I had already forgiven him in my heart before he asked. Once again, God used this journey to show me how his heart anxiously awaits my confession because he has already forgiven me, and he rejoices to tell me so!
Ellen: Can you share more about how you have experienced a lot of “undoing” in your understanding of God, faith, grace, and holiness, and how this impacted you as a wife?
C.C.: One area God has been untangling for me is personal responsibility. I thought that if I played any part in a scenario where a person reacted sinfully, then God viewed my “influence” as essentially “making” the other person sin. For example, if I didn’t agree with everything my husband said and this angered him, instigating a spiral into sexual sin as an escape, then it was my fault. I was constantly fearful, playing out each scenario in my head, trying to determine if I would be causing my husband to sin.
“Don’t run away from the hard work of pouring out your pain to God.”
As God has been untangling this for me, I have come to understand that, while surrounding factors may play a part in the context, sin comes out of a person’s heart because the sin was already there. In other words, I didn’t create the sin in my husband’s heart, he reacted sinfully because that was what was already in his heart. If I have acted in an unloving way, then I need to humbly repent before the Lord, but God never says that I can make someone sin.
Ellen: Imagine yourself back in the place you were when you first came to Harvest USA—the fear, grief, disillusionment, sense of overwhelm. Can you share some words of comfort and hope for wives who are in those excruciating early days after sexual sin comes to light?
C.C.: Regardless of what happens in your spouse’s journey, God has something for you! He will use this suffering to form Christ in you and it will be a beautiful thing. Don’t run away from the hard work of pouring out your pain to God. He will give you courage to do what you never thought you could do, and in the process, he will never leave you or forsake you. Keep asking God what it looks like to love wisely and well and think through the examples we see in the Bible of how Christ responded in similar sufferings. Ask God for community. It’s OK to need other people to pray when you can’t and to hope when you’re too afraid to hope. Make a playlist of songs that help you pour your heart out to God.
My song during this separation has been “Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me,” which speaks to my deepest hope:
The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side, the Saviour He will stay
I labor on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need, His power is displayed
To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me
If you have suffered the painful experience of sexual betrayal, our Harvest USA Direct Ministry is here to help. To reach out for help click either of the following links: Women’s Ministry or Men’s Ministry
23 Mar 2023
This post was written by Angela Suh, a Women’s Ministry intern at Harvest USA.
As a Harvest USA intern, some of my time has been dedicated to serving sexually betrayed wives through our biblical support group. I quickly learned that sexual betrayal in marriage has complicated, painful consequences and observed the tension these wives experience through feeling hopelessly stuck in their marriages.
A sexually betrayed wife faces her husband’s violation of the marriage covenant. When children are present, she may have to consider boundaries and relational dynamics within the home. She may be burdened with the family’s finances if the sexual betrayal caused his unemployment. Wives are sometimes unseen by their church leadership and left to suffer alone. Regardless of their circumstances, these betrayed wives are “bent over” (Luke 13:10–17), desperate (like Hannah, 1 Sam. 1), and longing to be seen (Gen. 16).
As I grieved with these women, I turned to God’s words to Hagar—a woman shunned, moving toward a dead end, and longing to be seen.
Echoes of the Fall
Hagar was Sarai’s Egyptian servant. Because Sarai was frustrated by her infertility, she commanded her husband, Abram, to “go in to” Hagar so Sarai might obtain children through her. He listened, and when Hagar conceived, she looked at Sarai with contempt. Therefore, Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar and Hagar fled (Gen. 16:1–6).
Sin drives this entire narrative. Sarai sinfully doubted God’s promise to provide a son, leading her to take matters into her own hands. Abram’s sinful desires caused him to listen to his wife’s voice and sleep with Hagar rather than protect Sarai (and Hagar) with God’s promises.
Does this ring a bell? Sarai and Abram’s behavior mirrors the fall in the Garden of Eden. Rather than clinging to God’s commands and promises, Eve doubted his words. She pursued knowledge with her very own hands— “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” —like Sarai, who “took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Gen. 3:6 and 16:3, my emphasis). Adam ate the fruit, without any question or objection, and Abram took a second wife.
Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
Then the story in Genesis 16 reveals another layer of sin: Hagar responded to the wrong committed against her by being sinfully contemptuous of Sarai and running away (Gen. 16:4).
