Broken Vows

I wrote this piece for a bi-monthly spot I’m doing with Presbyterians Today magazine. It got a lot of response, mostly positive. I did get one piece of feedback from a friend that hit a nerve. This friend, who knows my story well, mentioned that I never said anything about breaking trust with the church. Yes, I mentioned my adultery, but I didn’t mention, to use another friend’s language, that I “violated a sacred trust”. At first the criticism felt like a knit pick, then like an attempt to pour salt in the wound. But they were right. For a truth to set you free it has to be a whole truth and a whole truth for me requires yet another hard look in the mirror.

I am a breaker of vows. I have violated the two most sacred trusts that have been placed in me, first to my wife and second to the church.  The ripple effects of breaking these vows is far reaching and it is almost overwhelming to think of the damage I’ve done. Despite all of the brokenness in the world, we value integrity and honor. I have not been an honorable man.

In a conversation this week, I was asked if I thought about the future consequences of my actions as they were happening. I said that I did. And the truth was that at the time, I didn’t care. I wanted to destroy myself.  It’s amazing how closely I’ve come to accomplishing that goal. It’s not just about destroying my family or disrupting my career. I destroyed my integrity. “A man’s word is his bond” my parents used to tell me. My bond is weak. I saw myself spiraling into a place where almost nothing I said was truth and even what was true I questioned.  I broke the bonds that held my life together and when they went, everything fell apart. There was no world left to maintain.

In my denomination, both ruling and teaching elders take vows in front of the community. I made vows before God and my community to care for God’s people, to serve with  love and humility, to be a good colleague and a functional member of the larger church. I failed on all accounts. To the members of my PC(USA) community, I am sorry. I let you all down. I broke trust with you. I failed to be the colleague and friend that you needed me to be. I failed to be a man of my word.

A friend took me to breakfast after my wife and I separated. I told her my story. As she listened, she said something striking. She said “I’m sorry”. Her apology was because she was in attendance when I got married and there were promises that the community made to care for us as a couple that she felt she hadn’t lived up to. I appreciated the sentiment. The truth though is that when I made my marriage vows, I made a commitment to my wife, my family, her family, and everyone in that room that I would be a man of honor. I failed. I failed that gathered community that was rooting for me to be a good husband and father.  I failed to be the man worthy of the woman I was marrying. To those who gathered that day and to the communities that surrounded my wife and I for a decade, I deeply apologize. You all deserved better than the man I turned out to be.

I’m doing a lot of rebuilding. I’m redefining what family looks like for me. I’m rethinking my career. I’m discovering a renewed sense of spirituality. From the rubble of my life, little pockets of reconstruction are emerging.  But the thing hardest hit, my integrity, that feels like a project  that will take the remaining years of my life. I deeply desire to be a man of integrity, a man of honor, a man of his word. I hope and pray that there is a man worth salvaging under all the rubble.

4 thoughts on “Broken Vows

  1. I’m sure someone else will have told you about this or you’ll have found it for yourself but if not, you should look up Kintsugi. Sometimes, to find the true beauty in something, one must embrace and even celebrate the history of it, no matter how damaging it was at the time.

  2. This is a helpful clarification. For what it’s worth, as one who has done the same, my experience has been that others have ASSUMED that I am unaware of and unconcerned about the implications of my actions for the Church. They’re wrong about that, but my experience was that I was not given the opportunity to hear from the communities I hurt, nor express my remorse. Apart from blogging, have you been given that opportunity?

  3. D, I hear your pain and your admission of guilt. I send cupcakes, first of all. I hope you are working past your confession to a place that says We like sheep ALL have fallen astray. I imagine you are, but we all need reminders. And I am grateful for that friend who apologized at breakfast. Because it’s true. As Christians we live our vows in community, which means we each share the guilt of failing to lift each other up. Sending prayers along with more cupcakes. They are lemon, because lemon cupcakes have the strongest “magic.” (Ask Katie.) Be well. Grace be with you.

  4. I respectfully disagree on this one – at least part of it. Honor and integrity have nothing to do with never making mistakes. They have to do with what happens right after you make mistakes, and then after that. If someone makes no mistakes, they have nothing to be honorable, or have integrity, about.

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