Matt Hammitt: I knew it. For a… I, I could play no more denial games within myself. And so I just like, “You know what, Sarah? You’re absolutely right. This is not a safe situation. This is not a safe relationship. You’re absolutely right. Let’s figure this out.”
End of Recap
John Fuller: Well, Matt Hammitt is back with us today on Focus on the Family along with his wife, Sarah. And, uh, we thank you for joining us. I’m John Fuller. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, I love hearing stories about couples who, you know, despite going through really deep challenges, they just never give up on each other. Uh, it’s very encouraging and it’s such a picture of how Christ never gives up on us. He’s always there with his arms wide open, ready to forgive us and redeem us. And, uh, that’s the story that we started last time. And if you missed it yesterday, uh, download it. Uh, get in touch with us. Uh, get the smart phone app, whatever you need. It’s right there available to you and you can hear, uh, the story last time from Matt and Sarah, who endured, uh, many years of arguments and personality clashes. Anybody got- raising their hand out there?
Jim: Um, you know, those clashes which led to fighting pretty constantly. And then they faced a terminal diagnosis of their baby boy. That’s where we ended yesterday. And today, we’re going to pick up their story and explore how they stayed together, even though, uh, what they could see and feel was, uh, suggesting they should rip themselves apart.
John: Hm. It’s a really powerful conversation. And, uh, Matt was the lead singer in a very successful Christian band, Sanctus Real for 20 years. And, uh, he’s written a book chronicling their story and offering some insights. It’s called Lead me: Finding Courage to Fight for Your Marriage, Children, and Faith. And we’ve got that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or just give us a call.
Jim: Matt and Sarah, welcome back to Focus.
Matt: Thank you.
Sarah Hammitt: Thank you.
Jim: We loved having you last time and let’s pick up, uh, where we left off. Uh, you’d just received some really difficult news with your third child. Um, you mentioned the dreams your little girl, your oldest, Emmy, was having for years, even before you were pregnant, about her little brother maybe dying someday.
Jim: Um, that was powerful in how God used, uh, your daughter to speak to your heart in that and gave you what I caught was just the courage to stick with it and let the Lord determine the days of Bowen’s life, not some physician.
Jim: And that had to be so hard, though.
Matt: Yeah, I mean, we always, uh, you know, have been advocates for life. Um, always believed, you know, the Psalms, Psalms 139, you know, that God knows us before we’re born and creates us. Nobody but the Lord himself fashions us in the womb. You know, we believe he numbers our days, just as you said, Jim. And so I think for us, it was definitely, at first our faith but also there was a lot of hope that we felt, um, and just, you know, even like the, the story of Emmy and these dreams that she had.
Matt: You know, it’s like God sometimes does work through even children, right, to strengthen our faith. And, um, so we were resolved, despite what the physicians were saying, um, to see it through. And in my mind, I wanted to be strong. And so I was going to just trust and hope and not de- a- allow myself to emotionally dive into the worst-case scenario.
Matt: Uh, but when that became really difficult was the night after his surgery. He had a cardiac arrest at 2:13 a.m. They called us and told us that Bowen’s heart stopped beating. And we didn’t even want to leave his bedside, but they said, “You’ve got… you guys have got-”
Sarah: We weren’t allowed to stay at his bedside through the night.
Matt: Yeah, through the night, yeah, they were like, “You’ve got to go. Get some sleep.” And so when they called us, we rushed to his room. It was the most surreal moment because that worship music was playing at full blast.
Matt: And there was a team of doctors and nurses around his bedside, working to save his life. They had his chest literally open.
Matt: With their hands in between the walls of his chest, pumping his little heart to keep him alive. And we’re at the bottom of his bedside just grabbing his toes and trying to hold onto what we can. Um, after 45 minutes they pulled us away in another room. And I just remember I… Sarah was s- almost stone cold because she had spent so much time processing this could happen. This could happen. She was preparing herself. And she just was like kind of in a moment of like, here it is. Whereas I had not allowed myself to go there. And for the very first time-
Matt: I remember I just like lost it.
Sarah: You could hardly stand.
Matt: I could hardly stand.
