“I, like many others in her life, wasn’t necessarily bumping up against a proud, coldhearted wall. No, I was experiencing Kara’s protective shield that had been built one piece at a time in response to a scary world…”

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Helping Students with Same-Sex Attraction by Cooper Pinson and Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “Post-Traumatic Growth and the Gospel,” which corresponds to this video.

“How in the world is she still standing?! Still functioning as a sane, responsible, adult woman?”

More often than I wish, I am left stunned, with these questions swirling through my head, as I hang up the phone or Zoom call or escort a woman to the door of our office. Why? I’ve just heard a story of such horrific suffering, of traumatic pain, that I’m left brokenhearted and in awe. I can only praise God through my tears for his supernatural strength that has enabled so many women to grow forward after suffering circumstances that could have crushed them—and, in fact, have crushed others.

Why is it that some people come through the horrors of this world still standing, even flourishing, while others’ lives are utterly wrecked in the aftermath of trauma? Military veterans, survivors of abuse, abandoned children, and betrayed spouses often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a “mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”¹

Many of the wives who come into my office have experienced symptoms of PTSD because the husband and the marriage that they assumed and believed they had do not exist. The trauma of betrayal results in sleeplessness, depression, anger, outbursts, and paralyzing grief. They are responding to the demolition of the safety and security, life plans, and stable relationships they thought they had. Yet I’ve witnessed so many of these women shine for Christ! Faith, resiliency, and courage are fired up, and they plant their roots down deep into the Lord and his Word. How?

Post-Traumatic Growth: Psychological Category and Biblical Concept

The American Psychological Association gives one answer for my response of wonder and awe for the resiliency that I witness week after week in suffering women. It’s called Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), which I learned about when I researched the impact of sexual abuse. “(PTG) is a theory that explains [healthy]…transformation following trauma. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.”²

While the APA provides one helpful perspective from which to consider PTG, Scripture addresses trauma and its impact differently from the APA. Repeatedly, God makes it clear that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), and, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

The Bible is honest about the ugliness of sin and how people commit evil against one another. In the pages of the Old and New Testaments, stories of traumatic losses, abuse, manipulation, and suffering cause us to cringe. However, the Bible includes something to which the APA is blind: Into this sin-broken world has come our Lord and Healer, Jesus Christ. He offers comfort in the face of terrifying events, hope that these events do not define us, and a trustworthy promise that he can use pain to promote growth rather than distress.

Jesus Enters Our Pain and Transforms Our Responses

Friend, if you’ve suffered trauma, Jesus knows. He sees, hears, and understands. He was treated horrifically through the crucifixion, suffered alienation from the Father, and experienced death. The distress he endured the night before these events was so traumatic that his blood vessels burst, leading to a literal ”sweating” of blood.

Here’s where the gospel brings life and the possibility of true post-trauma healing and growth in a way that the secular theorists can’t! Christ responded to the most horrific pain with honest grief, faith, and love—love for his Father and for us. Christ’s response to traumatic events can become our example and our way of responding, our faith-fueled path of resiliency; this is one of the amazing applications of John 15’s teaching about our union with Jesus.

Post-traumatic growth could be relabeled as “with-Jesus transformation.” As we grow in both knowing who Jesus really is and understanding that we are spiritually joined to him, our pain becomes his, and his resilience, faith, and love become ours in a process that promotes wholeness and healing, displaces our distress, and changes our desires for sinful, false comforts. Christ is in us, the hope of glory, and his power allows us to choose a different path!

Choose Jesus and the Promises of the Gospel

The men and women who come to Harvest USA have a backstory to their sin struggles, just like you do. They may define themselves initially as a sex addict, a traumatized wife, or a person messed up beyond repair. They have been sinned against and suffered much in a sinful world, and they in turn have responded to it with their own sinful choices. However, the gospel of new life in Christ gives us the capability to respond to sin done against us, as well as horrific circumstances, by turning to God for comfort, strength, and wisdom to obey and trust him. This is true post-traumatic growth!

 

¹ https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967.

² https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma.

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You can also watch the video, “Why a Christ-Centered Lens Is Important,” which corresponds to this blog.

