Readers may remember the show “19 Kids and Counting” on TLC , featuring the Duggar family. They may also remember the popular show being cancelled when allegations came to light that the eldest son Joshua Duggar had molested young girls during his teenage years, including four of his own sisters.
Now, he’s been arrested on charges of possession of child pornography. (link to article)
He has subsequently been released to supervised custody in the home of family friends.
However, Josh’s wife Anna, whom he married during the first season of the show, now has six children, with one on the way, to care for and protect. Protect, because some of the sexually-abusive pornographic images Josh possessed showed the molestation of children who were the same ages as his own.
I wanted to send my prayers for Anna and her children during this nuclear winter of a season that she must be going through. I also wanted to encourage her with some of the beautiful truths I found as I walked through my own “bleak mid-winter.”
I hope others will be encouraged as well.
You don’t know me. But I want you to know, you are not alone. You are going through an impossible situation right now. You are in a spot you could never have imagined when you were falling deeply in love with Josh. I can guess that, in the beginning, you just knew this was going to be your happily-ever-after. Josh loved you, his family loved you, you belonged to the same faith, you both believed in and served the same God. Heaven’s windows of blessings were open… your life was going to be a perfect, blessed, Christian piece of Heaven on Earth. I know… because I’ve been there. I believed that about my life as well.
And now… Through no fault of your own, (let me repeat that to help it sink in), through no fault of your own, the whole thing is…
destroyed? smashed? shattered? is there even a word that takes in the entirety and breadth of what has happened to you and your children? I am so sorry. I truly am so, so sorry.
I remember the pain as I forced myself to rise in the morning to go try to be a good mom to my sweet children. They were older than yours are now when things fell apart for me, but you know… they’re always your babies.
I remember the shame I felt from within. I had had a lifetime of teaching that the wife is the glue that holds the family together. It was schooled into me that the husband is the head of the family, but the wife is the spine, the backbone that binds everything. My attitude, my loveliness, my winsomeness, my quiet submission – I was taught – is what really steers the course of the family. So when things went so wrong, I felt deeply that all this must somehow be all my fault. As the backbone of the family, I also had the shoulders to carry the burdens loaded on me by my own upbringing as well as callous or cruel comments made by others around me.
The “if-ing” started… punches that came from my own mind, my heart, my upbringing; each “if” and “if only” knocked me to my knees. “If I had been better, then he would have/wouldn’t have…” “If only I had been more ‘available,’ more ‘giving,’ then he would have/wouldn’t have…” “If I had been more attractive, more submissive, more generous, sweeter, kinder, more _____, then he would have/ wouldn’t have…” “If only I had been less demanding, less contentious, less problematic, less _____, then he would have/ wouldn’t have…” Somehow, I was not enough and too much at the same time. Somehow, the crash of my world was because everything I had done wrong.
I found that… weirdly… freeingly… none of the “if only”‘s would have mattered. I’m sorry yet happy to say, whatever I thought I could have done to change my husband, to win him, to make him the man I believed he was when I fell deeply for him, none of what I thought I should have done, none of that would have made him “see.” Nothing I could have done would have made him see and change what he was doing to me – his wife – and to his family. None of it would have made him want to change permanently. I am praying that you will come to realize down deep in your core, as I did, that there is nothing you could have done to make things better in any way. Freeingly, I finally understood that my husband’s decisions, his choices, his actions are his. Not mine. His actions are not on my shoulders.
You see, I was taught that I, as a wife, could do something to change my husband’s heart. But here’s the lesson God led me through. What does the truth of God’s word say?
John 6: 63 — It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (HCSB, italics added)
Ezekiel 37: 14 — And I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.'”
Proverbs 21: 1 — A king’s heart is like streams of water in the LORD’s hand; He directs it wherever He chooses.
So, I hope you can see the lesson I had to learn the hard way… Changing any other person’s heart, turning them into a good, Christian person is the Holy Spirit’s job. God’s job. It’s not my job. Only God can truly change someone’s heart. It was never my obligation or my problem! I was and am relieved of that duty! The burden of “fixing him” was never mine to carry. My upbringing had laid a God-sized load on my small, weak, human shoulders. No wonder it felt impossible!
