On October 16, 1986, my world turned upside down. I'd been reared in a loving Christian home and had earned a teaching degree at a Christian college where I'd met John*, my husband of 13 years. I'd stayed home with our two children, Anne and Tommy, until 1984 when I returned to the classroom part time at the school where John taught, and where Anne was a now a fifth grader and Tommy was in second grade. We were members of a church, and enjoyed many family activities together. I felt John and I had a good marriage, although I wished we could communicate on a deeper level. Reading my husband's heart was like trying to see the bottom of a deep, murky well.
But over the past several months, I'd noticed he'd grown even quieter and more withdrawn. I knew his childhood had been difficult and that his father was an alcoholic with a violent temper. Understanding that sometimes the past can rear its head and cause depression, I encouraged him to meet with our pastor, Walter. He finally agreed, and they set up weekly sessions.
The morning after their third session, John was waiting for me as I came downstairs. I was shocked to see tears streaming down his ashen face.
"I have something to tell you," he said as he took my hand and led me to the couch. He paused, choosing his words carefully. Finally, he blurted, "I've been involved in homosexual relationships, before and throughout our marriage."
I felt as if the room started to spin and I was dangling upside down. But I also felt as if John had thrust a dagger into my stomach.
I glanced down at our intertwined hands, then looked into the face of a stranger. I yanked my hand away.
"I was sexually abused between the ages of 9 and 15 by a male relative, and I've been struggling with these desires since high school," he said. "Even though I became a Christian when I was 17, I never lost the lust. Instead, I just dealt with the guilt.
"When I met you, I honestly fell in love with you and I thought marriage would solve my problem. But the yearning was too strong, and I fell. I'm so ashamed. I know I've sinned against God and broken my marriage vows." He started to cry again.
I sat on the couch trying to detach myself from his confession, wishing this were a bad dream. Throughout our marriage I never once had questioned John's faithfulness; trying to comprehend that he had a secret sexual identity was impossible. Thoughts started to creep in: When did he do this? How did he meet these people? How could I not have known? I feel like a fool. What if he gave me a disease?
Once John regained some composure, he continued, "Three weeks ago I decided just to end it all. I was tired of living a double life. So after you and the children were sleeping, I went into the garage determined to gas myself to death.
"I dropped the keys, but instead of picking them up, I laid my head on the steering wheel and cried out to God to help me."
The next day he had decided to contact Walter and confess his struggles. During the first two sessions, Walter had listened patiently, helped him seek forgiveness from God, and began to disciple him. Yesterday Walter had encouraged him to tell me.
"When I came home," John said, "I saw a quote on our desk calendar that read, 'The worst of times is the best of times if the Lord is leading' and I knew I had to tell you."
He watched me, apparently waiting for me to forgive him and say everything was okay. But everything isn't okay, I thought numbly.
Finally, John walked into the kitchen and made a phone call.
Within five minutes Walter and his wife, Sarah, walked into the room. Silently, Sarah wrapped her arms around me while I wept.
I was filled with so many different emotions—anger, disgust, betrayal, mistrust, grief, rejection, disbelief. And through it all, I kept thinking, I don't understand!
Although John had repented of his sin and asked me to forgive him, I didn't care. All I wanted was a divorce. I wished that he had died in our garage, because then at least I'd have happy memories of our years together. While I couldn't bear the thought of continuing our marriage, at the same time I dreaded becoming a single parent. And what would I tell our children?
John and I agreed to an immediate separation to avoid scenes and words we'd later regret. Before he left to stay with a family from our church, he explained to Anne and Tommy that he was the cause of the separation and that I wasn't to blame.
A Difficult Decision
Over the next several days, John and I met with Walter together and separately. During a private counseling session, Walter told me that although I had a biblical reason for divorce, I still needed to forgive John. I became unglued.
"You tell me where it says in the Bible that I have to forgive John!"
Gently Walter responded with Jesus' teaching about the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18. He explained that I'd been forgiven by the "king" (God) for a huge debt I could never repay, and now I needed to extend forgiveness to a "fellow servant." Walter also explained that forgiving someone involved three decisions: choosing (1) not to remind the offender of his offenses; (2) not to gossip about the offenses to others; and (3) not to rehash the offenses over and over to myself.
I spent the next day alone in my bedroom studying everything I could find in the Bible about forgiveness and crying out to God to show me his truth. But deep down I wasn't sure I wanted to find the truth.
I flipped through verse after verse. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). "If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him" (Luke 17:4-5). "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
I knew that as a Christian who believed in the truth of the Bible, I had to obey it. I wanted to argue with God, to tell him he was wrong. That my case was too painful. But God's Holy Spirit seeped into my soul, whispering that God had forgiven John—how could I, then, withhold my forgiveness?
