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
17 Aug 2023
Yes, that’s the question I invite you to ponder, sisters and brothers. I’m not asking if you believe in God or if you pray and go to church together. My question aims at your heart: is Christ central in your marriage, or is he a friendly neighbor? Do you push Jesus aside, expecting your spouse to meet all your needs, give you an identity, complete you?
Well, friend, if you do, you’re not alone. In my sixteen years of journeying with wives who’ve faced their husbands’ sexual infidelity, I consistently heard three humbling realizations come out of their hearts:
- I knew I depended on my husband too much, but I had no idea how I made him (and our marriage) an idol.
- I’ve been a Christian for so long, yet the pain of this situation has revealed that my relationship with Jesus isn’t as deep as I thought.
- Facing my husband’s sin is devastating, yet God is using this trial to draw me into a closeness with Jesus and a depth of faith that I didn’t know was possible.
When Jesus isn’t in his rightful place, marriages (and all relationships!) will struggle. No person can fill his shoes as our eternal bridegroom, friend, heart-healer, and so much more; Christ alone is our loving Creator, Lord, and Savior.
Three Views of Marriage
I’ve heard three prominent views of marriage over the years from Christians. For all of them, Christ and two believing spouses are in the mix; the difference lies in the place each one occupies. Look at the chart below and see if one seems to describe your marriage or serious dating relationship.
No spouse would choose the pain of sexual betrayal; it was never God’s intent for you. However, from the ashes of devastated trust, I’ve watched wives receive the Lord’s healing and transforming discipleship through this pain. Christ invites and shepherds wives (and husbands, too) to allow their disappointment in marriage to lead them to re-place Jesus as their priority relational focus, putting him back where he should be, in the very center.
The Three Legged-Stool Marriage welcomes Jesus as the third leg holding up the marriage. The problem is that he’s understood to be one of three equal partners: wife, husband, and Jesus. But the Bible says Jesus is to have supremacy—the first place (Col. 1:18)—in all things, including your marriage.
Over time, a new kind of spiritual and relational intimacy grows as two spouses prioritize loving and trusting Jesus as their source of life, security, meaning, and unfailing love.
The Spouse-Centered Marriage displaces Jesus as central in the relationship and demands that your spouse provide what can only be found in Jesus: unfailing love, identity, and value. Marriage is a gift, but it was never intended to displace the Giver of that gift. When God says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3–5), he means it!
As common as these two views are among believers, God has something better for you: a Christ-Centered Marriage. Over time, a new kind of spiritual and relational intimacy grows as two spouses prioritize loving and trusting Jesus as their source of life, security, meaning, and unfailing love.
Repenting of Spouse Idolatry by Re-Placing Jesus
“Re-placing Jesus” refers to at least two steps of obedience. First, a humble acknowledgement that, somewhere along the way, other people or things have displaced Jesus as Lord over your heart and marriage. The Scriptures clearly point to the beauty of marriage and the gift of shared, committed love over a lifetime. Though sin pollutes and erodes marital intimacy, friendship, and mutual enjoyment, God gave marriage as a gift for his people and ultimately as a signpost to his eternal, selfless, steadfast love for us (see Isa. 54:5, 62:5; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7, 21:9–11).
A Christ-centered marriage will exhibit two spouses as needy saints who continue to sin yet look to the gospel for help.
Second, God calls you to proactively, consistently cultivate your relationship with Jesus and receive discipleship about how he created marriage to work. After all, all things were created by, through, and for him (Col. 1:16), including your marriage. Reach out to mature Christians and ask for prayer and encouragement. Look for singles and married people who honor Christ in their lives and couples who don’t present as having it all together. A Christ-centered marriage will exhibit two spouses as needy saints who continue to sin yet look to the gospel for help. Ask how they weather the hard times, how they’ve kept Christ as their priority, and what they do to grow as lovers of Jesus together as a couple.
Your view of marriage may not be what God wants it to be right now, yet Jesus never runs away—not even when we displace him with gifts. Friend, are you married? Look to Christ! Are you dating someone special? Look to Christ! Cry out to him as your only worthy Lord and the only source of unfailing, unwavering love.
20 Jul 2023
“She’s hot; she’s not.”
“I hate his shoes.”
“She has a pretty face, but she’s too tall.”
“I don’t like his hobbies.”
