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Pilgrim's Guides


  Minimizing Grief's Desolation
Part Four



Expressing Grief and Loss
When Impatience Sets in
The Power of Resilience
Bringing Rest to Troubled Souls
Too Many Choices

When the Grass Appears Greener
Wounds in the Household of Faith
Moving beyond the Reefs of Rejection
Handling Dark Times: Tunnel Experiences
The Dark Night of the Soul

  When the Grass appears greener
I thought to Myself, “I would love to treat you as My own children!” I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land – the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling Me “Father,” and I wanted you never to turn from Me. But you have been unfaithful to Me. You’ve been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband.
Jeremiah 3:19-20
  The opening chapters of Jeremiah contain some of the most poignant and tender laments in the Bible. The Lord has done so much for His people, and it hurts Him when they proved as unfaithful to Him as a wife who deserts her husband and runs to take another. For Jeremiah, as for Hosea, there can be no greater sin than turning our backs on our Heavenly Lover. It grieves the Lord deeply.

The moment we lower the shield that Biblical truths provide us with, we are in danger of exchanging the truth about God for plausible and sophisticated alternatives (Romans 1:25). Since this is as true for matters of the heart as for any other area of our life, Paul tells Timothy to:

  Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.
1 Timothy 4:16

When marital relationships are at a low ebb, it is easy to fantasize that some new relationship will prove far more fulfilling – especially if it appears to offer a way of escaping heavy responsibilities.

For many years, Carlene8 prayed for her husband to come to faith, but when this did not appear to happen, they moved to a remote part of the country, and the way was wide open for a marital disaster. In time, an “attraction” led to a full blown affair, which she managed to keep concealed. One year later, her husband was spectacularly converted, but because Carlene was so committed now to her new man, she was unable to rejoice at the answer to something she had once prayed night and day for.

Determined to pursue her affair, she rang to let me know that she was leaving her husband. Knowing how important the next few minutes would be, I prayed for the Lord to give me wisdom. Into my head popped an article I had read in the National Geographic Magazine, which describes in graphic scientific detail how such infatuations are like a mental illness – a psycho-physiological process that is highly likely to run out of steam after a certain period of time when a master valve in the brain suddenly switches off the “chemistry” that had, until then, been flowing so strongly.9

“In other words,” I told Carlene, “the time will come when your feelings for your lover will switch off, and you will be left with no feelings for him, no family to turn back to, and, worst of all, no fire in your heart for the Lord.” All too often I have shared such warnings to no effect, but on this occasion, a strong conviction came on her that things would work out exactly as I predicted. There and then she made the courageous decision to face the issue head on and to return to her husband – even though she very much doubted that he would be able to handle her infidelity.

“Why do you think the Lord has been strengthening him so much?” I replied. “Most husbands “know” in their spirits when something is wrong,” I pointed out. “Surely one of the reasons the Lord has been blessing Mark so powerfully has been to prepare him for this?” Carlene agreed uncertainly, took a deep breath, and set off to restore the relationship. Her fears proved groundless. Mark forgave her immediately and the couple are now fully restored.

When a married person “falls in love,” or runs away from a marriage, they are usually so caught up in their new passion that they mentally minimise the effect their affair will have on their children – some of whom may never fully trust them again. When they finally realise what they have lost, they are often devastated. They may also make the unwelcome discovery that the person they are attracted to has their own set of demands and dynamics – all of which impose their own requirements and responsibilities.

Many people’s lifestyle these days is so intense that it almost encourages them to go in search of something to “compensate” for things they are finding too painful to bear, or which they perceive to be lacking in their lives.

Where this searching inclines them to perceive another person as having more compassion or charisma than the person to whom they owe their chief loyalty, they may soon find themselves constructing elaborate hopes and fantasies around them.

As surely as there is a special anointing that causes people to open their hearts to each other in God-given friendship, it is as well to be aware that the powers of darkness are also highly skilled in kindling potentially fatal attractions. Counterfeit chemistry leads to emotional complications that can shipwreck marriages in exchange for nothing more substantial than a passing infatuation.

Just as David moved swiftly to secure an intimate audience with Bathsheba, such longings can develop rapidly from mental fantasies into dangerously co-dependent relationships. Only this week I heard about a vicar abandoning his wife for a curate half his age, leaving the parish in shock and grief. Such things affect far more than the people most directly involved.