Sarah: You were falling and…
Matt: Yeah, I just remember saying like, “Okay, Jesus, you’re my treasure. Jesus, you’re my treasure.” Like, reminding myself I have to look at that and know that no matter what I lose… And then we just, I remember we prayed for him. Um, and the nurse who called us to tell us that his heart stopped beating actually came in that room and told us that, uh, Bowen’s heart was beating again.
Matt: That they had gotten him on life support. And they were able to save his life.
Matt: And that was news we were not expecting. Grateful for it, but man, you can imagine the pendulum swing of emotions.
Jim: Yeah, man, uh, man, I mean, my eyes are filled with tears just listening to that.
Jim: And, uh, I, I think the right question is the one that everybody would be thinking about is, were you shaking your fist at God? Were you… Because you went from this trust at all costs.
Jim: To what just happened, and Lord, why did you let me down?
Jim: And what’s going on? Did you have time to process that?
Matt: I definitely asked a lot of hard questions leading up to that. Even though I wouldn’t let myself maybe emotionally process, you know, the depth of what it could feel like.
Matt: To, to lose a son. Um, and, in those moments, I think, I think what I was prepared for actually was that part. Because I, when I found out, really struggled through that entire time. Um, and even journaled it on the blog and shared these thoughts with other people who really resonated with it because, you know, so many people were going through the same sort of thing. So there was kind of this community that I’d developed online with people who were asking the same questions. And I read a lot of different books, you know, on, on the issue of like suffering and why God allows things to happen. And so I can honestly say that, by the grace of God, because I felt prepared in that moment, I was able to just look at Jesus and, and trust that the treasure of him being enough for me would, that, that was enough. You know?
Jim: Yeah, let me ask, on behalf of those parents that did lose a child…
Jim: They didn’t have the come back.
Jim: They couldn’t resuscitate.
Jim: W- What do you say to them?
Sarah: Well, I think… I may not even be able to say it.
Jim: No, it’s okay.
Sarah: Wh- When you look at the miracle that other people didn’t get, it’s just so hard for me. I’m sorry.
Matt: It’s okay.
Sarah: It’s just so hard to… It’s so hard to find the balance of being so grateful for the miracle we received but then, I just have helped so many moms who didn’t get it and I don’t know why.
Jim: Right, right.
Sarah: So, anyway, sorry.
Matt: It’s all right.
Jim: No, I mean, that’s the right answer. We don’t understand these things. We’re not God.
Jim: You know? We don’t understand what He’s doing in all of our lives and how He works these things. The one thing I do know is that those children, I believe, are in heaven.
Jim: And, you know-
Jim: God’s open arms and I, I just trust in that. That God’s heart, His grace is big enough for that situation.
Jim: And we need to count on that. I do need to, uh, press through because-
Sarah: Yeah, sorry.
Jim: Matt, it, it seemed like… No, it’s, I love your heart.
Sarah: (laughs) Sorry, guys. This is hard for me.
Jim: Don’t apologize. It’s so wonderful and I’m so grateful that you do feel the pain of other people.
Jim: That’s a good thing.
Jim: Um, but in that way, Matt, it seemed like in the book, uh, you get back on tour.
Jim: I mean, you’re committing to more days of touring and Sarah’s back with two children.
Jim: And this newborn that’s, you know-
Jim: Going and struggling and… I mean, w- what was that about? Uh-
Matt: This was a strange moment in time for me because I had been working on this dream, right, this music dream.
Matt: I’d been feeling the tension between the music dreams and the family dreams. This is the tension we write about in the book. I mean, this is, this is the thing we all feel. Right?
Matt: And, um, and in that moment, the day that Bowen had his first open heart surgery, was the day that Lead Me, the song, went number one.
Jim: That same day.
Matt: Number one on the charts.
Jim: That’s crazy.
Matt: So we have a number one song, which is everything I wanted. Right? All the sales are going berserk. And all the other charts are great.
Matt: And that’s what I had tried to strive for. And did I care at that moment? No. I didn’t care at that moment because my son was dying. And it was such a stark contrast of those family dreams versus the career dreams. And in the end, what was really important. Now, where it gets really interesting is that the song that I had written about being a more present husband and father, that goes number one while I’m in the hospital with, with Bowen, through his heart surgeries. The success of that song ended up taking me away from my family even more. So, you know, come February, after this time we spent in the hospital, these few months of dealing with this, Sarah takes, or we take a very sick child home. They unplug him from all the monitors that have meant everything, right, for months.