Sin begets sin and comes from the heart (Luke 6:45). The complex consequences of sexual unfaithfulness are not random or isolated from the person or circumstances. But they are birthed from the desires of the heart (James 1:14). Wives can see their husbands’ sin for what it is even as, by God’s grace, they soberly recognize and confess their own sinfulness. This is not to shift the blame or put responsibility for the husband’s unfaithfulness onto the wife. But we live in a sinful world as sinful individuals. Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
The God Who Sees
In Hagar’s flight, she meets the angel of the Lord “by a spring of water in the wilderness.” He asked, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:7–8). The angel of the Lord identified Hagar for who she was and met her where she was. Among all the titles and names he could’ve used, the angel identified her as “servant of Sarai.” He looked at her with sober and realistic eyes.
The dualistic inquiry, “Where have you come from and where are you going,” recognizes Hagar’s past and notices her destination. Often, a sexually betrayed wife is so consumed by her husband’s failure and sin that all she wants to do—if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually—is run away.
But God’s Word shows our Father stopping to ask his broken daughters where they’re coming from and where they’re going. God is all-knowing; he doesn’t need this information. It’s like God asking Adam, “Where are you?” after the fall (Gen. 3:9). Of course, God knows—he is the God who sees. If God already knows, why does he ask?
The God Who Saves
God calls out and approaches in judgment. Yet God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve reveals his mercy. In questioning Hagar, God reveals his kindness.
Friends, his inquiry is not to put us to shame but to meet us exactly where we are; he is never too far behind or ahead. Even when Hagar couldn’t see her destination, God carefully and firmly directed her. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
After the angel of the Lord commanded Hagar to return to Sarai and declared God’s promises, she identified God as “a God of seeing.” She said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
Hagar’s circumstances were not fixed. She still had to bear Abram’s child and return to her mistress. However, Hagar didn’t find comfort in her circumstances but in the God who cared for her. Out in the desert—lonely, scared, and running away from a terrible situation—the God of the universe pursued Hagar. He knew her, looked after her, and “listened to [her] affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
This is my hope and prayer for wives suffering from sexual betrayal: that they would lay their souls bare before God and be satisfied in him alone. I pray for reconciliation, for husbands to turn from their sins. But above all, I pray for wives to know and believe that God sees and looks after them. He gave his one and only Son, the perfect Husband, to take on his bride’s every sin and redeem all her suffering. He will bring us to our final dwelling place, where he will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). Until that day: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
I began ministry with Harvest USA in 2007 with little idea of all the adventures God had in store for me. My heart for missions never would have dreamed I’d be sent on five international trips. My childhood dream to be a writer came true, though little-girl-me would have been shocked to read the titles attached to the articles, books, and discipleship curricula I helped produce. Truly, in Christ, the faith journey is filled with unexpected grace! The good works prepared for me (Eph. 2:10) and the specific race lanes he marked out for me (Heb. 12:2) have been rich gifts for which I am thankful.
On July 1, 2023—my 16th anniversary as the Harvest USA Director of Women’s Ministry! —I will transition into a new leadership role: Director of Equipping for Ministry to Women.
This slight word change represents a significant shift. I will exit the trenches of our direct ministry to women to be fully devoted to our equipping mission: writing new resources, supporting our president, Mark Sanders, and his vision to expand our reach, and training others to do what I’ve been doing all these years.
“Aging Out” of Obedience?
I’ve sensed the winds of change blowing in my heart for the past few years. I wasn’t sure what the Lord had for me, so I prayed, waited, sought counsel, and dreamed. I wondered if God had something for me outside of Harvest USA and sought wisdom from trusted ministry leaders. One asked me pointedly, “Ellen, do you think you’ll age out of sexuality ministry?”
Her words humbled me and stirred some doubts. As I’ve grown older and as unbiblical ideology regarding sexuality has gained traction (including in the church), I’ve felt the challenge to stay on top of cultural trends while remaining committed to actively serving women who need help. Along with many other ministry leaders, I’ve been in the bullseye of the sexual and gender revolution that continues to sweep across a world increasingly detached from God’s Word and his design for humanity.
God’s Spirit met me in those wrestlings. I realized we never age out of obedience to Christ. We’ll never become too old to be ambassadors of hope, kindness, truth, and the beauty of God’s gospel. How I long to flourish through serving Jesus until my last breath, bearing fruit (see Ps. 92:12–15) and remaining steadfast in faith as I run the race in the lane marked out for me. We never age out of God’s will for our lives.
Discipling and Equipping the Next Generation
Over the years, I’ve trained and mentored over 25 women who’ve served as Harvest USA interns or staff and trained hundreds more for ministry through webinars, online mentoring groups, and equipping events. It’s been a joy and an honor.
