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A transcript of this message follows.
Introduction by Pastor Jesse Lerch
Jesse: We’re gonna start with marriage today, and we’ll be looking at marriage probably over the next three weeks, and I’m not gonna do most of the talking today because we’ve got two special guests today.
But let me just do a little bit of an introduction. Today is gonna talk a little bit about having hope, perhaps when your marriage is looking hopeless. I mean most of us know that over half of all marriages today end in divorce. It’s not real encouraging to hear those statistics, especially if you’re in a marriage that is hurting. If you’re in one of those marriages, you know it’s very, very difficult, very, very painful; it’s just hard, and it’s very easy to give up hope.
And I just wanna let you know we have a big, huge God who is able to do incredible miracles in marriages. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time perhaps for divorce we’ll talk about when we get there, but there is incredible hope because we have a God who can do incredible miracles in hard, painful, difficult marriages. And you’re gonna hear a story of a miracle today, of a resurrected marriage, if you will.
As a pastor I’ve dealt with quite a few marriages … struggling marriages. Personally I’ve had just the blessing of having a really good marriage. Marie and I have been together for 17 years; more time together than … I mean half of our lives, more than half of our lives have been together than apart.
And we are high school sweethearts, over in Mount Sentinel School here. We like met in Grade 8 and then kind of broke up a little bit and then got together in Grade 10, married after we got out of high school, and we were real young. But we’ve been together forever, and perhaps that’s why one reason it’s made it easy … we’ve just kind of grown together. We came to know Christ together; have grown as Christians together, and we’ve just had the benefit of just a good marriage. Haven’t had any major difficulties. I think the hardest time was when I first entered into ministry; I got way too busy. It was kinda hard on the family, but I had to work on changing that … but for the most part it’s been really good.
And that’s one of the reasons I have a real passion for marriage, because I mean my wife is my best friend. She’s where I get all my emotional support … pretty much … from, and we just love each other, and our marriage is good. And I really wanna see that in other people’s marriage. I’m just having so much fun in my marriage it’s like, “Man, I wish everybody’s marriage was like that!” And so I have a passion for that. But you might be saying, “Well, you don’t know what it’s like to be in a tough situation, so how can you help me?” Well, we go to the Bible, talk to people, but today I want you to hear a real story of how God can work in a marriage that has struggled, and how God can do incredible things.
So most of you know Jason and Bonne, and I’m so thankful that they’re willing to come and share their story with us today … so welcome.
Being Real, not “Churchy”
Jason: (in a dramatic radio voice) Today’s program contains mature subject matter; parental discretion is advised.
Bonne: See, normally when I’m up here my eyes are closed … there’s a lot of you all out there. That’s not intimidating!
So Jesse asked us to share about the death and resurrection of our marriage, and it may be a little uncomfortable. There’s some painful places that we have to go in order to tell this story in truth, and the point is not to make you uncomfortable. The point is for us to be transparent, because our story can’t help any one else if we’re not being transparent with you.
And one of the things I learned through our whole process was, you know, putting on a church face when you come to church, the only thing that gets you is looking kinda okay at church. It can prevent you from healing, from connecting, from getting help when you need it. So this is us without our church faces on. So like I say, there’s some painful bits in this story, but it has a happy ending, so be encouraged.
Jason: You’ll also notice that our kids aren’t here today, and that’s because there are pieces of this story that they don’t know. So it’s something to think about; I don’t see a lot of real little people here, so we won’t have a lot of, “Hey, guess what your parents did!” Someday they will know, but now’s not the time.
Jason’s Story: Depression
I grew up in a Christian home, with a Christian background, Christian heritage, a Christian pedigree that went back many generations, and most of the extended family or a large percentage of the extended family was in full-time ministry in one form or another. Divorce was pretty much unheard of, so that’s kinda where we came from.
Depression… is an inability to see hope; an inability to see the future good that’s coming….It’s hopelessness and despair, even when all the evidence points to the opposite.
