Derek Webb: On Failure, Liturgy and New Years

The singer-songwriter discusses infidelity and the power of confession.

[Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on Derek Webb's Facebook page. It's used here with his permission.]

I have thought for a long time about how, when, and honestly if I would write this, but with some time and healing behind me, and the start of a new year, I felt it was time.

As many people know by now, my wife and I divorced a little over a year ago. At the time, we put a lot of thought into what we considered an appropriately benign and simple statement, which we released together announcing this sad news. A very good and wise friend—someone who has also gone through some hard things publicly—gave what I consider valuable counsel: while your instinct, and people’s expectation, might be to go into a lot of detail in what you share publicly about a situation like this, it’s rarely a good idea.

But with some perspective and much personal health and growth over the past year, it now feels incongruent to leave the subject unaddressed publicly.

I can imagine that many felt and maybe still feel confused, disappointed, angry even, at hearing the news of our split. There was an understanding, a trust, broken between you and me. I’ve heard it said that trust takes years to build and seconds to break. My hope is that this writing might be the first step toward rebuilding that trust.

***

In the brief statement released about our divorce, it said that I took full responsibility for the events that led to the decision. That is true. The truth is, I cheated. I betrayed the trust of my wife. I betrayed the trust of my family, my friends and my community. And I betrayed the trust and support that many of you have entrusted me with for many, many years.

It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things.

What started as a brief, inappropriate and quickly confessed connection with a very old friend evolved quickly into something more serious, which was hidden from spouses and friends. It continued in secret for a matter of months, was eventually discovered and set into motion the consequences I will now live with for the rest of my life.

More simply said: I was a fool. I believed lies, which led me to tell lies.

This is why temptation is so tempting. It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things. As much as I wish I could, I simply cannot change what I’ve done, nor the resulting consequences. I can only own these despicable actions, which have left me completely devastated and deeply ashamed. Sometimes, no matter how bad you want it or how hard you fight for it, broken things just can't be mended. The only path forward from here is to continue focusing on health and healing, my children and parents and investing in safe community.

That brings me to one of the most important things I can emphasize. Through what’s easily been the hardest few years of my life, many friends left, a precious few stayed and some new friends showed up—for which I am so grateful and without whom I might not have survived. For most of my life (and certainly as these events transpired), I have been dramatically under-resourced with people around me with whom I have been truly vulnerable—who really knew me. The importance of having a handful, or even just one or two safe people in your life with whom you can and do truly share everything, especially the hardest and most shameful things, cannot be overstated.

I see this as one of the most important and life-altering changes that this devastation has brought about in my life. Although it took time, I found a wise therapist, several groups of men with whom I spend regular time, and a handful of friends I consider to be among the best I’ve ever had.

I would plead with you to find a small group of safe men or women, friends who will not respond with platitudes of morality but will instead get down and not only join you, but stay with you in your s**t, in hopes of helping pull you out. Inevitably, they’ll need you to join them in theirs someday.

You might be a man or woman reading this even now, finding yourself exactly where I was two years ago, seriously considering choices that could destroy your life, your family and maybe yourself. If that’s you, please listen to me: what you think you want—what you think you can have—is not real, and you’ll lose real things pursuing it. As an unfortunately and extremely reliable source, please believe me.

So, if you’re standing on that steep ledge, STOP. DON’T DO IT. At the very least, risk telling someone immediately and give yourself the opportunity to hear some understanding and perspective—maybe even some sanity-restoring words that might be the small disruption needed to shake you awake. Tell the whole truth and keep telling it. Your marriage is worth it. Your future is worth it.

***

The tone and spirit of the songs I've written over the last decade or so have sometimes been called “prophetic,” a term I've worn with extreme discomfort. But it turns out my songs have been eerily prophetic in my own story. For years, I've borrowed this language from Ezekiel:

I am a whore, I do confess, but I put you on like a wedding dress and I run down the aisle.

Hard as they have always been to sing, I am especially grateful to have those words to confess today, as I’ve never known them to be more deeply true of myself as I am running down that aisle still.

There has always been some measure of distance between me and the content of my songs. There's a sense in which even the most confessional of my songs, like "Wedding Dress" or its more recent sibling, "Heavy," felt like they were about someone else. So, the accidentally prophetic sting of those songs is especially acute and painful in light of my great failures. Songs like those have never been more difficult to sing, but I've never been more grateful to have to.

I’ve said recently that my songs feel like my personal liturgy, things I don’t necessarily or always believe but I show up to recite again and again in hopes of believing them. If I'm honest, most of the time, I don't believe the words in my songs. I have a hard time believing in a God that could make, let alone love a man who could do such things. So I’ll go on reciting and adding to my liturgy in hopes of believing the words, because I wish to. More than ever, I wish to.

Top Comments

Jay

2

Jay commented…

I give him credit for confessing what he did publicly. Taking responsibility etc. Takes guts. Even though there are still half-truths in what he wrote. Even warns others who are in similar situations to get their head out of the mud. I'm sure that will help some for sure.

I have a further concern...

We say how brave he is to be so vulnerable and confessional, even honest. We say things like we support him, stand behind him, etc. We talk about how heavy the burden he must carry with this. Grace. Yes I agree. I say the same things.

He receives all of the attention. Good and bad. He's the story. Sometimes almost heroic for admitting what he did.

Yet... We say little to nothing is about the victims. What about the support they need... What about what they have to live with... Not him. Them. On and on.

We say 'well that goes without saying'... Does it? Do we really think that? Do we really mean that?

