When Paul Newman died last weekend, every media outlet in the land ran a feature on him. More than one quoted his line about how his marriage had survived the temptations of Hollywood: “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”
We all smiled at that. But there’s a massive fallacy running through that kind of thinking.
What if I have hamburger at home and find steak outside? Some have done exactly that. Is adultery all right if it’s an improvement over what you have at home?
What if I have, not hamburger, but baloney at home?
What if I’m starving at home?
The strongest brand of marital fidelity is when the person has little or nothing at home and still is faithful to his/her spouse. On the surface, they have every excuse and the perfect reason to “find comfort” outside, yet they remain true to their marriage vows.
A pastor I know has admitted to cheating on his wife. When the news came, it hurt so bad, it felt like I had let him down some way. I have intensely lifted him and his wife to the Father in prayer ever since.
In a situation like that, what I’d like to say to the couple is that the news is not all bad. The “innocent” spouse has a reason to leave, if he/she chooses, but there are so many more reasons to stay. First and foremost is the children. But high on that list, too, is the assurance that God can heal a fractured marriage and make it stronger in the broken places.
That will not happen without counseling, however. By that I mean your marriage needs a strong friend, someone wiser than you, someone willing to walk with you and your spouse over the next year or so while you rebuild trust and the relationship.
That counselor needs to be a Christian if you are and if you value spiritual things. Adultery is almost always a spiritual problem, and the remedy is spiritual. But not just any Christian is qualified to help you put a marriage together again. Ask around. Pray for guidance.
Recently, sitting with a group of young pastors over coffee, I asked how they were protecting themselves against the possibility of committing adultery.
“Before you answer,” I said, “perhaps I should warn you of two things. The possibility of adultery is always there before you, and the fight to overcome temptation never ever goes away.”
Depressing, ain’t it? One would think we get to a certain point in life where we don’t have to fight these battles any more because we’re so old or so mature or so godly. Sorry.
You know what I’ve discovered? What some people call a “dirty old man” is just a fellow who kept on doing what he had always done and happened to get old in the process. In his mind, he’s still 15. To the teenager girl he flirts with, he’s a freak.
As long as we are in this body, we fight these battles.
Think how many retirees you have heard of who ran off with some sweetie they met in the hospital or the senior center or wherever.
I think about King David. When he lusted after Bathsheba–a very human moment that started him on a disastrous path which ended with his arranging the murder of her good husband Uriah and then the death of the infant baby–David had reached the middle years of life when he should have been enjoying the fruits of a long life well lived. However, with time on his hands now, he failed to guard against the instincts of his base nature.
Here’s the way that passage in II Samuel 11 begins. “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle…that David remained at Jerusalem. Then, one evening, David rose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof, he saw a woman….”
What are you doing to protect yourself, I asked the pastors. Here are some of their answers.
1) I’m never with a woman alone, other than my wife.
2) If I have to counsel a woman, I arrange for my wife or a staff member to remain close.
3) If I need to meet with a woman in my church, I do it at a public place like McDonald’s. (We discussed whether this was smart or dumb.)
4) Stay close to the Lord. Keep prayed up and keep my guard up.
5) Stay close to my wife.
6) Make a covenant with my eyes. (That’s a reference to Job 31:1, where the NKJV reads, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” It implies looking lustfully.)
7) Deal with those unhealthy thoughts. My friend and mentor James Richardson once said, “The man responding to the gleam in the woman’s eye should be careful it’s not a reflection of the one in his own eye.”
There’s something inside us that would like to have a once-and-for-all spiritual experience in which these old desires are put to death and we never have to deal with them again. But that is not to be.
“I die daily,” Paul said in I Corinthians 15:31. That’s the plan.
An old book which I’ll highly recommend to you is Eugene Peterson’s “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” The title makes the point.
A pastor I know once told me he was thinking seriously of leaving his wife for someone he had met and whom he loved dearly. His marriage was never strong, he admitted, and his wife could never be what he needed.
We talked for a long time, back and forth. I sensed his pain and my heart went out to him. The main point I recall stressing to him was this: if you leave your wife and marry the new woman, you will regret it for the rest of your life. On your dying bed, you will be sorry for the heartache you brought upon your wife and children. But if you break this relationship, it will hurt a while, but you will get over it, and I guarantee you, you will be glad you did for the rest of your life.
To his credit, he broke off the relationship. My limited experience in these matters, however, is that this was the exception. As a rule, when one is to the point that brother was, his mind is made up and welcomes no additional input from any direction.
Don’t do it, pastor. It’s not worth it.
When any other husband in the land sins against his wife, it hurts her and the children and a few other people. But when a pastor falls, he brings great pain to all those he has given his life to helping, he brings public humiliation to his wife and children, and he brings a sadistic pleasure to the enemy of all that is good and holy. The religious skeptics in town scoff, “See–they’re just like all the rest!” The religious seekers say, “Well, I guess they don’t have the answers. I’ll look elsewhere.”
My young pastor friends stopped too short on their list of marriage-saving devices. We’ll invite readers to add your own suggestions at the end of this article.
Here are a few of my own….
1. Watch your reading material.
2. Get any and all pornography far, far away from your life.
3. Cancel television cable channels that bring temptation to you.
4. As a member of AA avoids a tavern, so you should steer clear of any place that soils your heart and dirties your mind.
5. Ask your wife to be your ally in this. You cannot do this without her participation.
6. You might need a good counselor yourself. Remember, it might be hard for you to talk about the problem you’re dealing with, but you will not shock the counselor any more than you could shock a medical doctor with a rash. He has seen it all.
7. Pull together a few prayer partners (of the same sex, obviously). Share with each other the problems, the temptations, you face and pray for each other. Let me assure you that every healthy man on the planet deals with these issues at one time or the other.
And pray for your pastor. Pray hard.