I’m not exactly sure how the story I’m about to tell relates to the rest of this blog. I don’t think it is terribly spiritual. But as a dear friend of mine pointed out recently in a (very powerful, very moving) devotional, our stories have the ability to encourage people’s faith in profound, unseen ways. So maybe that’s why I feel compelled to share this. Maybe, just maybe, someone needs to hear it.
Almost a year ago to the day, my phone rang. It was a phone call I had been expecting. It was my mother, on a conference call with my brother. It was about Dad.
A couple of years earlier, my dad had confessed to years of marital infidelity. And not just with one woman. He had been soliciting sex – in an area of the country where the risk of STIs is high. We knew for years that he had a problem: meetings and business trips that ran a little too late, weird pictures stashed on the family computer, awkward behaviors he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) explain, bills for credit cards we hadn’t applied for, etc. The incidents were so spread out that we viewed them as isolated events. Each time one of these little indiscretions was discovered, we would confront Dad and encourage him to seek God. Dad would apologize for his actions and appear to go back to the straight and narrow for months, and even years, at a time.
But three years ago, we learned the truth: Dad was a full-blown sex addict. Mom, absolutely devastated, called me with the news. Though her trust was shattered, she decided to give him one final chance to get clean for good. So Dad began a 12-step program and attended counseling with his pastor. Mom sought counseling as well.
My parents’ marriage began to heal, but it was slow, rough work. Mom admitted at several points that she felt unable to endure the stress and complete loss of trust. But at last, things appeared to be on the mend. Dad was finally being more accountable as to his whereabouts and doing more to prioritize their marriage.
Then, a year ago, my phone rang.
It was Mom. She was crying. Dad had relapsed – in a very big way. As she described to me what he had done, my mouth dropped open. In that moment, I knew it was no longer safe for my mother to live with my dad. His actions were putting them both at serious risk. When she asked, “What do I do?”, I didn’t hesitate. I said, “You have to leave him. You have to leave him now.”
I never felt more sure of anything in my life.
My mom took the advice and filed for divorce with the family’s full support. My dad moved out of state and enrolled in a 9-month, live-in rehab program.
But three weeks later, I was hit by a sickening wave of doubt. Had I really done the right thing in encouraging their divorce? I grew up in a church where “divorce” was a dirty word. No one got divorced – at least, not “real Christians.” God hated it. It was a sin. Sure, infidelity was biblical grounds for divorce. But what about God’s ability to heal and restore? Couldn’t He still do a miracle there? Were we selling ourselves short on the possibility??
I agonized for weeks. I still felt absolutely sure I had done the right thing in telling my mom to divorce. But I felt equally sure that doing so had violated some very deeply ingrained beliefs about the will and power of God.
Then one day, as I sat agonizing, a couple of scriptures suddenly came to my mind:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” I Corinthians 5:9-13
And then I realized we had done all of that: encouraged my father privately, with witnesses, with the leaders of our church. We had forgiven over and over. We had tried to be a loving, supportive family. We had each worked through our grievances privately to rid ourselves of bitterness. None of it worked. In all of that, we had never truly held Dad accountable for his actions. As a result, he only sank further into dysfunction, his betrayals of our trust becoming more painful each time. There was only one thing left to do, for his sake and ours: cast him out of fellowship.
“So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 5:5
So that’s what we did. We handed him over. To save him. To save our family.
I later realized that God only does miracles for those who are willing to receive them. My dad was not willing.
Today, my father does not have contact with me, my husband or my son. Nor with my brother’s family. He has completed his rehab program and is working out of state. Someday, I may let him back into my life – when I know that he can stay clean. When I know he has fully repented. When I know he is safe to be around my children.
Today is not that day.
A long while back, I wrote a post entitled “Dealing with an Addicted Spouse.” I still stand by everything I wrote in that piece. However, I left out one important part: If you’ve done all you can and your spouse remains unrepentant, there is one last recourse that may save him: cast him out. Leave. Remove yourself and your children from that cancerous situation and put his fate in the hands of his chosen master. Some people will only look up when they’ve hit rock bottom.
Last year, I told my mom to get a divorce. And it was the right thing to do.