Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How Bitterness Can Lead to Impurity

Leslie Basham: Julie Petersen cut off an adulterous relationship, but was reluctant to confess to her husband. She finally realized . . . 

Julie Petersen: A husband and wife are supposed to be one flesh. How can you live in intimacy with a man who doesn’t know who you are? That doesn’t know what you’re struggling with. You’ve got to tell him this stuff. 

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, November 16. Today’s program may not be appropriate for younger children. We’ve been talking this week about getting freedom from lust, with Dean and Julie Petersen.

Here’s some of what we’ve heard so far. 

Dean Petersen: When she started saying that she still loved this other guy, I was devastated, but I knew that I had to get my life right with God. That was the most important thing; her life was, in a lot of ways, secondary. I had to work on my own relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what I did, that’s how I made it for that first year. I got my life right with Christ, and all of the sudden all those words in the Bible just jumped out at me. They were alive, and they were active! 

Julie: One day I was going off to the grocery store and just out of habit of seventeen years, I suppose, I drove off and said, “’Bye, I love you,” and I just gasped and thought, “What did I say?” I was not meaning it, not feeling it inside, but taking by faith that God is going to make it true.

God’s going to make it true . . . this is what He wants. He wants us to be together, He wants us to live for Him, and it looks like this is going to happen now! So, yes, “I love you.”

It was my prayer all the time, “God, make me a good wife. Show how me to be a good wife for Dean,” because I didn’t love him. I was praying all those years, “God, show me how to love him. Give me the feelings that I am supposed to have for this man.”

It was about thirteen years that we lived together, looking fine. People thought we had a wonderful, happy marriage. He thought we had a wonderful, happy marriage. It was, except in my head and in my heart, where it was just a lie.

I received a hug from a man—a two-second hug—very innocent, but that exploded in me; it was like a dragon leapt out of a box. I thought, “This man must know, and I need to apologize to him.” That was a big mistake, because he did not know.
 

Nancy: Can you say that again for my listeners?
 

Julie: That was a big mistake, huge, to admit to this man that I’d had these feelings about him.
 

Leslie: Here’s Nancy, talking with Dean and Julie Petersen, continuing a story of temptation, forgiveness, hope, and healing.
 

Nancy: The first time I ever got an email from you, which was a little down the road, it was an email address, as I recall, something like “Julie XOXO.” Was that a special email address?

Julie: It was. I had set up a special address, at that point, to contact this man, because by that point we had become physical in that relationship.

Nancy: So, the secrecy, the investing in the relationship, opening your heart . . . You can look back, I’m sure, and see the whole progression that the woman takes in Proverbs 7, down this road that leads to destruction.
 

Julie: Yes, and it was, I think, right after your series on the Proverbs 7 woman that I decided to email you because I couldn’t handle what I was feeling for this man. I did email your ministry. I said,

Would you please pray for me? I am married to a wonderful Christian man who treats me well, and I don’t understand the feelings I’m having for this other man. Please pray for me.

I didn’t hear anything back, didn’t hear anything from anybody back. I didn’t feel like the Lord was answering me at all. I was just hopeless; my life hadn’t changed. I was this adulterous woman deep inside, and I would always be that way. I pretty much gave up hope.
 

Nancy: It was about that time that I had a number of friends who were going through situations relating to marital infidelity. I saw the havoc it was wreaking on marriages and their children, and it was breaking my heart. That email, which I did see from you, was one more. I didn’t know you, but I could just picture you.

I knew you were in a “burning house,” and I was so brokenhearted over how frequently this was happening. It seemed like an epidemic in so many Christian women, so I took a snippet out of your email and, without a name of course, or any identifying details, used it with several other illustrations in a letter that we send out to ministry partners every month.

We have permission to use these emails, and we wouldn’t do it in a way that violates the confidence of the person involved, but as I recall the part out of your email was the first one in that letter.
 

Julie: The very first paragraph . . .
 

Nancy: . . .and never thinking, “Julie’s going to get this letter . . .”
 

Julie: I was at home, opening the mail and saw my email on the first paragraph of this ministry letter, and it just woke me up. It was like, “This must be important! Nancy Leigh DeMoss has it in the first paragraph of her ministry letter! Julie—look at what you’re doing!”