My new position will allow me to invest more strategically in the next generation of leaders to engage the vital ministry of applying the gospel to women who need help living in relational and sexual integrity and the hurting wives of men struggling with the same. Harvest USA is committed to taking what we’ve learned as practitioners and training God’s people to help others. For me, it’s a way to live out Paul’s loving affirmation to the Thessalonians: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
In this way, I’ve shared my life and the gospel with Caitlin McCaffrey, whom God has raised up to be the next Director of Women’s Ministry.
A New Director of Women’s Ministry
I’ve known Caitlin for several years as a sister in Christ and, for the past year, as a Harvest USA colleague. She moved cross-country to join Harvest USA, motivated by love for Christ and a passion to help hurting women. Talk about surprises! Despite knowing that change was coming for me, Caitlin didn’t anticipate moving into the Director of Women’s Ministry role so soon. Yet, with affirmation from our team and trusted friends, she accepted the call.
Caitlin brings a fresh voice that I sensed we needed. I’m eager to see how God will use her to reshape and grow our care for women bound up in sexual addictions, unholy relationships, and wives in painful marriage circumstances. Caitlin’s humility, theological depth, wisdom, and ability to bring God’s Word to practical application are just a few reasons why I esteem her so greatly. She is zealous for Christ’s glory and seeks Jesus in a sincere, daily way. And we laugh a good bit together, too!
Caitlin and I will develop new Christ-centered resources together, including books, discipleship curricula, and webinars to address topics like relational idolatry, overcoming habitual sin patterns, same-sex struggles, gender dissonance, and more.
Our goal is to provide resources for those who struggle and training to assist helpers and local churches engage in this gospel work. I mean—it’s exciting, right?!
Join Us or Send Us!
We’re hoping to see God raise up another full-time woman to join Caitlin in our direct ministry to women. Might that be you or someone you know? Click here for more information.
As always, Harvest USA never charges a fee for our discipleship ministry. We rely on a team of financial partners to support us in this essential kingdom work. Might God be leading you to invest resources to help us? Join Caitlin’s or Ellen’s Team.
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.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)
Sexual intimacy in marriage is one of God’s gifts. It furthers humanity, cements the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, and fosters love and joy in their union.
Christians confess these things. But do we truly, deep-down, believe sex in marriage is pure? All too often, I don’t. Many factors can taint the purity of marital sex in our minds and hearts. Sexualization seeps into almost every part of western culture, and the world’s view of sex as base and animalistic surely affects us more than we realize. We may feel hesitancy and shame about enjoying marital sex. And if we’ve been abused or struggle with sexual sin, it can be difficult to believe that sex can honor God or be safe.
The world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire to convince us that what God says is good really isn’t good, and our battle-weary hearts struggle to accept the purity of this gift.
And what we believe impacts how we live. It’s harder to engage with your spouse in a loving and vulnerable way through intimacy if sex feels sinful. We may know the truth with our heads, but how do we respond to rogue feelings?
Christ Is Enough
Being a Christian means hiding in the righteousness of Christ, always. If we’re trusting Jesus, every single wrong belief and warped motivation has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) that we may live in him (Rom. 5:18)! Our hope doesn’t rest in our behavior or feelings, but in Christ’s finished work. If God says sex in a loving marriage between a man and a woman is good, and if you’re married, then intimacy with your spouse is good—regardless of your feelings.*
Here are four truths to help us “talk back” to our feelings.
- We’ve been declared righteous according to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Faith in Jesus alone justifies us, not our works (Rom. 3:23–24). Apart from Christ, our hearts are twisted. We may bring sexual sin and its accompanying shame, or the shame of sins committed against us, into the marriage covenant. We’ll be fighting sin and feeling the pain of sins committed against us until heaven. This is why justification is such liberating news—our souls are safe because of Jesus.
God has set his favor upon us. He sparked faith in our warped, corrupted hearts, making them new and empowering us to walk in good works (Eph. 2:4–9). If you’re married, your marriage relationship is one of those good works. Marriage illuminates the all-surpassing gift of Christ, our Bridegroom, to his people. Being justified by faith means we can take our worried eyes off ourselves and fix them on our Savior. We’re united with Christ, reconciled with the Father, and helped by the Spirit. We can walk in good works because of Jesus.
- Christ’s righteousness covers us.
R.C. Sproul illustrates this doctrine of imputation in his children’s book, The Priest with Dirty Clothes. When Jonathan irreparably stains his robe, he goes to the great prince desperate for help to clean his clothes so he can stand before the king. Shockingly, the prince puts Jonathan’s filthy clothes on himself and gives Jonathan his own royal robes. He smiles, saying, “These are the clean clothes I promised you. They are yours forever. They will never wear out. There is not a spot of dirt on them and nothing can make them dirty. They are perfect for you.”