I also found out that I spent most of my life struggling with some form of depression. I didn’t know that at the time; I didn’t know that’s what it’s called. If somebody had said that to me, I wouldn’t have understood what that meant, I certainly didn’t know that there was anything that could be done about it. There is pretty incontrovertible evidence that I have severe depression by the age of eight … won’t get into details there … but the way I categorize or explain depression to myself is an inability to see hope; an inability to see the future good that’s coming. And so it’s hopelessness and despair, even when all the evidence points to the opposite. Even when everything should be good, you can’t see that or believe that.
Girls: Depression Distraction
One of the things that I discovered in my early teens was that something that seemed to give my life meaning was relationships with girls. If I would speak to them in certain ways and write to them in certain ways and behave to them in certain ways, they would respond back to me in certain ways that kind of felt good. And in fact other people around would say, “Hey, Friesen’s got a girlfriend. He must be a cool guy.” And so other people would treat me a little better, so wow, when I figured that one out I made sure I always had a girlfriend or two or three or… (trails off)
And through all of that, as my parents started noticing that I spent a lot of time with the ladies, I heard from my parents and from church leaders and from youth leaders that love is a choice, love is a decision, love is the way you act toward someone, and these emotional forms of love are flakey and not to be trusted. Don’t go on the emotional love thing; go on the choice and decision thing … which really worked for me, because my emotional state was despair and longing to die because the world was too difficult and too painful. So it was easy for me to say, “Yes, all of those stupid love songs about how you’re falling in love, like you can’t help it or you caught some kind of weird disease or whatever, that’s all juvenile, infantile. I’m 17 years old; I’m wise and mature, and I know what love is really about. It’s a choice.”
Meeting and Marrying Bonne
So at the age of 18 when I met Bonne and began to chase her around Briercrest Bible College …
Jason: Yeah. I wooed her rationally and logically, and I behaved in certain ways in a calculated manner to win her over. And I evaluated her, and I evaluated all these different things: “Well, I perceive this about Bonne.” I evaluated her parents and her family: “Hmm, can I be associated with this for the rest of my life?” So that whole crazy, irrational falling in love thing, I didn’t really believe in it, and I certainly didn’t experience anything like that. It was purely rational.
Bonne: Romantic, huh?
Jason: Yeah. But I hid it fairly well; I don’t think Bonne really knew that that’s how I was approaching things. I didn’t say, “Here’s my checklist. Let’s see how you measure up.” The checklist was in my head, so I was successful; I won her over.
Just before we got married I hit a real bad spot and was very, very badly depressed. I was living on the streets in Edmonton … and that’s a whole story … so when we actually got married I could go to work and bring home an income. That’s about it. I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t even do the romantic things that I had per … the duties I had performed before. Bonne took care of making sure we had a house to live in … “Here’s the money; just make it happen.”
She made sure I was eating, because I couldn’t deal with any of that stuff. I couldn’t face it. And we lived like that for years … I would get, you know, incrementally better, and then something would happen and I pfft into the pit again, and I’m not responding at all. And you know up and down for probably seven years.
The Affair Begins
At about the seven-year mark, something happened that really challenged all of my presuppositions about love and relationships and all that stuff. I fell in love, and it was that kind of irrational, driven, I can’t stand to be away from this person, I’ve gotta be in their presence all the time. One small difficulty: It wasn’t Bonne. It was somebody else.
And I knew that that was wrong, and I didn’t know what to do about it, because here I am experiencing all of this irrational falling in love thing that all of the pop songs in our culture talk about all the time, that I had gone, “Mi-mi-mi, that’s all a bunch of nonsense.” And here I was experiencing it, and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed probably every day for a couple of years that God would take my feelings for this other woman and transfer them towards Bonne, and he didn’t.
And I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know what to do about any of that. It’s also not something that you go up to somebody and say, “Hey, by the way, I am in love with somebody who’s not my wife.” I have a reputation, I have a pedigree, so I didn’t say anything to anybody, and I couldn’t get help. People warned me. People said, “Hey, we noticed that there’s something not right in this friendship that you have,” and while I would admit it to God to the extent that I was praying for it to change, I was denying it to everybody … my wife, myself, the other person. “It’s just a friendship. This is my best friend.”