Have you ever looked through a dating app and had these kinds of conversations with a friend? Have you had these thoughts as the glow of your phone illuminates your face late at night? Have you begun to feel like dating apps are controlling you?
According to a 2018 survey, among a sample of 500 Christian singles, 44% were actively using two to five different dating apps simultaneously. Pew Research Center found that three in ten Americans have tried online dating. Among Christian singles, that number soars to 80%!
Consider Your Heart
In Galatians 6:6–10, Paul introduces the concept of reaping and sowing. In agricultural terms, sowing is the planting and careful cultivation of seeds, whereas reaping is the harvesting of the produce from those seeds. In human terms, this can be understood as those things that are borne out of our manner of life. It’s the sense that, over time, our small, daily choices, behaviors, and thoughts grow into a harvest. Paul also mentions the idea that there are ways to sow into the flesh, reaping corruption, and ways to sow into the Spirit, reaping eternal life.
Dating apps can be a means for bringing about Christ-centered marriages. But what are you sowing in your heart with your use of dating apps? All things are God’s servants (Eph. 1:22). How should faithful Christian singles consider this popular means of meeting and intentionally dating?
Six Heart Diagnostics
- Stewardship or Distraction?
How has your engagement with dating apps impacted your time? With many single Christians engaging across multiple platforms, the time it takes to engage should be considered. To be sure, for singles seeking to marry, it may be wise to give your time to pursue dating as an intentional investment. But it’s worth asking—how much time are you investing? Is this something you’ve prayerfully considered, or have you been slinking into a three-hour nightly routine of browsing apps alone?
- Consuming or Serving?
In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that the explosion of choice in our modern world has created more anxiety and paralysis, not greater wellbeing. The growth of online dating has ushered in seemingly endless eligible men or women for you to consider. This can quickly be problematic. Has your engagement on dating apps caused you to become a consumer of others rather than a servant of others? Are you becoming so choosy that you can’t see the hidden beauty and character of the men or women with whom you interact? Have the abundant options on dating apps given you a sense of ever reaching for perfection in a mate, yet never quite finding it? Are you training your mind to make snap judgements based on appearance alone?
- Contentment or Insecurity?
How has engaging dating apps impacted your heart’s contentment in your current state? Is the number of matches, likes, and messages causing you to steep in insecurity? Do you feel grateful for how God made you, or are you increasingly insecure as you seek to get to know people on dating apps? Do you leave apps feeling angry, frustrated, alone, anxious?
- Isolation or Community?
Is anyone journeying with you as you are looking to date, or are you going it alone? Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out from all sound judgment.” Don’t engage with dating apps alone! You need the benefit of wisdom from others who know you and who will help guide you. Dating is an emotional and potentially tumultuous process; you need trusted friends and mentors. Your local church is meant to be a wealth of support and encouragement as you seek to be faithful in all things—even dating apps.
- Pride or Humility?
Man judges by outward appearance, but the Lord judges the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). While outward appearance is indeed a factor in romantic love, how heavily are you weighing it in your dating journey? Are you prizing the things the Lord prizes, such as the hidden character of a gentle and quiet spirit, or are you driven mostly by outward appearance?
- Integrity or Self-Centeredness?
One of the biggest challenges in the dating app world is having to speak honestly about your interest or lack of interest in someone you’ve met. Ghosting (never responding again to someone you no longer wish to get to know) is a common practice, but it communicates great disrespect for other image-bearers. Have you adopted a worldly mindset about how to treat others when you’re dating? Have you regarded anyone according to the flesh? (2 Cor. 5:16.) Can you say you’ve treated others with kindness and regarded them as more important than yourself? (Phil 2:5–7).
If these diagnostic questions have you feeling like your heart is off track, I want to encourage you. St. Augustine of Hippo famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Dating and romance have a way of uncovering the deep longings of our hearts. If you’ve misplaced those longings and sought to secure them in dating, relationships, and people, it’s God’s tender mercy that turns you away from that empty path.
If you’ve been isolated, consider how you might invite one or two others into your dating journey. Pray that the Lord would use dating to help you draw near to him and walk by faith. Consider a break from dating apps altogether if they’ve led you to pursue unholy relationships or unwise choices. Bring your deepest desires before your loving Lord. He knows what you need. He is the answer to your heart’s deepest longings. He is your ever-present, compassionate Savior, and he wants to walk with you today and forever.
