Liz Curtis Higgs offers a fresh perspective on the Christmas story as she examines it through the lens of three women in Jesus’ life, revealing how Jesus’ coming to Earth impacted those around Him and can impact your family this Christmas, too.
Mrs. Lysa TerKeurst: So, when I get triggered in my pain and all of that anger and that frustration and even some of the bitterness comes back, it doesn’t make me a forgiveness failure. It means I need to have another marked moment of forgiving now for the impact that this had on me. So, I stop, and I say, “I now forgive Art for this anxiety that I didn’t have before. And whatever my feelings will not yet allow for the blood of Jesus will surely cover it.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Hmm. Lysa TerKeurst joins us once again on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, forgiveness is one of the most difficult commands that God gives us. And so often the person who hurt us, never apologizes. They may not even be aware of it. Um, forgiveness can feel especially impossible when the person we are closest to, our spouse, betrays that trust. And that’s what we talked about last time with our guest, Lysa TerKeurst, when her husband had an affair and then Lysa went through one of the most difficult seasons of her life. But she’s found freedom from her resentment and it’s our hope that her story helped you also feel that freedom.
John: And stop by our website or grab the YouTube or mobile app versions to hear that first part of the conversation. It was really powerful as Lysa opened up and was so vulnerable with us and shared from the Scriptures as well. As I mentioned, Lysa TerKeurst is the president of Proverbs 31. It’s a ministry that has a worldwide reach. She’s a wife and a mom and a grandmother, as well. And her new book is called Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again. And we’ve got copies of that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Lysa, welcome back to the program.
Lysa: Thank you so much. It’s always such an honor and joy to be with you.
Jim: Well, I think – and I get excited because I know people are going to be helped with what you have to share. And that – it just – ah! – it’s bursting in me because I know there are many people that are living in a low place like where you were at, and you’re throwing them like this ladder to say, here’s the way up out of that pit. And that gives me great hope and excitement for what you’re going to share with us today. Um, last time we left off with your expression of maybe shaking a fist at God, if I could say it that way. “Why would You let this stuff happen to me?” And I’d like to just come back to that. And, again, for the listener, the viewer, if you missed it, get the download, get the smartphone app, whatever you need to do, because it gives context for today.
Jim: And I would really encourage you to do that. But let’s go back just briefly. Last time you were talking about pinning that hurt on God. If God were a good God, why would He let me suffer this way? Which, by the way, is one of the frequently asked Google questions. If God’s so good and why does He hate me so much? That’s a powerful statement. Why don’t you hit that one? Does God hate anybody?
Lysa: Yeah, it breaks my heart that, I think, in the research I quoted in the book, it was the third most popular Googled question about God.
Lysa: And while it breaks my heart, I understand that someone can be in so much pain that they would ask that question.
Lysa: You know, why does God hate me? And, um, I understand the sentiment behind that question because I think when life is imploding around you and circumstances just seem to be just unrelenting and, in the devastation, feels so deep and so permanent, you know, I think that’s where I could find myself. And so much of what we walked through, it felt unchangeable and the unchangeable can feel unforgivable. And, um, I understand why people would say, how could God just stand by and do nothing? I understand that question.
Lysa: But, Jim, you know, when I look at who God is, we don’t serve a do-nothing God.
Lysa: He is always, always working, moving, acting and changing and shifting. And He’s always moving us toward good and we have to cooperate with that good. Um, Jim, I tell a story in the book that I think – I think people will relate to.
Lysa: And that is that during part of this process, I had a major home renovation that was done. And I’ll never forget that the builders came in one day and they brought sledgehammers and they started completely demolishing my kitchen. My kitchen is this place that so much of our life…
Lysa: …Had been centered around, right? But I did not panic that they did that because I gave them permission based on the plans that I saw, that they were going to make it even better. They were going to make it more beautiful. They were going to make it more functioning for my family. But if I had woken up on a day and just saw men that showed up at my house with sledgehammers demolishing my kitchen, and I didn’t know that they had a good purpose in mind, I would have panicked. I would have called 911. I would have begged them to stop. I would have tried to prevent them. And I think sometimes we forget that when God shows up in the midst of demolition, it’s never for the purpose of destruction. It’s for the purpose of construction. It’s for the purpose of – of rebuilding and strengthening and bringing something beautiful. And so, if I can have that kind of trust in my builders, why can I not have that same kind of trust when it comes to God showing up in parts of my life that what appears today to be a demolition, I forget, is actually a set up for construction tomorrow. And I forget that so often. I can trust the Master Builder. He is the Master Builder with a good plan in mind and if I can remember that, I can see this not as the destruction of something I love, but the construction of something that God is able to do.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that is really good. But, again, we haven’t put a finer touch to this, but, uh, your situation with your husband, it didn’t recover quickly. You – you pointed to that, but you had to experience this after that break of trust, after the infidelity. You know, you were going weeks, months trying to say…
Jim: …Okay, Lord, where is it?
