Ben had been around her most of his life. He knew her name and she knew his. Acquaintances, that’s what they were. The two were cordial in public and congenial whenever they were in each other’s company. But behind the pleasantries and under the surface she aroused strong emotions in Ben. At first it was hatred. There were seasons, even years, when she repulsed him with her quirks and dysfunctions. Sometimes her actions and attitudes made her look just plain ugly. “How could anyone go near her? Who could love her? Why would anyone give her a second glance?” he would say with disdain. During that period Ben didn’t want to be in her vicinity, pass by her corner, or look in her direction.
I’m not sure when it happened, it’s very hard to pinpoint, but Ben’s outlook changed. Like the swing of a giant pendulum his hatred became infatuation (love’s twisted second cousin). She was now intriguing, fascinating, and beguiling. Instead of contempt, he began to see her broken and in need. A strange compassion and attraction began to stir in him. Others recognized it and a few even encouraged it.
Ben told a few trusted friends about how his sensibilities were changing and they assured him what he was feeling was right. Without caution or boundaries he pursued her. I suppose it was a relationship that could have existed appropriately, but in his youthful idealism lines were crossed. Eventually, he gave himself to her. Steeling away late at night or early in the morning was common. Ben often sacrificed sleep, money, and friendships to serve her or be with her.
He described her allure as strong and innate as the pull of a light to moths. Ben became short-sighted at best and dishonest at worst. He was under her spell. She made him feel competent, smart, and valuable. She showed him respect and seemed to return the love he gave her. Ben fluttered and flew and banged his head, just like the moths, as he yielded to her magnetism.
Unfortunately, Ben was not on this journey alone. He wasn’t just chasing an innocent obsession. Ben had given his heart and promised his devotion to his college sweetheart. She was a wonderful person; smart, tender, and perceptive. She was also hurt and unhappy because she began to sense what was going on and feared to speak the words out loud, “You’ve fallen in love with another.”
As life became more compartmentalized and loyalties were obviously divided Ben’s wife mustered the courage to confront him. “It’s her or me,” she said in a tone which could only be described as anger mixed with pain. Ben didn’t deny the relationship but attempt to reframe it as proper. He also tried to deflect his wife’s emotion and promised to comply with her “unfounded” ultimatum. And so he left their conversation a bit bruised yet hopeful that this storm had passed.
For a while Ben kept his distance from his mistress. He did his best to set up a parameter around his heart and mind. He tried to remind himself that his identity was to be found in his savior, his intimacy was to be fulfilled in his spouse, and his value came from his Father. But even today, years later the voice of the mistress still calls to him. She often whispers her enticing words when busyness robs the couple of conversation or when Ben is uncertain of his worth. At times she is so bold she shouts her provocation at him and makes promises she cannot keep.
Eventually, Ben’s words, demeanor, and posture had to change. He had to make it clear that he was through with her. He was not open to her flirtations. He defied her advances. He took back the keys to his identity, masculinity, and confidence that he had let her hold for so long.
Anyone in any vocation can become a workaholic. But for those in ministry the church can become a mistress. We will rationalize doing things with and for ‘her’ that would never be tolerated in other relationships. Without prayerful diligence, we can fall into a twisted and codependent relationship that can rob us of our physical and spiritual well-being, rendering us little help to anyone who we long to love.