Think about that! Nothing can mar the righteousness that’s ours in Christ—not our sin (past or present), not sin done against us, not our feelings.
What does this have to do with sex? We can wrongly believe purity is rooted in our behavior. If we’ve sinned or been sinned against sexually, that’s it. Game over. We’re “used goods.” But the gospel truth is that our purity is found in Christ—it’s rooted not in us, but in the spotlessly pure robes of Christ’s righteousness covering us.
At the end of Sproul’s story, Jonathan wants to be good enough to wear the prince’s clothes. “But you cannot be good enough, Jonathan,” the prince says. “You must live your whole life trusting in my goodness while you wear my clothes.” We will never be pure apart from Christ. Yet, in Christ, we’re adorned by a purity more shimmeringly beautiful than we can imagine.
- God uses ordinary means to sanctify us.
Day by day, by the power of his Spirit, God is doing extraordinary work in us through ordinary means—reading his Word, prayer, fellowship with believers, partaking of communion, suffering, relationships. For believers who are called to it, marriage—in all its dimensions—is part of that process.
As we learn to submit to another, preferring them before ourselves, seeking their wellbeing, and caring for their emotions, God is sanctifying us. As we embrace the vulnerability of sexual union, committing ourselves to our spouse again, knowing and being known in all our imperfections, God is sanctifying us. God will use even marital sex to work out our sanctification. Christian, you can enjoy sex with your spouse not only as something good in itself, but as part of the Lord’s sanctification in your life.
This is good news, but we still sin against God and each other. Have you ever thought, “I can’t even have sex with my spouse without sinning in my mind!”? The frustrating reality of ongoing sin can tempt us to avoid sex altogether. But that’s not the answer. As Jim Weidenaar said, simply avoiding sex would be like saying, “I can’t pursue relationships with people in church without my pride and anger surfacing, so to avoid more sin I’ll be a loner.”
“Instead,” Jim said, “it’s as we pursue loving relationships that we recognize sin and true growth happens. The path of sanctification, in sex or any area of life, requires us to exercise faith. Though the road is rocky, our Savior will help us grow even as we grieve, confront, repent of, and work through sin day by day.”
- We’re headed to eternal glory.
Neither marriage nor sex within marriage are ultimate or eternal—like all God’s gifts, they’re signposts pointing to the greater realities of Christ and his love for his people. One day we will physically be with Jesus, our heart’s satisfaction, forever (Ps. 16:5–6). We’ll be free from sin and shame, delighting in the consummation of our souls’ deepest longings.
Paradoxically, this frees us to treasure our earthly marriage more than ever and to not take it too seriously. The intimacy of marriage is a lovely gift, but it pales compared to that great day when we see our Lord face to face. Christ himself is our joy! He is our inheritance. He is our tender husband. The marriage union is a temporary gift; spiritual union with Christ is our eternal reality.
How does this head knowledge work its way into our hearts, so our felt experience matches the truth we confess?
We may still feel that sex with our spouse is impure. Feelings are stubborn and must occasionally be given “a stern talking to.” But that doesn’t always change them. In this fallen life we will sometimes be overset by feelings that run roughshod over us, leaving no reprieve, no peace. But amid all the turmoil of all the feelings, we have a sure and steady refuge for our soul in Christ our Savior. We can shelter in him, crying with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
And as the Holy Spirit continues to work in us, our belief in Christ’s sufficiency will grow. The answer, if we’re married, is not to avoid sexual intimacy with our spouse* nor to ignore the feelings. Neither can we examine ourselves thoroughly enough or purge ourselves of sin! No, our hope is found in Jesus.
Who Jesus is and what he has done triumphs over our feelings. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ” (293). Let’s look to Christ, our Savior, and hide in his righteousness. We can trust him with every part of our lives.
*This assumes your marriage is not abusive. If you’re facing harm from your spouse, remove yourself to safety and seek guidance from a trusted counselor.
It may be glib, but it rings true: the only thing that never changes is change. I’ve got change happening in almost every area of life right now. You too? Consider this list of what I’m facing and see if it connects with your life.
- Change through death. My dad died several months ago, and family relationships have shifted since then. Not only have I joined the parentless club, but my relationships with my siblings and their families are growing into something different. In the last few years of his life, a lot of our interactions revolved around how Dad was doing. We texted, emailed, and talked about what kind of care he needed, who could do what, and then the dreaded end-of-life decisions. Over the past months, we’ve grown into new ways of connecting that don’t orbit around Dad’s care.