Jim: How did you do that? I mean, so many women and some men are going to say, “How do you do that?” They’re in it right now, Lysa. They’re just saying, “Lord, what do I do? Do I stand?” What were you feeling in those early months and then the year and then the second year? What were you sensing God saying to you?
Lysa: Well, I remember, Jim, thinking this is so painful. I can’t endure it another 60 seconds, I can’t endure it another 24 hours, I can’t endure it another week. And I had no idea that this was going to be a two and a half year battle. I had no idea.
Lysa: And, I mean, it – it’s long. And when you think about, you know, that means two and a half years I woke up absolutely alone. When my five kids grew up and left the house – my baby packed her bags and moved out to go on and do, you know, great things with her life and get an education and, you know, do wonderful things. But my husband also packed his bags and he was gone. He did not live in my house for two and a half years. That means two and a half years of waking up so many times at 2 a.m. and out of habit putting my arm on his side of the bed and wanting to feel his protection (emotion) and him not being there. And, you know, I think one thing that was so incredibly painful – and I relate to this so much with so many people who are hurting and it just seems like there is no end. The – the thing that was so hard for me is when do I say enough is enough? I have biblical grounds for divorce.
Lysa: I absolutely did. And I didn’t just have biblical grounds for divorce one time. It happened over and over and over and to the point where I told you in yesterday’s show, I was the only one who held on to any hope at the end that my marriage was going to make it. And the thing that I kept saying to myself, Jim, is I’m just going to leave a little bit more room for God to move.
Lysa: I’m just going to leave a little bit more room…
Lysa: …For God to move. And I knew that one day God was either going to rescue me out of this situation or He would provide a way for me to be, uh, redeemed inside and reconciled in the relationship. But either way, I was going to pursue a redemption story with God. And that’s what’s so important. And I want to say that loud and clear today, that sometimes God rescues people out of relationships and sometime God restores people in relationships, but either way, they can have a story of redemption.
Lysa: And they – it is not dependent on another person. You can pursue a redemption story and that redemption story is based on your choices with God.
Jim: Yeah. Let me ask you, that woman that – and, again, I’ll put it in the context of a woman, and I know it can work the other way, but you’ve gone through it and you’ve gone through it as a woman, so I want that realness from you. When you get to that fork in the road, which may have come up over and over again – I can only imagine family members saying, “Lysa, what are you doing? You’re acting like a doormat. You’re – you know, you have every right to get out of this relationship. Do it.” I think the two part question is, one, how do you know it is God’s will to stick with it? And then how do you know when He’s letting you off the exit ramp? I mean, those are really big questions for people that emotionally are foggy, and they don’t know what’s going on and they don’t know the right turn and they don’t know what to do. What counsel do you give them?
Lysa: Well, um, I – that’s another reason why it was really important for me in Forgiving What You Can’t Forget that I have an entire section on boundaries because it’s not about being a doormat. It’s not about allowing another person enough emotional access to you to keep hurting you and abusing you. And so, I had to have some really good counsel in my life. I had pastors, I had counselors, and I had some very close friends and I knew these friends were praying more words over me than they were talking about me or to me. And together we put boundaries in place so that I wasn’t getting wounded day after day after day after day. The situation was hard and horrific and hurtful, but I had to have space where I got alone with God. And that’s part of the reason why Art and I couldn’t live in the same house. I don’t think separation is for everyone, but I do think you’ve got to have the appropriate boundaries so that abuse does not continue, so that addictions can be dealt with, and so that you can get wise counsel…
Lysa: …Of people helping you make the decisions that you have to make.
John: Boy, what Lysa is sharing right there is so important and, uh, it may be that you don’t have that gift that she had of people surrounding her, praying for her, encouraging her. If you’re not sure where to turn, if you’re not plugged into a church community, give us a call. We have caring, Christian counselors here and they can walk through, kind of, some initial steps, establish those boundaries that Lysa’s talking about. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Our guest is Lysa TerKeurst. Her book is Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. Call us for the book or to, uh, set up a time to talk to one of our counselors. It’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Lysa, I love this analogy that I’m about to ask you to share with everybody. And this is before Art’s affair. You compared your marriage to a beeping smoke detector. Describe that because it is so accurate.
