Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Story, Part Two: From Lost to Found Again!

[For the first half of this story, see Lost to Found to Lost Again]

Pang of Mortality

It was a summer day in the Swiss Alps. After riding up the mountain in a gondola, my wife and I took in the spectacular views of the peaks and valleys and blue lake below. In the sky above a paraglider had caught a thermal updraft and wound his way above the mountains. He seemed to be floating as high as the airplanes. The thought of hanging so high by a few cords beneath a piece of fabric made me shiver.

We hiked around the top of the mountain. At one point the path straddled a ledge that dropped off steeply on both sides. I looked down and felt such a sense of vertigo that I had to crouch down and touch the ground. In fact, it was more than vertigo. It was a palpable fear of death. What if I slipped down the slope and died? What would happen to me? That question begged a larger one. Where did I stand with the Lord?

I had put faith in God to the side for a few years, though not completely. I still prayed and went to church sometimes and claimed to be a Christian. But Jesus was not front and center. I pursued my own interests and tried to enjoy life. The unexpected pang of mortality on the mountainside was his way of calling me back.  I thought about it for a long while on the train ride back to town in the evening. I wanted to reconnect with God again. But how?

By My Spirit, Says the Lord

I began to seek God again. Authors like Brennan Manning and John Eldredge and the musician Rich Mullins spoke to me. Manning’s prose about the infinite love and grace of God was like balm for my soul. It began to thaw my heart to his love again. Eldredge’s “wild at heart” freedom and manly passion in the Lord and his sense of immediate connection and communion with God’s Spirit were qualities I wanted. Rich Mullins’ soulful praise and the melancholic yearning in his music also resonated with me.

In the Scriptures I saw how we are supposed to live by the Spirit – not by law, intellect or personal strength, but by God’s Spirit alone. It is his Spirit who leads us into all truth. Furthermore, the Scriptures say God desires mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, he wants his people to love from the heart, not thoughtlessly or heartlessly follow religious rules. Jesus also said his sheep hear his voice, and they follow him. We can hear God’s voice, personally and directly, in our hearts! I saw these truths in Scripture and wanted to embrace them, but it was slow going to put them into practice. It took years and years to unlearn bad religious ideas from earlier in my faith, and then put on the new way of the Spirit.

Goodbye, Plan A

Meanwhile, I graduated from business school and eventually landed a job at EMC, a highly regarded technology company. I thought I had it made. The company’s stock was one of the two hottest of the 1990s. This was a place where I could build a career and be successful! Two years after I joined, the dotcom bubble imploded, causing the technology downturn of 2001. I worked in a group in the marketing department. When the company announced layoffs, my manager took me aside and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” A couple weeks later, he passed me in the hallway looking concerned and said, “They let me go.” All bets were off for me, then. HR called me to a meeting and offered a modest severance package. A few hours later I walked out the door carrying a cardboard box with my office effects. My career at the vaunted technology company was over. I called my wife on the way home and said, “The good news is I don’t have to go to work tomorrow…”

We were in the middle of purchasing a house. However, I was the sole income earner, so my job loss meant we no longer qualified for a mortgage. The house purchase fell through. Eventually we moved to an apartment in a less savory part of town to save money while I looked for another job.

Meanwhile, our marriage became very strained. For years my wife had a problem with rage that had worsened with time. When we argued, she could carry on for literally hours, screaming, getting in my face, speaking abusively.  She was so loud that neighbors could hear. On more than one occasion she screamed at and hit me while I was driving, once while traveling 75 mph on the highway. It was lucky I didn’t get in a wreck. When I lost my job and money was running out, she became furious and indignantly opposed to getting a job, despite having a college degree and work experience. She moped around the apartment sobbing while I tried to work from home on entrepreneurial projects.  She told me that if I didn’t do what she wanted, she might kill herself and it would be my fault. I believe she had borderline personality disorder, but only showed this side to people close to her, i.e. mother, father, sister, me. At church she seemed the involved, caring Christian. With therapists she was shrewd and evasive. But at home the dark side came out, like Jekyll and Hyde.

These outbursts had occurred for years, but losing my job was sort of a tipping point into the abyss. She was destroying me emotionally, and unrepentant about it. If we ever had kids, I knew she would crush them too. I knew that staying in this marriage would mean an unhappy life and probably a premature death from the cumulative psychological toll on my body.

