Monday, April 7, 2008

A Shared Pain

A very dear friend of mine recently shared with me and several others a personal story of heartache and grief that he's been enduring. Since his story is one to which so many others can relate, I asked him if it would be okay to put it on Viewpoint. He replied, in effect, that if it could provide some measure of solace to just one person undergoing similar trials, it'd be worth it. He didn't ask for it, but I promised him anonymity so I've changed the name of his son. Here's what he wrote:

To my closest friends and family,

As you know, the past months have been a battle for my wife and I. In recent days I have been reflecting on the situation in my journal. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to put into writing the heart of the struggle for me. I'm sharing it with you so that you will see the inside of my heart. I hope this will help you understand what this battle has been for me. I'm not sure why this is even important to me, but it is. I hope you will take the time to read this and then, just keep it in prayer:

Dear Journal,

I have been an advocate for marriage and family for a long time. I suppose the roots of my passion go back to my childhood. I grew up in a family of seven children. While not a perfect family, I grew up thinking we were. We always had vacations, we worshipped together, we were spared the typical dysfunctional elements that families often bear - alcoholism, infidelity and serious illness. My Dad was a preacher and he believed very much in marriage and family. He helped instill these values in me.

After I married, I fathered four sons of my own. While not as large as my family of origin, having four children was somewhat uncommon. There were times we would walk into a mall or restaurant and feel the stares of people. Birth control had become increasingly available and popular. Population control was in vogue. Young couples were encouraged to have only two children. I guess I was breaking the rules. Then too, having four boys was out of the norm. The perfect family was two children---one boy and one girl. We were not the normal family, but I was convinced that we were a family to be proud of.

I entered college after my wife and I had children. As part of my studies, I chose subjects to research or write on that pertained to marriage and family. Woman's liberation had emerged, and in my opinion was an attack on the traditional family. I was particularly engaged in the arguments against working moms--something that became increasingly popular and common during those years as well. I read articles and wrote papers on the dangers of working mothers and the statistics that indicated woman in the workforce contributed to infidelity and divorce. My wife was in agreement with me and never worked outside the home. She devoted her time and energy to provide an awesome home environment for both myself and my children.

While growing up I had never personally experienced a broken marriage. Neither my parents, none of my aunts nor uncles, nor any of my grandparents on either side, had ever divorced. The first deviation from this pattern and norm came while I was in my first year of college. My Dad's brother, my uncle, had an adulterous affair. He had two daughters---my cousins. I lived only a short distance from my uncle when I discovered that he was cheating on his wife, my aunt. It angered me. I confronted him about it and begged him to stop and to make his marriage work. The entire situation hurt my grandparents deeply as it ended in a divorce and the selling of long-time family-owned farm property.

Not many years afterward, while I was still in college, I got a phone call from my twin brother. I will never forget his first words. He asked me if I was sitting down. Choking back tears he informed me that he discovered that his wife, a long-time friend of my wife and I, as well as being my sister-in-law, was having an affair and indicated she wanted out of the marriage. Again, as an advocate of marriage and family, I offered my help and counsel. I had several conversations with my sister-in-law, presenting evidence that I had amassed in my head of the long-term damaging effects of divorce upon children. They had two children, my niece and nephew. I had first witnessed the devastating effect of divorce on my two younger cousins, now I watched in horror as the pain ripped through the lives of my even younger niece and nephew. My sister-in-law not only ended up leaving her husband, but, seemingly out of guilt, also left my brother with the two children. My parents were devastated as divorce now wreaked the same havoc in their family that it had in my grandparent's family.

The epidemic continued. Several years later, I learned that a younger brother of mine, a man ordained in the ministry, had an affair with his church organist. Again, I felt my heart break, and I offered my help and advice. Thankfully, they were able to mend their marriage, but they never fully recovered. Now, years later, they have filed for divorce. They have four young-adult, unmarried children. Several of the children have been involved in drug usage. None of them are interested in Christian discipleship or the Christian life-style.