And after about two years of that, developing this best friend relationship, the feelings were so intense and overwhelming that I didn’t feel like I had the energy any more to resist them. And so I gave into them, and I said, “That’s it! This is how I’m feeling.” And I confessed my feelings of romantic love for this person and things took a turn and started to go in a direction that was gonna lead to some real problems if it wasn’t checked very quickly. And by the grace of God it only progressed that way for two weeks before we were found out.
The Affair Uncovered
There’s a whole lot of places that it could’ve gone and it didn’t, thank God. So that day happened … we were found out, we were discovered, and … oh, I’m not done yet. So we sat down, we met with Jesse, and Bonne’s completely devastated and I’m confused, and Jesse said, “You can’t have any contact with this person any more.”
Well, that was the last thing that I wanted. I was prepared to change a lot of stuff, but the idea of not having this person that I had been considering my best friend for two years and was now considering my soul mate … because we’re so connected and she sparked all these feelings and blah, blah, blah … the idea of not having any contact with her any more was inconceivable, and I was very, very resistant to that idea.
So Bonne and I checked into a hotel and we couldn’t eat and we couldn’t sleep, but we just hashed this thing out for a few days until finally I agreed, “Okay, I’m not gonna have any contact.” And as you can probably imagine, (explosion sound) total, total collapse … I was grieving the loss of this person.
I was grieving the loss of all of those feelings that I had for her. I was a complete basket case at that point. The good news is it got bad enough that when people said, “Uh, you’re depressed,” I was able to hear that. I was able to get into some counseling, start taking some medication to try and deal with it; I was in the hospital for a while. The problem is all those things weren’t solving the problem, because I was still attached to this other person. I hadn’t let go of that yet; I was still grieving that, and my perspective on the whole thing was now a complete mess.
So I’m trying to figure out intellectually how do I look at this thing that I’ve gone through? And I started to think, okay, before I didn’t believe in this falling in love thing, and I fell in love, but it was total sin. It was toxic, it was wrong, so… that falling in love thing must be sin.
So in all of this I’m missing having those feelings … I’m rejecting having those feelings, and Bonne is desperately wanting those feelings from me … “Be in love with me!” And I was angry, and I said, “No! That’s wrong! That’s sin! You can’t do that!” And I just hurt her over and over again in the year and a half after I gave up this inappropriate relationship.
So now we’re talking about four years of a really, really toxic situation between us, to the point where Bonne said, “Look, we have to spend some time apart from one another now.” And so we separated, and I believed that separation was equivalent to divorce, and so I was furious.
And after a while … I’m behaving in kind of perpetual anger at this point, so my behavior is not very Christ-like, and Bonne said, “Well, you know, I need to get a lawyer and we need to arrange some things.” And I considered her getting a lawyer to be an act of war, so I was furious again … or still, or worse, or something. I believed a lot of really weird things that actually weren’t true about love, about separation, about divorce, about the whole process, and those incorrect beliefs were killing me, and killing our marriage … and in fact did kill my marriage.
Bonne’s Story: Codependence and Abandonment
Bonne: So kinda stepping back from that point, looking back on our relationship and looking at people we know, we’ve had other friends go through similar things that have wound up different than we did is that when there’s a problem in your marriage it’s usually not a problem in your marriage. It’s usually actually a problem within the individuals making up the marriage. If one or both of the people in the marriage is lacking or incomplete or suffering in some way, then that affects the marriage. And if as the individuals make progress and are improved, the marriage improves.
Codependent is spinning around another person, and every waking moment is about them rather than self-directed.
And so when we got married Jason was depressed and I was codependent. My mother struggled with depression and I had been quite codependent with her most of my life, and I just jumped from being codependent with my mom, got married at age 20, codependent with my depressed husband.
Codependent is kinda you just sorta spin around another person and every waking moment is about them rather than about anything that’s self-directed, so I really had no identity at all. Apart from roles of wife, mother, homeschooler, there really wasn’t any Bonne in there anywhere. It was just these roles to fill. So with this kind of raw material for our marriage, it was really bad, and it was really bad right from the start, and then it got really worse for four years.