01 Jun 2023
This post is a contribution from guest author Julie Lowe, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation faculty member and counselor.
Young people are growing up in an increasingly godless world which requires deep wisdom and discernment to navigate. More than ever, they need to know how to traverse the dangers around them. Consider 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” God’s Word tells us that “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
If we only shelter our children and do not equip them to act in wisdom, we inadvertently raise young people who don’t know how to make sense of evil or respond to it wisely. Wisdom sees potential danger and takes protective measures against it.
We shouldn’t be afraid to talk with confidence and hope to our children about evil in the world and the hope we have in Christ. Our willingness to talk about the hard things helps convince our kids that we have something helpful to say. By teaching them well, with God’s grace, we aim to raise kids who aren’t fearful but competent and confident.
So how can we help our children to walk safely through this threatening world?
Discernment to See Right and Wrong
Teach young people to navigate this world by giving them the ability to discern good from evil and right from wrong. Our culture is pressing in on our children, indoctrinating them with false views of romance and love, morality and truth, sexuality and identity. Our world calls intolerant what is good and holy and good what God calls wicked. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
It’s tempting to shelter our kids, but it is far better to equip them to discern right from wrong and help them practice wise responses.
Safety is built on the foundation of discerning right from wrong—understanding how God created life to be lived. Young people cannot safely navigate this world without this ability to distinguish good from evil. Our goal is that children would know the ways of God and walk in truth; safety skills are a fruit of godliness. Walking by faith and knowing good from evil will be their shield, and I believe that safety skills will be the fruit of teaching our children the ways of the Lord.
Discernment to Name the Darkness
Wisdom and discernment are the substance: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14). Notice that the mature have “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Discussing the dangers our children might encounter helps us understand how we can begin the process of equipping both ourselves and our children for setting up appropriate protective measures. Name the darkness that exists and equip your children to know how to avoid it and respond to it if it finds them.
For example, proactively teach your kids about pornography and sexting—what it is and why it’s dangerous, with a game-plan for what to do if (when) they see it. Teach them about respect and privacy, the God-imbued value of their bodies, and how they can protect and steward their bodies well. Teach your kids what God says about gender and sexuality. Discuss (age-appropriately) some of the many examples of each of these issues and role play ways they can respond when faced with the wrong view. It’s tempting to shelter our kids, but it is far better to equip them to discern right from wrong and help them practice wise responses. Doing so protects our young people from the temptations that exist and the entanglements of destructive choices.
Our safety ultimately rests in the hands of our God. . . . At the end of the day, God is the one who watches over us.
Knowing good from evil and right from wrong is primary. Safety skills flow from that foundation. Safety skills are a fruit of the way we parent our children. This is important to emphasize, because if we raise children who have been shielded from the worst perils of this world but do not walk with the Lord, do not know right from wrong, or are unaware of the dangers that exist from within—we have failed them miserably.
Discernment to Rest in the Lord
Our safety ultimately rests in the hands of our God. Psalm 37:39–40 reminds us, “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them, he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” Our ultimate hope is in a sovereign God who is our high tower, our very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1, Prov. 18:10). Consider Psalm 138:7:
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life, you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.”
At the end of the day, God is the one who watches over us. As we explore Scripture, we will understand more deeply the call to be wise, to see danger and run from it (Prov. 27:12), to have courage (Prov. 28:1, 2 Chron. 32:7–9), and to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves (Isa. 1:17, Prov. 31:8–9). We are not to be passive in our engagement with injustice, danger, mistreatment, and evil. We must respond to it, while resting in our ultimate Protector.
Article adapted from content in Safeguards: Shielding Our Homes and Equipping Our Kids ©2022 by Julie Lowe. Available at newgrowthpress.com. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Friend, are you caught in a sticky relational concoction? Intoxication, entrapment, love, hate, fear, romance, addiction—it’s a garbled mess that once felt wonderful, like life itself. But now this friendship, “bromance,” or “you’re my person” connection isn’t feeling so great. You’re neck-deep, attached, and dependent on someone’s affection, attention, touch, and need for you. You want out, yet you can’t let go. Maybe this relationship started with Jesus in the mix, but he’s not the one filling, fueling, or guiding it anymore.