And God used that to open my eyes. I was just taken back, and I thought, “This has got to stop!” When I went to work the following morning, the first thing, I got on the email and I wrote to you, saying, “I am the woman in the first paragraph.”
 

Nancy: I have that email here.

Julie: Do you?

Nancy: In fact, I’ve got a whole string of emails from you, Julie. Let me read a bit of this, because it’s just so incredible to think where you were on July 8, 2004, and where God has brought you and Dean today. The grace of God is so amazing.

Julie: Yes.

Nancy: You said,

Well, Nancy, it’s me, the author of the first email in this month’s letter. Reading it there along with your alarmed response has perhaps awakened me. I feel paralyzed this morning, trying to do my job [a position in a ministry], and reading this morning’s emails from the other man, trying to figure out how to run from this situation . . . how to get the courage to deal with it.

You said, “Because now, of course, we’re ‘in love . . .’” You put that in quotes. I think you knew it wasn’t true love [Julie agrees]

 . . . though I know I am destroying everything. I feel so hopeless. I want out of this life before it all blows up and others find out who I really am.

You see, I’ve had a definite role in Christian work in this community. Many know who I am; I’ve counseled other women in this situation. I’ve lost my faith that God will help me. Truly, I don’t know what to do.  

And there were some other things you said.

I remember I was sitting in Little Rock in my study (where I study for recordings coming up there in Little Rock) on a weekend, as I recall. When I saw that email, it may have taken a day or two to get to me, I’m not sure . . .

Julie: It was a Wednesday . . .

Nancy: By the time I saw it, I was looking for your phone number. I remember I couldn’t find it right away, because when I first saw it, it was on a weekend. I remember thinking, “I have got to talk to this woman. This is serious.” I was so alarmed myself. As the Lord would have it—you probably remember the details better than I do—we were able to arrange a phone conversation.

Julie: One of the counselors, Sarah, who helps with your correspondence, she had written right back to me when I sent this last email. She said that Nancy would like to talk to me, if I’d be open to that. I thought, “You’re kidding. Famous Nancy Leigh DeMoss wants to take time to talk to me?”

I could not understand that at all, but you did call me a couple of days later and you listened to me, although I don’t know how you could have understood what I was saying, because I was probably weeping so hard.

Nancy: You were bawling, sobbing, and it was not easy to understand, although I knew from the email that it was a serious situation. One of the things I remember so clearly is that, as you unfolded bits and pieces of your past, how there had been the immorality years earlier, habitual, repeated immorality . . . but then those years of faithfulness . . . and then falling back into this again.

I remember you saying through your sobs, “I just don’t think I can ever be any different.” There was this hopelessness, essentially, “I’m a sexual addict, and I’m going to be an adulterous woman,” not because you wanted to be, but you just didn’t feel like there was any hope for you to be any different.

That triggered something in my heart, because I know that where “sin abounds, grace does much more abound,” and I wanted you out of that affair. I wanted to see your marriage restored, but even deeper than all that, I wanted to see you restored to the grace of God, realizing that you did not have to spend the rest of your life as this sexually sinful woman . . . that you could be pure, you could be restored. Something in me just clicked into high gear and said, “This woman needs to believe the truth about God’s grace.”

I knew the enemy was lying to you, and I probably told you that you were being lied to, deceived. 

Julie: I thought I was seeing myself realistically for the first time. That’s how Satan does deceive a person. I was thinking I was being truthful with myself, when he was lying to me, saying I would always be that way, and I had no choice.

Nancy: In the meantime, you’d gone to this other man, once you saw that letter.

Julie: Oh, yes. As soon as I saw that letter, I showed it to him, and I said, “We are not going to do this anymore. No more.”

Nancy: But you still had this record playing inside of you, this tape playing, saying, “You are an immoral woman—you cannot be any different.”

Julie: I had tried all these years to love my husband, to be the person I’m supposed to be, and it had not worked. I’m tired of begging God to help me be attracted to him, help me want to be with him sexually. I did not understand why I was crying after we would be together physically.

Why was it so hard not to think of another person when I was with Dean?

Nancy: Were you just tired of the battle?

