June 28, 2011 by Stacy McDonald
“The Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” (Malachi 2:14)
As she rolled away from the invading sunlight that announced morning, Shelly closed her eyes in protest. Out of habit, her hand stroked the spot where her husband, Carl, used to sleep. The sheets felt empty and cold. When would the new normal begin?
Her head was foggy from another sleepless night and her mind began to wander, reliving that awful morning three weeks ago when her husband’s confession had shot through her soul like a searing fire:
Shelly’s eyes burned and her throat felt like it was closing. This wasn’t happening. She leaned against the table to steady herself and finally found her voice, “What’s her name?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered, avoiding her eyes. “I don’t love her. I…I don’t love anyone. I just want out of this marriage. I feel like I’m suffocating. You’re suffocating me.”
“At least you’re honest; you don’t love anyone but yourself,” she whispered.
How could God have let this happen? She had read all the books, attended the marriage seminars…albeit alone; but, that wasn’t her fault. She had listened to her pastor and tried to win her husband without a word by being submissive and loving—living out Christ before him.
Sure, she hadn’t always been perfect, but she had tried. She had worked harder for this marriage than she’d worked for anything in her life. She racked her brain trying to figure out what she had done wrong. Self deprecating thoughts invaded her mind.
Her worst nightmare was a reality. The warning signs had been there. The secretive behavior, the late nights, the anger, the coldness—she had known. But somehow hearing him say it still took her breath away.
Now, here she was, three weeks later, facing the certainty of divorce and feeling like a part of her was dying. Shelly shook her head and wished away the haunting images of his detailed confession. She was amazed by how raw her feelings still were. He didn’t want her. She tried to swallow the bitterness of that reality, imagining it would ease the throbbing in her soul.
The grieving wife found herself wishing her husband would call and beg her forgiveness. How was it possible to ache for his embrace, while loathing the very thought of his touch? Her head hurt.
Shelly glanced at the phone. What would she do if he did change his mind? Could she forgive such a despicable violation of his vows? Could she take him back after he had betrayed all that was sacred between them? How could she ever trust him again? Their marriage bed had been defiled. No one could change that fact. The forsaken wife wept bitterly into her pillow. Still, she knew that she could forgive him—she would forgive him…somehow. If only he wanted her forgiveness.
While I realize there are both husbands and wives who suffer the emotional pain of adultery and divorce, because I am writing to women, I will in this series generally focus on the offended/abandoned wife.
He Loves Me Not
Each year, thousands of men and women, even some who claim Christ, reject their covenant vows and give up what God intended to be a celebration of life-long, life-giving unity. Deceived by fleshly desires, they trade in the gift of God-glorifying oneness for a bloody trail of debt, loneliness, and broken children.
Those left behind suffer emotionally, financially, and sometimes spiritually. It has often been said that the death of a spouse is easier to endure than sexual infidelity and divorce. Death is clean. Unless some horrible sin is simultaneously involved, the pain is pure and wholesome. The grief flows freely to cleanse and heal the soul.
Adultery is unique in its cruelty. It is harshly personal. Its jagged blade violates the soul like a violent assault. Such a betrayal communicates rejection and treachery. It digs its claws into the heart, hoping to infect each wound with bitterness and hatred—even self hatred. The very one who has promised to love you until death, who has seen you at your most vulnerable moments, has forsaken his vows and embraced a stranger. What could be more cutting?
But, it happens all the time. And if we continue to minimize the tragedy of the defiled marriage bed, we can expect things to get worse. Adultery is not the only way the marriage bed is dishonored, but it is one of the most vicious ways—it is what leaves the permanent imprint of pain and sorrow on the heart. Even if the betrayal is forgiven and couples find healing, the tender battle scars remain.
While we can (and should) hope and pray for reconciliation between couples whose union has been devastated, we need to be prepared to minister as well to those who have been emotionally ravaged by the finality of divorce. Many times, the adulterous spouse is quite happy in the powerful delusion he has created for himself, and is bent on having his way. In fact, repentance may be the farthest thing from his mind. When this is the case, we need to be there for the abandoned one with answers, encouragement, and strength.
Continued in Part 2, Grace Widows: A Scarlet Letter