Matt: And said, “Oh, here you go. Here’s your, your baby.” It’s like 10, 10 minutes ago we had to watch that monitor religiously and now they just unplug it and send you home. And you’re like… She’s, she’s scared out of her mind as a mother, obviously, and wants to make sure she does everything right and so do I. But guess what? The, the band, and, and the work-
Sarah: They’ll tell you they need to go.
Matt: The career is calling. And yeah, it is hard making these constraints. And that was part of it too. It’s like, “Okay, we’ve taken these months off. Now, it’s time to… We’ve got a number one song. It’s time to go reap.”
Jim: I’m sure, yeah.
Jim: And, and the, the record company’s probably saying, “You’ve got to get out there.”
Matt: Yeah, of course.
Jim: I mean, all these competing problems.
Jim: Now, you, you find yourself on the road.
Jim: Emotionally, where are you at and what’s happening-
Jim: With some of the people you’re working with?
Jim: This is where the story turns to the common-
Jim: Story of what happens to a lot of men who are isolated.
Matt: Absolutely. I, uh, so Sarah and I, in our grieving differently… Uh, and I’ll make this very quick, so I can move into what you’re talking about. But basically in grieving differently, uh, she was at… Her way of dealing with her grief was being at Bowen’s bedside, uh, or his side in general 24 hours a day.
Matt: Caregiver. Um, I tried to do as much of that as I could. But w- I really needed her, the way I grieved.
Matt: And so she felt animosity towards me that I wasn’t at the bedside 24/7 right next to her. That I was, in her mind, I was trying to pull her away.
Jim: Yeah, Sarah-
Matt: And that was another thing that really hurt.
Jim: Yeah, describe that. Because a lot of women are going to connect with that feeling. A lot of men aren’t going to really understand what Matt’s talking about.
Sarah: I just felt so strongly that I had to be his v- uh, Bowen’s voice, because he had no voice. And so the way I’m built, I’m just, I was hyper vigilant and hyper aware and hyper available to Bowen, only Bowen, Bowen, Bowen, Bowen.
Jim: Con- It was all consuming.
Sarah: It was all consuming.
Sarah: And I do think, looking back, I could’ve, for sure, it was maybe imbalanced for sure. I could’ve found ways to balance it a little better but I didn’t know how to at that time, so.
Jim: And how did you react emotionally then, to, to Matt’s, um, maybe not so subtle demand for your-
Sarah: I thought he was selfish.
Sarah: I mean really, and now I see that that’s not selfish. It’s the way he was grieving.
Jim: Coping, he was trying to cope.
Sarah: How he coped. He needed me to hold him and hug him and sit with him and be away from the bedside for even… He would even just ask for 15, 20 minutes. And it was like, “No, I, I can’t. What if a doctor comes in?” You know, it was, it was, just we didn’t know what, we’ve never done it before so…
Jim: Well super stress.
Sarah: Yeah, it just-
Jim: Is what it sounds like.
Sarah: I become very aware and you, you flight. I fight and you flight kind of, is what we figured out in those scenarios. So…
Matt: In ways, yeah, in ways.
John: And I’m not sure where you’re at as a listener or viewer, but I’m identifying with that pattern you’re talking about. Um, Matt has written about their journey and, uh, there’s a good ending here, obviously. But it’s, uh, the book, Lead Me: Finding Courage to Fight for Your Marriage, Children, and Faith. And, uh, certainly we’d recommend you get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family. Or if you need to connect with one of our counselors, um, we have, uh, caring Christian counselors here. And our number is 800 the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Matt, I want to be really careful here, because you guys have worked hard to get where you’re at today. And it’s-
Jim: You know, it’s, in many ways, unfortunate to kind of do an interview and relive your worst possible moments. And I recognize that.
Jim: But at the same time, there are going to be people listening right now-
Jim: That are right where you were then.
Jim: And they need to hear that wisdom.
Jim: To say, “How did you get out of that?” So you go back on the road.
