"Mark – Four Engagements But Not One Become His Wife?"

Mark came for counseling in his mid thirties. He was referred by a mutual friend. His willingness to counsel with me was the result of six relationships that had progressed to engagements, but always ended suddenly for no apparent reason. This pattern in Mark’s life spanned a period of fifteen years.
I had always heard good things about Mark. I had seen him a few times when I visited his church, and I always sensed he was pleasant and genuine.

During our first two three-hour counseling sessions, I learned a lot about Mark. I started with asking him questions about the things that were important in his life. God, church, serving others, family and friends, and favorite activities was his reply.

As we talked, I realized that Mark did not just appear to be a great person he really was genuine. This man had a strong faith and love for God that manifested itself in a joy for living, a great team spirit and work ethic (both at church and in his career), a great sense of humor, a great gift of encouraging others, and a compassionate desire to serve others.

As I turned our session back to the issue of six broken engagements, Mark assured me that he had prayed about each girl for several weeks or longer before even asking her out.  These dates where always either with other friends or alone but always in a public place. Mark continued to pray that God would give him wisdom and help him to not be led astray or to lead anyone else astray.

As we started from the most recent relationship and worked back to the first broken engagement, we talked about the things he and each woman seemed to have in common, the things they talked about and prayed about, and the activities they most enjoyed together. Each relationship seemed incredibly healthy.

I asked Mark to tell me about any similarities and/or differences he could recall in those six women, and about any similarities or differences in the way Mark felt as he courted each of them. From what I could see, Mark had more success during each of six relationships than most people ever find in just one.

The love that had grown in each of Mark's relationships seemed to be rooted in a shared faith; with mutual goals, interests and values; mutual respect; physical attraction and a genuine liking of each other as a person. The content of their conversations seemed completely appropriate for people who were trying to get to know one another, before they ever talked about the possibility that God might bless them together in marriage.

Each of the relationships led to a joyful engagement, with the full support of friends, family and church leaders. In all but the very first relationship Mark and his girlfriend, had both willingly sought pastoral counseling before they were engaged? Only one concern ever surfaced in counseling with any pastor – Why had each of Mark's previous relationships progressed to the point of engagement, but then suddenly ended for no apparent reason. In none of the relationships was there ever any sudden discovery of hidden sin, deception or betrayal – none of the stuff pastors and counselors often look for. No one had yet searched hard enough for the answer to the riddle of Mark's broken engagements.

I could tell it was very embarrassing for Mark to admit that he kept trying to have a relationship that would make it past engagement to a fully consummated and successful marriage. But, where Mark may have wondered how I might judge him, he obviously had a clear conscience about his prayers, his intentions, and his actions in each relationship. He prayed, once for nearly two full years, before he even considered letting a relationship begin after a heartrending breakup with his prior fiancée.
I could see that he wondered if I doubted his word and his sincerity. I assured Mark that I was not going to judge him, or quickly conclude that he simply needed to remain celibate. I was not going to assume that Mark was concealing some sin, or that he was living in denial about something others may have tried to tell him all these years.

But, I did tell him six engagements don't start and end this abruptly and consistently without there being some “root issue” to resolve. I wondered out loud with him, “How could a man ‘reap' six apparently healthy relationships with women who each went on to an apparently healthy marriage to someone else, and with not one of them harboring resentment toward Mark of any kind?”

As we combed back through each apparently healthy relationship, I heard no clue to this mystery until Mark made a comment I simply may have missed during the first pass through his account of those relationships. Mark said that each girl after she was engaged, in one way or another, had suddenly begun to feel that someone else she already knew, “would be better for Mark as a wife than she.”

How fascinating! Each girl actually told him that she felt he would be better off with a different woman. In fact, during one of his engagements, his current fiancée and a prior fiancée conversed. They both agreed that Mark would be happier in the end with another woman they both knew. They weren't blaming him for anything! They simply believed that this other woman could be a better wife to Mark in the long run.

Mark endured breakup, did everything he knew to do to deal with the pain and disappointment, and dove into the Word of God, prayer and fellowship with other brothers in the church for nearly two years before he crossed paths with the woman the previous two fiancées had suggested he date. The exact same cycle repeated itself within the next eleven to twelve months. That last breakup was what caused Mark to be willing to see me.

