April 14, 2010

Facing a New Reality

2010 1511 page22 capy dating years as a twentysomething were a time when the motto “image is everything” dictated my actions. I had an inflated opinion of myself, a feeling that came from a false identity filled with an overdependence on material things—expensive clothes, convertible sports cars, and a manipulative charm I used to attract women. My arrogance fueled an ego that often managed to get what or who I wanted. I flaunted the southern California image until I hit 30 and began a professional career in corporate America. All along, I kept one foot in the church.
Then I met Lizette.*
Six months after we met, while we danced in the ballroom of a glitzy downtown Los Angeles hotel, I slipped a one-carat diamond on a solitaire setting around her ring finger. What happened next was the beginning of a roller-coaster ride straight out of a Stephen King horror novel.
Unequally Yoked
I soon found out I had married a rageaholic. Lizette was a firm believer in New Age teachings. Yes, she had a god; she called it her “inner god.” It was an appealing humanistic spirituality, and I immersed myself feetfirst into it, while I had no relationship with the only One who can truly save.
During most of our relationship I ignored a series of red flags, mostly her out-of-control fits of rage that erupted after silly arguments most couples could have resolved with empathy and understanding. “It’ll be OK,” I told myself. “She’ll change.”
2010 1511 page22As arguments and resentments piled up, Lizette and I were stuck in an unending cycle of inflicting emotional pain on each other. We never found a way out. We were in a standoff that, according to one trusted pastor’s wisdom, would never be resolved without two committed Christians surrendering to a relationship built on trust and unconditional love under God’s sovereign grace.
Numerous blowups during our marriage conditioned me to consider Lizette a ticking time bomb. I was always on edge. Her verbal abuse caused me to shut down emotionally. Counselors later told me I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to what many experience in battle situations. On an average evening when I came home from work, I didn’t know which wife I was going to meet.
I could “sense” evil present even before I walked in. Ours was a home divided, with angels and demons waging war in the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. And I wasn’t strong enough to do anything about it.
Drifting Apart
I was soon accustomed to Lizette’s vulgar expletives and other assorted verbal abuse. But one episode one night was different. Lizette took it to a new level—the physical.

She swung at my face several times but never connected. After 16 years of martial arts training and being a competitive swimmer, had she connected, she could’ve caused damage.
My misguided adult journey up to this point was a case study of an insecure man hiding behind many masks, unaware of the counsels of the Redeemer who could transform me from someone making self-destructive life choices to someone living life abundantly. At this point I had no heavenly compass.
In therapy sessions my own failures in our marriage began to surface. I had assumed the identity of a “silent knight,” a husband unable to be completely transparent with my wife, unable to speak the truth about what I really wanted. Doing so would have meant losing control of my false identity, losing my trophy wife—the tall, attractive swimmer who turned heads.
Instead, I took the easy way out—dishonesty and emotional withdrawal. When Lizette needed her husband to offer her grace, gentleness, compassion, understanding, and validation of her feelings, I wasn’t equipped to do so.
Early in our relationship, Lizette, the staunch agnostic, asked, “Will this Adventist Sabbathkeeping stuff get in the way of us?”
“No,” I answered smugly. I knew the truth, but ego and willfulness had the upper hand.
I Give Up
My life was devoid of the love I never knew I needed—the love of a Savior who took my sins so I could live, love, and serve. The moment I realized my dysfunction, the reality of change became obvious in one word: surrender.
Already clinically depressed, I was at the lowest point of my life. One morning at the office I was desperate. I walked into the men’s room, locked myself in, and turned off the lights. In the darkness I began to feel a calming presence swirling between the generic white walls and cold tile floor. In a symbolic gesture of a man who had reached his lowest point, I, the brash, cocky, image-conscious, manipulative womanizer, now found myself on bended knees, using the toilet as my altar. I had reached the breaking point. Over a place where people sit to expel human waste, I expelled the waste of my entire adulthood in one swift, spiritual purging. I was about to be made clean by a force I never knew: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
I hugged the porcelain fixture like a long-lost friend, buried my head in my arms, and spoke these words of repentance:
“Lord, I can’t do this any longer. I have nothing left. I don’t know what to do. I surrender my life to You. I need You more than ever. I don’t know if You’re there; but if You are, please come into my heart, Jesus. Take over and give me a new life. I give my life to You. Please come in. Please come in.”
I immediately felt a presence I had never felt before flooding over me, comforting me, assuring me. I released to Him my lusts, hatreds, impulses, sexual sins, shame, guilt, and other sinful habits.
I stood up, legs trembling from this amazing catharsis. With the most peaceful calm I’ve ever felt, I walked outside, took a deep breath, and filled my lungs with purified air.
I was set free. 
*Not her real name.
Marcel Schwantes is a certified personal development coach who helps people to walk a path of spiritual integrity. This article was published April 15, 2010.