Oh, if I think of the kind of man I was compared with the kind of man I am now there are sharp yet subtle differences. Significant changes took place, yet I am ostensibly the same man. And still, today I have an ability to overcome abusive patterns of behaviour simply because God gave me the power to be honest. And the most important change I have received is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that compels me to confess my wrongdoing, and in telling the truth, that same truth sets me and others I love free.
I write this to honour my former wife. I write also to honour the love of my life, my wife.
Fifteen years ago, I lived a life on the edge, though for all intents and purposes my life was grand. Materially, things were fine, and the financial struggles of early marital life were behind us. Yet, more sinister problems lurked beneath the facade; ambition leading to compromise for career leading to family neglect, occupational stress leading to escapism leading to addiction, and an anger borne of fear leading to a pattern of control leading to verbal abuse of my then wife.
It was my destiny that I lost that first marriage. I couldn’t see it coming, but I should’ve seen it coming. I was satisfied that as a husband I was ‘good enough’, but how flawed that perception was! No I wasn’t. And if only more of us would see that we’re not good enough it would convict us to be better, or certainly more, so far as love is concerned.
The first time I was able to publicly decry my performance as a marriage failure was in a sermon in July 2006. I recall seeing a man from the congregation leave in tears. I knew what was occurring in him. The elders followed him and prayed with him. The Holy Spirit had convicted him of his abuse because I spoke poignantly of mine. I was sad, yet happy. It needs to be called out. And it’s the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin enough to lead us to repent so we might be delivered and saved.
Back then I was a perfectionist, and I expected that standard of my wife, and sometimes even my children. Today I live accepting my imperfection, and don’t expect myself or anyone else to get it right all the time. Back then anger was never too far away. Today the anger is still there, but it is a tenth as potent as what it was, and it’s oriented toward better reasons, not usually to control others. Back then shame was the hidden puppeteer. Today’s puppeteer is the Holy Spirit. Back then I was a husband who could be terse with his words and mood. Today I’m a husband with potential. Back then I couldn’t have admitted I abused my wife. Today I know how not to be, and there but for the grace of God, go I.
I’ve been two types of husband, both for over ten years now. I have something to say to the man who doesn’t want to abuse his wife but does. Break the cycle. Confess your sin. Seek your recovery. Find your help. Discover God’s Presence. Realise honesty’s power.
Not many weeks go past where I don’t wish that I could’ve been a better husband in my first marriage.
At least I can release that legacy through the few dozen marriage counselling relationships I’ve had the privilege to provide. I share my failures in those sessions and it always adds power to people’s stories of redemption.
Get it right; I still make so many mistakes. Most days. But I’m not ashamed, because I know God knows who I am. I’m not ashamed because those mistakes bring out into the light the act of my wrongness. And then I can be responsible for myself and honestly hold myself to account.
The most obvious thing I can say about the contrast of the husband I was in comparison to the husband I am is this: it’s only by the power of Christ and through belief in His name to follow Him. There would be no difference otherwise.