Crisis of Faith
But we had done everything right. We met at Bible college; by the grace of God, we were virgins when we got married. You know, we were Christians; we went to church, we did worship. So you know if I did all these things right and I was utterly miserable and dying in my marriage … even before he had this inappropriate relationship … then that must mean that something is wrong with my faith. And I knew that that wasn’t true; I knew that there could not be something wrong with my faith. But there was something wrong with my marriage, but I couldn’t reconcile the two, so I went into very deep denial about the reality of where my marriage was.
And I put on my church face and our marriage was a testimony to unbelievers in various secular circles that we moved in, in theater and whatnot. And you know, people really bought it because I was working so hard to make God look good, because God needed me to make him look good because my marriage sucked. And you know, it wasn’t working out the way it’s supposed to, but I had to pretend that it was because I had to protect God’s reputation … which shows you how clearly I was thinking at the time as well. I was the higher-functioning member of the marriage, but not by a lot.
The Other Woman
So we had developed this relationship with this person. We welcomed her into our home. My children bonded with her. She spent huge amounts of time with our family, and I was always kinda sad because no matter how much I reached out she never really was a very good friend to me. I was always giving, but there was never anything coming back there … but still it was better than nothing, because I’d been in such a bad place. And through our lifestyle choices, I was home, I was with the children all the time; I didn’t have a lot of other contacts. So even her, you know, having somebody else in the house, somebody to talk to some of the time, was even welcome.
But very quickly I observed the inappropriate friendliness going on … and Jesse, perhaps at some point you can address what a submissive Christian wife has as her options when faced with such a situation. Now, I knew something was going on, and I confronted Jason six times over the course of two years, and I confronted her twice, and I was lied to my face every time. So what do you do with that, you know? I felt utterly powerless, utterly helpless, utterly locked, bricked … the final wall has been bricked over and you are stuck, and this is how it is. And wow, that’s wild!
So there’s something called crazy-making, and crazy-making is when you know something to be true and everybody around you tells you that it’s not true. “There are four lights” … Gary got it … you know. And so I was reaching the end of my rope, because I had been in this situation now for over two years and like falling to pieces, when out of the blue a third party came to me with undeniable evidence of Jason’s affair. And I denied it … like a good Christian wife should … but I contacted him immediately and said, “Okay, you need to come home and explain this, because I know there’s gotta be an explanation for this, right? Right? There’s an explanation for this, right?”
I think if I had ever imagined or kinda had in my head that, you know, I would find myself in this situation with a husband who had been unfaithful I’d imagine that my husband would then meet me with tears and repentance, and it would be so painful and horrible, but we would come through … and nothing could have been further from the truth.
He came home, and he was angry. He was angry, and he was defiant, and he was unrepentant, and I felt physically as if I had just been repeatedly punched in the stomach. I could hardly breathe, and emotionally I was totally destroyed as a person. As a codependent individual, my identity was so wrapped up in being a good wife that this utterly destroyed me.
I had worked so hard, always being … even after a really difficult childbirth and everything … being sexually available, being aware of meeting my husband’s needs and greeting him with a smile at the door and all these things that would make him not need to look elsewhere. And I had failed, and I felt like I had died, like I should be dead; it was just really bad. I cried and cried and cried; the children still talk sometimes about how much I cried.
So then I spent a year and a half trying to make him love me, but I was like an un-person, and he kept killing me over and over saying the stupidest things. “You know, I never understood love songs until her. I never understood soul-mates until her.” Like, this is after the relationship is over, and I’m sitting here going, “Wow! You wanna take another shot?”
You know, it just seemed unrelenting. The children missed her and were always asking about her, and it never stopped, and again it was just like I was in this personal hell that seemed endless. So he would cry on my breast grieving for another woman, and on spiritual grounds, with his kinda twisted thinking now about romance, gave me no romance, no affection, and eventually not even eye contact.