- Change through aging. Umm, I’ll just leave that, at that! But you can guess—bodies age and with that comes a changed appearance, different limitations, new dreams emerging, and a revitalized commitment to make the most of the time given to me in this life.
- Change through new relational landscapes. Our Harvest USA staff family has lost several beloved brothers and sisters to new callings and changed life circumstances; we’ve gained several new coworkers too. There have also been several significant changes in my personal life: my close friend and sister moved overseas with her family, another friend has grown more limited due to chronic illness, and still another moved out of the area.
- Change through spiritual pruning and soul surgery. God has been doing so much in my own heart over the past season. He’s been growing me through challenges, joys, grief, and a long awaited ‘birth’ of a book I’ve wanted to write for years. Writing Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey brought more tears than any other writing project I’ve worked on for Harvest USA. The excruciating stories that women have shared with me have changed and humbled me.
What about you? Do any of those categories hit home, my friend? Perhaps your marriage has suffered the painful blow of abandonment, death, or divorce. Maybe one of your kids just left for college and you aren’t so sure that the emptier nest season is as fabulous as you’ve heard. Or perhaps a friend has moved on, seeking connections elsewhere, and you feel lost and abandoned. You might even be facing the disorienting reality of someone ending their relationship with you because it had become sinful, and your friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/secret lover heard and heeded the loving call of Jesus to return home from the far country.
When the pain of change hits hard, we have a choice in front of us. We can cry out to Jesus for help, comfort, wisdom, and guidance or we can cry out elsewhere for temporary comfort, distraction, rescue, or a sense of stability. Where do you tend to turn?
Everything Will Shift—Except God’s Promises
When you’re hit with pain due to changed circumstances, it’s important to cry out for comfort in the right direction. The enemy of our souls and our weak and easily deceived sin nature crave and seize any opportunity to pursue people, experiences, and feelings that may temporarily numb or relieve our anguish but, in the end, land us in a pit. God alone is the source of unchanging, unfailing love and comfort. He is your steadfast companion when the terrain of your life shifts, whether slightly and subtly or like a wave crashing over you.
Consider these promises from God’s Word:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
For I the Lord do not change. (Mal. 3:6)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8)
But people? Your best friend? The person you’re dating? Your spouse if you marry? Your health, financial portfolio, church? All will change and shift. Some of these changes will be sweet and feel good, while others may break your heart.
Painful Change Leads You to Your Steadfast Savior
Only through our relationship with Jesus do we have a relationship with someone who will never:
- Stop loving or change his desires for us. Jesus won’t ever say, “I just don’t have the feels for you anymore.”
- Abandon, break up with us, or join a new friend group, leaving us in the dust by saying, “You know…I just need to do me now…sorry.”
- Take back the forgiveness that has covered all our sins—past, present and future!
- Betray us or not come through on the promises he’s made. His words are trustworthy. God will never stop loving us deeply, even as he knows all the worst things about us and has experienced our sin against him every day. He’ll never stop offering to comfort us when our hearts are broken, lonely, or disappointed. He’ll never grow tired or give up on helping us grow and become more like him. He’ll never go back on his promise to give us strength to live for him and not ourselves. He’ll never grow tired of helping us and carrying our burdens.
- Change his plan to bring all his children into heaven at the time of his choosing.
- Die on us. We will never, ever, have to stand looking over a grave and then turn away to live the rest of our life feeling the empty hole of him not being here, of feeling how silent or quiet the world feels without him.
God’s Unchanging Love Brings Healing Change to You
God is not only unchangeable, he’s also full of holy, compassionate love for you, and he alone has the power to heal and change your broken heart. You may feel devastated today, hopeless and drowning in a sea of painful circumstances. Perhaps you’ve made choices you’re ashamed of, or now enslaved to certain behaviors, or completely consumed with a person—you might even say you’re addicted to this person.
Friend, because God is steadfast and unchanging, and you are in process of being made to be like Jesus, you have hope. Behaviors can be changed, relationships can lose their sinful grip on your heart, addictions can subside, and the pull of your desires diminish as you turn toward God with humble dependence. He is faithful and he will never stop loving you or being with you. That will never, ever change.
If your husband has sinned sexually, you might be surprised at how deeply you feel ashamed. Shame can be a vague, haunting, smothering feeling in our hearts. It may hover the way a low-grade physical ache emerges with the flu. Or it can suddenly fall over us, collapsing our hearts inward as if a heavy, water-soaked blanket was dropped on us.
