Extramarital relationships inflict deep harm and leave lasting scars.
When one partner in a marriage commits adultery, finding healing may seem impossible, especially if the affair results in a pregnancy and the baby's biological father is of a different race.
Audrey and Bob Meisner, co-hosts of the Winnipeg-based Christian program It's A New Day told a conference at Saint Paul University recently the public fall from grace was difficult and painful.
However, God not only healed their marriage but gave them a deeper experience of Christ's love.
"Today is your day of breakthrough," he told the multiracial gathering of more than 50 couples from evangelical, Catholic, French and English backgrounds at Covenant Marriage Conference.
"Today is your tipping point. God desires to fix the things in your life that seem unfixable."
The June 7-9 event was sponsored by Denver-based Family Foundations International.
Though Bob chose to forgive his wife and raise the mixed-race child as his own son, Audrey said she felt the judgment of those around her as if people took Sharpie markers and painted an "X" over her. Their public role in Christian ministry made the failure even worse.
Repentance comes in layers, as does forgiveness, they discovered. Healing of the heart is a journey they experienced together.
Audrey was afraid of punishment, shame and ridicule when she first told Bob about the adultery. "I went into performance. I would do everything perfectly to show how sorry I was. That performance was rooted in fear."
Bob also went into performance mode, putting up barriers around his feelings and trying to control things while dealing with the devastating new reality.
"It gets very tiring having to obey the letter of the law," he said. "We want to enjoy the benefits of the marriage rather than keep each other on the straight and narrow."
We gravitate to pleasure, Audrey said. "I didn't want to behave for Bob. I wanted to desire Bob."
But she found herself thinking of the other man because she entertained the wrongful belief that her adulterous relationship was pleasurable.
"The Bible makes it clear sin is pain," she said, noting the massive pain her adultery brought her husband, children, family and community. If I have a new belief in my heart and convince myself sin equals pain, I will avoid sin," Instead of trying so hard not to want it, why not convince your heart it is painful."
Bob admitted he had issues of forgiveness to work through and he plunged into depression. The dysfunction in their marriage went on for two years after the adultery. Audrey had a little baby to take care of and felt people were constantly judging them. She knew Bob liked a clean house, so "I made it so clean."
"I would express my love for him and he was still depressed," she said. "As soon as I got a little happy about something, Bob's mood would bring me down."
She had a plan to change her husband's mood. She would spend hours praying for him and leave books around for him to find. "How do I live with a depressed man?" she asked God.
The Lord answered her: "Changing Bob is not your job." She realized all her prayers for Bob kept her focused on her problems. "I was begging God to change Bob and meanwhile he wanted to change my heart."That day I changed in one moment in the presence of God," she said. "I learned the biggest secret in my life: There is nothing more irresistible to a man than a woman who is not trying to change him."
Even deeper healing occurred when, two years after baby Robert was born, they were having dinner at Audrey's parents' home and another couple there asked if they might pray for them.
They did not know the story of the adultery, but when they laid hands on Audrey, they said, "We sense you have acute grief that is stuck inside of you."
They asked her to examine some of her deepest beliefs. "Do you believe it is a good thing to forgive yourself?" they asked. "Do you believe that you deserve to forgive yourself?"
Audrey realized the answer was "no." She hated the Audrey that committed adultery, who had hurt so many people.
As they prayed, she felt God's mercy and grace, like a "globe of righteousness" that was there for her to receive, not because she deserved it, but because of what Jesus did for her on the cross out of love for her.
"After Audrey was prayed for, she was free," Bob said. When it was his turn for prayer, the couple told him they sensed his "issues with unforgiveness."
Bob saw Audrey's new freedom and thought it "was not fair."
But Bob had to revisit his beliefs, particularly the imaginations of his mind. He had been revisiting images in his mind of the adultery over and over. They were tormenting him.
In prayer, he revisited every image. But there was one he had refused to entertain, the image of when his wife became pregnant. He tried to examine it squarely so he could forgive and release it.
"Every time I did, I would be stabled over the image and point the finger in judgment," he said. "How could you do this to me? You call yourself a Jesus-girl and say you love your children?"
"In that moment, I heard the Lord speak into my ear," Bob said. "Will you allow my love to be perfected in you?"
Bob realized we are able to love each other because Christ first loved us. "It was not an image of me trying to conjure up enough love to extend forgiveness to my wife. It is me being loved by my Father. And when I am loved, I change. Will you allow my love to be perfected in you?" God asked him. "Will you rescue her or continue to sit in judgment."
Bob said he opened his eyes and "fell into her arms and we were free."
The Meisners wrote a book about the healing of their marriage called Marriage Under Cover, now in its third printing.