I remember the intoxication of my early sexual sin. Porn and sexual release provided a technicolor rush against the drab backdrop of middle school reality. And that was looking at magazines. Not surprising, the internet’s heightened experience leads many to addiction. Like all the blessings of this life, sex is a good gift from God. (That’s why the Bible is overwhelmingly positive about sexuality expressed according to God’s design.)

The problem arises from our propensity to worship the gift instead of the Giver. In all beauty and pleasure, we catch a glimpse of transcendence in the Creator’s handiwork. But this can lead us to confuse the signpost for the ultimate destination. Sexuality is a realm of human experience where this is particularly true.

Specifically, God designed the delights of sexuality to point to the wonder of his heart for us. So, in teaching about marriage, Paul writes, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31,32). This means sexuality is ultimately about God.

Sexual expression consummates lifelong, covenant promises because it points to the glory that our relationship is rooted in God’s covenantal promises to us. Further, he created us to experience the thrill of romance so that we’d glimpse Jesus’s heart and delight in us. Consider this incredible declaration from Isaiah 62:5, “…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you”! The exhilarating thrill of falling in love, the wonderful bliss of sexual experience, the joy and delight of romantic love that has inspired poets and artists over the millennia, are all a dim reflection of an infinitely greater reality: God’s heart for you and Jesus’s great anticipation, as the ultimate Bridegroom, of sitting down with us at the wedding feast at the beginning of the world to come (see Revelation 19:6-9).

The most beautiful experiences of romance in this world are a drop in the Pacific Ocean compared to God’s heart for you. Because of the deep theological truths behind romance and sexuality, God has imbued these experiences with great delight. But the downside is that this particular signpost can become incredibly enslaving when people worship the gift rather than the Giver.

And this is a problem for all of us. Because the Fall has infiltrated every aspect of our personhood, broken sexuality affects every individual and community on the globe. It’s important to underscore that sexual sin is a gender-neutral pathogen of the soul. This is a universal human condition, impacting men and women. All of us need sexual redemption. This includes every Christian—Jesus doesn’t wave a wand over anyone when they come to faith. All of us need sanctification in this area of our lives.

It’s important to underscore that sexual sin is a gender-neutral pathogen of the soul. This is a universal human condition, impacting men and women. All of us need sexual redemption.

But things are not so broken that they do not recall their original goodness or so marred that they can’t be repaired by God’s grace.

How to Move Forward

Realize the theological significance of sex. The passages warning against sexual immorality make clear that sex reveals the allegiance of your heart. Sexual immorality is what pagans do; Christians are to be ruled by the Spirit and so steward their sexuality in holiness and honor (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). 1 Corinthians 6:13 goes further, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Spiritual life and physical reality are inextricably linked together. Being a Christian means acknowledging Jesus is Lord over all.

The aforementioned passages are in the New Testament (along with several others) because Christians struggle with sex. There’s good news here: you’re not the only one. But, do others really know what that struggle means for you? The gospel gains traction in our lives through humble vulnerability. Honest confession of our struggles reflects a confidence in Christ’s atoning work and commitment to be purified as his bride.

Sanctification in this area of life is just like any other. You need the strength of the Body of Christ. Ephesians 4 describes how we reach maturity only as we are inextricably linked to one another and “each part is working properly” (v. 16). If you want to grow in this area, you can’t do it alone. (For this reason, our workbooks, Sexual Sanity for Men and  Sexual Sanity for Women, were designed for small groups!)

Because sex is about God, regardless of your experience and life situation, Jesus invites you to a deeper place of relationship with him through these desires. In his teaching on marriage and divorce, Jesus was clear: there is no marriage in the new heavens and earth. It is a “this world” experience that points beyond itself to the greatest union yet to be. Your desires are a small window into Jesus’s longing for the coming wedding feast. Even unsatisfied, they provide an opportunity to know him and worship him. Jesus meets us in the pain of unsatisfied desires, reorienting them toward himself, because this is what all of life, including sex, is ultimately about.

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

With the Ashley Madison scandal of 2015, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This three-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and hopefully grow, these first few steps will be critical.

In my first two blogs (Part 1 and Part 2), I mentioned two initial steps you need to take to bring healing to your marriage: Fully own the damage you caused, and let your wife heal at her own pace. Now, for the third initial step you must take.