The Bible connects shame and guilt, yet also distinguishes between them. Guilt communicates, “I’ve done something wrong.” Shame communicates, “Something is wrong with me.” Ed Welch, a biblical counselor, makes the distinction in his book Shame Interrupted:
Shame lives in the community, though the community can feel like a courtroom. It says, “You don’t belong—you are unacceptable, unclean and disgraced” because “You are wrong, you have sinned” (guilt), or “Wrong has been done to you” or “You are associated with those who are disgraced or outcast.” The shamed person feels worthless, expects rejection, and needs cleansing, fellowship [community], love, and acceptance. (11)
Note what Welch says about shame coming not only from our own sin but also from association with those who are disgraced. Just as you’ve perhaps been troubled by your troubles or anxious about your anxiety, maybe you’ve been carrying the shame of your husband’s sin as your own.
But your husband is guilty of sexual sin, not you. Regardless of how either of you (as sinners and sufferers) may have contributed to brokenness in your marriage, your husband chose to act on desires and pursue his own sexually sinful behaviors. Yet the intimacy of the marriage covenant does closely associate you with his guilt and the shame that comes with rebellion against our holy God. Why is this, and how does it happen?
Marriage, Sexual Sin, and Shame
Marriage creates a powerful opportunity for a husband and wife, in covenant before God and witnesses, to enter into a oneness-of-life relationship. Traditional Christian wedding vows usually include the following components.
Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage?
Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep her/him in sickness and in health?
Will you forsake all others, being faithful (relationally, mentally, sexually, emotionally, physically) to her/him as long as you both shall live?
In response to all of these questions, the man and woman both promise, “I will.”
The marriage covenant is unique, in part, because it’s the only God-blessed context for sharing sexual intimacy. The lifelong, exclusive, loving relationship provides a protected context for spouses to share themselves completely with another. Both spouses commit to do this in dependence upon and out of love for Christ. When experienced according to God’s design and intent, shared sexual love is indeed a beautiful gift that keeps on giving.
Sexual sin doesn’t merely intrude into a marriage as a physical act of betrayal; it brings destruction to the very foundation. This relationship of intimate oneness was built on trust and a mutual commitment to viewing yourselves as “we” rather than “I.” Wives experience covenant treason from the one man they promised to love, cherish, and faithfully honor, and from whom they were promised the same.
Sin in any relationship is serious, but since marriage is a unique covenant that represents Christ and the church, betrayal from a spouse is particularly devastating. Sexual unfaithfulness can shatter a wife’s sense of identity and worth. Her husband has not only gone outside the marriage but has actually brought pollution and idolatry into their union. Wives feel this intensely, even when they’re not the ones who pursued sexual unfaithfulness.¹
Jesus Brings Freedom from Shame
Sister, is shame a coat you’re wearing or a tattoo on your soul you can’t wash off? You may say, “Yes, but it’s not my fault. . . . I didn’t choose it; it was put on me!” Or maybe you’re convinced you caused the sin and deserve to bear this shame until your husband gets his act together, even just a little. If that’s the case, you need to hear this again: your husband’s sexual betrayal came out of his heart, desires, and beliefs—you did not cause it!
Jesus sympathizes with the shame you may carry in response to your husband’s sin and the condition of your marriage. Your Savior understands the ugliness of sin and the shame it brings; he’s experienced the painful betrayal of his bride, the church. Jesus, your loving, gracious, sovereign Lord, knows what it’s like to experience the “dirtiness” of someone else’s sin becoming his.
And there is hope in what Jesus achieved for us through his death and resurrection. As Heather Nelson explains, “In place of shame, [Jesus] gives honor, beauty, joy, comfort, justice, favor, and freedom—what our hearts long for most when shame rules our emotions, thoughts, and desires” (31).
Sister, only through faith in Jesus can you truly be free from the shame you carry, whether it’s due to your own sin or sin done against you by others, including your husband. The way we access Christ’s healing and cleansing from shame is by faith in him alone, believing that through him and by union with him we are forgiven of sin, cleansed from unrighteousness, and kept safe in his mercy.
These beautiful truths are good news for you and your husband. You are both holy, chosen, beloved saints if your faith is placed in Jesus alone (Col. 3:12). You are both sinners who continue to wrong God, each other, and other people (1 John 1:10) and sufferers who daily experience life in a broken, sin-filled world (John 16:33). Christ alone covers the guilt and shame of your husband’s sin, so neither of you has to carry it any longer.
This article is an excerpt from Harvest USA’s new resource, “Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal,” launching August 31 at Harvest USA.
¹Women, including wives, do pursue sexual sin! Harvest USA is committed to ministering the gospel of grace to women who are sexual strugglers. Here I address the audience of the workbook from which this article is extracted: wives of husbands who struggle with sexual sin.
