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9/05/12

A Terrible Turning Point

with: Sharon Hersh from the series: Begin Again, Believe Again

She and her husband were considered “experts” in marriage. They spoke at conferences and gave couples biblical, practical advice on how to build intimacy and oneness. So when her own marriage dissolved, she was stunned. Christian counselor Sharon Hersh admits that parallel lives, lack of communication, and neglect of the marriage contributed to its demise, but shares how God is using her brokenness as a stepping stone to build another beautiful story of hope with her life.

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Sharon Hersh About Sharon Hersh:

Sharon is the author of several books.  Her most recent is Begin Again, Believe Again: Embracing the Courage to Love With Abandon.  It picks ups where her most popular book, Bravehearts, left off — discussing the pain and privilege of real relationships in real lives. 

Sharon is a sought-after speaker for conferences, retreats, seminars, classes, trainings, or workshops.  She loves to speak anywhere in the world — to a group of 2 or 2,000.  Sharon is an Adjunct Faculty member at Reformed Theological Seminary, Colorado Christian University, and The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology — teaching graduate counseling courses.  Other subjects Sharon loves to speak on include:  Beyond Addiction, The True Sisterhood: Sharing the Drama, Disappointment, and Delight of Relationships, and What’s a Parent For?

Sharon lives in Lone Tree, Colorado and is finding freedom and adventure in the empty-nest years.  She loves to travel, read, listen to music, and spend time with her friends.

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Bob:  Have you ever ignored warning signs until it was too late?  That’s what happened to Sharon Hersh with her marriage. 

Sharon:  I knew our marriage was in trouble.  I knew that there was no camaraderie, there were no connections.  I knew they were not in our marriage, but I really, truly believed our marriage would never end.  I think that fueled my arrogance and my pride and my unwillingness to tell the truth and ask for help and stop this thing before it completely derailed. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 5th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Sharon Hersh joins us today to talk about how her marriage derailed and how she got her life and her faith back on track. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  For years as I’ve talked to people about our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, I’ve talked about the fact that we try to provide couples who come with some practical help for their marriage—no matter what the state of their marriage is. 

We think we’ve got some things that we can offer there.  Then, to provide some hope because there are a lot of couples who come, and the hope bank is overdrawn.  There are not a whole lot of assets left in the hope meter, you know?

Dennis:  No doubt about it.  In fact, I’ve got a letter here from a listener who was listening to WORD in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  FamilyLife Today has been heard on that station all the way back to the beginning—

Bob:  I think so, right? 

Dennis:  —when we launched back in 1992.  By the way, as a listener, you ought to know we’re coming up on our 20th anniversary.  Bob and I together for 20 years, can you believe—

Bob:  Can you believe?  (Laughter) 

Dennis:  But anyway, this listener wrote about how she and her husband started their marriage at ages 18 and 19, had been married for 17 years, she said, “With a lot of pure determination and a whole lot of yelling,” and had a little boy.  He brought a lot of joy to their relationship, but their marriage rocked along, wasn’t doing well.  They heard how a listener could win a Weekend to Remember there on WORD. 

Bob:  Station was doing some kind of a contest or something? 

Dennis:  Some kind of promotion—

Bob:  Okay. 

Dennis:  —and she said, “I won!”  She said, “It came in the midst of our marriage getting worse and louder and louder and louder.”  Now, I want to read to you what she had to say.  She said, “We decided the Charlotte conference was the one for us.  We stayed in a beautiful, little bed and breakfast; with open hearts attended the conference.  For the first time in our marriage, we talked about our marriage.” 

That’s an interesting statement. 

“We talked about God and how He got us to this point.  We said things we’d never said before.  For the first time in our marriage, I saw my husband as a man of God; and the most amazing thing happened: we prayed together for the very first time ever.” 

“We are now two weeks out from the conference, and we are still praying and talking.  Believe me when I say this was not a great time for us because I was recently unemployed and money in our savings was running very thin; but we are no longer fighting.  Instead we are praying, talking, and laughing.” 

Now, listen to this. 

“My son said during his evening prayers the other night, ‘God, I don’t know what You did to my mommy and daddy, but thank You for making them love each other again and stop yelling at each other.’” 

She concludes her letter.  She says, “That says it all.  I just want to thank WORD FM for saving my marriage and allowing my husband and me to find our way back to the arms of Christ.” 

Bob:  It is really fascinating what a little bit of help and a fresh dose of hope can do for a married couple. 

