Updated: Oct 30, 2021
The world I work with is dark. The divorcees I see hide behind a mask of secrecy and shame. My clients have relationships laden with unrepentant partners who have betrayed them through obsessive viewing of pornography, sex addiction and narcissistic abuse. Many of my clients described themselves as “dirty”. They flirt between exposing their truth and protecting their children, family, friends and church community from their self-defined “ugliness”.
They sit in silent agony.
I look at her through the Zoom lens. We already met a few times, so we are beyond our initial “getting to know each other" phase. She appears distracted because her eyes continue to focus on a spot to my right instead of seeking eye contact with me.
“You seem preoccupied today. Would you like to tell me about it?”
She nods but says nothing. I watch undeniable tears begin to explore her cheeks. Frustrated, she wipes them away but the tears are determined to return. Her shoulders droop, seeking solace in the floor. Grief pummels her chest. Looking at me, she takes a breath and says,
“Why? If God loves me so much and I’m a good person and I love my kids and I have honored my marriage, what have I done to deserve this?”
I hear this question frequently and each time, I feel subtle anger flutter in my core. I envision myself marching straight up to God, wagging my finger in His face and demanding answers. God gazes at me with His infinite empathy and thunderously speaks in a deep Morgan Freeman voice, “CHILD. MY PLAN IS ALWAYS PERFECT.”
Umm. Ok. Great. Thanks, God. So, what do you want me to say to this wounded, faithful servant in front of me that You have promised to cherish?
I could throw out a bunch of scriptures, educate her about God’s perfection or explain how satan lives in our broken world.
But she would hear:
BLAH BLAH BLAH followed by, “I am not good enough to even remember how much God loves me!” BLAH BLAH BLAH which would only lead to more despair.
So, I don’t answer. I let her explore her path which leads us to last Sunday.
She says, “May I read you my journal entry from Sunday? I don’t know how else to explain what I’m feeling.”
My response, “I’d love to hear it.”
She lowers her head to the pages resting on her lap and timidly begins reading.
“Sunday, November 12:
Robotically, I got dressed this morning, and felt engulfed with anxiety. The kids were eager to go and see their friends at church. I dreaded it and went purely to appease them. They needed this bit of normalcy. I tried coping with the waves of apprehension crushing me by sending my mind elsewhere.
Because that’s what he does. Compartmentalize. All the books about pornography say that. The addict has those boxes he puts all his individual worlds in.
It didn’t work so well. I became frustrated as I rallied the children into the car. They were chattering and chattering and chattering and I really wanted to be excited with them but it was so hard. I felt like I was slogging through a hurricane of emotions and noise.
I didn’t want to diminish their joy, but I ended up fussing at them for being too loud.”
She looks at me as tears find a fresh path down her cheeks.
Thus, her journey to church, a place that used to offer hope and comfort, begins with guilt and grief.
She continues to read her journal for the day.
“I drove to church but now, as I write this, I can’t remember the drive. What is wrong with my brain?
I know when I parked and the kids jumped out of the car, I should have encouraged them to be safe in the parking lot but my mouth felt like mud. I couldn’t force it to open.”
She glances up from her reading and queries, “Does that make me a bad mom? Will a judge hold that against me?”
I observe a flash of panic in her eyes and she looks back down to continue reading.
“I watched them leave me for our church. My next steps were filled with dread. I looked at my hand on the car doorknob- I didn’t even feel attached to it. I had to push the door open against the wind and I appreciated the distraction the frigid air on my cheeks brought me.
I stood tall, in spite of my longing to hide, and saw people looking at me with curiosity disguised as compassion.”
She stops reading.
I know the questions her friends and acquaintances refuse to ask nearly deafen her with their obvious avoidance.
“I hate church. I hate going. I hate faking my life. And God hates “hate” and I’m not supposed to hate.” She rolls her eyes in abject misery.
I ask her to close her eyes and breath into that hate. Feel the heat as it enters her lungs, rests for a few seconds and then, how it feels to breathe it out through her mouth.
Next, I ask her to close her mouth, breath in the word “Immanuel” through her nose. Bring Him down into her lungs and hold Him there. When she exhales, breath out “hate” through her mouth.
Breath in “Immanuel.” Breath out “Hate.”
Now, I ask her to replace that word “hate” with “God is with me”.
It’s just a shift to let her know God can take the place of the hate. Eventually.
We return to her description of Sunday.
“The stupid COVID masks were a relief. I didn’t actually have to smile ‘for real’. I could just squint my eyes to look like I was smiling and that secrecy- it gave me a wee sense of control over my out-of-control life.”
No longer reading from her journal, she relays the sermon which focused on God’s grace and joy and faithfulness but she acknowledges she only heard words, not their meanings.
“I couldn’t stop staring at our “family seat”. We used to hold hands there. He used to put his arm around me… and lied to me. Over and over and over. Makes me so mad!”
Her teeth bite down hard.
“I feel like a fool. And God watched it happen.”
I ask her what she dreamed to say to the faces who watch her in her church.
She became still and closed her eyes to me. More tears escaped when she reopened her heavy lids.
“Satan has ruined my life and no one has the guts to talk about it. I just don’t understand. Why is the sin of my husband haunting me like this? Why is this sin worse than other sins? Why can’t I find peace here?”
I can’t respond. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. For now, I just listen and the words,
“CHILD. MY PLAN IS ALWAYS PERFECT,” echo in my heart.
Several sessions later, I ask again about her church journey.
She replies, “I stopped going. It is just too hard. Seeing happy families exacerbates the anguish crawling through my soul. I feel more alone in church than I do huddled in my bed. It’s exhausting.”
Her church ceased being her haven of security when security was what she needed most.
I ask, “Where would you feel safe?”
She looks at me and softly replies, “In the arms of Jesus.”
Her desperate ache for safety spills into my soul.
My clients are dismissed and avoided by good, kind Christians who just don’t know how to hold their pain.
And yet, as these brave women travel through the devastation of betrayal and divorce, they pronounce that faith is what they clung to during their hell.
When will we, as a faithful community, begin embracing these women with the unrestricted and passionate tenderness of Christ?
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