Terrifying Freedom

Warning: As you grow away from agenda and shame driven performance and toward authentic relational trust and child-like integrity, freedom will feel terrifying. Worse, it will feel irresponsible. -William Paul Young



William Paul Young has a heartbreaking, yet incredible story. He describes his family as “I’m from a little, religious family where we hide everything and lie about almost everything.” He was a missionary kid who was sexually abused. He grows up, marries and commits adultery. If you want to know what legitimate repentance and ownership looks like from the cheating spouse, his story is the go-to. He is one of the rare unicorns, as Chump Lady refers to them as. The healing process took 11 painful years for them. You can see other interviews of him here and here. (He talks about his adultery starting around 6:30 min in the video above).  The quotes from him below are from various parts of the video clip above. His words are better than mine so I kept them.

“I wasn’t just any kind of performer man. I was a religious performer. I was working hard to create a religious persona that people would admire and approve and have affection for. And in that little phone call [his wife says she’s at his office and she knows], that façade blew up into a million bits. What she knew was, I was having an affair with one of her best friends. In fact, the woman she had turned to initially when she sensed the separation between me and her, for counsel. The betrayal was monumental…This was after my 6th child was born.”

“People who tell the truth don’t have to remember anything. Those of us who lie, we have to remember everything. We have to remember every conversation, we have to remember what we said to this person, that person. And you know, you wrap that up in religious language and you can sanctify the greatest sickness you can come up with.” It’s exhausting to keep the house of cards standing.

“I have a huge history of shame here. I’ve got all kinds of junk in my shack, and I don’t want to let anyone in. But at some point God’s going to dismantle the façade. Or He’s going to give us enough rope that we’ll dismantle it ourselves. Something is going to begin to break that down. Is it because He wants to hurt us? Absolutely not. It’s because He wants to free us.”

Freedom, while such an amazing thing that we know is good, is also absolutely terrifying. Honesty brings freedom, yet we are so terrified of being honest. Adultery deals with sex. How many of us don’t know how to be honest about sex/sexuality in particular? How many of us don’t know how to be honest about the foundations we’re really standing on? How many of us can relate to not wanting to show certain parts of ourselves?

Young talks about a woman who emailed him after she read The Shack. She grew up in a religious home that taught that when something bad happens to you it was because you’re bad and God needs to punish it. She was even told that she was God’s punishment to her parents. He talks about how the overlay of religious BS, is so powerful because we’ve sanctified it. “We’ve given it the name of god and it’s an idol monster god.” When that woman was diagnosed with terminal cancer her whole world fell apart. She saw it as the punishment of ultimate badness that existed in her. The Shack and Young’s message broke the religious BS that had entrapped her her whole life.

How many of us can relate to being held under religious BS that’s been sanctified? How many husbands have been blamed for their wife’s adultery because of headship? How many wives in turn think they’re off the hook because they can pin it on their husbands? How much hurt comes from the misuse of the message to forgive?

“We minimize the damage that we do to each other. We want to make excuses for it. If I’d had pointed back my finger at Kim and said, ‘you know, some of this is your stuff too,’ I’d have been out of the house so fast. I mean, I would have been gone. But I wouldn’t have done it anyway because let me tell you what I knew. As soon as the façade was gone, I knew I couldn’t heal myself. I couldn’t heal myself. I’d been trying for some 30 like years trying to heal myself, you know? And I couldn’t do it. I knew that I not only couldn’t heal myself, I couldn’t heal anyone else either. I couldn’t heal Kim. I couldn’t heal Kim.”

Paul Young talks about the components of his healing process as being:

  1.  His wife’s fury and how he deserved all of it.
  2. Radically changing his theology of God. He had to wipe the face of his father off of the face of God.
  3. Opening himself up and having no secrets. “I don’t have any secrets. I don’t have any skeletons in my closet. There’s nothing my children don’t know. There’s nothing Kim doesn’t know. That first week she said ‘I want to know every detail about everything’ and I told her.”
  4.  Counseling, in which he unraveled his history, the events.
  5.  Beginning to learn how to be angry at some of the violation that happened.
  6.  Allowing people to come into his life.
  7.  Setting boundaries. He references this more indirectly by saying “I remember after one time with Scott [counselor], that for the first time in my life I could feel an inside boundary. Something on the inside that could say ‘no’ on my own behalf…I knew it was real, I didn’t need anyone else’s approval.”