Finally, I knew what I had to do.
The next day I told John that because of Christ's sacrificial death for me, God had forgiven my sin and accepted me as his child. And even though I didn't feel like it, through God's strength alone, I forgave him. As I said the words, I felt the anger, hatred, and bitterness that had consumed me begin to diminish.
John began to cry. "You don't know how much that means to me," he said. "Thank you."
And the surprising thought occurred to me that possibly our relationship could be restored.
So Many Questions
Although I'd forgiven John, I still had questions: Why didn't I realize what was going on? Why wasn't our physical relationship enough? How could I ever trust him again?
My emotions were on a roller coaster. Some days I found comfort by reading the Bible, as well as from friends and family. On other days despair and hopelessness overwhelmed me.
Being betrayed by someone who promised to love, be faithful, protect, and cherish me for the rest of my life was the worst agony.
I still wasn't ready for John to move back into our house. I needed him to show me the fruits of his repentance, and we both needed more time for counseling and healing. We set up times for John to be with the children, taking them to piano lessons or buying groceries together. And we set up "dates" to talk. He'd tell me how he was memorizing Scripture verses to bring him strength and encouragement. "Philippians 4:13 has become my motto," he told me one day. "I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength."
John was working hard to prove his commitment to me and our family. Early in the mornings he'd drive to our house and shovel snow from the walks and driveway. During Thanksgiving vacation while I took the kids and visited relatives, John caulked windows in the house.
I knew he was lonely and missed us. Hearing Anne and Tommy pray every night, "God, help Mom and Dad get back together again" was heartbreaking. Because of them, I decided to do everything possible to save our marriage.
We continued counseling and I began to respect how John had obeyed God even though he risked losing his family and friends. I also began to realize that the qualities that had first attracted me to John were still there. Throughout our marriage, I'd seen his patience and concern for each of his young students, and I couldn't have asked for a better father for our children. I could see his repentance was sincere, and on New Year's Day John moved back home.
My struggle wasn't over. If John came home late from work, or his errands took longer than I expected, I'd meet him at the door with a barrage of accusing questions: "Where have you been? Why didn't you call me?" He'd answer my questions and then ask, "Why can't you trust me? Don't you realize I don't want to go back to that old lifestyle?"
I became increasingly consumed with distrust and fear that he'd slip back into that lifestyle. In late May, we learned Exodus International, an organization that offers hope and healing to people who want to leave the homosexual lifestyle, was having a conference the next month. We decided to attend.
As I waited while John stood in the registration line, a woman sat beside me and introduced herself. She and her husband were the founders of an ex-gay ministry. She asked why I'd come to the conference, and I told her everything. She listened patiently, then said, "Lucille, your husband's struggle has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with a little boy crying out for the love of his father." I sat stunned as I realized I'd just received my first glimpse to the bottom of my husband's heart.
At the conference, we learned that homosexual behavior is an attempt to fulfill normal, legitimate needs for love, acceptance, and identity through sexual intimacy with someone of the same gender. These needs, when unfulfilled in childhood, combine with other negative experiences (including sexual abuse) to cause a destructive pattern of hurt, anger, rebellion, and low self-image. We discovered that in almost every instance, the attraction for the same sex begins before the age of 10, which leads victims to believe erroneously that they were born homosexual. At first, this attraction is emotional, non-sexual, and involuntary. This brings confusion, fear, and guilt on a young person already feeling rejected and unworthy, and sets up a great need for affirmation as a worthwhile person.
John learned that for his healing he needed to go to each member of his family, including his abuser, and tell them he forgave them. My love and respect grew for him when I watched him confront his family and forgive them. It was as if I watched another heavy weight lift from his body.
In the last 19 years, our relationship has continued to grow and mature. Even though we have issues to work on like any couple, we've never lost sight of God's amazing love, grace, and forgiveness. My doubts and mistrust are gone, and John's struggles have disappeared. We're convinced that God's Word, the Bible, contains everything we need to live a successful and joy-filled life.
Together we've witnessed and celebrated many happy milestones, including our children's marriages to God-honoring partners and the birth of our first grandchild. We believe that God has used all of the events in our lives for good, and that he never wastes pain in the lives of his children.
On our son's wedding day, our daughter-in-law wrote us a letter including the following: "I really admire the way you've stayed committed to your marriage through some difficult challenges. I truly believe that your faithfulness had a profound impact on Tommy's view of a marriage commitment. While I know we'll face struggles, I also know that he'll walk through them with me."
During Jesus' first public message, he chose a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah to talk about his ministry. Christ came to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). John and I will never stop thanking and praising him for all he's done in, with, and through our marriage.
*Names have been changed
Lucille Jones is a pseudonym for a teacher living in the Midwest.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.