Lysa: Hmm. Well, we all know that there is a reason why our smoke detectors beep. It’s because they’re saying they don’t have enough power to operate properly to inform you when there’s smoke in the house so that it can protect you from devastating effects of smoke inhalation if there’s a fire, right?
Lysa: And so, there’s a warning. If your fire alarm goes off, we all know jump up, get out of the house, dial 911. But when that smoke detector beeps, it’s also a warning. But most of us don’t take it as a warning. We want to get the smoke detector to stop beeping. And so…
Jim: It’s irritating. (Chuckles)
Lysa: It’s irritating. And so, I often want to unhook the smoke detector rather than immediately going, getting batteries, and replacing the batteries so that the smoke detector can work properly. And I think it’s these early warnings, it’s the beeps before the alarms, that so many of us get too busy or we get too distracted or we just get too annoyed to attend to the beeping. And the beeping is as important as the alarm.
Jim: Yeah. It – it’s such a great word picture and analogy for all of us as married couples to pay attention to those warning signs. What’s happening? You go on to say that you and Art had gotten very good at playing the necessary roles in your marriage. Um, man, we got to be careful here because, you know, you want to be all in with your spouse. What did you mean by playing the role and why is that dangerous?
Lysa: Well, I think it’s really just going through the motions, you know? It’s like – it’s very easy to fall into rhythms and routines and going through the motions and you’re not doing bad things, but you’re not tending to the most important things. And, you know, Jim, there was an exercise that Art and I did in counseling. It was very, very profound. I did it separately from him and I had to draw this thing called a trauma egg. So, I drew out the trauma egg – like a big, white piece of poster board, drew an egg shape, and then my counselor said, “Divide it up into little squares and then inside of each square, right down from your earliest memory, any time that you have been abused or traumatized or rejected or hurt in some way. Just write all those memories down, but draw stick figure pictures.” And so, you know, I drew all of these little components, all these little squares and stick figure pictures of times that I’ve been hurt, abused, traumatized, rejected in some way. And then my counselor said, “Now stand in front of me and tell me the story of every square.” And what my counselor was listening for was a shame script that is a pervasive theme in my life that I believed something wrong. And because I was believing this shame script, I was believing this lie, I was believing this wrong narrative about my life, I navigated my relationships based on my shame script. Now, here’s what’s interesting. Art did the same exercise. My same script was Lysa, do not ask too much for other people, because they’re going to think eventually that you are an annoyance to them.
Lysa: Like, don’t ever, ever ask too much for other people because you will be seen as an annoyance. Art’s shame script was you’re not good enough. You’re not good enough in what you do. So, now here’s what I want you to do, Jim. Think about how these two shame scripts could come together. When Art and I were in the rhythm of routine, going through the motions, doing our roles in our relationship, Art would often offered to do stuff for me and I would hear, don’t let him do that for you, because if you do, let him do too much for you, he’s going to see you as an annoyance. So, I would say to him, “Oh, no, that’s okay. I’m going to do it myself.” So, what he would hear is, “Oh, I’m not good enough. That’s why she’s saying, ‘Don’t do this.’”
Lysa: So, those two shame scripts came in collision and I will never forget the day where we sat in front of our counselor and Art looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said, “For 20 years you’ve been telling me I’m not good enough.” And I pushed my chair back and I said to my counselor, “As God is my witness, I have never said those words to you.” And the counselor said, “You’re both right.”
Lysa: “Lysa, you’ve never said those words. But every time you told him, ‘No, you don’t need to do that for me. I’ll do it myself’, based on your shame script, what Art heard was ‘You’re not good enough.’” And year after year after year our two shame scripts were colliding.
Lysa: Like, don’t ask him to do stuff and she thinks you’re not good enough. And you can see how it eroded the very intimate nature of authenticity between us in our relationship.
Jim: Let’s continue, you know, down the path here. Um, speak to that woman who’s worried her husband has issues he hasn’t dealt with. I mean, maybe she’s listening today and she’s going, “I can’t wait to go straighten Jim out.” Let’s just assume it’s Jean.
Jim: Um, but what can she do to help him start opening up to the healing that the Lord has for him? And then we can reverse it. But speak to that woman that she can clearly see the path forward. She knows intuitively what those things are that are grabbing her husband’s ankles and keeping him from the right path. How does she go about addressing these things?
Lysa: Well, one thing that I think is really important is don’t work harder on your husband than he’s willing to work on himself.
Jim: Wow, that’s important.
Lysa: Because I think there were many years where I worked harder on Art than Art was working on Art. And it put us in this very weird place where I started to think of myself as the saint and him as the sinner. And when you believe that you’re the saint and the other person is the sinner, it’s impossible for forgiveness to happen and it’s impossible for the man to ever feel like he has what it takes to be the man and the leader in that relationship.
