My life had become a nightmare. Practically overnight, since I’d admitted having an affair to my husband, I’d lost everything. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t get off the treadmill of fear, shame, and despair. The hours, days and weeks dragged on as I waited for the pain of colossal regret to subside.
I was the last person anyone would have expected, including myself, to commit such a life-shattering sin. I’d been educated in a Christian school, memorized hundreds of scriptures, and had been involved in ministry for years. I had an earnest desire to please God, and I continuously sought to develop my personal relationship with him. Having an affair, in my opinion, was one of the worst things a believer could do.
My experience taught me that no matter how sincere our faith or how pure our intentions, an affair can happen to any of us. None of us will ever reach a level of spiritual maturity where we can relax and trust our flesh. Scripture warns us that “the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41) and that Satan lies in wait to trip us up (1 Peter 5:8). If King David, the “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), fell into adultery, can we consider ourselves immune to the temptation?
Fortunately, there are ways we can guard ourselves against an affair. The first step is to recognize the lies Satan plants in our minds that may propel us in that direction. Here are five falsehoods that Satan used to lead me down the path toward adultery …and the truths that eventually set me free.
Lie #1: What I think about doesn’t matter as long as don’t act on it.
My life seemed too ordinary, especially compared to the movies and romance novels I took in. To escape the monotony, I began indulging in private fantasies. Passion, mystery, and physical beauty were at my beck and call—I just needed to use a little imagination.
Although these fantasies charged me up emotionally and fed the fire of lust with exhilarating and forbidden pleasures, I did not believe they were a threat to my spiritual growth, relationships, and ministry. No one knew. No one would get hurt …or so I thought.
The Truth: Our thoughts become our actions.
Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other “big” sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.
At first, my thoughts about the fantasy men I encountered in books, magazines, and movies seemed harmless. But these thoughts soon became a trap. Like a forest fire, the lust they stirred up required more and more fuel until feeding it consumed most of my time and energy. When I wasn’t fantasizing, my life was colorless. I became more self-centered, detached from my family, and cold toward my husband. Pretty soon, other little compromises in my behavior didn’t seem so bad.
It took many years before my conscience was desensitized enough for me to give in to an affair. But it did eventually happen. From the ashes that remained, I learned the truth of James 1:15: “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Ultimately, my fantasies about other men led me into an affair that contributed to the death of a marriage.
Lie #2: I would be happier with someone else.
Because of his job, recreational activities, and the time he spent with “the guys,” my husband wasn’t home much. When he was home, his attention was riveted to the TV. I was extremely lonely, and I resented his lack of attention to our family and me. We had married at a young age, and I wondered if I had missed something better.
I frequently dwelled upon my dissatisfaction with my marriage. Constantly comparing my spouse to fictional men gave me a deeply critical spirit, so that nothing he did was good enough. I expected him to make me happy, and I felt sorry for myself when he disappointed me. Surely other men would treat me better, I thought. To soothe my self-pity, I escaped deeper into inappropriate thoughts, relishing attention from other men.
The Truth: Only Jesus can satisfy me.
As I got to know these men, I discovered that they weren’t the Hollywood lovers I had envisioned. Each had his own set of weaknesses and character flaws (just like me). I was searching for satisfaction in the wrong place.
Jesus conversed once with a woman who had gone through five husbands and was living with a boyfriend. Apparently she was still looking for that “perfect someone” to fill the void in her life. Jesus told her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13-14). He knew that human relationships—emotional or sexual—would never satisfy her longings. True satisfaction was only found in the love that he offered.
I’ve finally landed on the truth: I would be happier with Someone other than my earthly mate. I’m happiest when I cultivate a relationship with the One who made me—heart longings and all. As I have basked consistently in the verses about Jesus’ love for me and my unexplainable worth to him, I have discovered true soul satisfaction for the first time in my life. Jesus is everything I was really looking for all along.
Lie #3: Life is passing me by; I deserve something better.
When I sensed my youth waving good-bye in my late 20s, I panicked. I deserve more than this, I thought, and pretty soon it’s going to be too late to find it! I was sure that I was a much better wife than my husband deserved, and I believed that some more compatible guy would jump at the chance to love me. I couldn’t stand the thought that I might never be happy and fulfilled (by my own definition) in this life. All the people in the movies found their perfect matches; I wanted to discover the “happily ever after” I deserved too.