Was Mark reaping fickle women and he just couldn't see it for what it was? There's some element of that in here for sure. Or was there the chance that Mark was unknowingly an heir (in his flesh) and part of a family in which there was some “roots” of pride, self-righteousness, superiority or a sense of entitlement that these women sensed and responded to by disqualifying themselves and promoting someone else as his future mate? That also seemed likely given the confidence Mark exuded.

I asked about both possibilities and Mark shared with me that both his Dad and Mom were very intelligent, gifted, compassionate and faithful people. His Dad was a physician, and his Mom a teacher. Both were very active in the community. Both of them were very loving and supportive of each other, and very affectionate and involved parents in Mark's life as a child.

When I suggested that perhaps not everything was as it appeared between his parents. Mark got a little protective of his parents, especially his mom, and he insisted that he really had a great childhood. I reminded Mark that something real was pulling or pushing these women out of his life.

Just in case there was some merit to what I had said, he did let me pray for him to be cleansed and freed from any roots of fickleness or the other issues like pride or self-righteousness that may have existed, without his knowledge, in his parents, grandparents or other previous ancestors.

Our Third Session
Mark called me a few days after our first session, sounding very serious, and asked if he could come in sooner than his appointment three weeks out. The next day Mark came in very upset. A major consequence of his history of broken engagements had been brought to his attention the day before, and much more harshly than in the past.

Mark admitted to his pastor that he was seeking some counseling in hopes of getting to the “roots” of his pattern of broken engagements. Mark said his pastor replied tersely that his relationship history had already caused many elders in the church and leaders in the denomination to doubt Mark's suitability for ministry as a pastor, which is what Mark believed God wanted him to be, and he thought his pastor was supportive of that. His pastor commented that no one would want to put Mark forth as a pastor if his life was going to appear like a soap opera.

Mark pleaded with his pastor to remember that he had walked uprightly in each of those relationships, and that not one of the women ever cited a single complaint about Mark as their reason for ending the engagement. Not one had suggested they felt hurt or any resentment. Mark was the one always left stunned that a woman would one day love him, and even publicly rejoice in their plans to marry, and then suddenly appear so willing to pass him over to someone else. Even if they insecurely felt some other woman was better suited to Mark, for some unexplained reason, he could not understand why any woman would give up her man so easily.

The pastor gave Mark no comfort or encouragement, only a comment that he felt Mark's pattern had already done insurmountable damage to his chance of pastoring a church in that denomination. His spiritual gifts and talents aside, Mark's personal life was always calling too much attention to himself, and that just wouldn't be good for a congregation.

His pastor's words really hurt Mark. He had never tried to counsel with Mark about this bizarre pattern in his life. He and others had even spoken about Mark in negative terms. God now had Mark's attention in a different way, and I had an unmistakable clue about the “root” we were looking for.

His pastor's words showed me that Mark's history was causing him to be illegitimized in the eyes of others in spite of his obvious love for God and desire to serve people. Therefore, I told Mark that if God demanded me to guess, I would have said that unbeknownst to Mark, he must have been; one, either conceived illegitimately and adopted out as an infant to a foster family or adopted parents; or two, he had been initially unwanted by a young mother who was not ready to shoulder the responsibilities of motherhood, and therefore he was passed off to one or more care-givers during his early infancy.

I explained to Mark that being an illegitimate child carried in the womb of a conflicted mother, and passed to another care-giver or even to another family altogether, could not only cause Mark to “reap” the strange kind of rejection that he had experienced with women, but also to “reap” being disqualified for ministry by others as his pastor seemed very certain of. Illegitimate children are usually denied the very first right of life – the right to be a blessing in their mother's womb. Later they often fail to find their place in life, or others will not let them move into it. (Deut 23:2) suggests that "illegitimate children will not stand in the midst of God's people" possibly meaning they will not find the place where they fit and are recognized and supported. Even if adopted parents had subsequently loved him deeply and consistently it wouldn't change the nature of what had been sowed into him.

Mark was hurting, and he knew I was only trying to help him, so he didn't walk out offended, but he did laugh as if I was truly crazy. He said his mom had been the most loving and faithful woman he had ever known in his life.

I asked Mark if he would let me pray, just in case there was some truth to what I was saying even if such illegitimacy had occurred several generations back in the family ancestry because the biblical effects of illegitimacy were to last for ten generations.

