Frog in a Pot
How God delivers from self-deception and co-dependency.
by Susan Johnson*
“You expected me to love you — just for existing.”
My soon-to-be ex-husband left me to ponder these words as he walked out the door. Waves of guilt and sadness washed over me.
I had left Ernie nine months before. Our attempts at reconciliation had failed, and he wanted a divorce. My husband had driven from Minnesota to Wisconsin to tie up our loose ends. He handed me a legal pad on which he had calculated our financial contributions. According to his tabulations, I was entitled to only one-fourth of the sale of the house. I knew better than to fight him.
I could only blame myself. Ernie and I had met at Bible college. For two months we were the best of friends. We attended church together and co-taught a Bible school class for inner-city children. When our friendship grew into romance, things began to change.
A popular myth claims that if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature, he won’t realize he is doomed until it’s too late. Like the frog, I deceived myself into thinking I was safe with Ernie, when in fact I was in danger of losing my very self.
God tried to drop me hints about Ernie’s true nature. For example, Ernie had started to talk down to me at times, and he’d developed a harsh tone. I chose to ignore God’s warnings, telling myself that I was imagining things.
I was a people-pleaser and love-seeker; I yearned for the affection of a man. I was the ideal choice for Ernie, a man with strong perfectionist tendencies.
Ernie wanted to change me. First, it was my eating habits, then my clothing styles. I ignored all the red flags screaming, “He is trying to control you!”
Seeing the truth
Eventually I realized that Ernie was not the man God had in mind for me. His Christian walk was weak at best, and his mind-set was more worldly than godly.
One night I tried to break it off with him, but failed. He had written me a poem, eloquently describing how he, a lifelong rambler, had found his home with me.
I couldn’t bear to leave him. I allowed love-hunger and the fear of heartbreak to take precedence over godly wisdom and common sense.
Ernie pushed me to get married, despite my desire to wait until after my graduation. “I love you, Susan,” he said. “I want you to be my wife. I would live with you anywhere.”
I couldn’t say no. Eleven months after meeting Ernie, I married him.
It was not long before I realized my mistake. Ernie verbally abused me. He blamed me for his angry outbursts, insisting I had provoked him. For a while, I tried to defend myself against his negative comments, but when that backfired, I stopped arguing.
In time I began to see myself as overweight, simple-minded, and unattractive. The walls I built to protect myself from Ernie’s constant nitpicking and scolding were not thick enough to shield me from his vicious verbal attacks.
I was not the perfect wife, for sure. I was emotionally needy, immature, and undisciplined in my spending habits. Ernie, on the other hand, was hard-working and thrifty.
I loved Ernie and was faithful to him. But I could not be who he wanted me to be. After a while, I gave up trying to please him and obeyed him only out of fear. We became more like roommates than spouses.
Two years before I left Ernie, I made some new friends who changed my life. They pointed out good qualities in me and encouraged me in my strengths. The cobwebs fell from my eyes, and I realized I wasn’t worthless after all. I rediscovered my true personality.
When I shared these thoughts with Ernie, he became angry. He insisted that my old friends secretly agreed with his assessments of me. When confronted, these friends adamantly denied his claims.
My protective walls fell down. The chronic headache I’d endured for five years became so intense that I despaired of life. I became seriously depressed and took a medical leave from work.
Out of the pot
Not long after that, I had a confrontation with Ernie that drained the last of my love for him. I decided that, against biblical principles, it was time for me to leave. I could see no other way out of my pain.
In two months, I leapt from Ernie’s boiling pot into the safety of my brother’s home in Wisconsin. Living away from my husband was in many ways a great relief. I saw my past life with fresh clarity and wondered how I had put up with Ernie so long. I knew that divorce was a sin, but I didn’t want to go back to Ernie until he changed. I felt that I could not bear any more of his abuse.
God helped me find an amazing church right away. I began to seek Him in a way that I hadn’t since Bible school.
Because of the encouragement of devoted Christians in my church, I started working things out with Ernie. I cried night and day for several weeks just thinking about living with him again, but finally I began to feel God’s peace.
My new Christian friends gave me biblical advice and helpful reading materials on marriage. I discovered that I had failed in many ways in my role as a wife.
I came to realize that I had been relying on myself rather than on God to deal with the hard issues in my marriage. I had sought after the affection and approval of my husband more than I had aimed to please God. Perhaps with what I was learning from God, I could make the marriage work.
Then Ernie changed his mind. He’d been overseas for two months on a self-directed missions trip and now wished to live there permanently. I didn’t fit into his plans.
I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. I signed his divorce papers and took my portion of the sale of the house.
God was my strength through it all. He opened my eyes to my own sins, and I grew more in my relationship with Him than I had in decades. I confessed my sin of disobedience in marrying a man God had told me not to marry. I repented of my co-dependency and asked His forgiveness for not being a better wife. I drew close to God, knowing only He could understand my pain and heal it. Only He could help me to forgive Ernie — and myself.
Leaving the past behind
God has brought several women into my life who have suffered through similar trials. With God’s help, we are putting the past behind us and learning to depend on God, instead of on people, to meet our emotional needs. God has helped me forgive Ernie. He and I even talk once in a while.
I’ve learned that when I feel trapped and without hope, God can provide the wisdom and help to survive the fiery trial. He can use the worst of my mistakes for my good — if I let Him.
* Names have been changed.