Monday, July 29, 2013

To Err Human, To Forgive Divine, But Penance Is Another Story

Dear Tazi:

Several years ago, when I was newly married, I cheated on my husband with the man I had dated before meeting my husband. It was not a one time fling, but it only lasted a couple of months before I came to my senses and ended things. Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant and since I thought it was my boyfriend’s baby (and not my husband) I secretly had an abortion and told my husband it was a miscarriage.

A few years after all of this happened I found God and was saved. I confessed my wrongdoings to God and to my husband, who mercifully decided not to leave me. In return, I have been a devoted wife to him and have not so much as looked at another man in all those years. I am truly penitent for my sins and hold a grateful heart for the second chance I have been given.

I am as open as I can possibly be with my husband, including sharing a personal email account with him so he can see that I am not hiding any secret messages from men. I do have a separate email address for my work; I work from home as a freelancer and keep my business mail separate from my personal mail so I can have a more businesslike email address and a personal sounding email address. I keep a portfolio of my work online with my business email as the contact address.

Last week, a very old boyfriend (not the same one I cheated with) contacted me, telling me he was Googling ex-girlfriends to see what had become of them and he found my portfolio. He complimented my work and told me he was happy for my success. Tazi, I was quite happy to receive his email, not because I have feelings for him (I don’t) but because I was a struggling art student when I dated this man, and he always encouraged me to give up on my dream and pursue “a more realistic goal”. To know that he knows he was wrong and that I am a successful artist was a boost to my pride. I know pride is a sin, but Tazi this man was very cruel to me and I feel that recognition of my success is his penance.

I immediately told my husband that an old boyfriend had contacted me via email, and showed him both the email and my haughty response. My husband flipped out on me, accusing me of contacting old boyfriends behind his back. I told him that was not true and showed him my entire email box. When he suggested that I had deleted my secret emails I showed him my deleted mail, too, but he suggested that I knew he would ask to see them and so I deleted them from my trash bin.

My husband is now demanding complete access to my business email account, saying he cannot trust that I am not up to my “old tricks” again. It has been fifteen years since I cheated, and I thought our marriage was secure and healthy. My husband’s accusations have hurt me deeply, and I would like him to apologize but he has told me that I am the one who wronged him and that this is a part of my penance. Do you think he is being unreasonable, or should I give in to his demands? I would ask the people of our church, but I would rather they not know of my marital spats and deeply embarrassing behaviors that no longer represent the person I am today.

Reform Artist

Dear Reform Artist:

So often, the most difficult part of forgiveness is penance for our sins – not only performing that penance, but accepting it as proof of true remorse for hurtful actions. Why you ever told your husband that you cheated on him is something you do not share here, but many social workers believe that sharing hurtful information that would otherwise never be discovered is a way of assuaging our own guilt over our hurtful actions. You need to ask yourself what you hoped to gain by telling your husband you were unfaithful and then lying to him about the true cause of your pregnancy’s termination. Clearing your conscience at the cost of someone else’s well-being is not a very Christina action. While you may have been left to think that your marriage was on solid ground all these years, did you ever stop to think how your husband has felt?

You speak a lot about penance, yet you think that a small loss of privacy is a large enough penance for the sins of adultery and lying, and that shaming someone who did not believe in you as a youth is deserved. Lady, you have a very warped idea of what a just and deserved penance is. It has been decades since your ex-boyfriend told you to give up on your dream, yet you hold onto this slight like it was a precious gem, all the while expecting your husband to forget that you broke your wedding vows within months or even weeks of saying your “I do’s”. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting; it means accepting that people make mistakes yet moving on, and allowing that person to remain in your life.

While I believe that your husband is being unduly harsh with you I think it is in response to your light-handedness of your past behavior. While you deserve a pat on the back for immediately telling your husband about this email – and please tell him that I said that – you should also be willing to give him the password to your business account, on the condition that he does not delete, respond, re-file, or otherwise molest any of your email. I will remind you both that this is a business account; I suggest that you both treat it with the accordant respect. I also suggest that you see a marital counselor to help each of you deal with this unresolved issue.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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