We can all relate to boundaries. Cheating and faithful spouses alike have issues with boundaries. How many cheaters say they haven’t crossed a line? How many faithful spouses know from the get-go that their spouse’s adultery is not their fault?

“By the end of those 11 years all the addictions were gone in my life. I’m not talking about pornography and the yucky ones. I’m talking about the gold addictions you know, the chains. Like pleasing my dad or pleasing people, or doing a great work for God, or having a great ministry, or being significant. So many lie-laden, crappy addictions that we’ve sanctified. We did this [affair healing process] publicly, we didn’t do this privately. I said, ‘if we’re going to do this I don’t want to have anything in my life that I’m going to hide behind. By the time those 11 years were done, by the grace of God, I was one of the healthiest people I knew. I’m the same person, whether I’m at work or with my friends. Do you know how unbelievable that is? I’m the same person, who has no secrets and I just get to be myself. I didn’t even know that that person existed.”

“At some point we recognize that The Shack is us. We’ve been trying to run away from it. We’ve been trying to plaster it over somehow, pretend it isn’t there. Perform, hoping that maybe it’ll go away. But it’s our own brokenness in our own hearts. We bring it to the only person who can heal it and that’s God.”

 Warning: As you grow away from agenda and shame driven performance and toward authentic relational trust and child-like integrity, freedom will feel terrifying. Worse, it will feel irresponsible.

Honesty, authenticity, integrity all rely on vulnerability. We cannot know what it is to feel vulnerable when we’re so focused on covering up the shack that’s within us. When we’re so focused on performance it feels irresponsible to burn the script. We need to burn the script. We need to drop the act. We will get nowhere until we each address our shack. All we can do is cover it up. God can actually tear it down and rebuild it so that it’s a legitimate foundation that we don’t even need to cover up. He can rebuild it so we’re not wasting so much time and energy just trying to make sure it stands up for the next 24 hours.

At some point God’s going to dismantle our façade. Or He’s going to give us enough rope that we’ll dismantle it ourselves, just as Paul Young says. That rope, while on the surface looks like a threatening thing that will be our undoing, is exactly what we need. We need our own undoing so that we can allow God in.

9 thoughts on “Terrifying Freedom”

  1. Agreed, wow… finally got a chance to watch part 1 and 2 today.
    There are so many great things said, but as a BS I am glad he discusses his wife’s fury. That is exactly what I feel at times, intense anger and even years later and divorced it raises it ugly head. Nice to know sometimes you are not the only one. Loved how he understood and accepted her anger and did not point the finger back and laying blame back on wife his affair.

    1. Yes, I’m very glad he talks about anger. The other key thing with his wife’s fury is that he said it was for 2 years! It’s not something that gets over and done with in 2 months or a week. It’s not one peel-the-bandaid-off session with a counselor. It was 2 years and he flat out says he deserved all of it and didn’t push back! He visited the church DM attended during his first marriage. DM and I listened to the CDs from that talk on our 4 hour road trip recently (his talk was 4 hours long). His story is just incredible. He was very specific that the only reasons his wife even gave him the chance to stay in the house after DDay were that he didn’t blame shift, he didn’t keep it secret or try to shove things under the rug, he told her every detail she wanted to know and he went to counseling. He told the kids about it and he let her get angry and be angry with him. I also like how he pointed out that during his counseling he’d call his wife, tell her what was happening and she’d say “yea, right, whatever.” Not once does he say she was ever out of line to doubt anything he said. Not once. Yet how many counselors/pastors/friends/family would have told her just the opposite?

