A friend of mine reached out to help a believer caught in a staggering situation. Her businessman husband in jail, all personal assets seized, with no money or job skills to live on while raising small children, she faced both the public embarrassment and a lonely future with no one to help her. These were all major wounds.My friend hired her into his company and personally taught her all she needed to know to earn the kind of income she needed. Except, to the horrified astonishment of all who watched, she began to pursue a sexual relationship with his married business partner. My friend took her aside and counseled her time after time about the damage she was doing to herself and her children and how she was betraying Jesus. Nothing he said was heard. She mistressed his partner until he finally divorced his wife. She divorced her jailed husband and they married. The rest of the story was full of sadness also.
Why did she do this? Nothing in her background even hinted that she would live out a sordid story like this. She had been raised in a devoted Christian home, never stepped outside the boundaries of decency, had been a loving daughter, wife and mother. She never stopped going to church, even during her pursuit of this businessman. How did this happen? The answer is in how she chose to comfort her pain.
If you sense, in reading this story, that we are backtracking, we are. The kinds of stories I enter into are full of people like this one . And I often get in at the worst moment, when the person’s choice has already started its death spiral, when the destruction is out where everyone can see it. Christian leaders, pastors and their wives, like everyone else, have the same ability to hide inside issues and compartmentalize sinful behavior out of the sight of those who would spiritually intervene. But at some point, it all comes splattering out into public. And often, at that point, the person no longer cares.
So let’s talk about the deadly sins that are in our heart. The main issue that we have to face is that comforting ourselves by sin is a personal choice. It may be consciously or unconsciously made, but it is our decision. The person who wounded us did not force us on that path. No outside being put a gun to our head to make us go in this direction. The devil didn’t make us do it. Deciding to comfort our wounds by sin is not even an age or maturity issue. At its root, it involves three forces at work influencing us that we may not even perceive at the time.
1) our depth, or lack of depth, of intimacy with God. All of us know that God has the right to reign over our lives. Doctrinally, we can recite the right beliefs and quote the right passages. But the flaw revealed in us through the Fall is our desire to blame God for our mess. This desire often gets in the way of our intimacy with Him. We withdraw even while we are busy serving Him and the church, and then feel empty and wonder why He demands – or why His people demand – so much of us. Then new wounds come up or old ones come out. We become angry at Him for not appreciating our obedience, our sacrifice, and yet we deny that anger. After all, how can we hold God accountable? So we reroute the anger and find ourselves in a place where the sin of our heart feels a whole lot better than listening for His voice. It is hard to ask God to heal us when we, at some level, are blaming Him as Adam did.
2) The rolemodeling that has taken place in our personal world. When the people of our world, who can also be the source of our wounds, model certain kinds of sinful choices in their own lives, we secretly resonate with them, even when rationally we are repelled. For example, people who have had a bad home life grow up say that they will never be like their parents. Except they often find that they really are when they have children. The DNA for that metamorphosis was implanted through the rolemodeling they endured. Sin begets sin. We know this action was wrong when ‘so and so’ did it, but it makes so much more sense to us now it is we who are choosing the action.
3) How open we are becoming to the lies of Satan. When we find ourselves out of intimacy with God, the truths we hold have a way of becoming twisted and sounding hollow. Satan shows up with his pretty lies. He speaks to our bruised egos. He sympathizes over our wounds. He suggests a way of hopeful recovery. Satan lies to us every day, until his lies begin to take on the veneer of reality and we try his suggestion ‘just this once.’
Except it never is just this once. All sin is addictive. READ THAT AGAIN! Do you understand what this means? It means that in a very short time that sin you choose will take charge of your will and you will no longer be able to choose not to do it. Your damaged emotions will press you to do it again and again until you give in. You will feel emotional pressure or release based on your response to the power of the addiction. You will not be able to stop yourself. And, in time, you will rationalize it. In case you missed it, the disgraced S.C. governor, Mark Sanford, asked his wife for permission to go see his mistress after he confessed the affair! You know the rest, as it has been thoroughly discussed by the media. That kind of addiction will happen to anyone who buys into Satan’s lies. It is just a matter of choice.
What is more, the addictive behavior has now become a source for further wounding. This is the irony of choosing sin for comfort. I was wounded and chose to comfort myself with one of the deadly sins in my heart. Now I am wounding myself from the result of that choice and am in a worse place than before. Hmmm – what sin will I choose to comfort me now?
Now we know why people caught in the tangle of the sin of their heart do not listen to wise spiritual counsel. The emotional blare of our sin addiction is louder than the truth of God – and the love of God. But this tale does not have to end in despair. We can choose even now to surrender to Jesus, who alone is able to do two things in us.
1) Deliver me from the sin of my heart. This is obvious. That is why God sent Jesus into the world in the first place. Sin produces brokenness in us, breaking not only our relationship with Him, but causing the damage that only He can repair. While I do include our sinful actions as needing Jesus’ deliverance, our real need is not for a particular addictive sin to come under His rule, but for the root cause of our actions to be removed. Not just gambling – but greed. Not just pornography – but lust. Not just selfish ambition – but pride. We need Jesus’ reign over the deadly sins that are the root of our destructive behavior. Then the visible sinful actions that mark our lives will lose their grip on us.
2) Heal the hurts of my heart. Yielding to Jesus’ reign over the sin in our heart is not enough, however. To break from the power of sin, we also need Jesus to heal the hurts of our heart. This is the desire of our souls. If we do not allow Jesus to touch the wounds, close ourselves off to His examination and healing power we are doomed to repeat the cycle of hurt, comfort and addiction for as long as we resist. We need to surrender to Jesus both of these things at the same time. This is the core of the good news of Jesus Christ. If we surrender, He is faithful in His promises to us. I encourage you again to meditate on the offer of finding mercy and obtaining grace in God’s presence, about which the author of Hebrews 4:16 spoke. I will pick this up here next post.