Nineteenth century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, is famous for his use of metaphor, irony, and parable in explaining ethical and religious concepts. One particularly famous parable describes a rather odd crime:
Two thieves broke into a jewelry store one night, but instead of stealing the jewels they simply switched the price tags. They put high-priced tags on cheap jewelry and low-priced tags on valuable gems. For several weeks no one noticed. People bought cheap jewelry for exorbitant prices and rare jewels for next to nothing.
Kierkegaard’s point is that we sometimes have difficulty assessing the actual value or cost associated with something. If we are told it is valuable, we believe it. If we are told something is cheap, we accept it as fact. Our concept of “price”, “worth”, and “value” are subject to the costs and benefits that we assign. But what happens if you assign these incorrectly? Worse yet, what happens if you accept a lie about what something is worth? We live in a fallen world where someone has switched all the price tags around. We assign unmerited value to things that are worthless, and overlook priceless items as inconsequential. We take the most valueable things for granted (integrity, honesty, commitment) while minimizing the full consequences of selfish actions.
Sin is expensive
Sin is expensive. Incredibly expensive. But the price isn’t paid in cash, it’s paid in mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. God didn’t create an arbitrary list of “DOs” and DON’Ts” to see if we could follow them. No, He laid out a set of essential guidelines for living. His anger towards lying, stealing, cheating, coveting, murder, jealousy, and pride is because all of these behaviors destroy relationships. Everything that the Bible labels as sin is something that God is trying to protect us from. His desire is love, peace, grace, and harmony with Him and with all of creation. Sin is our defiant rejection of this in an effort to satisfy our own selfish desires. Almost two years ago, I set out on a destructive path of selfishness that culminated in a two-month affair which nearly destroyed my family. I had no idea just how expensive that path would be. Sadly, we are still paying the price for my selfishness.
Every decision has a cost
My economics professor told me years ago: “there is no free lunch.” If someone offers you something for free, you need to dig deeper. Every decision has a cost. Nothing is ever truly free. Even something that appears to be inconsequential initially, may have substantial long-term effects. The decision to eat unhealthy food has both an initial cost and a long-term cost. The same holds for decisions within relationships.
At its core, all sin is selfishness. In some cases, that selfishness leads us to rationalize actions as being relatively inexpensive (“this will only really affect me, not anyone else”, “I can play near this fire and not get burned”). In all cases, the full emotional and mental cost of our selfish choices is not paid until months and years later. I truly believed that my affair in 2012 was a victimless crime. I naively thought it only impacted the two of us. I was dead wrong. In reality, it hurt every person in my family (myself included) and devastated my wife to such a degree that she is still paying the price nearly two years later.
The full cost of my affair
It is difficult to fully appreciate all the ways that my sin has impacted my life and the life of my family. There were initial costs, short-term costs, and long-term costs.
- Integrity – I have always been a fiercely loyal person. Loyal to family, friends, employers, hobbies, churches, etc. But in a moment of weakness, I sold my integrity as quickly as Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. After I sold it once, I bought into the enemies lies that I had ruined everything and I might as well throw in the towel.
- Self-esteem – Worthless. I felt completely worthless. Unworthy of Tammy’s love. Unworthy of God’s calling on my life. My best bet was to cut Tammy and the kids loose and move on so they could heal.
- Stress – I lived a double life for two months. While I was trying to delicately unwind my marriage and let the kids down easy, I was under a terrible amount of stress. I’d never lived a life full of deceit and I don’t recommend it. I was constantly on edge and even developed a habit of grinding my teeth at night.
- Heartache – As our relationship unraveled and I began pushing for divorce, Tammy and the kids were crushed. All six kiddos had been through divorce before. Those old wounds opened right back up, but this time they would be losing their step-siblings that they had grown to love. Tammy was confused, hurt, and frightened about her future and the kids future.
- Distance – My relationship with Tammy and the kids was frayed and distant. I pushed friends away, mentors away, and God away. I was too busy rationalizing my behavior to listen to wise counsel.
Finally, that fateful day at Starbucks arrived. Tammy and I sat down to divide assets and get everything ironed out for the divorce. She confronted me, the Holy Spirit worked on my heart, and we turned a crucial corner. We decided to fight for our marriage and for our family. But the full cost of my selfishness had not been paid yet.
- Wounds – I wounded my children and my wife deeply. It took over two months before one of the girls began to trust me again and three more months for another (the third doesn’t really talk, so we aren’t sure). But Tammy has paid the highest price for my infidelity. Nearly two years later and she still has days that she must battle with ghosts from the past. Every day is a little easier, but sometimes we take a step back. Wounds heal, but they heal crooked.
- Trust – Rebuilding trust has proved to be extremely difficult, as you might imagine. A big part of this is that talk is cheap. So we had to move past just talking about rebuilding trust and actually doing it. We have made great strides, but it hasn’t been easy. Throughout the rebuilding process, we have identified eight rules for re-building trust.
- Peace – I robbed us of peace. I wrestle with forgiving myself. Tammy wrestles with trusting me. On occasion Tammy will have an angry outburst. In other cases, a song, movie, or date on the calendar will bring back a flood of painful memories for one or both of us to unpack.
What have you sold too cheaply?
My selfishness was incredibly expensive. But I only see that now in hindsight. What seemed at first to be a personal decision that impacted no one else, turned out to be slippery slope of pain and anguish that devastated my entire family. I sold my integrity, self-esteem, peace of mind, family unity, and marriage at rock-bottom, discount prices. These things were incredibly precious, and I sold them for pennies on the emotional dollar.
As I have shared my story with other men, I have heard from so many that they see ways in which they have allowed their own selfishness to chip away at the joy in their marriage. We have all sold something precious in exchange for meeting a selfish desire:
- Those little white lies you tell your spouse make things easier on you at the cost of your integrity.
- Pornography costs you pure, genuine intimacy with your mate.
- Discontentment with what you have or where you live robs you both of peace.
- Manipulation might pay out at first, but it poisons your relationship, sowing seeds of bitterness.
- Dismissing your spouse’s need for sexual intimacy could be more convenient, but it damages his or her self-esteem in the process.
- Harsh words may win an argument, but your emotional bond suffers.
Maybe its time to start putting the correct price tags on your own actions within your marriage. Recognize the ways in which you have played fast and loose with your mate’s heart. It’s time to stop the cycle of selfishness and honor your marriage as the precious gift that it is.
So the question is, what have you sold too cheaply?