I also suggested that we “bring to The Cross” any possible idolatry of his mother that might be blocking other women from believing that they could really be good enough for him. And I wanted us to pray again about any pride, self-righteousness, superiority or entitlement that may have been in Mark's ancestry, because that could also cause someone to quit an engagement to Mark thinking he deserved better.
If you have read this far, I almost hope you are thinking that “This guy is not a counselor, he's a nut.” Read on to find out the truth.
Within about three days of us praying my “just-in-case” prayers over Mark, his father came to town and called his son to meet him for dinner. Mark called me to ask for wisdom about how he could open up this topic for discussion with his father. I told him to just tell his father a crazy friend had offered a weird analysis to his problem with women and with leaders in the church.
Later I was told that at dinner Mark was anxious, but he gradually got the courage to remind his father of the six broken engagements that he had suffered in the last fifteen years. He told his father he had been talking to a friend who was a pastor and counselor, and that this friend had said some of Mark's relationship history was similar to that experienced by illegitimate children who end up raised by someone other than their mother. Mark nervously and half-jokingly asked his father if their was any possibility that Mark had been conceived before his parents were actually married, or if someone else took care of him for his first few months of life while Mom may have adjusted to the idea of being a mother.

Mark's father got a very serious look on his face. He put his fork down and immediately admitted that Mark's mother really should be consulted before his father said anything. Mark insisted that his father just tell him the truth, and his father complied with the understanding that Dad would call Mom first and not Mark no matter how Mark felt about the truth to be revealed.
Just before his parents had married, Mark's parents had a terrible argument. His father felt to blame, and it ended so badly that he was sure the engagement was off (1st key element). Dad had run to an old girlfriend for comfort with whom he'd never had an argument. (2nd key element). They slept together, the ex-girlfriend obviously hoping he had decided she was better for him (3rd key element). The next day Mark's dad chose his fiancée as the more suitable wife, when he and she talked, reconciled their relationship and decided to continue with their wedding plans (4th key element). Mark's dad told his ex-girlfriend that he had made a terrible mistake in coming to see her, and that he was back with his fiancée. He wished her the best, and without any resentment she also wished him the best (5th key element ).
In two months Dad married the woman Mark had always known as his "Mom." Unbeknownst to Mark's father, his ex-girlfriend had conceived a baby in their one-night reunion (6th key element ). As soon as she knew herself pregnant she determined that she would carry the baby, and then give it to his father, because she knew he did want a family and she believed he could give Mark a better life (7th key element ). She carried his baby in that state of mind, without any resentment, the whole pregnancy, and without telling Mark's father about her condition or her intentions. In her mind it would be the best thing for the baby (8th key element).

About nine months after his wedding Dad came home late one night from a seminar to find his wife sitting on the porch in a rocking chair feeding a little baby (9th key element  ). Mom looked at him and in essence said "I forgive you for not telling me that you were intimate with your former girlfriend after we argued that night. She assured me that you had no idea she was pregnant when we married. She wants us to raise “Mark” because we can give him a better life than she could. I'll accept whatever you decide about that, and if you decide we should keep him I will raise him as my own son so as long as we never tell him that I am not his real mother and we don't speak of her again(10th key element)."

Dad only had one conversation with Mark's birth mother to be sure of her intentions. She indeed wanted to fully surrender Mark. She had no intention of causing herself or them any confusion or pain by staying involved in Mark's life. She loved him but she wanted the best for him. (By emphasizing what she believed I am not agreeing that what she did was “best.”)

Mark's “Mom” raised him with great affection, but she did live with a fear that one day Mark would learn she was not his biological mother, and he would be hurt at the lie she made his father agree to. There were times when they talked about whether there would ever be a time when Mark needed to be told the truth, but she always remembered his birth mother telling her that it was truly best that she and Mark's father raise him, and that she not be involved. The agreement the two women made that evening was honored, and the vow Dad agreed to was only broken when God determined it should be.

Mark came and we talked about what was sowed into him by two former lovers coming back together for just one night, when at least one of them may have felt it was going to be for much longer. His birth mother had already grieved their breakup months ago, and so one night might have left her disappointed but not necessarily heartbroken again. Hence the grace she had to carry Mark as a gift to his father.

