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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

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The more I talk with people who have walked the dark path of adultery, the more I realize not all affairs are the same.

I have a dear friend who walked the dark, painful days of adultery with me. Her husband had been a pastor at a local church when he had an affair. Through many painful days and tearful nights, they worked hard to redeem their marriage. Today, nearly a decade later, they are madly in love with one another. She had to choose forgiveness; he had to choose repentance and the consequences of broken trust.

I received an email today from another man who committed adultery. He longs to have his wife back, tells of the pain he experiences daily facing his sin. He talks of the many consequences, from financial ruin to loss of everything he held dear. His tone to me is one of great anger, disdain, condescension.

“You say you’re a woman of God, a minister….Did he repent? … Would you take him back if he truly repented? … God allows you to divorce for his infidelities … but why would you do something Jesus despised? … all I need is one more chance…”

It’s obvious he is struggling with tremendous pain and anguish, the pain of the consequences for a sin he committed. He longs to make it all right again, and yet his wife has chosen to walk away.

Or there was the email I once received from a lady who made it clear I must have done something to push my husband into the arms of another man. She talked of her critical nature, of how she pushed her husband away by her negativity. Eventually, he found intimacy with another woman.

“You didn’t forgive. If you had forgiven, your marriage would have been saved. Your family would still be intact.

I kindly responded that I only wished my story had been like hers, an affair caused by lack of emotional support. I only wished my offer of forgiveness had been accepted and we had been a shining example of what God can do in a broken marriage. I only wished…

Yes, there are the adulterers who, for whatever reason, have a momentary lapse in judgement. They step away from their vows and immediately regret their actions. They understand the consequences, the broken trust, the pain they have caused their spouse and their children. If they could go back and change it, they would. They are broken over their sins and long to be right with God and their family, no matter the cost.


There’s another kind of adulterer. The serial adulterer. The abusive adulterer. The addicted adulterer. The manipulative adulterer. The victim adulterer. The narcissistic adulterer.

I lump them all into one category, far different from the above adulterers. These cheaters are not the ones who regret what they did, who are willing to pay the consequences of their actions. They aren’t the ones who long to make things right.

These are the adulterers who twist the circumstances to make you think it’s all your fault, you were the cause of the problem. These are the adulterers whose minds are so twisted and warped by pornography that their “love” is truly just a lust, an attempt to get what they want no matter the cost. These adulterers are the ones who will promise never to do it again and yet get caught on an online dating site within a few short weeks. These are the adulterers whose rage controls you and keeps you in the marriage out of fear.

These are the adulterers who make your life a living hell whether you stay in the marriage or you leave.

“My husband’s addiction always put tremendous pressure on our relationship once he decided recovery was no longer for him…. He started having an affair with a coworker and left shortly after…”

“I lived for my husband. Today, with psychological help, I recognize that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I feel very emotionally tired…”

“I’m married 34 years and I want a divorce…I can no longer put up with his drinking…help!”

“I have … children and a successful career but am married to a man that is a cheater, pathological liar, and has an extreme anger problem. Just this morning he said he was leaving in front of the kids and called me [expletive], [expletive], and retarded as he has numerous times. He’s broken various objects, thrown things at me, and punched holes in walls…I can’t believe I’m in this position and fear the judgement from Church and family…”

I read stories like this daily. Pornography. Alcohol. Drugs. Emotional abuse. Verbal abuse. Narcissism. Anger. Control.

Can this type of adulterer change? With God’s help, yes. Unfortunately, most see themselves as the victim, rationalize away their sins. Their minds are so warped, so deceived, they can’t see the truth. They’ve told so many lies they believe they truly are the victim. Most don’t have any desire to change.

Do they want to keep their family together? Yes! But, they also want to be allowed to continue their relationships on the side. They don’t want to face any consequences for their actions. They want to be able to continue with life and never face the truth of who they have become.

My heart aches when I hear of anyone walking through divorce because I know the pain, the heartache, the devastation. I know the far-reaching consequences of divorce.

But I also understand there are subtleties the outside world does not understand. Occasionally, I see the repentant adulterers walking through divorce…and it breaks my heart. I wish I could help their betrayed spouse understand their marriage can survive. I applaud the couples who take time to look deeply into their own lives, to evaluate their faults, and do the hard work of restoring broken trust. It’s a long, hard road, but it is worth the journey.

And then there’s the second type of adulterer. My heart aches for the victimized spouse, and I long to help him/her catch a glimpse of the vision God has for their future. I long to help him/her know the amazing work God can do in them and through them because of the pain. I long to help him/her understand that divorce may often be the only option, and that it can be a new beginning not an ending. I long to help him/her understand they cannot tolerate the sinful behavior of his/her spouse. I long for him/her to experience freedom in Christ!

I hope no one ever thinks I recommend divorce to anyone walking through adultery. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

But to those married to adulterer #2? Sometimes, it’s the only option….