You have to move toward your wife as a forgiven man. Not forgiven by her; you can’t control that or make that happen. No, forgiven by God. If you have given your life to him, then hear the good news of the gospel: God has taken your sin upon himself and given you his perfect, flawless life-record as your own. It’s this new foundation that you need to begin to grasp. God sees you as clean, washed, even when all the pieces of your life are still scattered all around you—even when the pain of your sin is still vividly in your mind and heart.

Why is this so important? Because you really can’t do the first two steps I mentioned apart from this one. You will not be able to fully face the truth of what you did, nor will you be able to let your wife heal at her own pace (with or without you), unless you begin to see that no matter your sin, Christ has paid the ultimate penalty for it. This alone is the foundation for your own healing.

This healing is not being accomplished by your sorrow, nor by your newfound good intentions or works, nor by the hope you have in wanting to heal your marriage. It’s because Jesus was willing, on one gruesome day, to die in your place—in order to give you life, to set you free, to place upon you a love so deep that you now belong to him as a cherished child.

You see, your sin exposed the lovelessness of your own heart. But by grasping God’s love for those with broken hearts with an open, empty hand (that’s faith), you will now be able to learn to love as you never have before.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

This is what living by faith looks like. Not a cheap grace, but a substantial grace that now gives you the love you need to move forward in total transparency, hiding nothing, admitting to everything. I don’t know your wife. I don’t know how she is going to respond. What I do know is that you need to know that God loves you and that his promises never change. This should help you with my next point.

And this is what your wife needs—she needs to see you growing in this grace. You will still fail. You will still stumble and fall at times. Your wife is going to need her measure of grace from God to survive the destructive self-centeredness that brought you both to where you are now.

Remember that your sin is against God first! He felt it first! It was his law you broke! It was his grace that you trampled underfoot. To me, that is what God is trying to communicate to us from the cross. “This is how your self-indulgence has impacted me,” he is saying. “You broke my heart!” That is deep! That is love at a whole new level! He made an open display of your sin so that you don’t have to hide anymore. If you can honestly face the cross, you can honestly face your wife, hear whatever she needs to say, own all the damage you have caused, and patiently wait for whatever healing she needs to experience before she can even think of getting close again.

Finally, I would say, with Paul, “Love… hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV). You don’t want to give up hope. You want to continue to believe that God will do a work. And he will do a work in your life and in your marriage. It just might not look like the way you want it to look! You have to trust him no matter what the outcome.

Part 1, Part 2.

In Numbers 21, we’re told that many of God’s people were bitten by snakes and died on their wilderness journey. As they cried out to God, Moses prayed, and God directed him to fashion a bronze snake on a long pole. He was instructed that anyone who had been bitten should look at the bronze snake—and they would be healed. They were not to focus on their wounds, although it really was a life-threatening situation.

It’s interesting that Moses didn’t say, “Oh, it’s all your imagination. Don’t worry about it. It will go away.” No, he knew people were literally dying. Those who focused on their wounds died. But those who looked upon the bronze snake, high and lifted up, were healed and lived.

Like the Israelites in the desert, we must set our gaze directly on Christ. Admittedly, persistent struggles with sexual temptation and sin can continuously derail us. We can too easily lose hope and give up. This is where the evil one wants us.

But we must believe that Jesus doesn’t sit idly by in heaven; he is with us! He is the conqueror of sin and death—even in the battles for holiness that rage in our own hearts. When your conscience plagues you the most, or when you are in the most dire distress, you must grasp Christ in faith. It is in that moment that faith sees Jesus, the one who obeyed, suffered, died, and rose again—and he did that for our sake! Hebrews 12:1-2 is one of the most astonishing verses in all of Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (ESV).

What was the joy that Jesus looked forward to, so much so that he endured unbelievable suffering? It was you; it was his people whom he lived and died for, men and women being renewed by his grace and who one day will be fully restored, perfect in every way.

No matter what the distress and pain you are suffering through at this moment, that is something to look toward!

Where are the snakes in your life right now—those things that seem to threaten to rob you of life, of hope, of joy? What are the situations, circumstances, and struggles that keep you defeated? How are you dealing with them? Where are your eyes turned to in those moments?

Updated 5.10.2017

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