Dennis:  The Scriptures bring hope.  They bring life.  Why?  Because they point people back to the One who designed marriage and family in the first place—God. 

We have a guest with us today who has a unique story related to the Weekend to Remember.  Sharon Hersh joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Sharon, welcome back. 

Sharon:  It is good to be with you both. 

Dennis:  Sharon is a really good friend.  We’ve—well, we’ve been friends now for—what?—almost 20 years? 

Sharon:  Yes, almost as long as you and Bob have been together.  (Laughter) 

Dennis:  That’s a frightening thought.  She’s a licensed counselor on the Front Range near Denver, Colorado.  She’s a speaker, an author, and lives there.  She’s an empty-nester now, and she has written a book that I really found quite interesting.  It’s titled Begin Again, Believe Again.  We just heard a story about someone who was beginning again and believing—

Sharon:  Yes. 

Dennis:  —again. 

Sharon:  As Bob said, got a “dose of hope,” and I guess this book is kind of my story of finding hope—sometimes just a little dose of hope and sometimes big buckets of it along the way in a journey that I would have never chosen for myself. 

But I think I can look back from this point and know that, although some choices were not necessarily what God directed but out of sinful choices, out of foolish choices, out of situations that I had no power in, God has been able to weave together a story where I truly do believe—no matter where you’re at—there is a chance to begin again and believe again. 

Bob:  You were at a point in your life years ago when hope was low—

Sharon:  Yes. 

Bob:  —in just about every area of your life, right? 

Sharon:  And Dennis alluded to it.  My husband and I were speakers for FamilyLife over ten years ago; and we spoke at those Weekends to Remember for about three years.  At the end of every conference, that last session on Sunday afternoon, my husband would kind of stop the audience and say, “Sharon, look at me, just look at me.”  He said, “I promise I will never be unfaithful to you, I will never divorce you, I am married to you for life.” 

I think back on that now and know how carelessly I regarded those words.  Sometimes I was half listening.  Sometimes I was rolling my eyes thinking about the fight that we had the night before because, truly, our marriage was not a marriage to remember at that time.  There were some bumps along the way and some work that we never did, like this couple that you read about was willing to begin very much to humble themselves, and we had not done that work. 

As a result, probably at that time we were living pretty parallel lives, each kind of doing our own thing.  I suspect there are a lot of couples out there that live in that situation where they’re not really connecting, they’re not praying together, they’re not talking about their marriage together.  Actually, I’ve learned that can be as dangerous and as perilous as some overt behaviors that tend to destroy and erode marriages. 

Bob:  So, when your husband would stand on the platform at a Weekend to Remember and say “Here’s my promise,” it was almost like lines in a play more than it was a husband and wife being transparent in front of the audience? 

Sharon:  I am afraid so.  I really don’t want to make this about him because this really is the story of my own journey.  So, it was—I was an actor in that play as well and neglected my marriage and really did not have the time or the energy to humbly do the work that is so often required in marriages.  So, as a result, our marriage drifted even further into perilous territory.  I suspect that my husband felt lonely because I was busy.  I was busy writing books and speaking at FamilyLife marriage conferences. 

So, my husband began to talk to someone else and found what he believed was a soul mate; that revelation began for me a journey over the past twelve years that has truly been, as I said earlier, one I would have never chosen.  I don’t believe that it was God’s design that our marriage fail because it has certainly hurt a lot of people besides just the two of us.  But I do think that God has used the brokenness, the failure, and the many experiences along the way to really lead me to Him. 

Dennis:  Were you so clueless about what was taking place that when he asked for the divorce, you were completely stunned? 

Sharon:  Yes and no.  I think I was very arrogant in thinking that there would never be anybody else.  So, I did.  I took those words for granted, and I knew our marriage was in trouble.  I knew that there was no camaraderie.  There was no connection. 

Many of the things that we talk about at the conferences, I knew they were not in our marriage; but I really, truly believed our marriage would never end.  I think that fueled my arrogance and my pride and my unwillingness to tell the truth and ask for help and stop this thing before it completely derailed. 

Bob:  You’re supposed to, in a marriage relationship, be able to rely on that covenant commitment that you’ve made to one another; but there is a difference between relying on that and taking your marriage for granted—

Sharon:  Exactly. 

Bob:  —as a result of knowing that that’s in place. 

Sharon:  This did happen.  I really did think and say probably a hundred times, “I never thought this would happen to me.”  Even in that statement, there’s a lot of pride because every marriage is vulnerable and every person is at risk to take our loneliness, our frustration, or disappointment and turn it toward something other than God. 