So my undoing was pretty much complete, and it was over, and I was totally losing it. A girlfriend of mine in California said, “Why don’t you come down? Come right away for a little while.” So I went for a week, and my basic needs as a person were just so below zero I was just utterly desperate, and I had this totally Twilight Zone experience in California. It was like God placed me into an alternate reality where people looked at me when they spoke to me, and people found me interesting and charming and attractive, and men complimented me. And one of them even wined me and dined me and invited me home! I didn’t go … I went back to my friend’s house instead, and I called Jason and I told him about this experience and about this offer, just because it seemed wrong not to, particularly given what we’d just been through, right? And his response to it was, “Do what you want.”
The Marriage Ends, and Life Begins
So that was when I knew there wasn’t a marriage to save any more, so I came home and I asked him to define our relationship, please, and define our future together, and he said, “You don’t make me feel like she did, but I’m content.” Well, after my visit to the Twilight Zone, I was no longer content, so he moved out and I had the most amazing year!
I had been now … what was it … 12 years, 10-11? 12 years in this relationship that had been bad from the start, and had had me so locked up and locked away, and now it was like this huge burden was lifted and I started learning how not to spin. I was very isolated. I had no family living in the country at the time. I was shunning my friends, who were saying, “Well, we don’t wanna take sides.” I’m sorry … that’s the stupidest thing you can say! Christian people … you’re not taking sides? Get away from me then, because he was slandering me on the internet … he was saying all kinds of things, okay? So, boy … it has a happy ending … but he knows all this.
God came to show me that you actually need to have a self before you can lay it down.
Anyway, so I just started discovering my own personhood. It was like God gave me back my youth that I had missed in depression and codependence and having three babies in four years. And I was doing all this exploration and self-discovery that most people do in their 20s, and I was doing it at 30. I used to believe that my whole codependent behavior thing … I used to think that was a Godly thing. I used to think that was what dying to self meant, but God actually came to show me that you actually need to have a self before you can lay it down.
So that was really remarkable and did all kinds of really neat growing through that, and was really just … yeah, it was a remarkable time. In the spring Jason got really volatile … the slandering, and he started saying things like, “I’m not gonna bring Celia back after this weekend,” and doing frightening behavior. And my parents actually returned from China to come and support me for a little while.
A Change of Heart
Jason: So when Bonne’s parents came back this was probably the lowest point. The lawyers were drawing up paperwork; it was just a matter of going through the final process. And I went to a Saturday night service, as I did; I had the kids, and Jim Minturn preached a sermon on divorce, and it was nothing that I hadn’t heard before, but it was a good reminder of the Biblical theological background for how we should approach that. So I thought, “Hmm, well, maybe I’ll go back and give it one more try” — as though I’d been trying or anything. I really thought that I had, but it was so based in unreality.
So the next day, the Sunday, I brought the kids back and I wasn’t allowed to the house and I had to drop off the kids like four blocks away, and she didn’t come to pick them up, her parents did. And so I said, “You know what, let’s you and I go out and have a chat,” to her parents. Okay, so we went out and sat down and I said, “What do I need to do to fix this thing?” Like I’m gonna push a button and pfft, flip a switch, it’s all good now, hey, great! And this is weird, because they had always been so kind and gentle and nice to me all the way along … they lit into me with… like they hit me with both barrels, and they told me what they really thought of me.
I was shocked … “What do you mean? I’m a bad guy? What’s going on?” And I was really offended and I was really mad at that … that wasn’t fair, and some of the things weren’t true. And so I dropped them back off again and I was really mad … this is a theme … and I’m on my way back home and I burst into tears and I sobbed all the way home.
And I’m at home, and I’m a complete wreck, and this is not normal … I’m not usually reacting like this. And I’m kinda going through my mental “where am I at,” and holy cow, I am completely, irrationally, crazy, madly in love with my wife. Where did THAT come from? And it shocked me, and that’s not what Bonne’s folks had told me was the problem … behavior, behavior, behavior. You know, attitude, attitude.