As an evangelical Christian I thought divorce is a sin, except in the case of infidelity. This is why I stayed in the marriage for nearly 10 years. But I reached a point where I had to separate, and felt at peace with the decision. I left to stay at a friend’s house. During the following couple of months I sought the Lord on the matter and felt my heart moving toward divorce. I was 95% sure until I had a conversation with a Christian pastor whose father also had borderline personality disorder. He explained, with great pain in his eyes, how his father had become so abusive that he had to cut off the relationship. I knew the Lord meant for me to hear this, and I knew that I needed to divorce my wife.

Two Supernatural Nights

On the night after I told my wife about my intent to divorce, I fell asleep and was seized by what some describe as a “night terror.” These are incidents of demons harassing people in their sleep, often accompanied by horrifying dreams, a sense of paralysis or pressure on the chest, and waking up the presence of evil in the room. I had experienced this before and knew that calling out to Jesus would force it to leave (see Luke 10:19). But this terror had a message for me: “How dare you!” How dare I divorce my wife! That was astonishing. The devil was chastising me for daring to close the door he was using to attack me.

The next night I had a dream from the Lord. I don’t remember my dreams normally, except occasionally for a few moments after awaking. But prophetic dreams are emblazoned in my memory for life. In the dream I saw a beautiful woman. I awoke and intuitively knew what the Lord was telling me: “I have someone else for you.” This brought me great comfort and encouragement because I never wanted to go through life alone.

Job’s Friends

One Sunday I went to a Starbucks coffee shop and read the book of Job. I noted all of the bad religious advice that Job’s friends gave him during his time of distress and loss. “You must have done something wrong to deserve this,” they told Job. “Just admit it.” I also saw how God’s anger was kindled against them and they were required to offer a sacrifice and ask Job to pray for them. In my spirit I sensed the Lord tell me this would happen to me. People would come to give bad religious advice.

Sure enough, they came that week. Christians from my past – a pastor, a ministry leader, a friend’s father – called to pressure me not to divorce. They said it was a sin, disobedience to God. I disagreed.

As an aside, I do not claim divorce is good, and can be a sin, but it can also be deliverance. While marriage is meant for a lifetime, people can abuse and dishonor it. Sleeping around is not the only form of abuse – there are many forms. Sometimes people use marriage as a way to lock someone in to cage of abuse, with the social pressure and enforcement of the church. This is wrong. God in his mercy sets people free. I know he did for me. “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3) For more commentary on divorce, see the Addendum below. Also see We Live by the Spirit, Not by Law and Mercy, Not Sacrifice and Faith Hall of Fame.

My ex-wife, who was generally an honest person while we were married, began to spread lies about me, saying I was the abuser and she was the victim. She poisoned the well of virtually every friendship. Not that everyone believed her, but it created doubt and discomfort. She actually gave speeches to Christian groups about her experience as an “abused wife,” which is ironic since I was the one who divorced her. But I suspect that fact is why some church people assumed I was the bad guy in the relationship. If I so flagrantly committed the “sin” of divorce, I must be guilty of other transgressions too, right?

In the end I lost almost every Christian friendship accumulated over 15 years. It wasn’t all because of my ex-wife’s defamation. The perceived spectacular failure of my marriage and faith was a visible reminder that perhaps the evangelical religious system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. People didn’t want to look at that, so they didn’t want to look at me.

So I lost my job, house, marriage, reputation and Christian community. Do you know what else I lost? My pride. I had a lot of it from my younger days. I was successful in many endeavors and it went to my head. Pride is a sin that blocks the Lord’s work in our lives. Having so much stripped away humbled me.

The Lord Delivers

But I never lost my faith. The Lord was there for me 100% all the way. As things became worse, his work and presence became even more visible. I was finally able to put into practice the truths of Scripture I learned earlier, but was too afraid to make the leap of faith out of the religious system I was indoctrinated into. God pushed me so far out on a limb that I didn’t have a choice!

The Lord also delivered quickly on his promise of someone else for me. I reconnected with a Christian woman I knew from college days who happened to go through a divorce at the same time as me and for a similar reason – emotional abuse. Amazingly, neither of us had children. Today we are happily married and have two beautiful daughters.

Maybe I need to write a Part Three about all the good things God has done in the years since. But my point is this: The Lord never forsook me. He was there all along, called me back and built me up higher than ever. I am eternally grateful for it!