Jim: There’s a new band manager. Um, she seems very empathetic to you and you’re her superstar. And she’s treating you that way.
Jim: Describe the emotions of that and what began to happen.
Matt: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I was really in a place where, um, I was, you know, we talked about it a moment ago. Grieving, there was rift between me and Sarah. And I had someone who was just ready and able to speak those loving words and-
Matt: Life. What felt like to me, words of life-giving words and affirmation, uh, straight into those, those absences. Right? And to those hungry places. And so what ended up happening is that I began to like idolize that feeling of getting that from this person because I felt, at the time, I wasn’t getting it from Sarah. And, you know, I, it, it was delicate with us, even after addressing this. And I, I tried my best. I rewrote this chapter probably seven or eight times because it’s so hard. Because we always ask, “Well, what defines an affair?” Right? And, and that’s… It, I struggled at first to even call it that. But as we know, an affair is anything that takes, that steals from that, that well of cherishing love that you, that’s meant for your spouse and you are channeling that into another place.
Matt: I was giving pieces of my heart and life and that friendship and relationship that was meant to be shared only with Sarah, those vulnerable places. I was allowing that door to be opened in another relationship.
Matt: And to the point where I was uncomfortable enough with it… I kept telling myself, “Well, it’s not a physical attraction. She’s older than I am. She’s a safe place.” Um, but I knew-
Matt: Full well, that it was not a safe place.
Jim: And then, too, a, a spouse, you know, that’s listening. I mean, I, I love that warning.
Jim: Because that certainly is in the early steps of what most likely would lead to something more.
Jim: And so, I mean, I hope people are heeding the warning there.
Jim: Sarah, I want to make sure, on behalf of women listening, um, that you, you know, you’re not owning the guilt of that. I mean, again-
Jim: It can sound like, you know, you weren’t meeting certain emotional needs that Matt had at the moment. And therefore, it, it was your fault in some way. And, and, people will-
Jim: Email us.
Jim: And I just want to make sure we hit it.
Matt: And I want to make sure I hit that. In no way, shape, or form-
Matt: Is that… I take full responsibility.
Jim: Right, and I appreciate that.
Jim: Because I think so often women, you know, men that will express those things, they-
Jim: Can misinterpret that. Sometimes, you know, they’re interpreting it accurately.
Jim: I know, for a fact it’s not true in this case.
Jim: I just want to make sure you’re not, you’re not the bad person here. You’re coping yourself.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah. No, I, I, um, I just felt, you know, and my response to what he said, even as he was saying it, was, “You are insatiable.” Like, as many compliments as I could give you, at that time, weren’t enough.
Sarah: That’s what it felt like to me. Because I felt very loving in that time. I felt very needy.
Sarah: We both just couldn’t see straight. And he… I think, you know, we, we were just so broken and, and processing things in such an upside-down way. So-
Jim: Is he-
Sarah: I even look at that and go, “I felt like I was enough in that moment.” I mean, I’m sure I wasn’t perfect, but…
Jim: You, you think of spiritually, you think of the enemy.
Jim: You know, looking to steal, kill, and destroy.
Sarah: Oh, yeah.
Jim: I mean, think of it in that spiritual context.
Sarah: Ah, yeah.
Jim: Of how quickly that evilness works into that vacuum.
Sarah: It’s tricky.
Sarah: I mean, it was so tricky. Here we are, such a-
Jim: It’s unbelievable.
Sarah: Vulnerable place.
Sarah: And who would have thought? And I think I would have never thought with Matthew, because it’s not something we ever dealt with in the past.
Jim: But you did have kind of of bad feeling. Right? You had some kind of sense-
Sarah: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: Something’s not right.
Sarah: And I will say, absolutely. I remember meeting this person. And I had been hearing about her because I’m home, you know, taking care of kids. And, “Oh, you’ve got to meet this person. She’s so great. She’s so warm. She’s so all, everything we’ve been looking for. And she’s my new best friend.” And I’m like, “Oh, cool, okay, um, okay.” And I’m trying to give it a try.
Sarah: And I go to give her a hug and I just felt repelled. There was a stiffness to it.
Sarah: And she had no questions for me. And I could just… I’m a girl’s girl. I love girls.