The next issue along this line I had to deal with was… if God is all-powerful and loving, and if I’m praying long and hard for my husband to change, then why doesn’t God change his heart?
This was so difficult for me to wrestle with! It had to sink in through to my backbone that God doesn’t force His way in to a person’s heart who doesn’t want all of Him there. What I mean by this is… some people, like my former husband, talked about loving God, talked about wanting to serve Him, talked about wanting to bring Him glory, and talked using other expressions of devotion, faith, and forgiveness. But, the only part of God he wanted was the part that was going to bless him in whatever he wanted to do, a God that was going to forgive him no matter what evil he did. He wanted only the parts of a God that would uphold and approve of him, and the parts of a God Who would let all of his vile actions slide into some metaphorical miasma of forgiveness and forgetfulness. He also seemed to like the parts of a God that would condemn people he didn’t like. But not him.
However, my former husband didn’t want to let the parts of God into his heart that condemned his own cruelty. He didn’t want parts of God that would judge him for how he treated his wife. He didn’t want to let in the parts of God Who would shine the Light of day and truth on what he did to his own children. He didn’t want to let in the parts of God who would condemn him for what he did to — how he used — those smaller, weaker than him, or those vulnerable to his charm and manipulation. He didn’t want that part of God.
However, Deuteronomy 6: 4 says in the famous passage called The Shema,
“Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God the LORD is one!”
God is a united Whole. He is One. My former husband could not pick the parts of God he liked, because God doesn’t have pieces or parts of His personality. He is Whole. He is One. Take the Whole, or you don’t have any.
And, Galatians 6: 7 says to him,
“Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap.”
So, if my former husband didn’t want that type of God — who is the whole, true God of the Bible — the God who apoplectically loathes willful, sinister, deliberate cruelty towards any other human being as He holds close the down-trodden victims — then the whole, true God was never truly in his heart. He sowed idolatry, making a god in his imagination who would bless him no matter what. He wanted a god who would just hear the pious-sounding, multiplied, empty words he said and who would turn a blind eye to the wicked actions that he did. There will be consequences for setting up a system of empty-word worship for the god of his own making.
So, why wouldn’t an all-powerful God change his heart, make him good? I prayed an age for that. But, I had to learn that the true God will not force change on a human’s heart that doesn’t want Him. God cannot abide (live with) sin. God will never go and live in a heart that doesn’t want His Light, His Truth, and His Spirit. God will never live in the heart of a person who chooses darkness because he loves the dark.
John 3: 19, 20 — And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, so that his deeds will not be exposed.
Jesus also said that people like this wouldn’t listen anyway.
“But because I speak the truth, you don’t believe Me. He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” John 8: 45, 47
So, I had to learn all the way down to my socks that this is why God would not change my former husband’s heart. Because my former husband did not want the true Him, the whole Him, the all-exposing Light-of-Day Him. He did not want God to change him. Because he loved the darkness. He thought he was fine, as he stood in the darkness. He hated the Light (God the Father, Jesus, the Spirit) because he didn’t want his deeds to be exposed. He did not want the God…
who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. I Timothy 6: 16
You see, he loved darkness.
So then, I had to deal with the question, “Where does that leave me?” My upbringing, my churches’ training had focused all the lessons for us Christian girls on how to be a good wife. They taught that Christian marriage and family was the point of our good-Christian-girls’ existence. We wouldn’t be whole women or fulfilled until we had a Christian husband and family. I was taught to quietly accept heartache when others hurt me. To bless others always. To put others’ welfare always above my own. The unspoken message was that in the long run, I really didn’t matter. I was made only to serve others.
I was taught that marrying a Christian man would mean that I would be secure under his “umbrella of protection.” My husband would make the majority of the decisions, and I would make the home, keep the family, and submit to him as he submitted to Christ. My husband would be called by God to his specific ministry, and I would be his support, his comfort, and his help-meet. Essentially, God would deal almost exclusively with my husband (or before that, my father) and I was there to be their biggest fan and supporter.