Dennis:  I’m thinking of the Scriptures that say, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.” 

Bob:  Right. 

Sharon:  Yes. 

Dennis:  I want to stop you here because I want our listeners to hear what you said about arrogance.  In your arrogance, you didn’t ask for others to help. 

Sharon:  Yes. 

Dennis:  Now, I just want to pause there for a moment because if you would have asked any of those who were on the speaker team with you, you know within a heartbeat they would have been by your side; they would have reached out to help and said, “Okay.  It’s okay.  We’ve all struggled.  Let’s figure out how we get out of this ditch and we move forward.”  But because help was not asked for, help never came. 

We’ve got to be speaking to some people right now who need help.  They wouldn’t characterize themselves as arrogant like you did; but twelve years from now they may look back and say—like you are here—“You know what?  I really was self sufficient.  I really was arrogant.” 

“I was allowing this thing to slide off in a ditch deeper and deeper and deeper and take our family with it without just raising the hand and crying out not only to God but also to friends at church, people that you’ve had an impact in their lives or peers or maybe even those you respect to say, ‘Would you help us?’” 

Sharon:  You’re right on, Dennis.  I think the whole concept of Begin Again, Believe Again, which sounds good --we all want those new beginnings, fresh starts, an infusion of faith into our hearts and souls; but that doesn’t happen without first saying, “Help.  I need someone.” 

Bob:  I think one of the reasons we wanted to have this conversation with you is, first of all, because it can be a cautionary tale to those who are in a marriage where they ought to be raising the white flag and saying, “Hey, we need a little help over here.”  But the other reason is because there are a lot of people who are in the middle of the journey that you have already walked through. 

It’s not that you’re not still on a journey—we all are—but they’re in the shadow land, and you’ve seen some sunlight on that trail.  They need to hear from you that you can make it through the shadows to back to where there was sun. 

Because from 2001, from the time that your husband said, “This is over,” until the time when you started to begin again and believe again—how long a period of time would you say that was where you were just really wondering, “Does life ever get any better than this, because it’s pretty bad?” 

Sharon:  Well, you would think that being told that you were getting a divorce and that your marriage was falling apart would immediately send you scurrying to get help and hope and figure out some things in your life; but as anyone who has had their lives fall through the cracks knows, unfortunately, we humans are prone to do other things like find blame or justify our own behaviors or prove that we’re right or protect our image at all costs because “I’ve got to still stay in ministry or keep my work going”. 

So, my journey, my process of healing probably took longer than most people’s because that pride remained.  It took a few years for me to really get to a point where I said, “I give up.  I surrender.” 

Bob:  Take me back to those few years before you were saying, “I give up.”  What kinds of things were you saying? 

Sharon:  Well, I was not wanting to look at it.  So, I was feeling somewhat the urgency of being a single mother all of the sudden of two pre-teenagers and doing all the driving and all of the work at home and trying to figure out how maybe I could make a living.  So, I was not opening my bills.  I didn’t open bills for six months.  I don’t recommend that to anyone who is listening.  (Laughter) 

Bob:  We call this phase denial, don’t we? 

Sharon:  Or despair because I often would end the day by pulling the blankets up over my head as I laid in bed and truly pray, “God, help me not to wake up tomorrow.” 

Dennis:  Now, this is a trained counselor that’s speaking here. 

Sharon:  Yes, it is.  Just because you know things in your head and you can advise others, it takes something else for that to seep into your heart. 

One of the things it takes is a lot of cracks.  So, God was allowing the cracks to form in my veneer, in my persona.  Initially, I thought it was because really He didn’t care; and if my world broke into pieces, then it was probably my fault or I could blame my husband for it.  But really, He needed those cracks to form, so that He could seep into them and begin to not just be something I talked about but be a part of me. 

Bob:  So, there was a chipping away that was taking place as God had to peel through some of the protective layers you had—

Sharon:  Yes. 

Bob:  —wrapped around yourself.  Is there a way for somebody to accelerate that process?  I mean the person who is in it who is saying, “I’m pulling the blanket up over my head at night and going, ‘I don’t want to wake up,’ and life is miserable.  I never thought I’d find myself here.  It’s all his fault, or it’s all her fault,” or whatever.  Is there a way for them to get down the path quicker? 

Sharon:  I think that way is, just as we spoke, to ask for help, to acknowledge, “I am failing.  I am scared.  I am angry.  I am filled with overwhelming emotions that I don’t know what to do about.” 

