Are you living a double life?

The sobering fact is that second marriages have a smaller chance of success than first marriages. Why give up all you have for something that has a good chance of crumbling?


After his father's death John stumbled across the briefcase. It was one his father had used frequently. The contents were few, but disturbing: a set of handwritten sermons, a copy of Steps to Christ, and three letters from a woman with whom he'd been having an affair.

As mismatched as the contents might appear, they represent a reality that is not unique. It is the desire to have it all—pulpit and private life; clerical collar and clandestine encounters.

Recently a professor of theology on a large Christian campus was called before the administration to confirm or deny rumors of an extramarital affair with a young woman in the community. He eventually confirmed the accusation. What had he planned to do, had he not been "caught" ? Continue teaching, continue attending church with his wife each week, continue advising students on the merits of serving the church, continue the affair? He had not thought that far ahead.

This article is for those who might find themselves in a similar situation. Perhaps it is a bit bold to assume that "good Christian ministers" as those who read Ministry would even consider such a duplicitous life. Is there an audience for such a subject? If you find yourself of fended at the thought, turn the page and choose another article. If, however, you find yourself tempted to close the magazine, pretending there is no such problem in your life when you know there is or could possibly be, read on.

If you are living a dual life (or considering it), it is inevitable that you will face a crisis. You cannot stay betwixt and between forever, living in conflict with yourself. There are a number of losses that you will eventually experience in such a life. They are:

1. The loss of self-esteem. Your self-esteem has probably already suffered, be cause no matter how you try to rationalize an extramarital relationship, it simply goes against everything you've believed in, preached about, and taught.

A damaged self-esteem is a tough thing to repair. The more your sense of value as a person erodes, the more difficult it is to put your life back together.

2. The loss of position. One day it will happen. Like the theology professor, you may wake up some morning to find that the word is out. Or perhaps like a minister of two small churches on the West Coast, you will finally decide to confess. In any event, it is not easy to suddenly find yourself scanning the Help Wanted section of the newspaper, when all you've ever done, according to the public's definition of a pastor, is preach sermons and hold prayer meetings.

3. The loss of respect in the community. Gossip travels fast. Once the word is out, people you've never even heard of know your secret. You get an uncomfortable feeling as you realize that you cannot enter a church, walk onto the grounds of a camp meeting, or drive your car into your own driveway without feeling the eyes of others on you, branding you as an outcast and hypocrite.

4. The loss of your children. The rift that will come between you and your children will never be fully repaired. As much as you might wish that someday your children will be mature enough to understand, there will always be an ache in their heart whenever the word "father" is mentioned. Similarly, you will grieve for the relationship that was never allowed to ripen or was destroyed on the vine. Holidays will be strained; visits limited. Your parental role will be trans formed from a day-to-day bandaging of bruised knees to a long-distance relation ship weakly held together by phone calls and occasional brief visits.

5. The loss of financial security. Financial loss might not seem too threatening at the beginning, but it is a definite reality for those in the throes of a divorce.

A counselor who had driven from Canada to Washington in an attempt to help his sister who was experiencing mar ital problems told me recently: "They were seriously considering divorce before I hit them with the cost. That sobered them right up."

From the expense of the legal proceedings to alimony and child support, divorce is not a cheap solution to marital problems. Divorce can be financially devastating.

6. The loss of your partner. Most likely your relationship now with your spouse is far from perfect. But once you face the irretrievable loss of one you have spent much of your life with, the memories keep haunting you. Says author Pat Conroy, in reference to his own divorce: "It was a killing thing to look at the mother of my children and know that we would not be together for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying to say goodbye, to reject a part of my own history."1

And after the losses self-esteem, position, respect, children, financial stability, your spouse what do you think you will gain? The love of another woman? Happiness? Do you look forward to life in a secluded mountain village somewhere, where no one knows you, and you can throw pots on a wheel and live in a rustic log cabin in an idyllic relationship?

As beautiful as your relationship with another woman might seem right now, it only represents a simplicity that has nothing to do with reality. Says Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea: "The first part of every relationship is pure, whether it be with friend or lover, husband or child. It is pure, simple, and unencumbered. It is like the artist's vision before he has to discipline it into form, or like the flower of love before it has ripened to the firm but heavy fruit of responsibility. Every relationship seems simple at its start. . . .

"And then how swiftly, how inevitably the perfect unity is invaded; the relationship changes; it becomes complicated, encumbered by its contact with the world." 2

The sobering fact is that second marriages have a smaller chance of succeeding than first marriages. Why give up all you have for something that has a good chance of crumbling?

Paul found himself increasingly attracted to a woman he had met at his brother's house during the holidays. A relationship developed, and he began making excuses to leave the house on one- and two-day trips. A neighbor who knew the woman with whom Paul was spending so much time eventually leaked the news to his wife, Peggy.

Peggy was crushed, but she was willing to work at putting the marriage back together. But Paul refused to terminate his relationship with the other woman. His wife gathered up their three children, traveled 3,000 miles, and reestablished herself on the East Coast.

One year later Paul boarded a jet. When he arrived at his destination, he begged the woman with whom he had spent 20 years of his life to give him an other chance. By this time Peggy was firmly established in a new job and renting a home in a school district that provided her children with a quality education. She feared giving up her new life for a man who promised, "If you come back to me, I will move out on the other woman tomorrow." She simply could not take the chance of bearing the pain of rejection again. The second time it might not be so easy for her to find an other job and home. This time Peggy was the one who refused. Paul flew back to the West Coast feeling the weight of his earlier choice like a sodden woolen blanket that threatened to suffocate him.

Losses are not pleasant to think about or easy to face. But there is one more loss to consider. It is one that every pastor can recite from memory.

"What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Is it really worth it?

1. Pat Conroy, "Death of a Marriage," Reader's Digest, October 1987, p. 108.

2. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975), pp. 64, 65.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus


November 1990

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

What kind of prayers would you publish if you were God?

Why are the "vengeance" psalms in the Bible? How does God deal with critical people? Are there degrees of inspiration?

The minister as a member of the community

The most appreciated service ministers provide is that of community-building.

Surviving divorce-how you can help

Care for those who are divorced includes support through the initial pain and emotional upset and then guidance and counsel as they rebuild themselves and their lives.

Church brawls

Paul offers four keys for lowering the level of conflict in your church-and for keeping the members' missiles directed away from you!

The changing role of the pastor's wife

While society's norms are changing for women in Britain, congregations still expect the pastor's wife to remain traditional.

He asked for it!

A friend of mine has the custom of kneeling in prayer just before preaching and of requesting his congregation to join him in this act of devotion. During a recent worship service it occurred to him to ask the people what they prayed for at that particular time. He assured them that he wanted them to speak frankly. And they did!

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - SermonView - Medium Rect (300x250)

Recent issues

See All