My marriage to my first husband, Bob, seemed straight out of a fairytale for the first decade or so. One another’s best friends, we loved playing tennis, video games, river rafting, listening to sermons—almost anything, as long as it was together.
Twelve years into our marriage, the spring morning dawned bright and sunny and, as was my habit, I was sitting in my wonderful "King Arthur" recliner, enjoying my time with the Lord. Bob also practiced daily quiet time. Seated on the couch in the same room, his eyes were closed in prayer, bible open on his lap.
At this early hour when the children were still in bed, all seemed so serene. How like a picture of our marriage this scene seemed to me. During those years, I praised God so often that he had given me a godly husband, that our marriage was based on a solid foundation. As I looked back over my life it seemed that God had given me a precious gift of having done this one thing right...I had married such a wonderful man—a great father, a patient, kind person, and a great provider. Given my past history of abuse of all kinds, I considered this very precious — and exceptional!
Recently, I had noticed that Bob had begun to struggle keeping a lid on his temper—something that had never been a problem. He also seemed somewhat depressed. I had consoled myself that this had to do with having recently left our church home of fifteen years. He went from a place of great responsibility and value in a struggling church to a thriving church home that had thousands of people, but we both felt somewhat anonymous. I assumed there was a void or vacuum in his life that he was struggling to fill where church service had once been. I had further convinced myself that before long we would be "plugged in" to leadership there and all would once again be well.
On that particular morning, I looked ahead at the day that the Lord had made. I was “rejoicing and being glad” in it, and Bob looked up from his praying. The night before, we had returned from a weekend of wonderful time together at our new church's leadership conference. We had relished the joy and excitement of being together with people who love the Lord. All that time together had reminded us of times we had had earlier in our marriage—before his temper began to intensify. Before he seemed increasingly depressed.
Bob's face reflected concern. He invited me to join him on the couch with outstretched arms. Holding me close, he began to speak: "There is something I need to tell you..."
Unsettled upon hearing those words, nothing could have prepared me for what Bob shared with me at that moment.
"I have dabbled in internet pornography. I need to tell you. I need to confess it...I need your forgiveness..."
Now, two decades later, I know that disclosure was woefully incomplete and that what was no less than sex addiction brought about the ultimate death of our “storybook” marriage after 33 years. Bob ultimately gave in to the enemy of his soul. Sixteen years after he had first admitted his “flirtation” with internet porn, he announced that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with God and that he was no longer committed to our marriage. Within four years of that admission, we were divorced.
I never dreamed that it would happen to us...to me.
And it all began with:
“There is something I need to tell you...”
So, when, in June of this year, Michael, the man I was engaged to marry in a few weeks said to me “I have something I need to tell you...” Like an echo in a long dark hallway, the words were vaguely familiar and not just a little alarming. Internally, I panicked. Adrenaline surged through my system. I felt a very real urge to run...before I even heard what it was that Michael wanted to tell me.
Between the end of Michael’s sentence and the time he got the next words out...moments stretched out like hours...I had plenty of time to go to toxic places in my head.
I remember feeling a heaviness in my chest and realizing I needed to breathe. Reminding myself that I had just been triggered or, like one counselor calls it, “bungeed back to a point in the past,” I attempted to tell myself what is true. To think God’s thoughts after Him. The challenging experience of my past was in my face, demanding a hearing…now.
“Michael is devoted to me.”
“He has worked long and hard to bring his very best to our relationship.”
“If he drifts, the Lord will get us through it.”
Michael completed his thought. “I bought some purple gems.”
He had just made reference to an online game that we both enjoy playing for free without purchasing any of the add-ons available to help a player progress faster in the game..
GOOD GRIEF! My internal reaction was way out of proportion to what Michael disclosed—all because of a past trauma associated with the destruction of my marriage and my family.
As you can imagine, I was so relieved that his “disclosure” wasn’t about viewing pornography or some equally disturbing truth, but that it was only that he had spent $10 on a game we had agreed with one another we would only play for free.
Triggers are like this. They hit us out of nowhere. They take us right back to a space in time where we may need to forgive someone, process a wound, meet with the Lord. We may need to renew our minds about a very specific experience in order not to relive it again and again and again.
Sometimes, before we speak out and do damage in the present because of damage done to us in the past we can quietly pray and ask God to direct our thoughts . Fortunately, that was what happened in this example.
But there are many, many *other* examples I could share where I have been triggered and the one stumbling over my “trip wire” was NOT so fortunate.
When this happens, it reminds me that I have a need to go to the Lord to process pain when it happens. Or like one woman in our Fresh Wind Fresh Desire coaching groups said, “To feel the feel.” To deal with disappointment, to forgive...There is work to be done and God is calling me to take His hand as we walk through it together.
How about you?
Do you have any triggers that bungee you back to a place in your distant past? Is there something there that the Lord may want you to bring to Him so he can comfort you as you face into it? He wants to heal. Like Dr. Carolyn Leaf says, we need to feel in order to heal.
What will you do to experience the “more-than-conqueror” type of victory that the Lord intends?
~ Heidi Bylsma-Epperson