My life was like a storybook. The beginning was mistake prone and painful. Youthful curiosity, willful ignorance, and poor choices contributed to placing me on the fast track from childhood to the adult life. Dissatisfied and unfulfilled, I needed something to give me purpose. It was then that the story changed, and it was scripted better than I could have dreamed or planned.
It began the summer of 1979 when I gave my heart to Christ. I had a new Master, and He was in control. The most powerful part of this new life was a deep yearning to tell others about what I had found. This was my calling. I was to be a minister of the good news. What had touched and changed me was now to be shared so that it would the same for others. There was nothing that concerned me more. It didn't take long for my unique abilities and talents in ministry to be recognized. As a result, I was chosen to fulfill some rather special ministry assignments.
With the passing of months and years I saw what the Spirit of God was doing through me. It was exciting. I had found what my contribution to this world was. I was making an impact. I was making a difference. I was seeing firsthand lives changed and many people becoming enthusiastic about Jesus. Life was good, or so I thought. For with every special assignment or project, evangelistic meeting, revival, or Week of Prayer, I was building a wall that grew taller and taller.
This wall symbolized my successes and accomplishments. On this wall I stood tall. Yet on this wall there was barely room for me, let alone family, friends, or even the One I claimed to love most, Jesus. Nevertheless, I felt that life was good and all was well.
The story of my life was playing out far better now than years before. There was no call for alarm. I was destined for a happy ending. Little did I realize that the higher the wall became, the more distant I would become from those I claimed to love.
This distancing began with Christ. I found myself studying only to deliver a powerful message or to have the correct and most informative answer for the many people who depended on me for their spiritual growth. I had lost sight of my own need to grow and fellowship with the Saviour. The higher my wall became, the farther I seemed to be from Christ.
The distancing continued with my wife. I found myself neglecting her for the sake of ministry. I assumed she'd under stand my calling and take her rightful place to the rear of the work I held so dear. I rationalized that if I was the best at what I did professionally, she would be proud to stand at the foot of my wall in support of what I was called to do. Yet by not supporting her, I became more aloof from our relationship.
The wall even affected my family. I was too busy to stop work to visit parents and siblings, attend family reunions, bond with nieces, nephews, cousins, and close friends. I was too high to come down from my wall, and there was no room up there on top for all of these.
It was at this point that my balance became disrupted. Having separated myself from all those who truly loved me, I was "successful" but lonely. I was riding the crest of pastoral excellence, but all by myself. I wanted desperately to reach out to my wife, my family, my God, yet I didn't know how. It seemed any attempt to extend myself to them was ignored or treated coldly.
They had adjusted. They had learned to negotiate their lives without me, or so it seemed at the time. With this loss of balance, Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.
I began to gulp down the appreciation of others in large quantities. Their attention was used to fill the void in my own life. My needs were being met by those I served. The need to communicate and relate, to belong and fit in, to feel special, were no longer supplied by my God or my family, but by those I worked with and for. I no longer listened for encouragement from my wife, but only from those whom I felt understood me, my work, and my now misguided purpose. The more I paid attention to others, the less I paid attention to my wife. The more I talked with others, the less I talked to my wife.
The more I left my wife on the outside of what I was thinking, feeling, and desiring, the more I needed others on the inside. I was reeling like a drunkard on the top of my self-built wall. Knowing what I needed and where those needs could be supplied, I, like a drug seeker in need of a fix, passed the God-ordained sources that had been graciously given me in my wife, family, and Saviour to be satisfied by those I worked for.
Then came a massive jolt. News that my mother had died floored me. A hurt like no other penetrated every part of my being. But I had to be strong. Others would need me. I must get the family through. My shoulders would be the cushion that the family could rest on and draw strength from. I would dry tears, hold hands, and be there. I would stand on my wall, for this is what the family needed. Yet, I was missing the greatest need, my own.