The Truth: I’ve already received more than I deserve.
My affair showed me how wrong I was about myself. I wasn’t good. I didn’t deserve better. I didn’t even deserve a second chance. The good news is that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve” (Psalm 103:10). He offers me second chances not because I deserve them, but because of the amazing grace of Jesus.
Through Christ, I will experience happily ever after, but it won’t come until heaven. In the meantime He wants me to choose something better than earthly pleasure—intimacy with him (see Luke 10:38-42). Now the only time I feel that life is passing me by is when I am not pursuing a daily love relationship with Jesus. This relationship sparks passion and adventure as I discover his purpose for my life.
Lie #4: When others pay attention to me, it’s because they think I’m special.
Getting attention from men has intoxicated me since youth. I craved the sense of power and self-worth it gave me. When I felt discouraged or neglected by my husband, I turned to other men for comfort and reassurance. I knew how to lure the attention of almost any guy—single or married. The more men who showed interest in me, the better I felt about myself. In my mind they only flattered and admired me because I was special.
The Truth: People often use flattery to get what they want.
After my divorce, this fascination with men clung to me like a pesky bug. I feared that it would accompany me to the grave. As I had done many times before, I asked God to take this temptation away. But this time I meant it—I lived in the wake of its destruction.
Then I met a man—a gorgeous, smooth, successful man, the kind I would normally find irresistible—while on vacation. He pursued me with the most romantic words and behaviors a woman could stand without melting. It was just like Hollywood.
Suddenly it dawned on me: The attention he was giving me wasn’t about me. It was about sex and lust and greed. I wasn’t special to him: I was just another potential conquest. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, using attention and flattery to get what he wanted from me. The Apostle Paul described similar men in Romans 16:18: “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (emphasis mine).
I began to realize that someone who truly valued me would uphold my spiritual health, not feed my vanity or take advantage of my emotional holes. There is nothing wrong with sincere compliments, but the admiration I find most meaningful now is when someone notices that I am developing Christlikeness.
Lie #5: I can get away with sin.
During my affair, I thought I could avoid the consequences of my sin. Since the “axe” I was expecting from heaven didn’t drop right away, I figured my sin must not be that big of a deal to God. He would forgive me when I decided to repent, so what was the hurry? I would just live out my fantasies for a while, and when I was ready, I would get my life back on track. No one—including my husband—would have to know what I’d done.
The Truth: God will expose my sin.
I may have concealed my affair from others for a time, but I was only kidding myself if I thought God wasn’t paying attention.
Scripture tells us, “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). God orchestrated some amazing events to expose my sin because he loved me too much to leave me on a path of destruction. He knew that if my sin remained hidden I would never see how ugly it was to him, and I would never understand how much it hurt my husband, my children, and myself. Fear that someone would discover this repugnant, rotting sin in my spiritual closet would keep me from experiencing true freedom. Any relationship with my spouse (or a future spouse) would be hindered, and a wall would stand between me and God.
Bringing my adultery into the light hurt initially. God showed me that true repentance meant confessing my affair to my husband, whom I had wronged (see Matthew 5:23-24). I was humiliated and ashamed. But when I owned up to my sin, God began to turn the ashes of my life into beauty. He taught me that the only sins Satan can use against me are the ones I hide. Now I’m free to experience the peace that comes from being honest with other believers.
My affair has also opened doors for ministry. Hearing my testimony has given many people the courage to share their struggles with me so that I might help them overcome the lies of Satan.
The process back to wholeness was long and hard, but God’s life-changing truth has totally healed me. The woman I see in the mirror today is a new person—peaceful, satisfied, and more aware of the lies Satan may use to lead me astray. Now, whenever I am tempted by errant thoughts, I stop and replace them with truth. I have also given a few close friends permission to ask me questions and hold me accountable to living out these truths. Above all, I seek to remember that only Jesus, the living water, can fill my deepest longings to be loved and valued.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Discipleship Journal. Used with permission from the author.
Julie Ferwerda is the author of The Perfect Fit: Piecing Together True Love, and has written for publications such as Marriage Partnership, Focus on the Family, and Discipleship Journal.