Sarah: And so I’m like, “She doesn’t like me. There’s something off there because she’s not interested in me.” And so immediately, my spirit was like, or the Holy Spirit was like, “Something’s off.”
Sarah: And I, I’m very… As I’ve said before… I’m very open. I’m very direct. And so I started telling him, “I don’t feel right about this. Something’s off.”
Jim: So we’ve got to, I mean, we’ve got to pull this thing in.
Jim: We’re down to the end.
Jim: And, no, no, are you kidding me? This is good. I think people have connected.
Jim: But we’ve got to kind of fast forward through how God, uh, got ahold of this.
Jim: And you got ahold of yourselves and one another, literally.
Jim: So what was that breakthrough moment? What happened for you, Matt, to say, “What is going on?”
Jim: And begin to cleave again-
Jim: To Sarah as your wife?
Matt: Th- there were some things th- that happened, um, that made me aware, that I saw, that I was like, “Okay, this is, this is certainly, this is unsafe. This is…” I knew it. For a f- I could not… I could play no more denial games within myself. And so was just like, “You know what, Sarah? You’re absolutely right. This is not a safe situation. This is not a safe relationship. You’re absolutely right. Let’s figure this out.” And so we parted ways. And was kind of the beginning of us, then, processing the whole thing to.
Matt: Had to… I had to earn trust back with her.
Jim: Right, and Sarah-
Matt: I had to learn how to be patient with the fact that just because everything had gotten resolved, nothing crazy happened. I could brush it off and say, “Oh well, it was a close call. It was this and that. It wasn’t th- you know, look at all the things it wasn’t, instead of what it was.”
Matt: I had to deal with the fact that what it was, and the hurt that was there.
Jim: And how did, how did that trust get rebuilt, Sarah, for you?
Sarah: I just think I had to remember that that isn’t who he is. It was just a blip in time. And, you know, I think we did some things right. We did some things wrong as we processed it and healed from it. So I think one thing is for women, I needed to know everything, right up front, all of it. And I needed to ask questions as I processed it. It couldn’t be one conversation. It’s going to maybe be a year of me going, “Well, what about this? Like, what about that?” And I don’t… Like, being patient and kind and sure, it’s scratching up pain for him, too. But I need to know these answers. I’m a person who needs the answers. Now some women I know don’t want all the details.
Sarah: And that’s how they process. So maybe just, you know, that.
Matt: Yeah. And Sarah’s a big investigator. So I had to learn how to be patient with the fact that like, you know, the pain of like, why? Trust me. It wasn’t that or it wasn’t that. Or if she was asking things that seemed ridiculous even to me. You know, I wanted to… I had to be patient and, and learn how to let her ask those questions.
Matt: And, and let her just feel those things and just acc- accept it.
Matt: And then speak life and love in, in a calm, gentle, understanding way to her.
Sarah: It would scratch his shame every time I would bring it up.
Sarah: And so there was that struggle sometimes.
Jim: Well, I can only imagine. And, you know, if you weren’t agreeing on something entirely different, it was probably very… A useful tool.
Sarah: Totally, yeah.
Jim: To come back at him and say, “Well, if you want to get down to it…”
Sarah: Well it always… Even mild arguments bring me straight back to the way I felt he didn’t love me.
Sarah: And so even to this day, if I feel like the same eyes and the same heart are responding to me, that could have done what happened there, I will say, “That brings me back to that because I feel like that was the heart. That was the eyes. That was the action that hurt me so much.” So-
Jim: Yeah, and, again, the good news is you’re restored.
Jim: You worked through-
Jim: A lot of issues. In fact, um, Matt, you did something pretty extreme. I want to capture that. And then I want that update on Bowen.
Jim: But what was that extreme thing that you did that you felt Sarah would appreciate?
Matt: So even before all this stuff happened that we’re talking about, I had a tension. You know, and, and that had that tension, the work dream, family dream, in me from the moment we, the moment we had our first daughter. You know, our first out of the four now. And, um, and over the course of time, I felt that restlessness. But in about 2014, the end of 2014, I started to feel that that restlessness inside of me, of how do I be the father and the husband that God’s called me to be. The message of Lead Me that I was singing every night on stage.