      The interesting thing was that Paul Young spoke at DM’s church around the time that his first wife was cheating. She refused to go with him to hear Young’s talk. There are many things that probably would have resonated with her had she actually gone that night to hear him. I hope a day comes when she can finally hear and receive Young’s message.

  2. As a cheated on spouse, I could relate to his wife’s anger but not throwing him/her out immediately. What I struggle with is keeping boundaries of safety for myself (after a second DDay, it became pretty clear to me that I could not trust him anymore and asked him to move out….upon which he jumped ship to the OW). If I knew after the first DDay what I know now, I would have ended it then. I went against my own values to give him another chance, because I knew the facade – the arrogance, lies, and cheating – were really about self-protection and some sort of self-loathing (manifested in narcissism). I discovered that he was like this before ever meeting me. I put him first because I thought he was worth it (as Paul Young says…”grace”), yet I neglected my own self-care. After the first DDay and counseling, he gradually resumed the arrogance, the need to “win”, lying and cheating…although this time he maintained a better facade and passive aggressively pursued his agenda further underground (while looking like he cared about his family). How does one really know what to do? It’s as if these types seek out those with empathy and compassion and secretly mock those of us who are willing to stick by them in helping them heal. I’m guessing that they truly have to want to change and we have to be experts in discerning sincerity. The difference between my spouse and Paul Young is perhaps that my spouse didn’t hit rock bottom where the need to change is a matter of life and death.

    1. Kyoko- Paul is definitely an exception. You’re right that the difference between him and all the other cheating spouses is that he hit rock bottom. Change for him became life or death. I also think you’re right, the classic cheaters, narcs, sociopaths do seek out people with empathy and compassion because it’s a manipulation tool. I want to hear Kim’s side of the story. From Paul’s description of Kim, she’s not a chump. She did let him stay in the house, but only because he wasn’t blame shifting, he owned it fully, he let her be angry, he told the kids about it, he didn’t even try to keep it a secret. He says that had any of that been different he would have been out of the picture like that. She also pursued self care through her friend Mary Kay. Letting him stay in the house didn’t mean she neglected her own care. The similarities between Paul and your spouse/other cheaters are that both of them were/are on their own agenda of self-protection, keeping the facade going, no matter the cost. Paul had had over 30 years of keeping that up when he hit rock bottom. The grace for Paul was that he did hit rock bottom. It wasn’t so much that his wife let him stay in the house. Had he not hit rock bottom his story would be very different, he wouldn’t have had the slightest motivation to actually do any of the heavy lifting otherwise. Discernment is really hard and we know that cheaters work so hard to keep up their image, and they often times do such a good job at keeping the facade up that the ones most important to them don’t even know it’s all a lie. The trick with counseling that Paul mentions is that Paul said he would keep coming until the counselor said he was done. The counselor was clear that most cheating spouses bail after a couple months, before the really hard, necessary stuff gets addressed. My guess is that your spouse, like so many others, bailed before he actually hit the hard stuff. He made the decision to stop, not the counselor.

      1. Thank you for your reply, Mrs. DM. I always believed that under my spouse’s facade was a good person, as was revealed with Paul Young, but now I’m not so sure – he may just be a narc/sociopath since it seems that he is incapable of seeing other people’s needs and simply caring – it is just not there and never was (i.e. an empty shell). I figured out along the way that he has serious attachment and dependency issues….attention-seeking/hating/needing women for validation and….the “you’re not the boss of me” passive-aggressiveness. He only lies to women as far as I know. But the bottom line is that through his serial cheating (and lying to those women), prostitute-seeking, workaholism, neglect of the kids, it is mental abuse. Who in their right mind with so many issues would get involved with someone else so quickly? Someone who has no hesitation to use others in attempt to fix their own deficits. I can hardly imagine getting involved with someone else until I’m healed and feel settled. He is desperately trying to make it work with the OW being the “nice guy” but underneath I’m sure the same anger and fear is in play. He thinks he “won” somehow since everything is a competition or punishment. I realize he doesn’t operate from a place of love – even in a relationship with his own kids. Thank you DM and Mrs. DM for this blog!

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