09 Jun 2022
“Day after day, year after year, the message of shame filled my ears and heart. I ached to be loved, wanted, cherished, and desired, but instead I was learning to define myself by the way my husband treated me. Unwanted.”¹
This wife’s ache is a gospel cry. It’s a cry of loss in her marriage—a profound loss, a loss measured by the greatness of the gospel truth it was meant to picture. She is mourning the loss of the experience of exclusive belonging.
What is the foundation for the long-term sexual union of marriage? Our culture makes attraction the sole basis of the relationship, rather than one feature of it. But, as my previous post explains, God’s gracious act of setting us apart goes against this grain—and he intends us to be his image-bearers.
If human sexuality was merely animal, we could see sexuality as a simple stimulus-response based on attraction. But as image-bearers of God, our sexuality is to be a picture of the gospel. Delight grows in the security of having been graciously set apart for exclusive belonging.
Belonging, Security, and Delight
The passion and delight of a husband and wife is suggested in the idea of belonging. Belonging is not a mere legal category, as if we are chattel. You should hear it in the repeated refrain of the lover, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 2:16; 6:3; 7:10). Christ’s setting us apart to belong to him is full of warm and intimate affection.
There is so much hope in the unchanging security of our union with Christ! Our belonging to God is not transient or changeable, but eternally fixed. Your beloved Savior chose you from eternity past—his abundant love cannot change because he cannot change.
Does this challenge how you believe God thinks of you? Do you assume he’s disgusted, impatient, disappointed, and angry? You need to know that he loves his bride, the Church, with the ardor and emotion of a lover! He has set us apart to belong to him as his bride. We are our Beloved’s, and he is ours!
The Ache of Being Unwanted
When people who are not set apart to belong to each other engage in sexual activity, not only does it serve mostly selfish purposes but it’s anti-gospel in nature. Personal pleasure at someone else’s expense, a sense of conquest, and a craving to feel wanted do not reflect Christ’s relationship with his bride.
The message of sex as we’ve learned it from our culture is, “For the moment, I want what you have” and “You seem to please me more than the other options in the room.” There’s no grace in this, no gospel. It’s based on an evaluation: What turns me on now? What meets my felt needs now?
Momentary, self-focused sexual activity lacks the fullness, security, and joy of belonging. Although it temporarily mimics the warmth of true belonging, it’s filled with inevitable uncertainty. Tomorrow, he may be with someone else, and she will be aching again, wondering if she will ever be lovable.
Consider how a husband’s porn use affects his wife. When a wife discovers her husband has been looking at porn, the sense of mutual belonging based on his setting her apart in an exclusive category is destroyed. She is immediately reduced to the level of every flaunted body online. She’s no different than every woman walking or driving by.
All the gospel-like benefits of security, value, and safety she enjoyed when her husband set her apart as his own are shown to be an illusion. What is communicated to her is that it’s really always been about competing to fulfill this man’s desire—a competition she knows she can never win. She is, using the word of the wife at the top of this post, “unwanted.” This is devastating.
Eternal Belonging in Christ
Where do we go with this? Wherever we fit into this story—a sinning husband, a hurting wife, a sinning wife, a single person afraid of not belonging to anyone—we can only go to the gospel first. Jesus is the only one who is truly faithful, and his faithfulness counts for us. We belong to him first.
It’s good news that the truth of the gospel, which our sexuality was meant to reveal, is not diminished by our failure and loss. Nothing we do or don’t do can change the eternal security of our union with Christ. We can learn to define ourselves by the way our Savior—our Husband!—treats us: set apart as his own. We are his, and our Beloved is ours, forever.
¹This quotation is from our soon-to-be-released resource, Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal. Look for it on our resource page in July, 2022.
28 Apr 2022
One of the most tender expressions of humble faith was shared with me by a woman in my wives group years ago. She said,
“I thought marriage would be the place where I would finally come to understand God’s love for me in a deeper way through the example of my husband’s love. Instead, God has chosen to teach me about his love by putting me in a place where I had to study his love so I could show it rather than receive it. I found myself running to the Lord, pouring out my pain to him about my unfaithful spouse and fellowshipping in his suffering. As I meditated on how God understood the pain of an unfaithful spouse (his people) and studied his response to their unfaithfulness, I learned about his longsuffering, pursuing love for me and saw God begin teaching me how to love my spouse with his love.”
Sister, are you hurting, disappointed, alone, and confused because of painful marriage dynamics? You may have realized when you married that, as great of a guy as your husband seemed to be, he couldn’t replace Jesus. You probably knew that your issues would also impact the marriage, but you were (and maybe still are!) eager to journey together with your man towards Christ, holiness, togetherness.