Dear Lysa,

I read your blog Rejection, Heartache, and a Faithful God today. As I read the words, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

A decade ago, the tears I cried reading your words would have been tears of anger, disappointment. I would have been upset that yet another well-known ministry couple had succumbed to divorce rather than allowing God to fix a tough marriage. I would have written you off as a failure, determined never to read your words again.

But today, the tears were tears of compassion, of heartache, of empathy. They were tears of grief over the pain you and your family are experiencing. They were tears of guilt over my own pride, over my years of being a judgmental Christian who thought divorce was the chief of all sins. My tears were out of genuine love for you.

What changed? I, too, stand with you in the army of believers who love God fiercely, who seek to honor Him in all things, who are passionate about sharing His word…and who also happen to be divorced. I, too, stand with you as a fellow minister who is also the victim of adultery. I, too, stand with you as one who fought a fierce battle for my marriage, spent untold hours in prayer, and still landed in divorce court.

I stand with you.

As I read your words, I wanted nothing more than to come alongside you, to wrap my arms around you, to remind you you are not alone. I wanted to be able to share the many lessons I have learned in the last decade of walking this journey ahead of you. I wanted to be able to share with you the joy of reaching the Promised Land, of seeing everything you lost repaid…and even more. I wanted to reflect on the incredible intimacy I built with my Father along the way.

While I can’t physically walk beside you, I can share some important thoughts with you. Maybe you will see them; maybe you won’t. But perhaps some other struggling soul will benefit from what I have to say to you.

Thank you for being honest about the reasons for your divorce. When I first learned of my husband’s adultery, I immediately began to question myself. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t keep my husband happy? Was I so ugly that he needed someone else? Why could I not succeed at the one thing I wanted more than anything else—a successful marriage?

Knowing that your spouse seeks fulfillment outside the bounds of marriage is one of the most painful experiences this life can hand us, a betrayal at the deepest levels. It causes you to doubt and question everything about yourself. Many people choose to hide the true facts of their failed marriage, maybe from shame, maybe humiliation. Or maybe it’s just a continuation of the enabling they have done throughout their marriage. It takes tremendous courage to utter the words, “He had an affair,” to our closest friends, let alone to a public audience.  

Thank you for choosing not to hide behind a cloak of shame. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned that adultery only takes one hardened heart. It is not about the faithful spouse, what he/she did right or wrong, but it is about a heart that has chosen a path in opposition to the Father. It’s about a person who chooses to indulge in the works of the flesh rather than to walk in the Spirit.

It does not matter who you are, what you look like, how godly you are. Adultery is no respecter of persons.

Trust God as He carries you through. I love your words, “I am brokenhearted beyond what I can express. But I am more committed than ever to trusting God, His promises, and His plans, whatever they are from here.” Thank you for choosing to trust God in your pain. Thank you for standing firm on your convictions that God is good in all things.

I wish I had chosen the path you did, one of remaining faithful and believing God is still good. Instead, I blamed God for my husband’s infidelity. I couldn’t understand how a good God could reward my years of ministry, of faithfulness, with an unfaithful husband. I chose to run from God. I am so thankful He didn’t give up on me but instead pursued me relentlessly, chasing after me until I surrendered. I will always be grateful for His determination to come after me, the one lost sheep who wandered from the safety of the Shepherd.  

Keep clinging to Him because, as you said, He is a faithful God…even in the midst of a failed marriage.

Walk in integrity. Divorce is so ugly. How can two people who pledged to love in each other for better or worse disintegrate into the worst enemies? How can two people who once shared the deepest human connection find themselves bickering over worldly possessions?

I’ve been there. I spent the better part of the last decade trying to figure out how to co-parent with another human with drastically different desires. The non-stop disagreements drag you into a pit of despair that is not easily escaped. The once fierce love you shared dissolves into bitterness and hatred.

Always take the high road. Always seek to live above the level of reproach. Always choose to do what’s right regardless of what he says or does. Set the example for him, for your children, for all of the outsiders watching to see how you will handle this experience.

But, when you mess up, admit your mistake and move forward. We are human, and we will have those moments when we choose to stoop to their level.

Be a fierce voice for oppressed spouses. Oh, Lysa! There are so many men and women suffering abuse in their marriages! They endure mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse because it has been beat into their minds that divorce is never an option. They stay because they fear…fear God will turn against them, fear the church will reject them, fear they will forever wear a scarlet letter D.

While I understand the Church’s fierce defense of marriage, when did God elevate rules above people? As I read scripture, I see Christ extending grace to the most unworthy sinners. I see Him healing the sick and the blind. I see Him setting captives free.

Like you, I was captive in my marriage for years, without even realizing it. And, like you, I did everything I could to save my marriage. I forgave untold heartache and fought with every ounce of my being. And I believed God would restore our marriage and give us an incredible ministry of reconciliation.