Certainly, one of the other things that prolonged my healing process is I relapsed in my addiction.  I’m a recovering alcoholic, and when my marriage fell apart, I foolishly thought I could make the process easier by numbing myself a little bit.  I know I’m not the only one who thinks that because our culture thrives on really wanting to make the pain go away as quickly as possible. 

Dennis:  Just to comment on that, not all the folks who numb the pain use drugs and alcohol.  There are tons of addictions in this culture today to do just what you’re talking about. 

Sharon:  Absolutely, because the other thing I numbed myself with was work.  So, in the first five years after my divorce, I wrote five books.  I look back on that now and think, “What was I doing?”  I should have been focusing on sitting and sorting through what had happened and what my part was in it. 

So, whether through alcohol, initially, which fortunately some friends and pastor picked up on that pretty quickly and confronted me about it—that actually became a significant part of my journey because that led me to deal with my alcoholism in a way that I never had before. 

In my very first book that we talked about on this program years ago, I talked about my alcoholism; but I had never—once again, that was something that I saw in my life and I took a hold of it and I fixed it.  But when my marriage fell apart and I turned to this familiar, destructive behavior, I could not fix myself with the self that got me into this mess. 

So, I began to attend a twelve-steps program, which really was instrumental in my healing and beginning to talk about things in an honest, open way. 

Bob:  Pretty humbling to walk into one of those twelve-step programs and say, “I need help.” 

Sharon:  It is, and I can’t say it was—it’s just hard that one time.  It has been hard at various times in my life since then to walk into a room and admit—maybe not with alcohol but with some other behavior—“I am trying to run from the pain, and I need help.” 

Dennis:  I think—just hearing your story makes me sad, Sharon.  To think that we knew you and yet we didn’t know, and we weren’t able to help in those moments; but it also just reminds me of a couple of other things too. 

Number one: We’re all broken.  There’s not a listener, there’s not a host or co-host or guest on today’s broadcast who is not broken.  We all have our issues.  We all have our struggles.  We’re all in need of the grace of God as found in Jesus Christ. 

Secondly, and you said it numerous times on this broadcast, we need to ask for help—

Sharon:  Yes. 

Dennis:  —first of all, with God, crying out to God and admitting you can’t do it.  “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Maybe you need to cry out for the help that really will determine your eternal destiny, your relationship with Jesus Christ.  You need to ask God to forgive your sins and cleanse you and make you a new creature in Christ. 

But you may already be a Christian and just need to ask God freshly—say, “God, I’ve gone my own way too long.  I need your help,” but you also need to ask other people for help.  You need to articulate that to the body of Christ, other believers, and let them step into your life and make a difference. 

Finally, I want to remind our listeners, there is hope.  The same God who raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead and defeated death—if He can do that, there is no problem you have, no circumstance you’re facing, where He is too weak, where He can’t break through and be the God of all hope in your life and be the God of those new beginnings we talked about. 

Bob:  I know there are times when folks are on this dark path, when honestly you don’t even want to read a book like this, because it’s—you’re just not ready to hear it yet; but there does come a point where you’ve got to look up and say, “Okay, how am I going to get from where I am to where I need to be?”  That’s when a book like Begin Again, Believe Again, I think, can be helpful. 

We’ve got copies of Sharon’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Our listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the book.  Again, it’s called Begin Again, Believe Again by Sharon Hersh.  Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.  You can find out more about the book or order from us online; or you can order by calling 1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. 

A while back we had an opportunity to talk with Leslie Vernick, who is also a counselor and an author.  We talked about emotionally destructive relationships, those hard relationships that may be with an extended-family member, maybe with somebody outside your family.  What do you do when you’re pressed into one of those?  How do you respond?  How do you honor God in the midst of that?  Well, that conversation is on audio CD. 

This week, when you make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today, we would love to send you a copy of that conversation as our way of saying thank you for your financial support.  We are listener-supported.  Your contributions help cover the costs of producing and syndicating this daily radio program, and we’re grateful for your partnership with us. 

Again, when you make a donation this week, if you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, I CARE, make an online donation, we’ll automatically send you the CD of our conversation with Leslie Vernick.  Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just mention that you’d like a copy of the audio CD on destructive relationships.  We’re happy to send it to you. 

Again, we appreciate your partnership with us here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today

Tomorrow, we’re going to continue to hear about Sharon Hersh’s journey from disappointment, hurt, betrayal, to a place where she could begin again and believe again.  That comes up tomorrow.  Hope you can join us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 
Help for today.  Hope for tomorrow.