Matt: How do I live this more and sing it less? Um, and I knew that the thing that I needed to do to live the message I had been singing was for me to step away from that life that had really taken me away from Sarah and the kids. To then take the best of my life and stop giving it to something else. And find a context in which I could use my gifts and my talents that was also healthy for my family life as well.
Matt: And so I made the decision to step away from the only thing I’d known for 20 years, which is Sanctus Real. And so spent a year trying the best that I could to honor my band mates and honor the people who had sowed into our music, honor the people who had been, had listened and supported us along the way. Um, and then in 2016, on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, played my last show with Sanctus Real. Um, and handed the mic to a new singer.
Matt: It was hard. It was, it was, it was hard.
Matt: But it was the right thing to do. And as hard as it was, it was what God was calling me to do.
Jim: Wow. I mean, you just said the words that are so critical to a man’s heart, the right thing to do.
Jim: The warrior spirit, um-
Jim: Good job.
Matt: Thank you.
Jim: Way to go. I do want to come back to Bowen and end here because this is really good. Bowen’s 10 years old. You mentioned that, I think, right at the start of the show, or last time.
Jim: Uh, he also has picked up a knack for song writing. Um, describe Bowen today and where he’s at.
Matt: (laughs) Well, first I want to say, you know, the doctors we talked about before, who were encouraging us to terminate our pregnancy, said that our life would be hard because of him. That his siblings would be worse off because of him. But I’ll tell you right now, that because of him, our family is stronger.
Matt: Our children have empathy. Our children have compassion. Our children have, are stronger people and our family is stronger because we have something in front of us that constantly reminds us, uh, that every day is precious.
Matt: And, and he is such a precious kid. He’s loved by his siblings. He loves his siblings well. You know, we often talk about Bowen’s broken heart. But the truth is that we all have broken hearts. And, uh, he, what he has physically represents us all spiritually and emotionally in this life. Um, and Sarah and I hold onto the hope that one day God will make everything new.
Jim: Amen. That’s what he came to do.
Jim: And that’s what your son, at 10, chokes me up.
Jim: He already caught the lesson.
Jim: He knows it.
Matt: That’s right.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Matt: That’s right. And we do what we can to bring a little bit of heaven on earth like Jesus told us to in the meantime. So…
Jim: Hm. Well, Matt and Sarah, this has been really great.
Matt: It has.
Jim: Thanks for that vulnerability to share with us.
Jim: And make sure you give Bowen and your other kids a big hug-
Jim: For representing the Lord so well.
Jim: And we appreciate it. I hope you get a copy of the book, Lead Me: Finding Courage to Fight for Your Marriage, Children, and Faith. I can’t think of a greater resource for the family. And, uh, if you can’t afford it, just get a hold of us. We’ll trust that others will cover the cost of that and this is what being in the body of Christ is all about. And in addition to that, if you don’t know who Jesus is, get ahold of us. We’ll talk with you about that. Um, this is what life is about, is to know him and live for him.
Jim: It’s not finger wagging. It’s not a bunch of rules. It’s, uh, loving the creator of the universe and then being a part of his family. Um, it’s that simple. And, um, I hope you get in touch with us.
John: And if you can, please donate generously to the work of Focus on the Family. And as Jim said, we’ll say thank you for your support by sending a copy of that book to you. And this reminder that we have caring Christian counselors here. And also along the way here, we’ve talked about Hope Restored, our marriage intensives. Uh, that could be a very pivotal moment for your relationship. God can do a miracle. For any of these resources or any help, let us know. Our number is 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, and, uh, online we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Matt and Sarah, thank you for your heart. Thank you.
Sarah: Thank you.
Matt: Oh, thanks for having us. Appreciate it.
John: Well, be sure to join us again here tomorrow as we hear from Shontell Brewer. She’ll be encouraging you, as a mom, to prioritize and see your child or your children as a mission field.
Shontell Brewer: I went home and I was like, “You know what? Instead of telling you, Lord, who I want to be, I’m going to ask what are my priorities.” And He gave them to me very succinctly. It’s my relationship with Him. It’s my relationship with my husband, and then my kids, and everything else.