But… what if my husband wasn’t being led by God? What if he was actually opposing God and the Light of His truth? What if my husband was cruel? What if his actions showed that his heart loved darkness?
This is where I had to learn another lesson and let it sink in all the way down to my socks.
I was loved by God.
I am loved by God.
I (me, myself, myself as my own person) am loved by God.
God has a calling, a plan, and a purpose for me — as my own person.
This lesson is still sinking in. I’m not very good at living it yet. But still, I had to start learning it. I am loved by God as a separate, individual human person, not as some man’s package deal. God doesn’t love only the men in my life, and then I get thrown in on the deal, whether they like it or not. God did not “buy one” man, and then, as a woman, I was the “get one free.”
God loves me. Specifically. Especially. Intentionally. Purposefully. With a focused, smiling, twinkling, generous eye on me. He sees me. His heart loves me. He went to the cross for me. He was beaten and died to save me. He rescued me from my sin and lostness. Not seeing it selfishly or arrogantly. But thankfully. Gratefully. I matter. I matter to Him. You matter. You matter to Him.
Think of the Woman at the Well (John 4). My upbringing and teachers focused mainly on the waywardness of this woman. But, I started thinking about the circumstances of this story. Jesus was a Jew. Normally, Jews walked miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria, where this woman lived. Instead, Jesus chose to walk toward her city. He timed it so that He and the disciples would get there around supper time, so the disciples would have to go out shopping for supper for a while. Because of this, He made sure He was sitting at the well alone. He also knew (because He is all-knowing) that this woman would be coming to the same well alone in the evening. He knew that that woman’s waywardness had caused her to be shunned by the “good people” of her city, so she had adopted the practice of getting her water when everyone else was in their homes, taking care of supper. So, when she came out to get her water for the next day, Jesus was sitting there, alone, waiting for her.
He came all the way, to her city, so that He would be sitting there when she arrived. He came to meet her. To talk to her. He initiated conversation with her. He opened the door, socially. He had come to start a relationship with her. He didn’t come to talk to her husband. She didn’t have one. He didn’t come to talk to her live-in boyfriend. He came all that way to see her. She mattered. He wanted a relationship with her. Out of gratitude, she did go on to be that town’s first missionary — telling men, women, and children about the Jesus she had just met. But he didn’t order her to. He wasn’t using her as a meaningless cog in some evangelizing machine to reach the men around her. He just came to be alone so that He could talk to her. Again, she mattered. As a true child of God, I matter. God met me. On purpose.
“But, aren’t I called to be my husband’s help-meet? Don’t I honor God by serving the man whom God placed as my head?” my upbringing advises me.
I had to look hard at that last question. Do I honor God by serving… a man? a person? a created being? I had to learn the answer to that is… no.
Who am I to serve? God. God alone.
Sure, I can do good for those around me. I can do things to help others. I am called to love others. But, Whom do I serve? Whom do I center my cares and my existence around? A created being? or the Creator? My Creator?
“You shall have no other Gods before Me.” (Exodus 20: 3)
Romans 1: 23 — … they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind…”
I had chosen to set my devotion on a man, hoping that he would then be devoted to God. So, in my mind, I would be serving and loving God, just kind of indirectly.
But… God wants me. Directly. God wants you. Directly. Not “through” another person, whether male or female. God has focused His attention, His affection, His love, and His grace on me. On you. Directly. I had to realize my idea of serving and loving God by serving a man had caused me to make my husband, my marriage, an idol. And God did not want any idols between Himself and me, His Beloved.
When the Israelites set up the golden calf in the desert, they weren’t thinking that they wanted to serve and worship a slab of cold, yellow metal. They weren’t ignorant. They conceived that they were serving God, who they envisioned in their minds as riding on, or steering, or directing a “divine” calf (a concept-image picked up from cultures around them). They then made a tangible image of “God’s calf” in order to “focus their worship.” They pictured that God would use this ethereal calf in divine realms as His vehicle, His agent. So, instead of worshipping and serving an invisible, indescribable, boundless God, they thought if they served and took care of God’s agent, they would be serving God… indirectly.
