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I am an active member of the Church and have been trying to minister to a family, for about 18 months. Because of some mistakes that I made, this family feels that I have caused them considerable pain and suffering and a possible betrayal of their trust. Nothing sexual happened. I just gradually became infatuated with their 27-year-old daughter who looked upon me as being a substitute grandfather. I have repeatedly asked for their forgiveness, but they won’t speak to me and pretend that I don’t exist or they just quickly walk away. I have had several meetings with my bishop to discuss my suicidal thoughts over all the harm I have caused, and the inappropriateness of some of my behavior.
As a result of these meetings, I was able to give them a letter of apology and again asked for their forgiveness. But their response is the same. I’m in my seventies, married, and my doctor has put me on a heavy medication to fight depression. I continue to carry the burden of guilt for all the pain and suffering I have caused them. This last General Conference seemed to touch on the principle of reconciliation. Please tell me what it is and if it’s even possible in this situation. I don’t know how to go about it or if we can really be friends again.
This family is sending a clear signal that they don’t want to have you in their life right now. I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s important for you to give them space and allow them to heal in their own way. Something happened that made them uncomfortable and it was clearly enough to end the relationship. It’s difficult to accept this reality, but your healing and their healing depends on your ability to see the truth of what happened.
No one can know if you’ll ever have a relationship with them in the future. Please don’t focus on trying to predict what will happen in the future. It will only cause you more angst, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness. Instead, focus on having empathy for what this must be like for them and do everything you can to understand yourself and how you allowed this to happen.
Reconciliation doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be in a relationship with them again. In cases of serious boundary violations, reconciliation means that the truth of what happened dictates the new relationship order. In other words, everything has to match. If you crossed a line and it caused significant damage, then reconciliation means that there needs to be space between the offender and the injured party. It wouldn’t add up any other way.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be forgiven for what you’ve done. The family will need to work that out in their own time and manner, but you can know that your Heavenly Father stands ready to forgive you for your mistakes, however serious. This doesn’t mean you will have a right to reenter a relationship with this family. It simply means you won’t be condemned anymore for your errors. President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us that, “The Lord is forgiving, but sometimes life is not forgiving.”[i]
You feel devastated to the point of taking your life, but that’s not going to help anyone heal. I’m glad you’re opening up about these dark thoughts so you don’t do something devastating. This family needs you to spend your energy and thoughts understanding why you did this so you don’t ever cross these lines again in the future. President Hinckley challenged those who have made serious mistakes to develop this self-awareness. He said that these experiences, “[point] up the need to be constantly alert. It points up the importance of unrelenting self-discipline. It indicates the necessity of constantly building our strength against temptation.”[ii]
See if you can learn why you became enamored with her. Talk with your priesthood leaders, professionals, your wife, and work to see yourself clearly so this never happens again. Yes, you made a mistake, but you can learn things about yourself that will help you “see things as they really are…for the salvation of [your soul].”[iii] This relationship went from you supporting her and her family to you taking something from her in a way that was inappropriate and harmful. Do everything you can to understand when this shift happened and why it happened.
This family is telling you what they need and you have to honor it. You can’t decrease your anxiety by taking anything more from them. They have a right to protect themselves from whatever happened that was inappropriate. Your job now is to allow them to heal and focus on repairing things with your wife, God, and yourself.
You are not beyond redemption. We are here to repent, change, and grow. Hugh Nibley clearly taught this when he said:
“Who is righteous? Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting, he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man. The difference is which way you are facing.”[iv]
It’s difficult to accept what happened. It causes you great anguish and distress. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach described what happens to her when she accepts her circumstances, regardless of how uncomfortable they are:
“Over the years I have discovered that much of my struggle to be content despite outside circumstances has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment. But I have also learned that when I surrender to the reality of a particular situation – when I don’t continue to resist, but accept – a softening in my soul occurs. Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release.”[v]
You don’t need to write more letters. You don’t need to do anything more for this family. That would only be to help you alleviate your anxiety. They’ve told you what they need from you, which is space. Your willingness to honor this family’s boundaries from a place of accountability will give you peace, as this is true reconciliation.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[iii] Jacob 4:13
[iv] Boyd J. Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, P. 128
[v] Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, by Sarah Ban Breathnach