What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post was submitted by Grace.
None of this matters and no one wants to hear it. “Nothing more than excuses,” they say. And maybe they’re right.
All of those things you call “excuses” are nothing more than the truth. They’re my story. They’re how I got here. And every story is important to God, if not always to those of us who serve Him.
In theory, I understand that attitude. Acknowledging that marriages aren’t always great is scary. Admitting that people who are in positions of authority, especially in churches and parachurch ministries, are capable of affairs threatens the way we look at our leaders, and potentially, ourselves. It’s easier to assign people to categories: those who could do X or Y and those who couldn’t. The problem is, it’s pretty hard to decide ahead of time who belongs to which group. After all, I never thought I was capable of having an affair; I would never have believed the man I had the affair with was, either.
Navigating society’s often sexist waters for help can be tricky. The (male) pastors I went to for counsel after the affair ended talked to me about how I must have “tempted” him. The idea that he could have seduced me or that we could have been equally culpable apparently never occurred to them—it must have been the single woman “going after” the married man.
The pastors also warned me extensively about keeping the affair a secret. For one, it was advice designed to protect me: “The Church doesn’t deal with this well,” he admitted. But for most of them, it was all about protecting my lover and his position. “He’d lose his job if anyone found out,” was the consensus. His job was far more important than my healing.
God’s forgiveness is freely given and inexhaustible. Not so society’s. What I want you to know is that I’m struggling. I’m grieving over a love I believed in. I’m grieving over a child. I’m grieving over a future I thought I was going to have. And I’m trying very hard to forgive both my lover and myself. Members of my family have said they’ll never speak to me again. I may deserve the pain; I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that God called David, an adulterer, “a man after [His] own heart.” I know that God loves me, that sins can be forgiven, and that there need to be places, especially in the Church, where the wounded could come to be supported in their journey toward wholeness.
I want you to know I’m in counseling. I’ve never stopped seeking God or praying. I’m holding to the promise that He’ll bring something good out of even this experience; I’m trusting that one day, I will meet my child in Heaven.
And I want you to know one last thing: I pray for his marriage. I pray both he and his wife can find some happiness, whether that be truly together or completely apart. Sometimes those prayers are said through tears, but they are said.
I am the other woman. I long for your compassion, for you to say, as Jesus did, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” As much as that, though, I long for you to see me. To admit that I exist, to acknowledge my story. And then, maybe, to give me a hug."
There are so many things I want you to know…but I’ve learned from experience that people simply don’t care. It doesn’t matter to anyone that I was a virgin, someone who’d been a missionary and in ministry for many years. It doesn’t matter that I was vulnerable to his declarations of love because I was reeling from a sexual assault by a stranger, because I had experienced a number of unimaginable losses, because I was alone and afraid I always would be. It doesn’t matter that he said he’d been in love with me since long before his marriage, or that his church job had kept him legally married to a woman he hadn’t shared a house with for three years. It doesn’t matter that I loved and trusted him. It doesn’t matter that I believed everything he said, right down to part where he claimed God had created us to be together. It doesn’t matter that I miscarried his child and that I finally saw who he was when he rejoiced while I grieved.
When you have been the other woman, especially a single other woman, society doesn’t know what to do with you. Your story is one it’s uncomfortable with, one it would much rather push under the rug than hear. Go to any bookstore, for example, and you’ll find books about holding a marriage together after an affair. Go to support groups and you’ll find a place for people whose spouses have cheated. What you won’t find is a safe place for the other woman to voice her hurt, her pain, her grief. The attitude seems to be that we deserve what suffering we endure.