Jesus knows what’s happening and isn’t backing off or going anywhere, though I would guess he may seem distant right now. That’s one of the costly consequences of displacing him with something else; our desires slowly orient toward and are reshaped by the object of our hope. You know, deep down, that this relationship isn’t right, yet you’re scared to surrender it. Your heart has been hijacked from devotion to Jesus.
Still, he loves you. Your Savior is on a rescue mission through your dissatisfaction with the creation you’ve displaced him with.
I’ve been here before and have journeyed with others who are where you are today. I hope these words will guide you to pause, cry out to God, and take a step toward true freedom, healing, and wholeness. Please, don’t stay stuck by refusing his rescue. There’s a lot at stake!
A Prayer to Help You Face a New Direction
Father in heaven, I pray for my sister or brother reading this who knows deeply that this describes them. The bestie, the dating relationship, the coworker, counselor, counselee. . . someone has become like the air they breathe; how do you live without air? But God, this person isn’t essential. That’s a lie, yet it feels so real. So, Lord, I want to start by asking you to bring your comfort and hope to their heart through your Spirit. Flood their mind with the merciful assurance that they aren’t the first person to be in a relationship that enslaved rather than nurtured wholeness, joy, security, and holiness. It’s good to know that even sinful relational addictions are common to all of us and your truth really can set us free.
Your Savior is on a rescue mission through your dissatisfaction with the creation you’ve displaced him with.
Lord Jesus, it helps to know that, in our weakness, you are praying for us. You always live to intercede for your beloved children! Cause my sister to know that what seems to be a ‘mini-marriage’ with her girlfriend isn’t marriage nor a true friendship. Help my brother to know that you’re sympathetic to his desire for someone with whom to go deep, to have a safe emotional connection—but no mentor can be a replacement for you, our Good Shepherd, who has a unique and irreplaceable voice. Please, Lord, counsel the spouse who’s terrified of being found out; they didn’t mean to get tangled up in this emotional affair. Convince her, persuade him, that this relationship will lead to devastation rippling out in many directions. Obedience through letting go will be costly, but our repentance awakens our hearts afresh to your love and goodness.
I cry out to you, God, on behalf of those resonating with my prayer that your Spirit will convict unbelief and energize faith today. Forgive us for recreating love into something of our own making. You know that to disentangle from a sinful relationship will hurt and is frightening. And yet also, Lord God, you know it’s supremely worth it because you’ve not created us to be addicted to creation. You want us to love and be loved in human relationships as we look to you as our true Friend—you are Love incarnate. Please be a sun, shining light on the next step, and a shield to protect from the enemy who would deceive and destroy. Give courage, humility, and a will to want your holy pleasure. I pray through Jesus for my brother and sister who need your help. Amen.
Three Steps in the Right Direction
Recognizing you’re in a relational mess is humbling, yet it’s a sign of God’s love. He is rescuing you through self-awareness. But awareness isn’t enough; there are steps to take.
- You can’t do this alone. And that does not mean you should text or meet up with the person you’re involved with! That mistake is like two people caught in quicksand grabbing at each other, only to sink deeper. Wise humility leads you to reach out to another mature Christ-follower.
- Intentionally put space between yourself and the person you’re involved with. This distance may need to be permanent and comprehensive. Your helper will guide you in this but, like most addictions, unholy and unhealthy dependency needs to be starved out. This is what it means to love and follow Jesus: letting go through faith and repentance of any sinful attachment. It will hurt and the grief will be deep, but Jesus is an expert in healing broken hearts. He uses the pain of repentance for beautiful purposes.
- Seek out a discipleship or counseling relationship that can help you understand how you got into the mess and help you grow in the richness of God’s beautiful way of doing relationships. This is our inheritance in Christ as resurrection people! Jesus didn’t call you to himself only to give you bland, superficial, disconnected relationships with people. Of course, we’ll have relational conflicts, disappointments, and losses in this lifetime. But when you absorb the commands and promises of God’s Word, it’s evident that our Father has created his family to love one another deeply.
This is what it means to love and follow Jesus: letting go through faith and repentance of any sinful attachment.
Brother, sister, friend: you’re not alone. Jesus knows what you need. He is not pointing a shaming finger at you but invites you to come to him, step away from this person, and collapse before him for the help you need. Then, take the next step!
Ellen’s 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ, will guide you in relational growth centered on Jesus.
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.
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.