And when God says that it’s not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a helper suitable, what does that suitable mean…
Lysa: …To the helper? And the answer that I found in Scripture absolutely blew my mind, Jim. The woman is supposed to remind the man that he is not just dust of the ground meant to be wiped away and discarded, but he is also breath of God. So, one of the most beautiful things a woman can do for a man is to remind him you’re not just dust, but you are breath of God, made in the image of God designed to fulfill a holy calling of God. And then the woman is to stand there and hear the man echo over her and “you’re not just broken off bone meant to be buried and forgotten about. No, you are touch of God, design of God, meant to fulfill a high and holy calling of God.” And the divine echo that can happen when a man speaks life over a woman and a woman speaks life over a man – the interruption to that divine echo is Satan’s attempts at shame. Shaming the man to make him feel less than and shaming the woman, making her feel like she’s not worthy. And we’ve got to get back to God’s original design of speaking life over one another.
Jim: Yeah. Lysa at the beginning of our program last time we played a clip from you and Art’s vow renewal ceremony. Describe the counseling and healing it took to get from that place of hurt that you’ve described so well to a more beautiful place of a vow renewal. Just describe that for us.
Lysa: Well, I think for us, um, at the point where we felt like now we’ve done enough work on ourselves as individuals that it’s time to come back and start working on the relationship, we realized that there was a lot of work that was going to have to be done to rebuild trust. And, Jim, that is a brutal process. It is so hard.
Lysa: And, you know, here we are, you know, several years out from this and we’re still working on it. And there was a tremendous emotional cost here to what happened. So, when I get triggered in my pain and all of that anger and that frustration and even some of the bitterness comes back, it doesn’t make me a forgiveness failure. It means I need to have another marked moment of forgiving now for the impact that this had on me. So, I stop, and I say, “I now forgive Art for this anxiety that I didn’t have before. And whatever my feelings will not yet allow for the blood of Jesus will surely cover it.” And it’s just another marked moment, forgiving for both the fact and the impact.
Jim: When you look at the totality of the picture, Lysa, I guess the – the question is, given everything that you and Art have gone through, is it worth it? Is it worth it to fight for your marriage?
Lysa: Mmm. Such a good question, Jim. You know, it’s in the quiet moments where we’re sitting out by – with this little fireplace out on our patio and we’re sitting out by the fireplace and, you know, our grandson runs up to us. And I know that this grandson – Art is as invested in this heart of this little boy as I am. And we look at him and we look at each other and we say, “Man, this is the hardest thing we’ve ever fought for.” But it’s in that moment, it is worth it.
Jim: Yeah. Well, I hope that person that’s thinking maybe not, they will heed your words and make a different decision. You know, we started with a clip of you in the beginning with the vow renewal. I want to end with the words Art shared with you in that intimate moment and I’d like to play that right now.
Mr. Art TerKeurst: You never gave up. You disarmed all of the dark with your grace and with your forgiveness. You licked the floor of hell, but somehow you allowed God and the “what if” to lead your charge. You leaned in and never out. You faced a mountain (sniff) of run for the hills advice and you never laced up. I will embrace building a rebirth legacy with you and I will hold your hand (sniff) tight as we take the hands of our children. Mm. (emotion) And our grandchildren and make memories together that will overflow with love and fun and adventure.
Jim: All right, I don’t have a dry eye. (emotion) I mean, that’s what it’s about, Lysa. And even though you’re in the fight, it’s the right fight to be in. And I’m so proud of you and Art for, you know, being on display that everybody could see what it means to fight for your family. Thank you.
Lysa: (emotion) Thank you, Jim. Thank you.
John: And we’re aware that, um, what Lysa’s been talking about is so powerful. It goes way beyond even a marriage. It touches generations. And it might not be your marriage. It might be something that happened to you long ago. It might be something that happened just yesterday that you need to really dial into what we’ve been talking about today and learn to forgive and move on and – and find that space and, uh, find that healing that God has allowed Art and Lysa to find thus far in their journey together. Call us if we can be part of that with you. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. We have, caring Christian counselors. We’ve got Lysa’s book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. We’ve got a lot of great resources here. And if you’ve never joined the support team, today is a great day to do so here as we wrap up the calendar year. Especially because there’s a matching gift opportunity. Right now some generous donors have come alongside us and offered to match your contribution dollar for dollar. So, either way, however much you can give, we’ll send a copy of Lysa’s great book to you. It’s our way of saying thank you for standing with us on behalf of marriages and hurting individuals. Donate and get the book. As I said earlier the web link is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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