The Exchanged Life: Part 1

A pile of ashes. That’s what my marriage looked like after d-day. The beauty of our friendship, intimacy, and shared history burned away in the fire of pornography addiction/unfaithfulness. There was nothing beautiful in those charcoaled flakes. 

Snapshots of memories flickered in my mind. Each one now tainted by a question of love, not an assurance of one.  My future felt uncertain; my heart, full of distrust.  The tidal wave of grief crashed into my daily responsibilities muddling my brain. 

I felt humiliated, rejected, unattractive, insufficient, and unloved. How could I survive this brutal wildfire caused by my husband’s choices? I wanted to grab a handful of ashes and throw them at God. I had tried so hard to follow His ways and His plan for my life. This was my reward? 

I shouldn’t have been surprised when God said he wanted those ashes.  He wasn’t afraid. Although my husband’s choices and my broken heart saddened Him, He knew this situation provided a chance for Him to love and care for me tenderly. Since I had no other option, I swept up the ashes and handed them over to Him.

Others in Ashes

Ashes are a familiar concept in the Bible. In fact, it appears in several places. In the story of Esther, we learn that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and guardian, “tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city crying” (Esther 4:1) This was his physical response to the king’s signed decree to kill the Jews. Mordecai’s use of ashes symbolizes extreme grief, an emotional state betrayed wives know too well.  We grieve what has been lost in our marriages, and like Mordecai, we’ve cried, even wailed, over our situations. Some of us might even have released our grief in a physical act like Mordecai’s torn clothes, but it manifested itself in ripped photos or shattered wedding China.  

Grief isn’t the only emotion that is biblically represented by ashes. Tamar (2 Samuel 13) uses ashes to symbolize her response to being betrayed.  Her purity was stolen from her much like the fidelity and the purity of our own marriages was stolen from us. It left her feeling worthless, unloved, and unwanted. Verse 19 says Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head.  As betrayed partners, we identify with Tamar’s feelings, and they can threaten to consume us. If only we were more _______, our husband wouldn’t look at pornography. Each of us could fill the blank in with our perceived lack. For some reason,  we assume responsibility for his actions.  Our husband’s have indirectly rejected us, and in turn, we label ourselves with a list of inadequacies. 

An Exchange Worth Making

No matter how deep we feel mired in the ashes of humiliation, rejection, worthlessness, or grief, God offers us an exchange: beauty for our ashes. The Hebrew word for beauty in Isaiah 61:3 translates to tiara or headdress.  The image here is so powerful.   Picture it: a woman sitting in a pile of ashes. Her clothes, hands and face smeared charcoal black. Tears streak her cheeks creating rivers amidst the ashy grime.  The Father comes and wipes her hands and face clean, stands her up, and places a tiara on her head.  With this moment, God claims her as his own, His precious princess, worthy of so much more than the ashes.  

This is the exchanged life! We give God our ashes, and he presents us with a sparkling tiara, reminding us that we are loved, valued, and so very wanted.  Another’s choices don’t get to define us. God does.  A defiled marriage doesn’t determine our future. God will.  A wrecked heart doesn’t stay wounded. God heals.

Through this exchange we can live in the fullness of freedom. The freedom that allows us to see ourselves through God’s eyes and build our identity in Him.  We give the Lord our hurt and our need for justice, and He gently teaches us how to forgive and grant mercy. As we release our control of our husband’s healing, God steps in to give us peace we can’t explain. With each exchange, more chains are broken and our hearts and spirits lighten. Our hope stretches deeper and further than we ever believed it could after such pain. 

Even though we didn’t make the choices that lead to a marriage in ashes, we can make the choice to give them to God. And that single choice brings beauty after betrayal.

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