(Photo: Brad Johnson)
My heart breaks for your family, your congregation and for everyone reeling from the revelations of this past week. I physically ache, as I remember being in such a horribly shameful and painful place many years ago.
Many will offer you guidance, and much of it will be better than any benefit you glean from my words. But if I may, here are insights I have gained after years of hindsight.
First, lean into Christ as the tsunami rolls over your world. Tsunamis come because of earthquakes. Bob, for many months, you knew what almost no one else did – your life was quaking. The inevitable result is the wave that has crashed over everyone in your life. There is only one way for any of us to survive such devastation. Cling tenaciously to Jesus. He is your only way through this.
Understand, that like the aftermath of a tsunami, the consequences and any rebuilding efforts will be measured in years, not weeks or months. You are now on a years-long journey of regaining equilibrium, cleaning out destroyed parts of life, attempting to rebuild what you can and striving toward a new normal. It is natural to want this "hell" to pass quickly, but it won't. It can't. It shouldn't. It didn't happen quickly. It won't end quickly. The sooner you can accept that this will be the longest, hardest period of your life, the better patience and perseverance you will have for the journey.
Next, work hard in the coming months and years to understand how this happened. But a caution: In your attempt to understand, be very cautious not to defend. Remember, it was rationalization that led to the early compromises, and the tendency to rationalize will be seductive and familiar. Avoid that. Understanding 'why' this happened, is not the same as validating the choices.
A painful, surreal lesson you will experience is that you do not get to choose where the shrapnel goes. The choices you and I made in life were like pulling the pin of a grenade and holding it against our chest. We assumed we would be hurt the worst. That's not true. Your greatest shame and pain will come when you see the pain and harm you've done to others.
Then, be ready for surprises. Expect them, in fact. You will be surprised by who is ungracious. The temptation will be to try to turn the scrutiny and the stares away from you by pointing to blatantly unchristian reactions from Christians. That is actually to miss the point. It's vital to remember that you knocked down the first domino. Everything that happens after that is a result of your choices. There would have been no bad decisions for others to make without yours. Always, always, always own full responsibility.
It will also surprise you who is gracious. I saw the face of Jesus from people I didn't even know previously, but who had been touched or influenced by my ministry. I remember food cards arriving in the mail when I was unemployed and my pantry was empty, a handful of money was be given to me in a handshake that just covered my rent, a hug was be offered in store, as others passed by on the other side. Jesus met me through the hearts of so many gracious people – some of whom were blessed surprises.
And Bob, from the depths of my heart, I ask you to choose life. You will want to die. I'd be shocked if this isn't already on your list of possible 'solutions.'
The rationale is not crazy. It runs like this: If I'm the problem, I'll deal with the problem. What that doesn't address is the new set of problems layered on your family's life. It will be sorrow poured upon sorrow, shame upon shame. Live through this. Or, may I say it a more hopeful way: You CAN Live Through This…and you must.
Through the next days, weeks and months, especially, allow your family members to grieve this and to process this in their own way (yelling, distancing themselves from you, remaining cold, whatever they need) for as long as it takes. And you will have to balance respect for their boundaries and needs against your profound desire to pursue them. In the meantime, give yourself to the rebuilding of a life that is honorable, that they can once again love, respect and trust.
And, as hard as this is to believe – remember that God loves you! The amazing grace you've often taught about is real and rich and redeeming. God loves you as much in your sin and shame as He ever did while you stood to teach thousands. You never merited His love. Never. And you'll never lose His love. Never. My shame never ever left me, until I healed enough to once again embrace and believe this truth.
Finally, this is a chapter of your life – sordid, horrible, shameful. You can't un-write it and you can't re-write it. But in perspective – it's one chapter. If each day is a page and each year a chapter, then you've had many good chapters in your life. They are still there. They have NOT been erased.
Sure, everyone is reading your current one, but remember, you have more to write. Each day, keep your focus on the next right thing, the next right step, the next wise decision. That day then becomes a page. Add enough good ones together and you'll soon have a new chapter.
Admittedly, you will need co-writers and editors – people with wisdom and good judgment – to help you know what the next right thing is. Your judgment is broken and your confidence is shattered. Let wise, godly people help you write your daily pages (good, right, wise decisions) until you have good judgment and confidence back.
Said another way, though this current chapter is dominating your life, being devoured by the public and is so very painful, this is not your last chapter.
Bob, you must rebuild your character, trust and respect. And that rebuilding can only happen, with God's help, one day at a time. Begin now.
I'm on the front row cheering for you.
With Humble Love,
Brad Johnson is Pastor of California Community Church, Agoura Hills, Calif. On the Web: www.californiacommunitychurch.com.