I sipped my margarita and watched his lips moving as he continued whispering to her. I still could hear nothing over the blaring music. But even louder than the music were the sudden alarm bells blaring in my soul.

Even at this bar, in the middle of our friend’s big birthday celebration, Papa was doing what comes oh-so-naturally to him: he was pastoring. He was caring, and helping, and encouraging. The band was so loud that he was forced to whisper back and forth with this woman – who had begun to share with him about her personal emotional struggles, and he was simply responding with God’s heart for her.

But as the conversation continued on, and on, and I stood there somewhat awkwardly opposite them, unable to hear a single word – a very deep place was touched. I began to have a physical reaction. And suddenly I just needed to GO. I began even poking and pinching him in the back – until finally after what seemed like an eternity, it was over and we were breathing in the chilly fall air headed to our car.

I knew nothing sinister was happening; it was an innocent opportunity where Papa saw a need. But I also know just how powerful opportunity can be. Steve Harley, an amazing Christian counselor at Marriage Builders who has focused on infidelity for 20 years now, says that we are all wired for the possibility of an affair – and that it actually has more to do with opportunity than character. In my experience, that’s not as oversimplified as it might sound.

In my own first marriage, it is something we should have done much much differently. When I was young and surprisedly pregnant with our first son, living in a big city where everything was expensive and money was tight – our first budget cut was entertainment. And as the children continued to come, it always seemed easier for me to just stay home with them so John could see the bands he wanted to see, or so he could stay out for drinks after work. And we did not continue to really build into that kind of shared time together. As hard as it would have been to find the time and money then – we paid a much higher price in the end. I know these things contributed to the atmosphere that made him ripe when the perfect opportunity finally showed up at work.

I won’t be making that same mistake again. Even with six kids – and money as tight as ever – Papa and I are very conscious of how much time we spend together, and what kind of time. We have had some amazing and beautiful dates – but we also just spend a lot of evenings building cities and armies in Settlers of Catan, or snuggled up together reading or writing on our laptops in front of the fire.

And we are also learning how to set good boundaries. Which for the most part, we do well. But what I saw Saturday night was just a flash of that kind of opportunity – not that he would pick up a girl in a bar, but more likely would be opportunity for an emotional affair in connections built as he attempted to encourage and care for someone. That flash was from a place of past hurt, not anything grounded in the current reality. But still, a real area to protect. Not out of fear, but out of love. It was a glimpse of a vulnerable spot for us. And once we moved past the hurt it had triggered in me that night, we laid some great groundwork for our future.

It really is a thin line between fear, which is not of God – and protection. Caring for what He has given us with wisdom-based intentionality. But I grieved a bit that night too – wishing I could go back, wishing I didn’t know what all was out there. Wishing I was not so aware how fragile marriage actually is, and all that it needs protection from. I’ve never had a miscarriage, so when I am pregnant – although I know there is a risk of loss, I don’t often think about it. I really don’t fear it. But I know it is not the same for my friends who have suffered that kind of loss; and in their subsequent pregnancies even when they have conquered the fear, there is a more tentative expectancy than there once was.

I was also reminded at the end of it all, that ultimately my trust still rests in Him. That we really are fragile, are human. And are all capable of poor choices, intentional or unintentional. The rest in my soul does not come from any kind of guarantee my amazing husband can make, or even a covenant which is still possible to break. The real rest I have now is from a God who is not human, and truly does not fail or quit or ever break His promises.

One Response to “Protect”

  1. Erin says:

    This is one of the healthiest descriptions of boundary setting in marriage I have read; not based in fear but in practicality. It was so refreshing! Thanks for sharing!

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