The only thing that was left of our picture perfect marriage was glass shards. The seemingly petty heart issues that we entered marriage with had destroyed us. A week before Angel (her words will be italicized) confessed her infidelity, she contracted the flu, bronchitis and then walking pneumonia. Picking up on the language of James, the Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard calls sin “the sickness unto death.” God’s hand was heavy on Angel. She had beat her fists against his chest, but he would not stop pursuing her. That January he laid her out. Her spiritual sickness was manifested physically. God would not relent.
Unable to get out of bed, I just so happened to pick up John Piper’s ‘This Momentary Marriage’ to look for answers. It was yet another means of sweet conviction God used to pursue my heart. Against my better judgment, I was serving as a ministry fellow for a campus ministry at Princeton University. They were on their winter retreat in upstate New York. We received a call from my Director who was concerned by my sickness. He asked if we would be able to come up, even just to have them pray over us. There was no reason for him to ask us to do that. There was no reason for us to say yes. We said yes.
We got our kids in the car and drove, Angel nearly comatose next to me. We pulled in and walked straight into the back of the main room where the evening session had just begun. After a few minutes Angel was shaking and sweating next to me. Then tears began to flow.
I knew I had to break the power the lies held over me. I felt compelled by God to live in truth. I had been trapped by the fear of losing John and our kids. But my fear of God ultimately trumped my fear of losing my family. With all of my being, I realized that my only hope was in trusting God with everything while being willing to lose it all. I was broken.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No” I mouthed. “I’ve been having an affair.”
My body went numb. Angel began to pour out details. I sat silent. The weight of her words suffocating me with their weight. We spent the next hour in the back of that room, Angel weeping on me, leadership walking over to pray over us, having yet to know the weight of the tears.
“Are you going to leave me?” I asked.
“No,” I said. And I meant it. Even as the shockwaves came, I felt a love for Angel that was almost alien. It was the first moment in what would be a series of moments over the course of six months where I would experience this love that God would give me for Angel.
We stood and began singing “Cornerstone”.
John wrapped his arms around my waist. Grace in flesh.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “The opposite of sin is not virtue, but faith.” Angel couldn’t virtue her way out of her sin, she could only turn to God. There is nothing that can be done to undo our sin. There is no earthly repair for the break in trust that infidelity brings. But faith. In faith, God binds. In faith, God can restore.
We left the session. To this point the kids were aware something was wrong. I shared with the kids I had hurt John deeply and we let them know we were about to walk a long hard road but God was with us. We all prayed (and cried) together. We put the kids to bed, and I began to unfold the story of my affair. It was a man in our church John knew.
The betrayal was deep. In the coming months it would only deepen.
We knew we had to go to the church leadership. And I knew that we had to share with the wife of the man Angel had been unfaithful with. We called them to let her know and to let them know we were going to go to the church leadership. We asked if they wanted to come with us.
He was illusive, defensive, and combative.
Two days later we were back in Princeton and we met with the couple. Fear was present.
I had made so many false promises to him that would be painful to unwind.
He tried to convince us into not going to the leadership: couldn’t we just deal with this between us and move on? But, by God’s grace, Angel and I weren’t interested in half-measures. We knew it had to come to the light.
The enemy loves darkness. His work thrives in the realm of secrecy. When Jesus pursues us, he does not let anything remain in the dark.
The next day Angel and I met with our Senior Pastor and laid out the news. It would be the first of at least a dozen times she and I would share the story to repent and seek forgiveness. In the coming weeks we would share with our families, the elders, and then the staff of both our work places and in the coming months we would share with our small group, and finally in front of the congregation.
When God called me out "of darkness and into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9), I chose to do everything I could to make things right with John, my children, our community, and the church. Of course my repentance could not roll back what was done, but it was necessary for true healing to begin. The transaction of forgiveness is both vertical and horizontal.
Our Senior Pastor responded lovingly and quickly. The church asked me to take a leave of absence and offered to support Angel and I with outside counseling.
Things were about to get harder, not easier, for us, though.
Photo credit: Patrick Bellot/Unsplash
For more on Our Story series, see:
Part 1: Our Story: The Start
Part 2: Our Story: Foxes Loosed
Part 3: Our Story: Confession
Part 4: Our Story: Restoration