I recently read a book written by a woman who, for over twenty years, had lived with a man addicted to pornography. It was beautifully written and truly captured the pain a wife in such circumstances must endure. For instance, at one point she told of her visit to a clinic in a seedy part of town to be tested for AIDS. With great skill she wrote of her years of anguish, her sense of betrayal. She eloquently described—in almost romantic metaphor—the loss of the best years of her life being married to an utterly self-centered man who cared little for her and their children. The story was, to say the least, gripping. Having experienced this myself, I could easily relate to what she was describing.
My first reaction was anger: I was mad at this man for how his utter selfishness ruined this family. Didn’t he care about this woman’s feelings? Was it so much to ask of him to consider someone other than himself?
As I was nearing the completion of this book, I happened to read an article on which my husband was working. He was expressing the great importance of rescuing souls who are bound up in chains of darkness, on their way to hell. In stunning detail he depicted what hell would be like for this man. Reading his article reminded me of the urgency of our work at Pure Life Ministries: someone must rescue these lost souls before they plunge into a Christless eternity!
As I read his commentary, I found my mind drifting over to the man about whom this woman had written. Something happened in my heart: I was convicted about my calloused reaction to him. It was true that this guy was a real jerk, but Jesus died for sinners like him: prostitutes, drug addicts, thieves and murderers. Such people have made up a good portion of the Church for two thousand years.
As I considered her book and Steve’s article, it became very clear to me how opposite the messages of each were to each other: the contrast was stark. Stripped to their barest form, the focus of one was temporal while the other was eternal. Of course, it goes without saying that there is a legitimate place for believers to be concerned about temporal needs. But when we get right down to it, who should be the real object of pity in this story—the family or the man?
I regularly receive letters from broken-hearted wives who have been devastated by their husband’s unfaithfulness. The cry of their heart is, “What can I do? It hurts so much! I just want a godly husband and a good marriage.” I remember so well experiencing those feelings myself. My heart always goes out to these hurting women.
And yet, over the years I have seen a disturbing trend emerging. It seems that there is an increasing consciousness about the wife’s happiness and a growing lack of concern over the eternal destiny of the husband. They say, “He has made his bed, let him lie in it. He chooses to do these things,” etc.
And yet, it has become a very rare occurrence to have a wife write: “My husband is in deep spiritual trouble and I am concerned that he is heading for destruction or even hell. Can you and your staff please, please pray for his soul? If he doesn’t get right with God what hope does my family have anyway?”
I hate to be the one to say this (I am certain I will get a pile of angry letters), but someone has to say it: How can wives decry their husband’s selfishness (as obvious and blatant as it is) without seeing their lack of concern for his eternal destiny? How can they mourn over their own personal pain and have so little concern about the fact that their husbands are owned by the enemy to do his evil will? Yes, a happy marriage is a wonderful thing, but it is not the most important thing.
Jesus Himself left the ninety nine to go after the one. Well, didn’t the one wander off on his own? Didn’t he, like most stupid sheep go his own way? Yes, true to his nature, he wandered; there he was on his way to destruction. But Jesus, being a good shepherd went after him.
I remember years ago when I was in the depths of despair, begging God to take away the pain, He spoke to me and made it so real to me what my husband was facing. The Lord sweetly nudged me to get my eyes off of myself. He promised He would take care of me. He wasn’t going to let this pain kill me, but I needed to look somewhere else. As I feebly looked to the Lord and tried to look beyond the physical, temporal realm, all I could see was spiritual devastation! He was ruined and on his way to hell. This whole thing took on a new perspective for me. It really wasn’t about me at all, but it was about a man deceived by the enemy. And that enemy wanted me to become so wrapped up in myself and my feelings and my life that I would lose sight of what was really going on. Armed with this new perspective, I began to pray. I began to care on a completely different level than I had ever cared before. I understood the grip pornography had on him and understanding it spiritually took the sting out of it personally. Of course, now there was a greater purpose involved.
So much of the help for wives available today focuses upon how they should erect boundaries to protect themselves from their husbands’ sin. And, kept in its proper place, this kind of teaching can be helpful. But my concern is that the underlying principle leads a woman to believe that protecting herself is the most vital issue involved. Are we becoming so wrapped up in self-preservation that we can no longer look outside ourselves at the very deep spiritual needs of others? Are we allowing temporal happiness to take precedence over the possibility of eternal damnation?
I believe the Lord wants us to have happy marriages. I have one for which I am extremely grateful. But the happiness of our marriages should be secondary to our concern for the eternal well-being of sinners. The primary battle for the hurting wife should not be to protect herself; it should be to see the lost sinner snatched from the burning fire!
The wives I have dealt with over the years do not have the luxury that I have been afforded of seeing desperate men struggling to be free of a powerful addiction. They typically don’t see the great, internal battles that they face. During my time at Pure Life Ministries, I have been a first-hand witness to hundreds of men doing their utmost to find freedom.
Most wives that contact us are simply overwhelmed with a miserable situation. It certainly is not wrong to want one’s husband to live a respectable and decent life. But as we approach that great Throne of Grace, let’s do our utmost to look at our situations with an eye to the eternal.
Kathy Gallagher is the Co-Founder and Senior Administrator of Pure Life Ministries. She has been ministering to Christian women for over 20 years and has a deep desire to see them living a fulfilled life in Christ.
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