I write this not as an accusation or finger pointing. Just a challenge (myself) included to think through this. I have some biases in this whole situation that probably colors my paradigm, but nonetheless I wanted to bring this up.

I think the following article and quotes by John Hollingsworth fit where I'm going with this...

"Public confession is highly valued in our culture. Abusers are "brave" for admitting wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the victims suffer in silence."

"Too often, Christians mistake the transgressors, not the transgressed, as the ones most in need of grace."

http://boz.religionnews.com/2015/12/11/an-unholy-alliance-when-mob-forgi...

Amanda Stephenson

1

Amanda Stephenson commented…

Thank you so much for sharing this. His honesty is so amazing and powerful. So many people and Christians get caught in lies and temptation and it's in keeping their reality hidden that sin has so much power. The more we talk about these issues with grace, the more Christ has the power to heal. Shame destroys lives, and grace saves quite literally. I pray that we as Christians learn to surround others with grace instead of shame and give them the courage to bring their struggles into the light!

12 Comments

Steve Cornell

344

Steve Cornell commented…

Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. Our Churches must become places where we "watch out for each other" instead of "watching each other" like pharisaic social cannibals, https://thinkpoint.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/focus-2-march-2012.mp3

Jay

2

Jay commented…

I give him credit for confessing what he did publicly. Taking responsibility etc. Takes guts. Even though there are still half-truths in what he wrote. Even warns others who are in similar situations to get their head out of the mud. I'm sure that will help some for sure.

I have a further concern...

We say how brave he is to be so vulnerable and confessional, even honest. We say things like we support him, stand behind him, etc. We talk about how heavy the burden he must carry with this. Grace. Yes I agree. I say the same things.

He receives all of the attention. Good and bad. He's the story. Sometimes almost heroic for admitting what he did.

Yet... We say little to nothing is about the victims. What about the support they need... What about what they have to live with... Not him. Them. On and on.

We say 'well that goes without saying'... Does it? Do we really think that? Do we really mean that?

I write this not as an accusation or finger pointing. Just a challenge (myself) included to think through this. I have some biases in this whole situation that probably colors my paradigm, but nonetheless I wanted to bring this up.

I think the following article and quotes by John Hollingsworth fit where I'm going with this...

"Public confession is highly valued in our culture. Abusers are "brave" for admitting wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the victims suffer in silence."

"Too often, Christians mistake the transgressors, not the transgressed, as the ones most in need of grace."

http://boz.religionnews.com/2015/12/11/an-unholy-alliance-when-mob-forgi...

Stephanie Hazeem

2

Stephanie Hazeem replied to Jay's comment

I agree 100%. Something just felt icky about it...... His poor wife. It must have broke her heart, and she had to stumble upon it.... I guess it's good that he is coming forward so people aren't pointing the blame at her... but I wouldn't have created a big article about it.... Christian evengelical culture loves this public confession stuff though... You are right, in some ways way are made the hero... I think little needs to be said... yeah, he did the right thing.... but he also cheated. I can't pat him on the back for hurting the woman that loved him so much.

Tyson Vincent

2

Tyson Vincent commented…

Derek,

I could tell you were going through a rough time, though I couldn't put my finger on why. I thought you were renegotiating whether you were going to abandon the faith.

I'm glad you have not. I respect your honesty. Lean into Jesus. The shame is not being broken but failing to fix what has been broken.

Pursue your children. Chase after what is right. I pray for healing, restoration, Shalom.

Andee White Morris

1

Andee White Morris commented…

Derek. Wish we were still friends. It's been forever! Thanks for writing honestly. FINALLY!! What a gift you have given Christians everywhere! Don't you think we as Christians begin to perform in an effort to "be good" or "moral" bc that's what we think God wants? Churches preach on "the five steps to sinning less" and we end up killing our desires in desperation to be pleasing to God. Shame enters and we begin to think we are bad...our desires are bad...they are the enemy! So we shame ourselves for wanting - whatever it may be - and begin to deaden our heart piece by piece until all we have left is our performance. Sadly it takes drastic circumstances to realize that our performance is pointless. We can't be good all the time!
After years of cycling thru performing, pleasing, and shaming myself, I finally learned that I was all wrong. My actions are NOT what God is after. He is after my heart! But, oh sh$&! I killed my heart way long ago trying to be good!...How can I offer my heart when it's a stranger to me now? These last couple years I have been on a journey to find it. And the one thing I know is - I HAVE to recover my desires to find my heart. And i finally realized...my desires aren't bad...they never were...they were just misunderstood and misdirected. Derek...don't go to a place of shame. It doesn't do anything good! Seek understanding! Have sympathy for yourself and learn from this! I know you are. So happy for you. And those friends you mentioned? Awesome!! We weren't meant to work thru pain alone. Anyway, I just had to say thank you for being real. It's beautiful. And remember: Jesus only got crazy mad at the Pharisees...not the sinners. We must drop the costumes!! Thanks Derek!!

Stephanie Hazeem

2

Stephanie Hazeem commented…

In my seven years of being with my partner I only feared cheating once.... and cheating is not in my blood, nor is it a part of me... At that point I knew there were things in the relationship that were a problem, were not changing, and I had to end things.... and I did...I still love my ex deeply... However, I had done everything I possibly could. Things just weren't working... If cheating ever even crosses your mind step away from that person and the situation and ask your self honestly why you want to cheat.... It may change you, and your relationship for the better to do some deep soul searching.

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