Addendum


Many Christians look at divorce in a strict, black-and-white manner because of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:

It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32

Here Jesus forbids divorce except in the case of adultery, although the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 makes another exception for unbelievers leaving their believing spouses. 

But I want to point out something important in Jesus’ sermon. Immediately prior to the statement on divorce, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:27-30

I don’t know of anyone – though I can only speak for men – whose eye or hand hasn’t caused them to stumble with regard to the sin of lust. I also don’t know of any church that interprets this passage literally, because if people were honest that would mean a church full of eye-less, hand-less attendees. So everyone interprets this statement metaphorically.

Do you see a problem here? Those who say divorce is forbidden except in the case of adultery – no other exceptions – are interpreting one statement by Jesus 100% literally, but then interpreting the statement immediately before it in the same sermon 100% metaphorically.

That's not a consistent approach to interpreting Scripture. It would be wise to step back and ask the Lord what the message here really is.

In reading the whole sermon, Jesus made a series of statements like this: The Law says this, but I say … And then Jesus raised the standard to an incredibly, even impossibly, high level. What is Jesus saying here? That there is a new law that no one can keep?

Let's look at what the Bible says about the purpose of the Law:

But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe… Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:22,24

The purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ – to show us we are sinners, so that we might understand our need for forgiveness and find it in Christ. The Law is a standard that shows us how we ought to be, so that by striving for it and failing, we might realize we need God’s righteousness by faith in the blood of Christ.

The problem – then and now – is that many people think they are good enough and don’t need forgiveness. I bet Jesus in the Matthew 5 sermon was speaking to some people who believed they basically kept the Law, believed they were good enough. So Jesus raised the moral standard so high that no one could possibly say they are good enough. Gotcha! Now you need Jesus.

Back to the question of divorce. God’s perfect standard is that marriage is intended to last a lifetime and we should not divorce. The problem is we live in a fallen world and sometimes people's destructive behavior shreds the fabric of a marriage or is outright dangerous. In mercy there are exceptions for divorce. I don't know what they all are, except in my own case where I brought it to the Lord and He spoke freedom and deliverance.

By the way, if you don’t think there are exceptions, why is Rahab the harlot in the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 for helping the Israelite spies? After all, she hid the spies and lied to the civil authorities about it. The Ten Commandments forbid bearing false witness. Or why is Abraham in the faith hall of fame for being willing to slay his son Isaac? The same commandments forbid murder. Yet these people are recorded in the New Testament as examples of faith to emulate.

Sometimes higher laws are at stake.

Friends, we are called to walk by faith in the Spirit, in love and obedience to God. If you think that merely means keeping some set of rules, whatever you have come to believe they are, you are missing the greater meaning of what it really is to know and walk with God. Jesus said his sheep hear his voice and they follow him.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing brother.
The Lord can bring healing and forgiveness for your ex-wife too... if she chooses, eh?
He is the reconciler... of all men to himself.
May we all be transformed into His Image, from glory to glory... as we are further humbled, and then lifted up in Him!
May we learn to pray all the more!

Anonymous said...

Sure, friends can give bad advice, but I presume you aren't saying you are like Job whom God said was upright and blameless? Whom God allowed Satan to take his children, possessions and livelihood? Didn't his wife tell him to "curse God and die"? Might that be "emotional abuse"? Could not the "How dare you!" have been from God and the beautiful woman dream been just lust? You said yourself you didn't want to "go through life alone" so humanly speaking it makes perfect sense to abandon the troubled marriage and seek "happiness" in a new one. What miracles of grace could God have worked in your marriage had you trusted Him to persevere? I'm grateful God doesn't abandon His very troubled bride and that we are eternally secure. What's done is done, but if you don't even recognize and acknowledge any sin for your divorce, then your pride is still looming large, very large. You can grieve your divorce and acknowledge your sin in it without affecting your current status.

In reading part 1 you spoke of telling someone in the ministry you were involved in about wanting to marry a woman and that person discouraged you to do so which led you to leave that ministry. Was that the woman you eventually divorced? If so, do you wonder if you had received his counsel with humility, along with counsel of others, that perhaps you wouldn't have married her in the first place? But since you did (if it's the same woman) you then disregarded the advice of others to not divorce her. Also, to say divorce can be "deliverance" is merely looking from a selfish human perspective. It definitely isn't "deliverance" from God's perspective. Try reading Hosea and his love for Gomer and there's a case for a man to abandon a woman if there ever was one. That's a small picture of Christ and His bride, except we are much worse than Gomer and Hosea definitely isn't sinless and infinitely Holy like Christ.