Julie: I was dead tired of the battle, and I did give up. I thought, “It’s hopeless, and I will just live like this. God has not changed me,” really forgetting the thirteen or fourteen years that God had indeed changed me and given me wonderful new desires to live for Him.

It was this area that I had not gained victory over yet. I did not know how, and God was showing me, finally. He was finally answering my prayer to help me love my husband, but He was sure doing it in a way that I didn’t like. I realized this was what I was giving Him to work with. 

Now He was going to use that mess that I had given Him to help me fall in love with my husband.

Nancy: One of the things we talked about on the phone call . . . I think there’s so much bondage in secrecy. I said, “You’ve got to come out with this. Obviously, you’ve got to be honest with the Lord, and you are being honest with me at this point, but you’ve got to talk to your pastor, and you’ve also got to be honest with Dean.”

A wall went up, and you said, “There’s no way I can tell my husband about this. The marriage would definitely by over then, and it will hurt him tremendously.”

Julie: I never wanted to hurt Dean. I knew he was a good man, and I never wanted him to know how I was really feeling. I was just going to pretend that I wasn’t feeling that way. So, I did go to my pastor at your encouragement. It took me a few days to realize that that was what I needed to do, but I went to him because I thought, “Now, pastor, you need to help me to get my life back together spiritually.”

“I know I’ve blown it here for a few months, at this point. Help me get this back together spiritually so I can sweep all this under the rug again and pick myself up by my bootstraps and go on with the Lord.”

He said, “No, you need to tell your husband.”  I thought, “Why is everybody telling me I have to tell Dean this?” I did not think that that was necessary, but that was the freeing part.

Nancy: Let me just back up, because some are listening and saying, “Why should she need to tell her husband?” As you look back on it, why do you think it was important?

Julie: One thing you said on that telephone call was that a husband and wife are supposed to be one flesh. How can you live in intimacy with a man who doesn’t know who you are, who doesn’t know what you’re struggling with? You’ve got to tell him this stuff.

For me to keep anything like that secret makes it so much easier to act on again because there’s not that accountability there.

Nancy: So finally, you did get honest with Dean. He knew there was something wrong.

Julie: Oh, he made me. He could tell by the way I was acting that something was desperately wrong with his wife. He thought, “I need to figure out what this is.”

Nancy: And all this time, Dean, you’d not been suspecting this other relationship?

Dean: She was always critical about something, always making critical statements to me about something.  The best thing that I can tell you is the verse that I always was drawn to, that’s in Colossians 3, verses 12-14. I was told that I needed to clothe myself with compassion.

I lack compassion. I needed to have that patience and love, and I needed to have that forgiveness. So I was willing, when she told me about this, I just drew back on that word that God had given Paul. I tell you, anybody that really wants to get a hold of their life should just look at those words.

Chapter 3, verses 12-14, where it says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion and patience and understanding, and forgive as God forgave us, because if we call ourselves Christians and we are unwilling to forgive, we have lost it" (paraphrase).

Nancy: And you knew how much God had forgiven you . . .

Dean: I knew how much God had forgiven me, so therefore when I looked back at those two verses, I realized that, “I can do this, with God’s grace.” So I didn’t hold anything against Julie. I was so hurt when I found out how badly I hurt her.

Julie: And I hadn’t told him that, at that point. It took about a month for me to really come out and say, “Because I never got to choose who I wanted to marry, because I felt forced into being your wife, this is the anger and the bitterness, the unforgiveness that I’ve never been able to get rid of. It’s been in here.”

This is what I was finally seeing as helping me to make the bad choices that I made, this unforgiveness that was down inside of my heart. I thought, “This is in the past, it can’t be changed. Dean’s a different man now, we don’t have to go into that.”

Nancy: But you’d never really dealt with that core of bitterness.

Julie: Never. Never.

Nancy: Isn’t it amazing how bitterness does lead to moral impurity? Again and again I see that.

Julie: Oh, yes. It finally makes so much sense.

Nancy: So you finally were able to express to him that there had been a root of bitterness in your heart, all this thirty-some years . . .

Julie: When he realized what that early relationship had done to me, he was broken. I saw him start to cry, he said, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

Dean: Men have a different thought process in a lot of ways than a woman. I had no idea that I did that to her, Nancy. No idea! I never thought about it until she mentioned it, and then I realized it. “I am so sorry that I messed you up. If I would have ever known that’s the way you felt, I would never have done that.”

