Unconditional

An illustration of a husband and wife holding hands. A dead vine is wrapped their hands, but where their hands are touching the vine is coming back to life.
Rich Lillash

Two sentences changed my life forever.

The first caused my life to crumble. The second gave me the courage to put it back together.

Despite the rumors, I never saw it coming. People had begun whispering that my pastor was having sexual encounters with women in our church. That's when my wife said the first sentence to me: "I was one of those women."

The way Christ loves

Darkness flooded my soul. At first I wanted to die — and to burn my house down around me. Then I wanted to injure the man who had hurt my family and taken advantage of my wife. Finally, I wanted to leave.

Start over.

But God's grace kept me from running. The first positive thing I did was call a counselor. As I poured out my pain, he said the second sentence: "Love your wife the way Christ loves you."

The way Christ loves me.

I became obsessed with finding out how Christ loved me. How could He love me with all the terrible thoughts I was having? As I continued to dwell on this, a very simple concept became clear: Even when I did not respond to Christ's love, He kept loving me.

Unimaginable joy

So that's the commitment I made: to keep loving my wife, no matter how I felt or how she responded. This meant accepting her without judgment, going to counseling, praying with her and continuing to eat dinner together as a family. Even if I didn't feel married, I was going to act married.

This wasn't easy. When we went out together, I would reach over and take her hand in mine. For two-and-a-half years, she never once reciprocated that simple act of affection — mostly because of the guilt and shame that gripped her heart. But I kept taking her hand, even when it felt forced.

I've learned that discovering Christ's unconditional love and applying that to my relationship with my wife is a lifelong process. It's not a revelation that will change anyone's heart in an afternoon, or a month, or even a year. But it did eventually change me and my marriage.

Today, my wife is my best friend. I cherish the time we spend riding our motorcycles, sitting together on the beach or chatting over a cup of coffee.

If I had let bitterness consume me, I never would have experienced Christ's love so deeply or had the opportunity to live life with Anne. Choosing to love her in the same way Christ loves me was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it led to more joy than I ever could have imagined.

Jonas Beiler is a licensed family counselor and helped developed the pretzels his wife made famous: Auntie Anne's. Shawn Smucker is a freelance writer and author.

Infidelity is a complex issue. A variety of factors can complicate the decision of whether to separate or seek reconciliation after an affair. If you are dealing with the fallout of infidelity, seek the advice of a licensed Christian counselor. You can call Focus on the Family at (800) 232-6759 or visit this page for a referral.

 

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This article first appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2010 by Jonas Beiler. Used by permission. From the Focus on the Family website at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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