Stefan takes the 6:00 a.m. train out of Sacramento every weekday morning to travel to the Bay Area. He sits in the same car, reviews the same kind of work files, and thinks about the same subjects. He also shares that car with relatively the same people. They have come to know each other as work partners, even though each of them has different employers.
They laugh together and commiserate over the common problems of cubicle workers. They agree, as the train pulls into the station, to remember all the juicy bits of gossip from the day’s events for the ride home. It’s a harmless bonding of people. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Except this ride has become anything but innocent for Stefan. He has developed feelings for one of the ladies in the train car. At home, he fantasizes about her and dreams of how he will approach her with his desire to know her more intimately.
This is a problem, for Stefan is married and is a Christian. He knows adultery is wrong but is going along with the fantasy with great enthusiasm.
Once he began to think about her, she was all he could think about on the daily commute. His adrenaline increased when she entered “their” car. He experienced profound disappointment when she occasionally called in sick. He wanted her; and it occupied all his thinking.
Eventually, he started to single her out for conversation and often moved in conspiratorially to say things much more quietly. These were not sinful things he spoke about, but they were intended for her ears only. After a few weeks of giving her special attention, she began to indicate through words and body language that she was attracted to him. Because of this, he became bolder in his approach.
This conversation took several turns after that initial flush of discovery. More and more, they held little private talks with each other instead of the group as a whole. They exchanged social media addresses: Linked-In, Facebook, email and finally phone numbers. One day, she suggested they book another car once a week so the curious ears of the others wouldn’t be listening in.
The conversation now focused on their sex life. Each of them complained about how they weren’t getting their needs met. They shared details of what they considered the “perfect” intimate life, if only their spouses would cooperate.
Eventually, they decided to take the 5:40 train instead, figuring it would be better if no one knew they were getting closer to each other.
They sent sexy messages to each other on Facebook. This was the point Stefan realized his fantasies could actually come true, and it bothered him. At the same time, every week, the pastor’s sermon seemed to center in on the consequences of sin. This was strange, since the pastor had rarely talked about sin with judgmental overtones. But he felt convicted and ashamed every time he left church.
Stefan began to have little fights with his wife and their finances were not doing well.
Here is where the real problem with sin came out. He assumed the fights, his uncomfortable feelings at church, and the financial problems were all the result of this emotional adultery he was playing with. He knew his actions were sinful. And he was convinced that it was about to bring devastation upon his life. The longer Stefan and this woman extended out their flirting, the more insecure he felt. Areas in his life he normally handled with confidence, he floundered in uncertainty.
One morning, the woman proposed they stay in the city overnight and make it appear to be work-related. Their plan was to do dinner together and then spend the night at a local hotel. As they went on the train that morning, she was giddy with anticipation. Stefan had a knot in his stomach that would not leave. When they walked off the train, she pulled him into a little alcove before he left and gave him a long, lingering kiss. Then she walked away humming a tune.
He was miserable all day at work. The closer he came to fulfilling his fantasy, the less appealing it appeared. He was now certain the judgment of God was going to rain down upon him. At the coffee break, he had to go into the bathroom and vomit. He knew with every part of his being he couldn’t go through with this. He called her several times during the day to let her know he wouldn’t be coming, but each time he chickened out and simply told her how excited he was they would finally be together.
That night he went to dinner, fully intending to tell her he wouldn’t go through with their adulterous plans. But he couldn’t break her heart. He said nothing and pasted on a smile.
After they were done eating, they carried through on their plans and spent the night together. By 2 a.m., Stefan realized he had never felt this miserable in his entire life. He had destroyed his wedding vows and brought misery and judgment onto his soul. After spending the night awake and despondent, Stefan went out for a walk. When he came back, he did what he wanted to do the night before. He told her he had made a mistake and this wouldn’t be happening again. She cried. He apologized and cried as well.
I could tell you a lot more details of their relationship, but it wouldn’t be necessary. I shared this much so you could see the pattern Stefan followed, a pattern that many people have also lived. As a follower of Christ, he didn’t want to sin. As a man attracted to a woman, he wanted intimacy with her. The two forces do not co-exist. He was miserable because he tried to appease both desires. You cannot do that.
But the real revelation came a month after his tryst. His daughter was swinging on the monkey bars at school and fell off. She broke her arm, her pelvis and suffered severe hemorrhaging in the brain. They had to keep her sedated so the swelling could recede.
The entire time Stefan sat by his small daughter’s bed, he endured three agonies. First, of course, he feared for his daughter’s life and future. Second, he worried for his wife and the trauma she was facing. Third, and heaviest, he believed deep in his heart that his affair was the reason his daughter had been injured. With that came guilt, pain, anger, bitterness, resentment, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts.
Preachers and writers often teach a false idea that God hides his face from us when we sin. This has no biblical basis and actually defiles the character of God. After all, when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God and God came looking for them. In Isaiah 59:2, we read:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2 NIV)
It is we who are separated from God. It is our sins which have blinded us from seeing God and experiencing his presence. God has not done any of this and rather yearns that we be reunited with Him. Jesus told the parable about the Prodigal Son, where the son spends his inheritance on wild living. At one point–penniless and destitute–the son realizes his father would forgive him and take him back in. So he resolves to head on home.
But a long way off, his father spies him and comes running toward him. This is only possible if his father had been waiting for him, watching for his return. This is a picture of God that is much more accurate than the petulant, wounded Law-Giver who is looking to reject and annihilate us.
Stefan and I spent many hours praying together in one of the waiting rooms at the hospital. I explained that his insecurity was the direct result of his sin. The Accuser was having a heyday bringing shame and self-loathing into his mind. It was easy for Stefan to grab hold of these things and to wrongly assume God also felt that way.
I convinced him to admit to his wife what he had done and ask her forgiveness. Then to ask God to cleanse him from the self-loathing. He actually found the God part harder than the confession part. It took several sessions of counseling before he accepted God’s intimacy again.
This is why sin is so awful. It leaves us guilty, shamed, cut off, insecure, lonely and assuming that all disasters are aimed at us. His daughter took months to recover from her fall, but it took dad almost as long to recover from his mistakes. Fortunately, his wife forgave and they are working toward a better relationship between them.
He now drives his car to work. Nothing to see here now. Move along.