I probably would never have even dated her, if I knew that’s how she felt.

Julie: But now here I am the one that has lived such an immoral life style, at that point, and he’s apologizing to me. It’s amazing what God has put in Dean’s heart. I’ve got a wonderful man here.

It took quite a while yet after initially talking to him about how I was really feeling and what I had done, again. We just decided that we would probably just live together. We knew divorce was not right, and so now he knew exactly how I felt, and we thought we’d just stay in our home . . .

Nancy: You still really didn’t feel it could be any different?

Julie: Oh, no, no, I was totally hopeless that I would ever love this man. I didn’t know that one of the main keys was to be honest to him about my feelings.

Nancy: And to deal with the bitterness.

Julie: And to deal with it, yes.

Leslie: Julie and Dean Petersen have been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about a dangerous pattern—the sin of unforgiveness, leading to the sin of adultery. Many of our listeners are in the same place Julie was. Has today’s Revive Our Hearts program brought to mind an area of bitterness in your life? It’s deeply affecting you, yet you don’t know how to be free. 

Nancy has outlined some crucial steps to know that you have forgiven and that you can be free. Listen to this description, and then I’ll be back to tell you about some resources that will help you learn to fully forgive.

Nancy: If we need to forgive, how can we choose to forgive?

  • It’s important, at first, to identify the people who have wronged us.
  • Then you want to make sure that your conscience is clear toward those people who are on your list.
  • Then, take responsibility for your responses. 

This is a freeing thing, to realize that God does not hold you accountable for how others have sinned against you. God does hold us accountable and responsible for how we have sinned against others.

We’re so prone to attach percentages to all of this. The tendency is, I think, and I hear so many wives express something along this line, “I was only maybe five percent responsible for the breakup of our marriage. You should hear what he did!” And often I do hear.

Ninety-five percent is his responsibility, is the implication. The problem is, if someone were to go and talk to that man, chances are he might be willing to claim five percent responsibility, but he’s got his list of ways that his wife sinned against him, that he feels provoked him to do whatever it is he did.

So he’s saying, “I’m five percent responsible, she’s ninety-five percent responsible.” She’s saying, “I’ve got a little responsibility, but he’s mostly responsible.” So really, you only have ten percent of the responsibility being claimed—her little five percent and his little five percent.

Who’s responsible for all that ninety percent in the middle? It’s pride that causes us to think, generally speaking, it’s the other person who was more wrong.

Once you’ve identified these people who’ve hurt you, you’ve identified how they’ve hurt you, and you have done everything that God has put on your heart to do, to clear your conscience toward those individuals, then you can take this step of choosing to fully forgive every person who has sinned against you.

Purpose in your heart to extend forgiveness to every person on your list, not because you feel like forgiving, not because they have come and asked you to forgive them, but as an act of your will.

Leslie: That clip from Nancy Leigh DeMoss is from a radio series called Freedom Through Forgiveness. We don’t have time to air more than that, but if today’s program has brought to light bitterness in your heart, visit ReviveOurHearts.com and look up the transcripts for this series in the archives.

Nancy also describes this process in detail in her book Choosing Forgiveness. Don’t let bitterness destroy you. This book is a powerful tool that will help you find freedom. You can order it by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

Maybe after hearing today’s program, bitterness isn’t the main issue for you, but the issue of sexual temptation is a big struggle. Would you follow up on today’s program and put some safeguards in place? We’d like to send you Nancy’s pamphlet "Personal Hedges"and a book and study guide by Judy Starr called Enticement of the Forbidden.

Both of these will help you set up hedges, protect your heart, and protect your marriage from the destruction of sexual sin. We’ll send both when you make a donation of any size to Revive Our Hearts. We do have a limited amount of Judy Starr’s books, so don’t delay.
Ask for them when you call 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. [NOTE - We have sold out of the Enticement of the Forbidden books. We are replacing them with the book Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome.]

After hearing about the struggles, bitterness and infidelity in the Petersen’s marriage, do you think intimacy and feelings of love could ever be restored? Find out tomorrow, when they wrap up this series. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.