Suddenly I’m completely in love with my wife. I can’t eat; I can’t sleep. I’m totally focused on trying to love her, and so the next day I can’t work, I can’t eat. I show up at the house with all these flowers and I’m weeping on the porch, and she won’t come out and talk to me or anything, so her parents are out there talking to me. Finally they convince … “Okay, let’s go for a walk and have a conversation.” “(Sobbing sounds) I love you! ” And she wanted none of that … like, “Too little, too late, buddy!” She had a date that night with somebody else … like, “(raspberry) Nuts to you!” “Well, if you were really serious (ha ha) you would get into shape.”
I was probably about 250 …
Bonne: No … more!
Jason: No, I’m telling you … I looked about eight months. “Be in regular counseling” … and something else; I can’t remember what it was. “And that’s not any guarantee … that tells me that you’re serious, and then we might have another conversation about this.”
So I lost 40 pounds in six weeks because I wasn’t eating, and I was in counseling and trying to get some tools … “How do I do this?” “Well, here’s some ideas.” And I spent probably six months trying to convince her that I was actually serious, and she asked me to do all kinds of stuff, and some of it was unreasonable and hurt my feelings … “Why would you ask me to do that?”
But “No problem, baby”, because you know what … I was a man in love, and all of that stuff I felt for the other one was gone. I didn’t even notice it going away; I didn’t even notice me getting over her. And instead of thinking about the other one for, you know, 24 hours, every waking moment, you know, I’m thinking about Bonne every waking moment and just, “What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? Oh, she’s so amazing! She’s so wonderful!” And by the grace of God … and this is really cool … that feeling hasn’t stopped yet. It’s been three years, and that’s kinda cool. I didn’t believe that that was possible; I didn’t even believe that that was right or something that you should have. But that’s where I’ve been for three years.
Bonne: So Jason had this wonderful divine intervention of God literally changing his heart; if that had not happened, we would now be divorced, possibly remarried by now, end of story … okay? But it did … God moved … there was a miracle in our relationship. But the miracle was in Jason’s heart, the big splashy one, but I still had to choose to forgive him and take him back, so that was also by the grace of God, but I made him work for it, which I think was only right. It was like, “Oh yeah? Prove it! Oh yeah? Prove it! Uh huh, okay, you’ll do that, but will you do this? Hmm? Hmm? Prove it!”
“I’ll try” means no.
See, in our previous marriage a word that would enrage me every time was the word “try,” because try means no, you’re not worth it, was basically what that ever communicated to me in our previous marriage. So it means “I don’t care enough to do what you’ve asked me to do, but I’m not gonna actually tell you ‘no’ because I don’t even respect you enough to actually say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that.’ I’ll just tell you that I’ll try.” And it would just enrage me. But here I was giving him stuff to do, and there wasn’t just results, but it was results above and beyond what I had asked, what I had requested, and that was earth-shattering. That was so really, really new.
The other thing that never ever happened in our previous marriage was that Jason could not admit he was wrong or say, “I’m sorry” about anything. He could say, “I’m sorry I upset you,” but to actually acknowledge that wrong had occurred on his behalf was not something that ever, ever happened. And Jason’s counselor gave him a very wise bit of advice that he took and still applies, and is a wonderful tool for healing. It’s that forgiveness is not a one-time thing; forgiveness is a spiral, and you can forgive and get forgiveness and be okay for a while, but then it comes up again.
And especially something this big, this deep, this comes up again. It happens. And something’ll trigger it and I get insecure and upset, and I can say, “You hurt me. You were really bad.” And he says, “You’re right. I did those things. I was totally wrong. I’m so sorry.” And to know that he will say that as many times as I need him to has really been an incredible healing force for us. Jason still struggles with depression, and depression impedes his ability to express the love he still feels, so we still have some difficult times where I feel like I’m not getting … “Hello! I know it’s a pretty screen flashing over there, but see me? Hi! I’m cute too, right?”
So that can … we do still have struggles in our marriage; it’s not all a bed of roses now. But we do have love now in a very different way than we did before. He won my love back, which had died. I loved him when we got married, okay, and now we actually have it mutually now, which is wonderful, and we are stronger than we ever were before and continuing to grow through the new challenges that do come. So give glory to God!
Give me a kiss.
[End of Audio]
Transcript by Linda Lafond.