Language matters. I want you to know that. The way you speak to me from the pulpit or your office can either cause further harm to my understanding of God or it can unlock the freedom of knowing that God is on my side and he is grieved for all that I have lost.
Let me back up and introduce myself. I am a pornography widow. I was married for 11 years to a man addicted to pornography. He led in a youth group, served on an elder board and created a great image for himself in our community. At home, his wife was starving for compassion, empathy, love, kindness and patience. She was treated harshly, ignored, blamed, deceived, taken advantage of and treated with indifference. She was manipulated, coerced, controlled and pushed around. She sat in your pews every Sunday morning, singing the hymns and songs, serving in your church nursery, on your worship team, in the choir, attending Women’s Bible Studies, but all the while she was bleeding internally. She was trapped in her own personal hell. Unclear of her own reality and confused by her husband’s mood swings, isolation, and explosions of anger. When she tried to ask for his heart, she was pushed away – to spend her own time in seclusion, alone and wondering.
Let me ask you a question Pastor: Do you see me?
I’m the one in the way back of the church, slumped down in my pew – hoping no one will notice my tear stained face.
Let me ask you a question Deacon: Do you see me?
I might be the woman who is singing on stage – leading the church in worship – clapping and raising my hands in praise. On the inside: I’m lost, but I go thru the motions to survive.
Let me ask you a question Teacher: Do you see me?
I might be the woman who sits in the front row, furiously taking notes on what your teaching, hoping THIS might be the KEY to fix my marriage. Maybe THIS lesson on love and respect is what has been the problem the whole time. If I could just say the right thing in the exact right way – then he won’t explode in rage.
Let me ask you a question Elder: Do you see me?
I might be the woman who signs up to teach Vacation Bible School, serve in the Meals on Wheels program, attend a missions trip, and teach Sunday School. I look organized and motivated on the outside – and I can keep my family together, but inside I’m screaming and I am so afraid.
Your words matter to me.
And I figured it out before you did:
I am up against a man who is addicted to pornography and his recovery is not sustainable for his unrepentant heart – his addiction causes so much shame and disdain for himself – he takes it out on those around him. Did you know that Pastor?
He uses his anger to shut his wife up and get her off his back. He cannot handle my feedback nor yours, due to his pride. His heart has turned to stone. (Romans 1:24)
If you try to come to my aid and help me – my husband’s coercive tactics are quite brilliant. His narcissistic tendencies will fool and convince you that I am an unsubmissive, disobedient, and rebellious woman. His words will come out fluidly, eloquently and smooth like butter: “He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.” -Psalm 55:21 Don’t be fooled pastor and teacher: this is not who he is behind the closed doors of his home.
His double mindedness will convince you he is the victim. (James 1:8) You don’t know or see that when I get home – he will punish me with the very words I have tried to express in your marriage counseling office. You don’t know that I’m drowning in a distorted reality he has created because of his perversion. I’m not even sure what my reality is yet.
When I confront my husband about his behavior he lies. And he will lie to you too, Deacon and Elder. He has built a bed of lies which cloaks my senses in a fog of confusion.
Let me ask you: Pastor, Teacher, Elder and Deacon;
Could you live like this?
Could you live in such a way where scripture was quoted every time sex was demanded?
Could you live isolated and alone with a person who appears kind, but turns into a harsh-voiced monster when you arrive home?
Could you imagine your daughter living this way?
When I come to you and tell you my husband is looking at pornography, PLEASE BELIEVE ME. Don’t try to fix it. Just listen.
When I tell you the porn is a manifestation of a heart of PRIDE and ABUSE: PLEASE BELIEVE ME. Just listen.
And choose your next words wisely. Language matters.
When you say: “God uses trials to strengthen you.”
I hear: God caused this because you must have been to weak or you have done something bad to deserve this. God is mean and punishing.
What I wish I could hear from you: “You are priceless and precious – God is RAGING over the fact that you have been treated this way. He is deeply ANGERED that a man has unjustly forsaken his wife and treated her treacherously. This is NOT okay – and you should not be treated this way. What do you need from me?”
When you say: “Just have faith and trust God”
I hear: Your pain doesn’t matter. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you trust God? You must not have strong enough faith and that is why this happened, because your faith is weak. Your not a good Christian – if you have faith then you won’t need to worry about this.
What I wish I could hear from you: “God did not intend for His children to hurt in this way. God did not cause this and neither did you. This is not your fault. It is okay to be angry, furious, sad, depressed, anxious and hurt. It is okay to grieve this loss. Our first job will be to keep you emotionally and physically safe during this time.”
When you say: “God applies pressure in our lives to grow us.”
I hear: God is a punisher, cruel and manipulates His children. He causes chaos just to play with us. He caused this pain and this situation. I must deserve this.
What I wish I could hear from you: “Your husband chose to do this. He made choices that have led Him away from God’s heart and allowed evil to enter his home. His job as a husband is to lay His life down for His wife – just as Christ did for the church. He is choosing this path. It is not your fault and God did not cause this. How do you see God comforting you in this hard time? Do you see His love in the small things? There are those in our community who will come around you, uphold and care for you and your children.”
When you say: “Forgive him seventy times seven”
I hear: You need to stay with this man and continue to forgive him every time he looks at pornography and masturbates. It’s your duty to “cover a multitude of sins” If you don’t forgive than you are not a loving wife, nor a good Christian. The goal is to forgive, let go and just move on. You will be disappointing God if you don’t forgive, God will be mad at you and He won’t help you.
What I wish I could hear from you: “You have been gravely injured by your most intimate relationship. God is deeply grieved for your pain. Grieving and healing are going to take time. I want you to know that God understands the mind and heart – He knows it takes a lot of processing to get to a place of forgiveness. If you forgive too soon -you will run the risk of burying many emotions and pains that need to be exposed and processed. You can move toward forgiveness by seeking help, community and support with people who will love and care for you in the body of Christ. Forgiveness does not mean trust or relationship, your husband had destroyed both of those.”
Pastor, Teacher, Elder and Deacon: Maybe you will read this and maybe you won’t – but I want you to know “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27
Statistically, over half your congregation is filled with pornography widows and orphans sitting in the pews every Sunday morning. The widows are desolate and starving – dying on the vine of their marriage – unseen and unheard by their addicted spouse. The children are isolated and lonely – starving for a daddy who can provide affection, tenderness and empathy. The orphans blame themselves for the distance and hypocrisy they sense in the home.
Remember, it might not look like something is wrong on the outside – but I need a lifeline. And language matters.