I thought, “Once I am married and can have sex, my sexual struggles will go away.” If you remember, I’d just lost the love of my life. Also, my two best friends moved away from Ann Arbor, and I felt incredibly isolated and alone.
I knew that staying in Ann Arbor was a mistake. It was time to move. Leaving IVCF and the Midwest wasn’t a sudden decision. I let my Area Director know a year in advance that I was leaving.
The previous year, I joined the pilot program of Arrow Leadership Ministries and made connections all over the country. It felt as if I had limitless opportunities. The summer before leaving, I traveled home to Oregon both to interview for ministry positions and strategize with my parents and sending church about the future.
At the beginning of that summer, I met my first wife. Initially, we didn’t like each other much. She couldn’t stand me, and I thought she was “the kind of woman you sat on a keg to keep it cold.”
She was part of a thriving singles group that my friend pastored. He and I spent much of the summer going on “corporate dates.”
Late that summer, we asked the woman I was to marry (the same one that couldn’t stand me when we first met) and her roommate to go on a corporate date. After hearing me preach a month earlier, she made it clear that she had changed her mind and wanted to get to know me better. So asking the two of them out didn’t seem all that risky. It was a great date. One of the best and one of the last of the summer.
A couple of weeks later, I returned to Ann Arbor. A letter from her was waiting for me. (This was well before email, cell phones, or text messages.) We began virtual-dating via the phone. We were both still dating other people, and sometimes we talked about our dates on the phone. But, once a week, we’d talk together for three to five hours. Both of our phone bills were huge but neither of us minded. Though I didn’t feel physically attracted to her, she became my best friend. When other, male friends asked me about the lack of attraction, I responded, “When I’m eighty and sitting in a rocking chair next to my wife, I want her to be my best friend, and she is that.”
My shame was so great, and my theology so shame-infused that I combined the two. I believed I had disqualified myself from “God’s best for my life.” I said, “I’m kinda like Israel, who sinned and wasn’t allowed to enter the promised-land.” And at one point, I sat with a circle of fifteen or so students around me and said, “Watch everything I do regarding relationships very carefully. Listen to everything I say about relationships, and then do the opposite and you’ll be OK.” My students knew my story and realized that I was serious.
Spiritualized shame and an unattractive and wholly unbiblical god, formed the root system of my belief that I had forfeited God’s “promised land” for me. I read the Scriptures through shame’s lenses. Shame infected every facet of my life and hope. I accepted the fact I was condemned to wander in the desert because of my sin. What I thought was God’s voice was shame’s neverending whisper.
At Christmas that year, I decided to date only the woman who became my first wife. I remember the almost-paralyzing-nervousness of sitting on her living room floor and reaching to kiss her for the first time. I remember her surprise at the kiss and joy when I told her that I wanted to be exclusive. I remember how she kissed me back and said it was what she wanted to. We celebrated by making an exquisite cracked crab salad.
During that season of my life, I cannot point to any specific “acting out” behaviors, yet, I know I was still “using.” My addiction was still my most carefully kept secret. But defiantly I hoped and still prayed; confident that once I was married, my addiction would fall away.
I was wrong. I left Michigan in May, and we got married in July. The sexual intimacy that I thought would save me instead proved only to add to my shame. We were broken from the beginning; barely being sexual at all. Everything in me screams, “Blame her!” But I can’t. How could my wife possibly feel desirable when I did not see her as beautiful? How could she have any desire for me at all sensing she wasn’t wanted? So, sex happened very infrequently and intimacy even less. We went months without affectionate touching or kissing. There was no sexual glue to hold us together. We were on our way to becoming roommates who occasionally had sex and rarely, if ever, made love.
I remained clean for over a year. Then one night, I cruised a red light district. Soon, I masturbated; and then, my wife walked in on me masturbating at our mission’s headquarters right after sex. Later, she caught me again while we were on vacation with our baby daughter. Shame reigned in our marriage. She realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth. This was not God’s intention for marriage.
Shame reigned in our marriage. My wife realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth. This was not God’s intention for marriage.
Half a year after the birth of our first child, I had sexual intercourse with two different prostitutes. Guilt and shame flooded me. There was no way to escape the fact that, by any definition, I was an adulterer. I called my best friend and co-pastor to confess to him. We took a long walk in a park, and I told him what I’d done; acknowledging that I didn’t know what to do, crying out for help.
My friend contacted our Bishop and arranged for two other pastors to meet with us. We gathered in my living room, and I told them what I had done, confessing again. They thanked me for my confession. And as we talked, I heard them say, “Thank you for acknowledging your sin. What you did was wrong. Don’t do it again. Make sure that if your wife asks any questions about this that you answer her truthfully…”
To be continued…