22 Sep 2022
Several years ago, a ‘worship’ song went viral with two million hits. With a beautiful melody and poetic words, it caught the hearts of many.
You’re the first thing I know I can believe in,
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy, I’m high on loving you
You’re the healing hands where it used to hurt,
You’re my saving grace, you’re my kind of church,
This, however, is not a song about the Lord Jesus Christ, but a romantic relationship. H.O.L.Y., the song’s title, refers to someone being “high on loving you.” The words of devotion and ecstasy are about a person providing healing and saving grace. This person is even described as a “church” within which to worship.
We all desire the security of feeling loved—and we’re all tempted to find that security not in God our Creator but in unhealthy relationships with people around us. Through books, songs, and movies we have stories of people craving and searching for an experience of love and security that can only truly—and in a healthy way—be met by Jesus.
Worshipping a Person or Loving Them
As H.O.L.Y. illustrates, romantic love is one way the worship of a person can displace Jesus as the worthy focus of our hearts. However, idolatry of people happens between parents and kids, in friendships and mentoring relationships. Wherever there are two hearts unanchored from worshipping and depending upon Christ, there is fertile soil for relational idols to grow.
Tim Keller describes idols as “anything more important to us than God, anything that absorbs our heart and imagination, anything we seek to give us only what God can give” (xix). When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, to have your life fixed, your heart healed, or an empty heart made whole through a person, it’s false worship. Often this is called codependency, but it’s really idolatry.
God’s word is clear that he alone is to be worshipped, rather than any created thing—including people.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God is to have no rivals or replacements in our lives, hearts, and affections. Often, relationships with people can intrude upon our intimacy with God as our hearts’ devotion is easily hijacked by the human element that people, a good gift, offer to us.
“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11–13)
I’ve struggled over the years to keep people in their proper place in my life; I’m not alone! I’ve walked with so many women who have become consumed with a best friend, boyfriend, or mentor in their lives. What God may have provided as a gift has become ultimate, displacing God and resulting in an entangled mess of codependency. Paul says it this way: “. . . they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25).
This exchange of the created thing for our loving Creator is one of the most common sins. If you see yourself in this article, have hope! You are not alone. And let’s be clear: desires for unfailing love, to be deeply known, needed, pursued—even just to matter to someone—are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God who loves us deeply, knows us completely, and exists Himself in a holy, relational Trinity.
The problem is that our image bearing capability has been distorted by sin. Our desires have become disordered. What is “natural” to us rises from our sinful hearts. All of us struggle in one way or another in our relationships. We crave and work at getting things from people that can truly only be found in our union with Christ.
Engage Some Diagnostic Questions
Is there a person in your life who:
- . . . you depend on for your sense of identity and value?
- . . . you obsess about in your thoughts?
- . . . you feel addicted to being in touch with throughout the day? Not having contact prompts you to feel threatened and insecure?
- . . . is needy for you to be a parent/counselor/surrogate-spouse for them, and you are happy and secure in this role of being a ‘need-meeter’ and rescuer?
- . . . has been a friend or counselee but has become someone for whom you have romantic feelings and / or have gotten involved with physically, perhaps even sexually?
Friend, did you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions? If so, I plead with you to pause. You may be playing with fire, or you may be in the flames already. Displacing Christ with people may happen intentionally from a hard heart; it also happens when we are naïve. Regardless of how you got here, Jesus has a way out for you.
Steps to Take If You’re Entangled in a Relational Mess
- If this person is a family member, you’ll need to get help to understand what healthy boundaries are and what godly love looks and feels like. God is not calling you to abandon this relationship but to have your affections and the relational dynamics radically reoriented and transformed. Seek help from someone outside your family.
- For other relationships:
- If there has been sexual involvement, confess your sin to a trusted person, end the relationship, and commit to no contact with this person for an indefinite length of time.
- Seek Christ! You probably won’t feel like it, but fleeing to him and his Word is a must.*
- Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s comfort. In one of his letters, John Newton said, “He wounds—in order to heal. He kills—that he may make alive. He casts down—when he designs to raise. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects—when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts.”
- Pursue discipleship regarding the underlying heart issues that made you vulnerable to idolizing people.
- Hope! One day, the pain of this costly obedience will subside. Jesus is with you and he will never stop loving you.
- Believe! God Himself does battle with our idols as he transforms us into Christlikeness.