Not sure why I took the time to write this, but I hope you don't feel as if I am judging, attacking you. You made your choices and chose to write about them in a public forum. Presuming we are both believers, we are brothers and will spend eternity together. As for now, I do know I am not a friend giving bad advice and you are not Job. No offense.

Mike Fisch said...

@ Anonymous immediately above.
God has convicted me and chastised me for many sins in life, but divorcing my first wife isn’t one of them. I grieved the end of that marriage, but feel no need to repent of the decision. That was the deliverance and mercy of the Lord, and I’m sorry your legalism doesn’t let you accept that.

I suppose if you were God, you would have told the Israelites to remain under the rod of Pharaoh because Romans 13 says, “Let every person be in subjection to the government authorities.” And Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” You would not have sent Moses to defy Pharaoh and demand he let his people go.

And I suppose if you were God, you would not have commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which both Abraham and Isaac were willing to do and in fact were on the verge of carrying out, when Lord sent a ram as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. After all, the Ten Commandments forbid murder.

And I suppose if you were God, you would not have told Moses to write that divorce is okay if the husband issues the wife a certificate, and then inspire Jesus to say divorce is forbidden except in the case of infidelity, but then inspire the Apostle Paul to say it is okay for a believer to divorce an unbeliever. That is all so confusing and inconsistent. A simple eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not divorce,” would be more suitable to your hard, black-and-white viewpoint.

And I suppose if you were God, you would not have inspired Jesus to say, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Because verbal and emotional abuse is not such a big deal to you, certainly not grounds for divorce.

Since you presumed to give me advice, I’ll return the favor: Your understanding of what it means to walk with God is too narrow and small. If your understanding does not encompass the whole of Scriptures, the entirety of God’s eternal word from Genesis to Revelation, then it is insufficient. If your understanding does not rely on hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit to reveal its hidden treasures, then it is not inspired. Nobody knew the Scriptures better than the Pharisees, but they didn’t recognize the Messiah even when He stood in front of them. Jesus said his sheep hear his voice and they follow him.

apophiaa said...

i am blessed by this testimony. indeed our God is a God of grace. am grieved by what "anonymous" posted but i suppose even through that, God can reach people, the same God who can get water out of a rock ... may God continue to bless u even as u minister. there is a friend i would like u to minister too in this area. i will email u. blessings

Mike Fisch said...

@ aphophiaa - Thanks! Blessings as well.

Bianca said...

Thank you for sharing your testimony. I am in the middle of a situation similar to yours. I was advised against marrying my husband. We have struggled financially over the last three years. He hasn't stayed at a job longer than a few months, constantly having interpersonal conflicts with coworkers. I have supported us and taken out debt in my name to cover the bills. Two years ago he confessed an emotional affair to me, and I forgave him. A year ago he confessed to sexting another woman, and I forgave him. Two months ago, he confessed to sexting another woman, and this time it involved a scam that nearly cost us $2500. Thankfully he confessed before he paid it and I consulted with a lawyer who assured me it was a scam. I then insisted that we pursue Christian marriage counseling. In the past six weeks, he's gotten into two screaming matches with the counselor and now refuses to go back. I met with her privately last week, and she recommended I start making arrangements to move back into my parents because she suspects he has borderline personality disorder. She doesn't see much hope in reconciliation in our marriage as long as he's unwilling to accept counsel. This is not the first time he's refused to see a particular counselor because he didn't like their approach. I'm angry all of the time. I can't stand to be around him and cringe when he touches me. I've sought counsel from my parents, sisters and best friend, all of whom support the choice of divorce. I have so much anxiety over this decision and I want to fight for my marriage, but some days I don't know if I'm fighting for him to get better, for financial stability or for the actual marriage. Is there even a marriage left to fight for? Does God want me to keep fighting for this or is it okay to divorce? Will I regret it down the road? Should I remain single after divorce? Is it adultery to remarry? Am I ever going to have the family I desire? I just don't know what to do.

Mike Fisch said...

@ Bianca. I'm sorry to hear about your situation. This sounds like a highly unstable person. My advice would be to forgive him but also seek justice. Ask God to tell you personally and directly whether you should stay or go. He does care and He will answer. Just listen for the response.

