“If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, still you are there.” Psalm 139:8
I had made my own bed in hell, which adequately describes how I was feeling inside.
Over the next days I would continue to wrestle with living in the tension between light and dark. I was becoming more entangled with him, yet more miserable with each passing day. The actual days I lived in this place were few, but seemed to drag on for an eternity.
I knew what I needed to do, and lacked the courage to do it. I needed to break free from the chaos I had created. Trouble was, I was starting to believe I was already in too deep to turn back. I wondered if it was just too late, if it would just be easier to live the way I was living than to do the hard work of figuring out how to make my way back up to the surface.
The trouble with sin is the more entangled we become, the more convinced we become that we should stay there. Darkness makes chaos out of everything. Every line becomes blurred, we begin to tell ourselves that there are no moral absolutes, that we are fine to stay just as we are, and anyone or anything that doesn’t align with our belief system is just judgment, to be disregarded.
Seemingly out of nowhere came the first of many, yet most important pivotal points in the story of what would become of me, of our marriage, and of life as I had known it.
“Rachel, what’s going on?” was the text message from an old friend that I awoke to on my phone the next morning.
By some divine twist of fate, this real life and virtual friend had taken note of a random twitter message out into the dark that read “wrestling” – written by a confused woman in a wrestling match between my own flesh and the truth.
As cryptic as that text message sitting on a church pew had been, someone had noticed my dimly lit flare out into the dark night.
I’m pretty positive that friend had no idea what was really going on in my life at that point. I’m even more sure she will ever realize how deeply one simple question impacted my life on that particular winter morning.
Her genuine concern would become my first life-line to grace.
I sat there staring at my phone for a while, which seemed to be all but demanding my answer. I paced around inside my house doing mental battle over whether or not I wanted to respond and begin to free myself, or to ignore her and stay full force ahead on the same path I was on.
“Can you meet me for coffee NOW?”
I still didn’t know which path I would choose in the end, but in that particular moment I had mustered up just enough courage to intentionally make the first decision of many that would significantly alter the trajectory of everything.
Every decision made of my own free will was as if I was poking holes in my own darkness, beginning to find my way back into the light.
Decisions are pivotal moments we must allow ourselves to come to when changing paths in life, because nothing ever changes until we make a decision to change, to start doing things differently, to take the fork in the road.
An hour or so later I was sitting across from the first human to know exactly where I was and what was becoming of me.
I confessed. Everything.
I cried my way through the startling new details of my life, and the state of heart. I don’t remember much of what was said that day except one thing she said that will forever be imprinted on my soul:
“Rachel, you need to know that what you did is not who you are. And that the cross is sturdy enough to shoulder what you’ve done.”
In one tender moment of compassion and grace, the weight of my shame began to shift just enough for me to entertain the idea that my failure didn’t have to trap me there forever.
My failure didn’t have to define my life. It didn’t have to be the end of the story.
I had been hiding because I felt so dirty and ashamed. I doubted that anyone could love or want me after what I’d done.
On that day, she did the opposite of what I had been used to in religious circles, and what I had been most afraid of. Instead of throwing dirt on me, through tender words of compassionate truth, she gently lead my messy heart to the cross.
In her words, I found slivers of grace in place of shackles of condemnation. And I began to see the first glimmers of hope.
A lifetime in religion had done its job of convincing me that it is far better to sweep our dirt under the rug neatly tucked away, than to be honest and come clean – because the condemnation of many of the saints just wasn’t worth it.
She asked me all the obvious, yet pivotal questions that day. “Do you want out? What are you going to choose now? How are you going to break out of this? Will you tell your husband?”
Before we parted, she held my hand and prayed with me, reminding me that she would stand with me.
I had needed grace to stand for me, when I could not.
She became the very first embodiment of grace that stood firmly and boldly in between the force of good and evil that day, and gave me the courage I had needed to make my way into the light.
I drove home that morning, struggling to see through the foggy blur of a flood of tears. That first confession had brought new perspective to my mind, and hope to my heart. Grace that I would desperately need to cling to as I moved forward, courage that would compel me to just get honest, and hope that I could actually relinquish my fear of not being able to control the consequences that what I had done might bring.
The rest of that day was consumed with even more of “him” intertwined with memories of the meeting with my friend that morning. His words reminded and encouraged me of the new and exciting life we could enjoy together, her words reminded me of the grace that was already mine for the taking.
Even still, in the midst of continuing to engage in a fantasy with a man who wasn’t mine, I wanted out.
I wanted to return. I wanted to undo it all. I desperately longed to be free again.
I didn’t know just how the story would end, I just knew that I longed to be free in the kind of way that exchanges freedom to live in pleasure for freedom to live in the light; to go bed at night with a clean conscience, untethered from the suffocating blanket of guilt.
The load I was continuing to carry had become far too heavy to shoulder alone, and I was getting more weary by the day. There was only one thing on earth that could ever hope to strip off the heavy cloak of the guilty one I had become, that had wrapped itself all too tightly around my heart.
It was time to stop hiding.
It was time to come clean.
“Getting honest with ourselves does not make us unacceptable to God. It does not distance us from God, but draws us to Him – as nothing else can – and opens us anew to the flow of grace. While Jesus calls each of us to a more perfect life, we cannot achieve it on our own. To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace. It is only through grace that any of us could ever dare to hope that we could become more like Christ.” – Brennan Manning