Enough is enough, but it wasn't over yet. After I graduated from college I entered the full-time ministry myself. With my passion for family and marriage I started immediately in ministry to offer help to troubled marriages. I continued to read book after book and article after article to gain information to help protect marriages. I began to preach several series of sermons on marriages and even taught marriage seminars. My wife and I conducted additional marriage retreats for couples. There were times we took troubled married spouses into our home. Despite my efforts, of course, I encountered marriages that failed. Through my counseling office door came person after person who either was in a troubled marriage or had been affected by one as a child. I grew quite familiar with the stories of adult children of divorce. The more I heard first hand and learned, the more my heart broke and the more passionate I became to help save marriages.

Then came a real bomb shell, although it would be small compared to what would come later. Another brother of mine who attended the church I pastored, informed me that his wife had cheated on him. This was a woman who he had met in the same Bible college I had attended. They had partnered together in ministry and had even served on staff at the same church early in their marriage. They had four children whom they had home-schooled. Immediately I tried to intervene and help them. Both came for counseling, both seemed to want to work through their issues, though at unmatched intervals. Finally, after months and months of chaos, fighting, lying and screaming, the thing ended in divorce. Helplessly, I watched my parents suffer through grief and watched once again as my nieces and nephews were thrown into the divorced parent whirlpool. The years ahead of them held in store drug use, addiction and even arrest.

On September 7th, 2008 the atomic bomb dropped. While on the way home from an enjoyable evening out, I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law asking if she could spend the night at our house. When I questioned why, her voice quavered and she said: "Rick (my son) is having an affair." Immediately my mind was flooded with all the history of the above. I went into shock. My wife and I made an immediate trip to their house. There, I met face to face the denial, the excuses, the lies and the dishonesty that I had seen in the faces of many, many people from the past. This time it was my own son wearing the mask. The real Rick, the son I had known all his life, was strangely absent. I didn't know the person who was trying to convince me that what he was doing was unavoidable. Married seven years they had just had their first baby. There hadn't been any evidence of a troubled marriage. How could I, a marriage counselor have missed this? How could this be happening? I offered one hour of counseling every day for the next week. Surely this would end, it would stop. This was insanity! My son only attended two sessions with me. He walked out angrily during the second one when I confronted him with the immorality of his behavior.

Now it's been seven months. Things have only gotten worse. The affair has matured into a living together arrangement. The "other woman's" husband has left her. She has two small children. Rick has refused to go to counseling or seek help. His wife, my daughter-in-law is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after months of incredible and insane treatment, arguments, lies and deception. She is doing her best to be a mother to their son, now one year old. Recently, she moved out of the house they bought and remodeled together and put it up for sale. Rick has supposedly filed for divorce. He has rejected all possibility of reconciliation at this point. He will not listen to his father's advice and is in complete denial of the consequences of his choices.

As a pastor, a father and a marriage advocate and counselor, the actions, behaviors and decisions of my son are an absolute nightmare. There are mornings I wake up telling myself this can't be happening and there are nights I don't sleep. Marriage and family, the very thing that I have invested much of my life protecting and promoting, has failed to take root in a member of my first congregation--my family. My son has made friends with the very enemy I have spent a lifetime trying to defeat. I think of this like a father who might be the founder of a safe-haven for pregnant girls who discovers his own daughter is planning to have an abortion, or as a father who travels the country preaching against drunk driving only to discover that his daughter has been arrested for DUI.

I don't know what the outcome of all this will be. There is salvation in the Lord and sometimes those who fail become the strongest allies of reform. As for myself, I am determined to sound the alarm and preach the message. By God's grace I will never cease to be an advocate of marriage and family. If anything, this has strengthened my resolve. At the end of my life, I hope there are at least a few people who, because of my message and example decided to make their marriage work. Perhaps a few will even decide to take up the torch themselves. God knows, we need Christians who will champion the cause.