Don't worry about the other questions for now. If the answer is go, then focus on getting free and getting whole. Put your hand to the plow and don't look back. God bless you.

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind." - James 1:5-6

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." - John 10:27

"A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice." - Isaiah 42:3

Cassie Lindeberg said...

My husband and I are currently separated. I am a believer as well, and I have mental illness that has affected my behaviors in the past. However, I now see that, I own it, and I have been working diligently to better myself to be the person I want to be, as well as the wife my husband needs. I'm praying constantly, and have heard the Lord speak to me during these times. Without Jesus, I am nothing and have nothing. Without Jesus, I am a "crazy" person who's out of control and let's my emotions get the best of me. Without Jesus, I am one of the worst people I know, possibly the worst person I know.

I know you shared that you suspect your ex-wife has borderline personality disorder. I'm on the other side of that piece, as I do have "traits" of BPD, but not enough to point to a diagnosis at this time, per the psychiatrist. Have I abused my husband? Absolutely. Do I have to do? Oh yes. Can I be a better me? With Jesus! I'm only sharing this because my situation could be looked on as so dire, maybe as you saw your first marriage. I have asked God multiple times to speak to me, maybe because I was "worried" that I was just seeing what I wanted to. But God showed me that His plans are better than any I can fathom, and He plans to use our marriage to further His kingdom. Whatever happens, I will praise God all my days. Do I pray for reconciliation and healing? All the time.

I believe an abuser must become accountable by action. Telling my husband I'm better shows him nothing. But taking care of my amends, being accountable for my past and my future, and working on myself through consistent therapy are keys to my biblical success.

Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your transparency! God bless you!!

Mike Fisch said...

@ Cassie. Thanks for your comment. If my ex had your attitude and determination, I'm sure the marriage would have made it. God bless you.

Debra Burke said...

I am so thankful to have found your story. I was married to a covert narcissist for 36 years, the last 5 of those years I became chronically ill to the point of being bed-ridden 90% of the time. The stress of living with someone who was emotionally untrustworthy and abusive was a big part of my illness. Within a month of moving out I began to recover. Even though I knew I had to divorce, literally for my life, and even though I had peace from God that it was OK to divorce, I have still struggled with reconciling my divorce with scripture. Now, over a year later, doubts and recriminations are creeping in. I find I have to remind myself of his behavior in order to achieve any kind of peace - it's like re-living the nightmare. Hearing your story encourages me so much! Hopefully, I will regain my confidence in who I am in Christ, that my divorce is not the defining event of my life. Thank you and God bless!

Mike Fisch said...

@ Debra. I'm very glad to hear you're feeling better and encouraged. I agree - body, mind and soul are interconnected, and abuse affects all parts of our being.

Yet our God is Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord our healer!

It's that old rascal the devil who speaks to us in harsh, accusing tones. The Lord speaks to us in peace:

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy." - James 3:17

Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your writings. I have been raised in a very conservative Christian faith. That of black and white. However, my struggle has always been with taking the Bible literally and how today it seems as though some of the rules apply and others do not. 1 Corinthians 14:34 "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church"

We don't see this being taken literally in most churches today. Due to my conservative upbringing I stayed in a marriage I should have ended years ago. I tried to set boundaries, ask for couples counseling, went to my own counseling, tried to set boundaries and the list goes on. My faith was shaking from the stress... until - until I realized that a God of love, a God who deeply truly cares for me, who runs after my heart, who wants me to seek him in all things - This God would not want me to stay in a destructive marriage, one that is continually tearing me down, a marriage that goes through cycle after cycle of blow-ups, temporary change, relapse and repeat.

Every day I pray that God will give me a sign that I am to stop this divorce process, he knows my heart, he knows my journey and I truly want to please him. However, rather I get peace. I get peace in the music he provide me just when I need it, I get peace in the phone call or conversation that was needed when I am in a low point. I do understand why God hates divorce - it does not embody what God is all about. However, in this broken world it is sometimes necessary and not just necessary due to adultery or an unbeliever leaving. It is necessary so that you can fulfill your God given destiny and know fully understand the power of Gods love and forgiveness. I pray that if you are on this journey that you run to God rather than from him. He will provide for you, give you peace and provide the right direction for you to take in the weeks, months and years to come.

Mike Fisch said...

@ Anonymous. Great comment, thanks for sharing your experience.

"He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds."
- Psalm 147:3

"I, the Lord, am your healer.”
- Exodus 15:26