We talked about what it may have been like for his mother to love him in the womb and then for just two months after, until she got the courage to give him up permanently and completely. It was a very emotional turning point in Mark's life to talk about this. We also talked about how his “Mom” received him as a gift she did not expect, and yet how she may have feared the truth coming to the light in an unpleasant way in the future.

Mark could not help but wonder why God let him go through six engagements before the truth was revealed. I told him it was my belief that Mark was indeed going to be a pastor, but he would be one who did not ignore the truth of “sowing” and “reaping” in the lives of those in his congregation. He would know that people often have deeply rooted issues they can neither control nor fully understand until God reveals.

As great a love each woman had for Mark - the one who gave him up and the one who invested so much in him - I told him that according to Jesus, and to the apostle Paul, we still needed to crucify with Christ the traits (or parts) of Mark that grew out of his eleven months with his mother, and his subsequent years of being loved and yet lied to by his parents. We needed to forgive them for the pattern of relationships that was “sowed” into him and later “reaped” so painfully and repeatedly, and for not having enough spiritual wisdom to see what was really happening in Mark's life.

I had no fear that we would damage anything precious in Mark by such a harsh approach to the baby that was given up because Jesus said “Whatever is born of flesh is flesh and the flesh profits nothing.” and also that " nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been kept secret, but that it should come to light. Mark 4:22 (NASB). The apostle Paul later said that “Even that which was once to my profit I now count loss in favor of gaining Christ.”

We needed to bring to The Cross the baby that was carried and given up in such a manner that it became the rule for Mark's flesh, instead of something that only happened once. Scripture says Mark was “crucified with Christ,” and he had now discovered something more about this old Mark that needed to be “put off” as the old man.
Mark was given love as three people best understood it, but Jesus came and died for Mark and invited Mark to “deny himself, pick up his cross, die daily and follow Him.” Transformation is needed even by those who were deeply and sacrificially loved by parents and others.

Mark and I prayed to forgive all who contributed to this pattern in his life. We broke the curse of illegitimacy that had kept Mark from really coming fully into his place with a wife and with the body of Christ.

He forgave his birth mom for carrying him in nine months of her sacrificial attitude, because we could not be sure that God was the author of it. He forgave her for basically telling him that he did not really belong to the person whose womb God opened to conceive him, and for teaching him that women love you and then give you up, because of their convictions, when you certainly do not yet agree with those convictions yourself.

He forgave his mom for giving him away to someone else out of fear that she would not have the means or the grace to raise him as well as another could, and for all the times he thereafter “reaped” a woman telling him he'd do better married to someone else.

Days later Mark said he felt like a new man. Within a year he was married to a wonderful Christian girl and is now a pastor in the very denomination that had doubted his suitability. Mark has had no problem with his wife believing that someone else would make him a better wife. Mark has counseled many young girls in the community who have gotten pregnant outside of marriage, and helped them and their families come to the place of trusting God to give them grace to raise the child placed in their daughter's womb. He has counseled the young men who have fathered children outside of marriage, and brought them to a place spiritually where they could trust God to give them grace to become husbands and fathers.

You may still be unconvinced about the truth and the power of “sowing and reaping” in our lives. I hope not because it's truth you may one day face when it's too late to undo the consequences. You may feel it's unfair or even blasphemous to suggest that such a hidden thing can hinder and hurt someone so much. I understand your pity and your horror, but nonetheless “sowing and reaping” is true. Perhaps if more people understood this, they would seek God's grace to obey Him more fully rather than sin and cause immeasurable consequences in the lives of spouses, children, sons and daughters in law, and grandchildren, etc.

Mark was able to see that he had idolized his mom, and idolized marriage and finding a girl who would never leave him. He had often been a rescuer in the flesh and not in the Spirit.
If Mark had been taught about crucifying the flesh with its deep longings and idols, the Holy Spirit would have revealed the truth to him sooner for it is the Spirit of Truth, and the Counselor that guides into all truth and restores truth in our inward parts.

To be an effective pastor who is faithful to the message of the Cross Mark needed to learn in a very intimate way that people need the work of The Cross in their lives even if they were greatly loved in their childhoods.

C/O Cross of Christ Ministries
4132 Annistown Road Snellville, Georgia 30039