I had to realize that my upbringing had trained me to do the same thing the Israelites did. I was serving someone who I thought was God’s agent, and hence, I thought I was serving and loving God. But I wasn’t. I was serving the calf, not God. I had set my husband, my marriage as my idol, thinking that would mean I was serving God… indirectly.
But God wanted me. A relationship with me! He didn’t want any intermediary to get between me – His Beloved – and Himself. He wants a direct relationship with me! The infinite God has focused His attention on me, and He doesn’t want me to put anything else in the way as some sort of go-between.
I Timothy 2: 5, 6 — For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
So, these are the lessons I had to learn that I hope you can gain something from:
1. My (former) husband’s decisions and actions were his own. He acted of his own will, and none of it was my fault.
2. It was not my job to “fix” him. In fact, it is impossible for me to “fix” him. That’s a job only God can do. Only God Himself can change hearts.
3. God will not force the man in my life to change. God certainly does have the power. He has the power to do anything. But people choose the dark because they love the darkness. Such people don’t want the Light of God in their hearts and lives because that would expose their deeds. And God is not a tyrannical brute. God will not force Himself in to where He is not wanted. He is not that sort of God.
4. God loves me. I am not an afterthought. I am not the “get one free.” I was not just thrown in on some package deal. I am not just a cog in God’s machine built to reach someone else. God focuses His love and affection on me. Pointedly. Intentionally. Affectionately. On purpose. He knew me before the foundation of the world. He wants what’s best for me, not the people who hurt me.
5. Trying to worship God “indirectly” by serving a created person is a false teaching. This teaching sets up an idol who comes between me and the God who took all my punishment on Himself to save me. God doesn’t want anyone between His Beloved and Himself. He wants a loving relationship with me directly.
Oh dear Anna, I hope this has been some comfort to you as you walk an impossible road. I’d like to leave you some verses that have been achingly beautiful or very clarifying during my impossible walk.
All of Psalm 37.
Psalm 45: 10, 11 — Listen O daughter, give attention and incline your ear; Forget your people and your father’s house; Then the King will desire your beauty, Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.
Isaiah 54: 2-6, 9-17
“Enlarge the place of your tent;
[a]Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not spare them;
Lengthen your ropes
And strengthen your pegs.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.
5 For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of armies;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.
6 For the Lord has called you,
Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,”
Says your God.
9 “For this is like the days of Noah to Me,
When I swore that the waters of Noah
Would not flood the earth again;
So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
Nor rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,
But My favor will not be removed from you,
Nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,”
Says the Lord who has compassion on you.
11 “Afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
Behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
And I will lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies,
And your gates of crystal,
And your entire wall of precious stones.
13 All your sons will be taught by the Lord;
And the well-being of your sons will be great.
14 In righteousness you will be established;
You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear;
And from terror, for it will not come near you.
15 If anyone fiercely attacks you, it will not be from Me.
Whoever attacks you will fall because of you.
16 Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows on the fire of coals
And produces a weapon for its work;
And I have created the destroyer to inflict ruin.
17 No weapon that is formed against you will succeed;
And you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.
Hosea 2: 14-17, 19-20, 23
“Therefore, behold, I am going to persuade her,
Bring her into the wilderness,
And speak kindly to her.
15 Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor [Trouble] as a door of hope.
And she will respond there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she went up from the land of Egypt.
16 And it will come about on that day,” declares the Lord,
“That you will call Me my husband
And no longer call Me my Baal [Master].
17 For I will remove the names of the Baals [idols] from her mouth,
So that they will no longer be mentioned by their names.
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In favor and in compassion,
20 And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the Lord.
I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Malachi 2: 13-16 (addressed to men acting wickedly)
13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, dealt treacherously with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 … So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful or deal treacherously. (NIV/NASB)
Also, I just love the encouragement of this sermon:
Anna, I hope you have found some encouragement here. I have prayed and will pray for you and your lovely children.