God has brought me a long way in my journey into relational wholeness and holiness. What was once a pattern in my life isn’t anymore. What felt necessary, life-giving, and beautiful (but was none of these), has faded from my heart and been replaced with a desire for Christ that fuels godly love rather than grasping relational lust. God wants to delight you with healthy, rich relationships, and my prayer for you as I post this article is that today you will have hope and courage to take the steps you need to be free.
*You might consider working through my 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.
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.
14 Jul 2022
Painful information has been revealed, and, most likely, your emotions and thoughts feel like a piece of driftwood on a stormy ocean. You’ve been tossed into a world you didn’t know existed: your husband’s sexual unfaithfulness. Or maybe you knew he had a “little struggle,” but the depth and scope of it have come crashing over you, throwing you against jagged rocks.
Jesus is with you in this unwanted place, and his first words to you are not “get over it,” “forgive and forget,” or “this is your fault.” No! His invitation is to draw near, listen for his love, receive his comfort, and lean on his strength. Take heart, sister. Jesus is near as you grapple with your new reality. Our ever-present God is with you in the pain of the revelations that have created a new terrain of life; he’ll stay with you as you walk forward in this unwanted journey.
Let’s consider a passage that, at first glance, may not seem to connect with you as a wife. The woman who has a transforming encounter with Jesus isn’t suffering because of a broken marriage but rather because of a broken body. She has no power to change her condition or make people really see, know, and love her. But the way Jesus treats this woman gives us great hope in our own brokenness.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:10–17)
This woman had lived “bent over” for 18 years—basically living at a 90-degree angle—and daily activities were incredibly difficult. Things we might take for granted were a struggle for her: hugging her children (if she had any), walking to the well to get water, reaching up to get a bowl. In addition, she most likely experienced shame and judgment. At the time, it was believed that if you were suffering, you must be a bad person under the punishment of God. She very well may have been the object of sneers and whispered gossip from misinformed and selfish onlookers. Perhaps she was avoided because, after all, what do you say to someone in this kind of situation?!
This woman’s physically bent and disordered body is a picture of how our hearts can become bent and disordered through sin’s impact upon us, through betrayal and trauma. Do you feel “bent” now that your husband’s sinful behaviors are in the light? You may feel weighed down with anxiety or depression, or as if you’re shuffling through life, unable to see what’s next, as this woman would have experienced physically.
A Broken Woman Meets Jesus
Consider how Jesus responds to this hurting, nameless woman.
He is present. He’s more than a teacher or speaker in a synagogue. He has now come to make his home in us, our indwelling Lord who has come near to the brokenhearted. He’s not a God who texts or video chats with us; he is here. He sees us as we really are.
He is a teacher. Jesus was there to teach people that day, and we all need help learning, don’t we? Through Christ and his Word, we have a gentle, wise teacher to show us how to navigate not only sexual sin in marriage but also marriage itself.
He sees her and calls her to come near. Our Savior is relational! He doesn’t merely notice this woman, seeing her from a distance in her bent-over state. She’s most likely at the back of the room. Yet Jesus sees her and goes out of his way (stepping out of normal synagogue protocol) to call her to himself. Jesus puts his radical love and compassion on display as he also allows her weakness to be on display.
He touches and heals. Jesus could have accomplished this same healing privately. He could have noticed the woman and just healed her as she sat back alone. However, he makes this very public as he proclaims freedom over her and then touches her, which would have been another offense to the religious protocol. What would this woman have felt as she heard these words and felt his hands on her back (or maybe her head)? How comforted she must have felt to be noticed, invited, known, touched, and healed by this loving teacher!
He defends and celebrates her. Can you imagine how ashamed she might have felt when the religious leaders pushed back on what Jesus had done for her? Jesus confronts their utter selfishness by exposing that they cared more about their livestock than her. The very ones who should have served, cared, and offered her compassion failed to do so.
Just like this woman, you didn’t choose your situation. Just like this woman, you have a Savior who sees you and invites you to draw near and receive his words of hope, healing, defense, and celebration. He doesn’t take lightly the pain or bentness you carry today because of your broken marriage. Will you draw near to him? Will you courageously journey toward him, regardless of what others may say? If you do, you’ll find all you need in him.
This article is an excerpt from Harvest USA’s soon-to-be-released resource, “Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal.”