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:
- His wife’s fury and how he deserved all of it.
- Radically changing his theology of God. He had to wipe the face of his father off of the face of God.
- 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.”
- Counseling, in which he unraveled his history, the events.
- Beginning to learn how to be angry at some of the violation that happened.
- Allowing people to come into his life.
- 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.