Until I heard Him tell me enough is enough, that He was now setting me free.

Be prepared for unbelievable criticism. I wish I could tell you that everyone will come alongside you, love you, support you as you walk this incredibly difficult path. I can’t. And, the more outspoken you are about the realities of divorce, the more criticism you will face from God’s people.

I know you are no stranger to those who make human interpretations of scripture equal to the infallible Word of God. But when it involves divorce, there’s no shortage of harsh words. I promise you will be told you failed God. You will be told you must continue to pray for reconciliation, cling to your spouse until he repents. You will be told that you will be subject to hell if you entertain remarriage.

As you know, you live for an audience of the One. It matters not what man says to you; it only matters what God says to you. And He says you are a child of the King, worthy, forgiven, deeply loved. He says you are the apple of His eye, His treasured possession. Let the voices of the world clamoring to heap shame and guilt upon you fade into the darkness as you keep your eyes, heart, and ears focused securely on Him.

There are so many strange yet wonderful avenues of ministry opening before you. Forget about the past and be open to the incredible new thing He is doing in you and through you (Isaiah 43:19).

And know that you don’t walk this path alone.

With love,


As a nurse, one of my primary duties is assessing patients. I need to know their current condition so I can catch subtle deviations, deviations that might indicate an impending deterioration.

I also need to know the medical history. Previous problems can provide important clues to what is happening with a patient. I gather the medical history by reading the physician’s history and physical (H&P). But, the H&P is only as accurate as the people giving and recording the information.

I often enter a patient room with an idea of a patient’s background. And then I see their skin and the tell-tale scars that tell a story of their own.

When I see a small, straight incision in the center of the lower back, I know the patient has back problems and has undergone some type of lumbar surgery.

A scar to the lower right abdomen usually indicates and appendectomy.

A patient who has a large, central abdominal scar has undergone some type of major abdominal surgery.

With the introduction of laparoscopic and robotic surgeries, a patient may have four small scars scattered across the abdomen. These could indicate gallbladder, hysterectomy, varicocelectomy, or any number of other surgeries.

Then there’s the sternal scar stretching from just below the neck to the abdomen. It’s a clear indication of open heart surgery.

When I was little, my mom had a large abdominal incision, the result of two c-section deliveries, a scar that is an indication of precious lives entering this world (including me!). Interestingly, in her scar she had some extra indentions. I always thought she had three belly buttons. They actually fixed her scar with her last abdominal surgery and she now has nothing but a normal scar.

I’m fascinated by the story told by someone’s scars. I’m amazed what I can learn about them simply by a quick assessment of their skin.

My physical scars are few and mostly faded. I have scars from four surgeries. I had all three of my children via c-section, all three children delivered through the same incision. Three surgeries, one scar that has faded drastically over the last 13 years. And last summer I had a laparoscopic surgery. Those small scars are still pretty red, fairly obvious to anyone looking at my abdomen.

But what about our emotional scars? What stories do they tell?

The last decade I have walked through many traumatic events. Adultery. Divorce. Financial ruin. Betrayal at many levels. Death. Rejection. The scars on my soul are many. The pain seared into my mind. The emotions often surfacing at the most inopportune times.

Some of the scars are old, faded now as the years separate me from the pain. Some are barely visible from the surface as they begin to blend in with the rest of my life.

Others are still fresh and red, in stark contrast to my life. They are obvious to anyone who knows me. They stand out, affect the way I think and act.

I’m often asked how I can be so open about all I have walked through. Many people are embarrassed to admit they were the victim of adultery; they remain buried beneath the shame and rejection. Others are afraid of the criticism they will face for speaking out as a divorced Christian, knowing they will be judged because they weren’t strong enough to stay, to keep praying for reconciliation in the face of untold emotional abuse. Many hide their scars, afraid to let the world see what they have walked through.

But I’ve learned my scars also tell the story of God’s faithfulness.

They tell the story of how God picked me up from the heap of garbage, cleaned me up, and made something beautiful from the pain of my past.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

My scars tell the story of redemption, of how all things have been made new in God’s time and in God’s way.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. Ecclesiastes 3:11

My scars tell the story of hope, of bringing beauty from the ashes.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3

My scars tell the story of one who overcomes.

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 1 John 4:4

My scars tell the story of perseverance.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. Romans 5:3-5

My scars tell the story of resurrection from the death of adultery and divorce.

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “[This] sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” John 11:4

My scars tell the story of a power that is greater than anything we could ever imagine.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20

Ultimately, I have no choice but to tell the world about my scars, about the pain and anguish I have survived because my scars tell the story of God’s goodness toward me. I have no choice but to let the world know what I have walked through because I want the world to know how God has blessed me. I have no choice but to tell my story because it’s the story of a God who has given me so much.

Our scars tell a story, a story that only God could write. Will you tell your story?