Once the ordeal was past for everyone else, it was only beginning for me. Who would I talk to? Upon whose shoulder would I lean? Who would help to dry my tear-stained eyes or hold my trembling hands? The answer would change my life forever. A month after my mother's death, during a concert I promoted, the choir sang an old Negro spiritual, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." As I listened, grief overwhelmed me. Retreating to a private place, I thought to spend a few minutes alone to collect myself.
But I was joined by a woman whom I had helped through a difficult time several years earlier. Now she was there for me. It began with an embrace and ended with a kiss. But that was just the first night. Humpty-Dumpty was not reeling any longer. He was falling. I couldn't remember how long it had been since I felt loved and desired. I was feeling that way now. I lost all sense of right and wrong. The passion I had robbed from myself through the years by ignoring my wife was being shared with another. "What am I doing?" Crash! Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.
How did I arrive here? A place called unfaithful, dishonest, deceitful, adulterous. Yes, the man of purpose, called of God, had fallen. I knew this problem had to be corrected. The affair had to stop and never happen again. It must be kept quiet. Maybe after a period of time it would be as if it had never happened. But this was not just a fall, it was a great fall! It did not happen on that one night, but over a period of years. It was induced by an inflated yet false sense of how important I and my work were. It was perpetuated by neglect of the wife God gave me, by ignoring the family He placed me in. It was fostered by feeding and nurturing everyone but myself. While it was something I caused, it was not something I could fix. It could not be repaired by friends, family, or another man of God. "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again."
This fall caused a shattering that, try as I might, I could do very little about. The broken pieces began to cut me up from the inside and then started further damage in other parts of my life. It splintered my home, injuring my wife and children. Without mercy it took the career I loved and was so effective at. It confused my friends, colleagues, and those I had served. Broken pieces are still turning up years after the fall. Occasionally someone steps on a broken piece of my mistake and is hurt as a result. I too discover a broken piece under some part of my life that I thought was unaffected by my failure. Bewildering and frustrating. How can this be corrected? The truth is, it may never all be fully corrected. When a trusted cleric falls, for whatever reason, life is never altogether the same again.
But Jesus can fix it! He is the Master Potter who specializes in mending what's been broken. His love for the erring is never failing. It is undying and relentless. He wants to heal us. We must recognize today that often a moral failure is more than a sexual act. It's an ego, an attitude in which one thinks more highly of oneself than one ought. It's the neglect of the people who truly matter in life your spouse, children, parents, siblings, close true friends, and most of all, your Saviour. The deterioration of these relationships happens over time. So does the restoration. Because it takes time, let the healing begin now. Allow Jesus to gather the broken pieces and put you together again. This is more important than anything any of us could do. It could mean our very salvation. When we wander, God knows both where we are and how to get us back.
While sexual sin takes us out of God's will, it does not take us out of His reach. The hand of God is not too short that it cannot save. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness..." (John 3:14). Just as the Israelites in the desert took that which hurt them and lifted it up to God and were healed, so in Christ we can take our mistakes and sins, lift them to God in prayer and faith, and trust Him to heal us. I am discovering with each new day more of the power of God to restore and repair what's been messed up because of sexual sins. You can too!
Continuing Education Exercises:
- A distorted definition of success often contributes to failure in ministry and marriage. Together with your spouse define success for the work you do. How does this definition impact your important relationships with God, your spouse, children, and close friends?
- Sexual sin also rises to devour because of loneliness or lust. Have you found effective ways to address these concerns in your life? Besides prayer, what is your strategy to overcome these traps in your ministry.
- Ministry is a call to integrity. Determine who, of the same sex, you can talk to, confide in, to keep you honest with yourself.
- A tired person is a vulnerable person. Develop a list of activities and places that provide retreat and rest from the work you do. Together with your spouse and family plan uninterrupted retreats.
- Read the story of Sampson in the book of Judges and the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Remind yourself daily that you are indeed a child of God.
Hyatt, C. and L. Gottlieb. When Smart People Fail. Penguin Books, 1993.
Jakes, T.D. Loose that man and let him go! Albury Press, 1995.
MacArthur, John. Integrity. Word, 1997.
MacDonald, Gordon. When Men Think Private Thoughts. Thomas Nelson, 1996.