Learning How to Forgive
“There was a lion out there, ready to devour me,” said Shera O’Neal. “Hiding in plain sight, he was ready to consume my family, my life and my walk with the Lord. But I thought everything was just fine. I didn’t think about guarding myself every day. I was totally unprepared.
“I grew up in a Christian home. My parents taught me about the Bible, about sin separating me from the Lord and about my great need for Jesus as my Savior. I trusted in Christ when I was five years old. I never really doubted my faith, but I also didn’t learn how to walk with the Lord consistently.
“I met my husband, Trey, when we were in college in Wisconsin and knew pretty quickly I wanted to marry him. But the wheels blew off of our lives when I got pregnant. As an athlete at a Christian college, I was asked to leave the school. There are no hard feelings about that at all. There was a rule, and we broke it. Later, Trey went back to school and finished his degree.
“By the time we celebrated our 5th anniversary we had three kids under four years old. Trey got a teaching job in the Dallas area where he grew up. We bought a house, found a church and were expecting our fourth child. He was a teacher. I was a stay-at-home mother, but I did a little work on the side. It was a very busy time.
“For most of my adult life, I studied God’s Word regularly. But as the demands of being a wife and mother increased, I stopped consistently reading the Bible. It wasn’t an intentional choice. Time in God’s Word just fell by the wayside. I did not worry about it really – we were both Christians and our marriage seemed fine, right? But I was not putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), and that opened my mind to the lies of the enemy.
“The relationship with a family friend started pretty innocently. I didn’t intend for it to turn into anything, and he assured me that everything was alright. But eventually that friendship turned into an eight-month affair. “The truth came out one week when the kids were out of town visiting my parents, and we were on a date. It was a ‘Jerry Springer’ moment, and we said words we never wanted to say. It was the worst time of my life.
“I was absolutely convinced Trey would never forgive me. I thought I would leave as soon as I could and sort the rest out later. I was blind, really. I believed so many lies because I wasn’t spending time in the Truth. I’d been so deceitful that I didn’t know how to tell the truth anymore. I couldn’t sleep or even think straight at that point.
“I was still threatening to take off, so the next day Trey took all the keys, phones and electronics out of the house. I was stuck at home all by myself. That day, something prompted me to open the Bible to Psalm 139. In that passage, David cries out for the Lord to search him and lead him in the way of righteousness. That’s when the Holy Spirit broke my heart and helped me see both the weight of my sin and that with God’s help, our marriage could survive.
“Trey came home from work, took one look at me and could tell that God had truly broken me. I felt such incredible pain and guilt. But in the midst of that, the chains of sin were beginning to break.
“Trey and I began the long journey of healing and forgiveness at that point, and it was not easy. But receiving forgiveness from my husband changed my life and my perception of God’s grace. My natural inclination was always to give grace to others, but never receive it myself. I know now that by giving and receiving grace, I discover more about God’s love and mercy for me.
“There was still a lot of healing to be done. But after the initial shock and anger, Trey chose to love me. That was humbling. Together, we met with mentors from the church we once attended, and that was very helpful. But the people we met with encouraged us not to talk with anyone about the affair. We did speak to a handful of people, but otherwise, we hid what had happened. It’s clear to me now that by keeping ourselves isolated, we missed out on the opportunity for more healing and growth. But the Lord continued to work powerfully in our lives and our marriage, and we discovered that greater healing was still to come.”
“‘I’m gone’ That’s what my wife said when I discovered she had been in an extramarital relationship for several months,” said Trey O’Neal. “The thought of being a single dad raising children on my own was sobering. I never saw this crisis coming, though I knew something had been wrong in our marriage for a while.
“When we reached out to people from our church for help, one of the first things they recommended was not to discuss the affair with anyone – not our friends or our parents. I did talk to a buddy of mine and some family members about what happened. But for the most part, our troubles remained a secret.
“It was easy to blame my wife for our troubles, but make no mistake, there was plenty of sin on my part. When we were dating, I wasn’t faithful to Shera. When Shera became pregnant while we were in college, I had to end a couple of different relationships before we married. Porn also had been part of my life throughout our marriage. All of that left me feeling horrible about myself and struggling with doubt about my marriage and my faith.
“I was semi-involved in church. I went on Sunday mornings, but I didn’t see the value in it for me. Shera begged me to lead them spiritually, but the truth is, I didn’t really have a relationship with the Lord, so I failed to lead my family.
“I completely neglected my marriage. I wanted to be a good husband and father, but in reality I was the married version of the guy I was back in high school. I didn’t take care of things around the house. I spent time with the kids and left Shera on her own to sort out the finances and how to make ends meet. That left our relationship very vulnerable.
“I knew something was not right in our marriage for months before I found out about the affair. But the news was still a shock – especially since it was a guy I saw as a buddy and mentor. Looking back, none of the qualities I admired in him were biblical. I was looking at him from a worldly standard.
“Although I was hurt and angry, I did not want Shera to leave. While God worked on her heart in the weeks and months ahead, I read a book called Love and Respect. It encouraged me to forgive my wife in the same way I had been forgiven by God. It was not easy. There were times I felt so hurt I thought I would be better off dead.
“The pain got worse, and I felt like I might not ever beat it. My wife begged me to talk to someone about our marriage, but I would have none of it. The Lord was good to me even in my stubbornness and ignorance. He gave me the desire to pray, read His Word, pursue my wife and learn how to forgive.
“We found out about re|engage, Watermark’s marriage ministry, by accident, through a sermon we listened to online. We decided to go check it out at another church near our home. That was really our first exposure to biblical community. It was hard to lay the whole truth about our marriage out on the table. But we did, and found a lot of grace and healing in biblical community with others.
“I went to re|engage to restore my marriage, but God used it to call me back to the fundamentals of following Him. I never took the time to think about the sacrifice Christ made for me to be forgiven until I was asked to forgive my wife. Healing my relationship with Shera had everything to do with my relationship with the Lord. I knew I didn’t want to stay together with Shera simply for the kids. I wanted to learn how to truly forgive. That came as I gained a greater understanding of all Christ had done for me. He had forgiven my past, so I could not argue with the fact that I needed to forgive my wife as well.
“God has worked in our lives through community and through re|engage in amazing ways. But it still has been an emotional roller coaster. I learned that I can never measure the health of our relationship by whether the memories of betrayal still hurt me. We live in a broken world, and that time in our marriage may always be painful. But we continue to find purpose in a daily pursuit of Christ.
“It’s a blessing whenever Shera and I have the chance to talk about the amazing things God has done in our marriage. It reminds me of all the Lord has saved me from and why it’s important to live out His mission in my life. I am far from perfect, and it’s always hard to admit my failures and shortcomings to the people God has put in our life. But I always walk away strengthened, encouraged and grateful that the Lord gives me new opportunities for faithfulness.”