Is Adultery Forgivable?
- 2008 17 May
Dad sighed and asked us, "What's your plan?"
My husband, Ron, leaned forward and said, "Plan? Plan for what?"
"You two are going to have to figure out why your marriage fell apart...how to fix it ...how to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Ron replied, "Well...I don't know if we need to do all that. I don't even want to talk about what she did. It's too painful. Nancy's back home now -- we'll just move on from here."
Dad continued, "I wish it were that simple. But it's not. Your marriage was fractured. If you rebuild a house on a cracked foundation, it might be all right for a while, but when the storms come, that fracture will divide your house. Ron, if you don't repair the foundation of your marriage, it won't survive. You can't just ignore the fact that your wife had an affair. The memory of Nancy's betrayal and the guilt she will carry will be unbearable for both of you. I don't think you'll be able to move on until you, Ron, make one of the most important decisions you'll ever make."
"What decision is that?"
"Has Nancy told you she's sorry for what she's done?"
"Yes, she's apologized several times."
"Did she ask you to forgive her?"
Dad turned to me and continued, "Nancy, when you tell someone you're sorry, it's very different from asking for their forgiveness. Your 'sorry-ness' is your decision. But when you ask someone to forgive you -- that's their decision. It's difficult because it gives all the power to the other person."
"That's a scary thought," I said, without meaning to say it aloud.
Then he spoke to Ron, who looked confused and apprehensive. "Ron, when you forgive someone, you make a choice to banish the offense from your heart. Jesus said that after He forgives us, our sins are as far away as the East is from the West. In other words, they are pardoned. Not because we're not guilty, but because we are. Our pardon is undeserved -- it's a gift to us from God. If you decide to forgive Nancy, you can never use her sin against her, and God will give you the strength to start a new life together. But if you choose not to forgive, if you want to hold on to the pain, or punish her, and keep her wound open -- if you choose that, I don't think you'll stay married. You have biblical grounds to divorce her, but you don't have to. It is your decision. I want you both to pray about what I've said, and make your decisions. We will continue this conversation in the morning."
After a long and restless night, we met again. My voice trembled as I said, "Daddy, I want to ask Ron to forgive me, but what do I say?"
"Tell him what you want to be forgiven for, and then simply ask him. Ron will decide whether to forgive you...or not. You ask; he answers. It's the simplest thing you two will ever do -- and the hardest."
What if I ask Ron for mercy and he denies me? What if he can't forgive me?
I looked over at my sweet, wounded husband and saw the wide-eyed face of a frightened twelve-year-old boy. I spoke quickly so that I wouldn't lose the safety of the moment. "Ron, I've betrayed you mentally, spiritually, and physically. I've lied to you and deceived you. I have no defense, no excuses. I've sinned against God and you. Can you -- will you please forgive me?"
He leaned forward, never letting go of my eyes. The little boy was gone as my strong and confidant husband took my hands in his and said, "Nancy, we have both done and said terrible things to each other. Our marriage was a mess -- and a lot of it was my fault. But I take a stand today to change all that. You have betrayed me, but I choose to forgive you."
We both began to cry and our tears mixed with the river of divine love that flowed through the room. Our hearts were knit together as we began again -- with a solid marriage foundation.
However, my personal foundation was still unstable. My lies had been so tangled with truth that I wasn't sure which was which. I slowly began to untie the knots of my life. I was relieved to be done with deceit, but because its shadows, exaggerations, and half-truths had been my companions for months, the light of the whole truth seemed harsh -- like walking out into full sunlight after watching an afternoon matinee in a dark theater. It took some time for my heart to adjust.
I was full of self-doubt and couldn't believe how easily I'd been swept away by my feelings. I began to understand Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do" (nlt). I had been unguarded. I didn't plunge into sin -- I drifted in, like floating on an air mattress and falling asleep only to wake up a half mile from the beach. I had to swim with all my strength to pull my heart back to shore
Jesus' words to the woman who was caught in adultery gave me comfort and direction: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more," (John 8:11 nkjv). Jesus' command was simple -- but its execution was hard. I struggled.
Ron forgave me -- miraculously. He let go of the pain and moved into freedom. I, however, got stuck in the sorrow of regret. Receiving and believing in my forgiveness was tedious, treacherous. One step forward; two steps back. The memories kept haunting me, surprising me -- triggered by the scent of a stranger's cologne or the melody of a song. The shame of past pleasures followed me.
One day, several months after our reconciliation, I asked Ron, "Do you still think about it?"
"No. Hardly ever. You have never given me cause to worry about it happening again. You always call when you're going to be late or have a change in your plans. You don't flirt with other men the way you used to. You really have changed, making it easy for me to trust you again."
If only I could trust myself.
It was a wearisome journey. Eventually though, I came to see that I would have to surrender to the forgiveness in order to free myself from the prison. God and my husband had already given me the keys, but I had refused to use them. Finally, one day, I did.
I found victory through surrender as I prayed, "Lord, I give up. I cannot carry this anymore. I know that You have forgiven me and so has Ron, and today I choose to receive that forgiveness. Now I ask You for strength as I let go of the guilt, the shame, the sorrow, and I choose to walk toward Your light. You have set free, so I am free indeed." (John 8:36.)
I refused to entertain the stray thoughts anymore. Instead, I replaced them with images of the new life that Ron and I were building. I also discovered that encouraging others with our story of restoration gave a purpose to our pain. This summer, we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and I'm thrilled to tell you that our marriage is strong, loving, and healed.
Adapted from Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage (Kregel Publications, 2004).
Nancy C Anderson is an author and speaker who encourages couples to "fall in like" with each other. Nancy and Ron (her husband of 29 years) often speak at couples' banquets and retreats. They share their marriage testimony "The Death and Resurrection of our Marriage" and the Biblical principles of guarding our hearts and protecting our marriages. Visit their web site at www.RonAndNancyAnderson.com.