Twenty years ago my husband Mike and I first participated in the Living Waters program. During a time of crisis in our marriage, we didn’t know where to turn. Although we had been honest with Christian friends concerning the pattern of sexual addiction Mike was experiencing and the despair on my part, we found that no-one seemed to know “what to do with us.”
Out of desperation Mike found that first Living Waters group, and I tagged along wanting to “be a support.” Over the next several months, we immersed ourselves in that healing stream. Both of us received from the Lord more than we initially imagined. Although Mike had the “presenting problem,” we both began to identify the unhealthy sinful patterns we’d brought into our relationship.
I entered my marriage insecure in my gender identity as a woman and didn’t even know it. This insecurity can take many forms; I experienced a feeling of powerlessness. I didn’t know how to identify desires of my heart, needs or wants, let alone voice them. This, in part, was due to early childhood deprivation and unmet, legitimate God-given needs. I became what others wanted. Because of this I felt invisible, unimportant and “beige.” The colors of my world were always on someone else’s canvas. Because of Mike’s particular brokenness, which tended toward a misogynistic view of women, I saw myself as subservient, a counterfeit of true submission.
I didn’t see myself, my gender or my sexuality as a “good gift” from God. Rather, I viewed my sexuality as a wildfire that would burn me and others. I didn’t experience any parental nurturing of this gift in my growing up years and had no knowledge or equipping that prepared me to face adolescence. Shame followed me and left me vulnerable to hiddenness and unhealthy sexual boundaries.
While reading Living Waters, the truth that we are created in God’s image as male and female began to impact me. The beautiful way it takes both men and women to show forth His character in a fallen world gave me hope for myself and for my marriage. My patriarchal view of spirituality—the notion that “it was better to be a man”—began to vanish as I saw the beauty of how God desired to reveal Himself in the complementarity of the genders.
Mike and I began to appreciate each other in new ways. I learned to value his greater strength, and he understood at a deeper level my responsive nature and how that can leave me vulnerable. I recall an instance when Mike and I were having a “heated discussion.” Mike realized that because of my greater capacity to “internalize,” hurtful words and actions carried a greater weight in my soul than in his. This awareness has been very enlightening and supportive as we’ve learned to communicate with one another in beneficial ways.
As God began to heal my broken soul and renew my mind, I began to see myself as a “masterpiece” created by the Master Artist. Though I was beautiful and full of His glory, I was yet obscured by the “grit and grime” of layers of sin—my own and those of others against me. Perhaps He could see the colors underneath! Maybe the Lord had more for me than the drab “beige” I’d been experiencing.
The foundation of this healing was the striking reality of Jesus’ death on the cross and the price He paid for our freedom from sin. This certainty became the anchor for my soul. I saw with clarity: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” and that He has lavished His grace and love upon me (Gal 2:20, Eph 1:7-8).
As I walked through the pain of betrayal in my marriage and childhood brokenness, the light of His mercy absorbed the darkness in my soul and empowered me to forgive Mike. Both of us learned how to take our sins and the sins of others against us to the cross. The greatness of God’s love convinced me that I had no excuse to feel abandoned or even neglected. His love covers “a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8).
As I shared the grief I was experiencing in my life and marriage with the small group, I found mercy that extended hope for healing. In contrast, non-Christians had no “pocket” for this gracious mercy. Their advice: quit, leave, divorce. I’m thankful I didn’t listen! Through Christ we are more than conquerors. I’m learning to love with a devotion that doesn’t come and go, thanks be to God.
It’s been many years now since we’ve walked through our “crisis”; today Mike is sober, and I stand in the “true self” God created me to be. Still, God is faithful to “fine tune” our relationship. We’ve learned more about the gift of chastity and have been enriched. We long for our single brothers and sisters to embrace sexual purity as a wonderful head start to a good relationship and a healthy marriage (if God wills).
The “bright flame” of His gift to us now burns within the boundary of our marriage “fireplace”; it brings warmth to our souls and benefits not only us but also our family and friends. Though our sexual relationship is sacred and personal, its foundation is divine love. Our marriage creates a healing source of love for others. The sacrament of marriage is a revelation on earth of Christ’s great love for His church. As we His children uphold marriage in a culture that defiles it, God’s image shines upon a hurting world that desperately needs His amazing love and mercy.