I was speaking at a large leadership conference in Texas when, in the middle of worship, I suddenly found a woman weeping uncontrollably in my arms. I escorted her out of the room, holding her as she sobbed. Then out came Sarah's confession:
"I just have to tell someone. I'm the mom of three beautiful children. I'm a wife, I'm a women's ministry leader—and I'm living a double life."
Over the next hour, Sarah told me about her life of sexual pain and sin that had culminated in a 12-year affair with her boss, and an ongoing 5-year sexual relationship with a woman who was also a leader in the church. Her story was filled with so much pain and shame, how could she even begin to put the pieces together?
Humanly speaking, Sarah was broken beyond repair.
Over the years, I've had the privilege of walking with many women who were deeply sexually wounded. Many of them have histories of acting out sexually with men, women, and children. They confess to habitual masturbation, pornography use that started when they were children, and sexual experiences too horrific to recount. I want to share with you three things I've learned from these courageous women who had enough faith to trust me with their stories and believe that God could redeem the most vile of sins and offenses.
1. The church has believed a lie. The lie goes like this: When you trust Christ as Savior, he can clean up a lot of things in your life, but there is one thing beyond God's redemptive healing power: your sexuality.
Women enslaved in shackles of sexual addiction, in bondage to their unspeakable shame, often have this lie reinforced again and again by fellow Christians. It's acceptable to admit to gossip, lying, and even lust, but if anyone knew about the sexual perversions women like Sarah have experienced, there would be no room for grace.
Do you believe that some sins are beyond God's forgiveness, and that some addictions are too powerful for the Lord of Heaven's armies to break? That's exactly what our enemy, Satan, wants you to believe.
Here is the truth. There is no sin beyond God's redemptive healing power. As we are reminded in Romans 8:1, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." There are no exception clauses! By his death on the cross, Jesus has separated you from all of your sin—past, present, and future.
2. Sexual addiction often begins when evil is done to a young child or teen. Sarah had memories of sexual acts with children and even animals when she was a preschooler. Other women tell stories of being exposed to pornography, being violated by a brother, stepfather, father, or uncle, or being taught to masturbate in childhood.
This makes it very difficult to separate true conviction (what I have done wrong) from false guilt (taking responsibility for what was done to me). A woman like Sarah can't blame her choices on those who stole her childhood innocence, but she must accept that she has been acting out of pain and confusion much of her life.
Receiving God's forgiveness means learning to extend it to those who have done great evil to a helpless child. Jesus was very clear: We must forgive others as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:14 and Ephesians 4:32).
3. God's redemption becomes a reality when we bring to light what has been hidden. That night in Texas was the first time Sarah had spoken much of her sexual sin out loud. Before that, she had hidden it, rationalized it, and intentionally "forgotten" it. By God's grace, she was compelled to bring her hidden life into the light. Her bondage began to break that evening, but that was just the beginning.
I told Sarah that if she really wanted to be free, she had to take some difficult steps to repent and turn from her life of hiding. She would have to break off the sexual relationship she had with her female friend, and she would have to tell her husband about her hidden sin. All of the color drained from her face as she considered what freedom might cost. Several months later, Sarah had taken those steps. Coming into the light meant facing the painful consequences of her choices, including the impact on her husband:
My husband has been crying today. He says he needs to go somewhere and cry some more. This is a painful place. I cry as I stand at the center of my pool of sin and watch the rings circle out from me and touch so many people with the pain of my sin.
Sarah and her husband wept. They sought help for their marriage. In the pursuit of freedom and forgiveness, you will have to risk much, including the respect of those you love. You may have to watch your family and friends experience deep pain because of your choices. There are no guarantees that your husband, your parents, or your best friend will stand by you. But there is one promise you can cling to: "If we confess our sins to him, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all sin" (1 John 1:9).
Our great God can and does work miracles. On their 21st wedding anniversary, Sarah and her husband recommitted to their marriage vows before family and friends.
If Sarah were writing this article, she would testify to the unbelievable redemption of Jesus. It's not just a Sunday school lesson, but the reality of any man or woman who trusts in the words of the Savior.
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Linda Dillow is co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, and co-author of best-selling novels Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?, What's It Like To Be Married To Me?, and more. Connect with her online at http://www.lindadillow.org.