But sexual sin isn’t what you signed up for. This is an unwanted chapter in your story, and you wonder how you got here. Where can you turn?
Turn to Jesus. He’s near, and he cares.
Jesus is your steadfast refuge and tender comforter
“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:1–2).
David wrote these words after being chased by enemies and betrayed by people he trusted and loved. (You can read more of that story in 2 Samuel 21–22 if you’re interested). His words guide us when we are in the throes of suffering. When we forget who we are and who God is, it’s easy to drown in our feelings rather than seek refuge in Jesus and tell him “each rising grief, for Thou alone can heal; Thy word can bring a sweet relief for ev’ry pain I feel.”¹ In the mystery of your suffering, you can know one thing for sure: God wants you to draw more closely to himself as your God.
In the last hours before Jesus was arrested, he assured his friends with these words:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?… I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–2).
Jesus is always with you, not merely by your side but within you as your very life (Colossians 1:27 and 3:3). He is the only one who is capable of sharing this kind of intimacy with you. Even on your husband’s best days—walking in obedience to God, faithfully loving you, sharing moments of sweet sexual intimacy with you—he cannot dwell within your heart. Christ alone is there with you in your broken heart and will not leave.
Jesus is your faithful Bridegroom forever
When your husband fails you, it’s an invitation to turn towards the Bridegroom who never will. One woman shared with me,
“After I found evidence of my husband’s affair, I took off my wedding ring and told my husband in anger and pain, ‘You left me, and God is my husband now.’ True, but a bit dramatic. Then, as I was working through a book with a friend for spouses facing sexual betrayal, we read through Hosea, and I realized I had something ‘special’ in common with God: We are both betrayed spouses! Then my mind quickly went to the realization that I have also been unfaithful—not with my husband, but with God.
Throughout our eight-month separation and long, bumpy road toward marriage reconciliation, I found great comfort in picturing Christ as my Bridegroom, who loves me with an everlasting, perfect love. Who comforts me when I’m down, always listens to me, and cares for me deeply. And will never betray me.”
In the Old Testament, we learn of a beautiful theme that runs throughout Scripture: God’s plan for pursuing an eternal marriage relationship with his people. “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19–20). These verses show us that God’s desire is to be more than just a refuge, friend, king with servants, and even a father with his children. He pursues, loves, and offers us eternal marriage with himself.
The concept of being married to God may be a new one for you. God’s spousal love is different from human marriage but no less intimate. We have an eternally secure, forever-together relationship bought for us by the blood of Jesus, our Bridegroom.
The love that Jesus offers to his people, his Bride, is so much more than that of the most devoted husband. No, those “best day” experiences you’ve had with your man are only a glimpse of what it’s like to be loved by Jesus. What you and your husband can offer each other is but a dim reflection of the faithful, eternal, intimate love that Jesus shared with his people—with you.
For all the mystery of why you are suffering in marriage, you can know that Jesus is longing to show himself to you in new ways as your true Bridegroom, the One who never misses you, will not seek another bride, and will never, ever deceive or abandon you. You may not feel excited about this eternal truth right now, and that’s okay. Jesus isn’t put off by the honest recognition in your heart that you may desire a husband’s love more than his.
Jesus is your eternal true home
In John 15, Jesus beautifully explains a new type of intimacy between himself and his followers: He is the true Vine, the source of all life, and we are his branches, created and commanded to abide (or make a home) in him and his words. A vital union with Jesus is now possible because his Spirit is sent to live in all believers.
As amazing as it is to consider that God no longer dwells near us but in us, we won’t experience being at home with God perfectly in this life. Our bruised and sinful hearts and the fallen world around us prevent a purely joyful, peaceful, and comfortable experience. However, when we honestly acknowledge this rather than demand a life with no suffering, it can actually draw us closer to Christ and the joy he offers. Consider these words from C. S. Lewis:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful, for these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others do the same.”²
Your true country, your home, is Christ. He’s your safe place and gentle Shepherd, who will never tell you to “just get over it” and move on. He won’t run from you or awkwardly back away in silence because he doesn’t know what to say to you. He is yours, his love is yours, his comfort is yours. Regardless of what you feel, think, and believe in this moment, he is drawn to you with deep compassion. Turn to him sister; he is near.
This blog is adapted from a chapter in the soon-to-be-released resource from Harvest USA, Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal. Look for it on our resource page in July 2022.
¹Steele, Anne. “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.” https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/dear-refuge-of-my-weary-soul.
²C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1952), 121.