When someone “suddenly” leaves, it is usually the end result of a process that has been going on for some time. For many, the process of infatuation begins (or accelerates) during times of grief, when a person is already emotionally vulnerable.

Just as the Lord uses shared interests – or hardships – as a starting point for promising new relationships, so the enemy seeks to do the same in order to bait the snare and spring his trap. Even seemingly well defended people – whether seventeen or seventy – can be induced to follow a path that will lead to exceedingly messy complications.

David’s early faithfulness to the Lord was exemplary, but the effects of his affair with Bathsheba profoundly affected the lives of his children. No other sin leaves quite such a trail of misery as adultery. That is why Paul’s warning remains as relevant today as it ever was: If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

If we find ourselves directing immense amounts of spiritual and emotional energy towards someone else, it is time to take stock. Is the Lord calling us to befriend this person and to lend them our strength? Or are we in danger of becoming infatuated with them? Check your timetable and your bank balance to see just how much you are doing to accommodate these new desires. As Catherine Marshall reminds us,

  A man and a woman can live in the same house, in fact lie side by side in the same bed, and still be worlds apart. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only lonely people are single people. Loneliness doesn’t fly out of the window in the wake of the marriage ceremony.10  

As surely as we benefit from taking the Lord’s promises and encouragements to heart, it is equally as important to heed His warnings. Since adultery almost never occurs where people are “heart accountable,” have you got at least one person who knows what is really going on in your heart? Make sure it is not the person you are feeling attracted to!

Many hold back from seeking out the level of covering we are speaking of here, because they have seen pastors, leaders and family members over-reacting when someone has confessed to a growing attraction. I have come across leaders who have been summarily demoted, and even driven out of the ministry, not necessarily because “something has happened,” but simply because the person concerned shared how they were feeling, and the leadership overreacted for fear of appearing to compromise.

In other words, the very course of action that should have prevented the problem from developing became the means of crushing souls who were battling not to give in to it. How tragic. Nine times out of ten, everything could have been defused by prayer and counsel.

Nothing is foolproof, but taking time to ponder the following safeguards will both enrich our relationships and make “accidental” attractions much less likely to occur.11

  • Read and take to heart the message of Proverbs 2:16-19, 5:20-21, and 6:23-29.
  • At any given point in your relationship with someone who is not your marriage partner, would you feel comfortable if either the Lord Jesus or your husband or wife were physically present?
  • Take time to discover what qualities it is that your partner is seeking from the relationship (as opposed to what you think they want).12 This will help you to direct your love and care where it is most appreciated.
  • Lay down any unrealistic expectations you brought into the relationship. Much can be resolved if you will both appreciate what the other is contributing to the relationship, and acknowledge the pressures you are both under.
  • Pray regular and specific prayers for each other. This can do wonders to focus and renew your love.
Reflect and Pray
He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in
wisdom is kept safe. Proverbs 28:26

If you sense (or fear) that it would be unwise to share what is really going on in your heart with the “obvious” person, make sure that you do have someone to be accountable to. Don’t sit tight and wait to see what happens.

In a letter to someone who was experiencing a fantasy relationship with a woman in his office, Bel Mooney counselled:

  It goes without saying that you have to work at truly valuing and loving your wife anew. I tell you this. When you are old, and impending death is more than a troubadour’s melancholic trope, the woman of your dreams (your wife, that is, not the fantasy woman) will, God willing, be at your side. She will be caring and loving, stroking your brow, wiping the soup from your lips – and still wearing, albeit with wrinkles, the face of the woman you loved deeply enough to marry.14  

Ian Britton, freefoto


Wounds in the Household of Faith
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6

If you are anything like me, you will have known many occasions when you have received stinging rejections, and have greatly needed friends and counsellors to pull out the darts and arrows that have pierced your soul.
Read More . . .
8 For reasons of confidentiality, this is not her real name.
9 National Geographic Magazine February 2006
10 Marshall, C. (2001) "They walk in wistfulness," in To Live Again. Chosen Books
11 I would recommend in Nick Cuthbert's book How to survive as a church leader, Monarch (2006) and in particular the chapter "Run from the sexual snare."
12 See www.ruachministries.org/articlesandpublications/marriages.doc
14 Reproduced with her permission from her regular newspaper column in the Daily Mail.

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