I remember, as a boy, constructing a model boat and setting it sail in a bay lagoon. I was thrilled that it remained afloat and was so hopeful that it would reach the other shore. But its journey was cut short when a ski boat, more concerned about staying on plane then obeying the posted no wake zone, sped through and capsized the model. My anger turned to sadness as hope was dashed on the rocks of selfishness that summer afternoon.
Few things can turn a marriage and family upside down more quickly than adultery. The Lord Jesus, in the fifth chapter of Matthew, makes it very clear that adultery is more than jumping into bed with another person. It begins with the imaginations and intentions of the heart. The apostle James affords us a word picture of a fisherman luring his prey from its place of safety when he writes, ‘But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.’ (James 1:14) He continues to record the results of this self-centered pursuit: ‘Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.’ (James 1:15)
Sexual sin causes significant hurt in the lives of wives and children. Laurie Hall honestly expressed her pain in a letter to her husband, who was addicted to pornography. In An Affair of the Mind she writes, ‘Later you called ‘ and you wanted to talk with the kids. Why? You never had time for them before. Sandy collapsed. Talking with you brought all her angers and fears to the fore. She was crying so hard, she couldn’t catch her breath, and I had to catch her as she fell. Ian spent three hours on the phone (with someone else) ‘ he couldn’t tell me how he was feeling ‘ Dear God, it’s already started. My babies are dying, and I can’t do anything to save them. I don’t even have the strength to save myself.’ (p. 46)
Exhaustion, confusion, embarrassment, disgust, anxiety, depression, shame, shock, anger, loneliness–all these and more represent the thoughts and emotions of those lost in the wake of lust. Coming to grips with the separations that one’s sexual acting out has perpetrated is a necessary and healthy aspect of the healing journey.
Let me suggest an action item if you are tracking with these thoughts. If you’re ready, this exercise will shift your sobriety into a higher gear of recovery.
- List the names of the people you hurt with your behaviors and words.
- Think of how you hurt each one.
- Reflect on how each person must have felt.
- Write each one a letter (you may want to write only one or two a week) expressing their feelings and hurts, along with anything else you may want to say. Do not, at this point, mail the letters or share their content with those you have offended.
- Read the letters out loud, one at a time, imagining you are talking with each individual.
- Share the import of this exercise with your therapist, sponsor and/or accountability partners.
- Make appropriate amends, when ready.
This process could take some time depending on the number of people affected, but it will give you an open and honest platform for building relational health. However, let me share a word of caution: DO NOT CONTACT THE PEOPLE ON YOUR LIST UNTIL YOU HAVE EITHER WORKED THROUGH STEPS 8 & 9 OF AN APPROPRIATE 12-STEP PROGRAM WITH A SPONSOR, OR YOUR THERAPIST GIVES YOU THE OK.
That summer day long ago I determined to rescue my sinking boat. So, fully dressed, I jumped into the lagoon and swam hard before it was too late. I retrieved the model and rebuilt it, but I always looked in all directions before letting it set sail again. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to restore your marriage and family? I encourage you to take unusual measures to protect them, care for them, nurture them, and reorient your heart toward them. Chart your new course today.