I loved my husband and we had such a happy marriage, why then did my heart leap and I feel the flicker of an old flame when I opened my email and saw who it was from?
I worked at my desk, noting flakes of snow fluttering down outside my office window. In the windowsill, a family photograph warmed my heart. The “you’ve-got-mail” chime sounded, and I glanced at my email. Scanning the name, my heartbeat quickened. Steven, my first boyfriend. My first kiss. My first everything. I opened the email:
“Hi, Trish, I found you on this classmate site. Remember me? I’d love to reconnect.”
A few years after Steven and I ended our relationship, I became a Christian. I’d married a wonderful man, and we had three great kids. Yet right away, my curiosity about Steven—and my longing to reconnect—surprised me. Why did I feel the flicker of an old flame, when I was so happy with my John?
Someone Help Me
Steven and I emailed each other a few times that day, sharing about our lives and families. And that night, when I didn’t want to mention our communication to my husband, John, I knew there was a problem.
The second day, Steven admitted he was getting a divorce, confessed he’d never stopped caring for me and told me he’d named his daughter after me. I was flattered. My chest warmed. And I knew all communication had to stop. I needed help.
I turned to my closest friends for help, spilling the details and confessing that I needed their prayer. They filled my inbox with Scripture verses, notes of concern, and similar stories. I was surprised by how many others had struggled with the flicker of an old flame at one time or another.
Feeling the strength of my friends’ support, on the third day, I approached John. I told him about Steven and confessed that the emails had stirred up old emotions.
John held me, he cried, then he did something I’ll never forget: He took my hands and prayed for me. He prayed that I would be strong and that God would heal my heart and that I would understand how much I was loved and adored by my family, especially him.
Even though feelings for Steven lingered, I’d never felt so loved by John. It’s one thing to do everything right and feel appreciated by my husband; it’s another to feel weak and confused yet see the obvious love in John’s eyes.
Revealing the Past
After talking with John, I emailed Steven and told him that I loved my husband. I put an end to all communication with Steven. The emails stopped, but the memories lingered. It was as though a memory box hidden deep in my heart had been reopened and its contents refused to be stuffed back inside. I prayed God would take the memories away, but I felt alone as I fought against them.
One night, my friends joined me for prayer, and afterward, I realized I’d been trying to hide my past from God. Sure, I’d confessed my sins after giving my heart to Christ, but I hadn’t specifically confessed this relationship. And I hadn’t confessed how much I still wanted to be adored by this person.
That night as I lay in bed, in my mind’s eye, I took Jesus’ hand and walked through those memories. With God’s help, I saw myself as a young, vulnerable teen who wanted to feel beautiful and loved. I wept as I realized Jesus had been right there waiting for me to turn to Him.
With each memory, I asked Jesus to give me an undivided heart for Him and my husband.
Guarding my Heart
Because we live in a world where we can Google anyone at any time, I now take steps to guard my heart. I tell John about contacts with people from my past, no matter how innocent. I also avoid building close friendships with anyone of the opposite sex.
I’ve continued to ask Jesus to filter my heart, praying Psalm 139:23-24,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Yes, I was forgiven for the things I’d done, but Jesus didn’t want me to ignore the past. He wanted to redeem those experiences, to heal me.
Nearly 15 years have passed since that day when I got the email. While the struggle was hard, today my prayer is the same that David prayed in Psalm 30:2, “O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.”
Steps You Can Take in Dealing With the Flicker of an Old Flame
- Pray for strength.
- Let your spouse know the whole story.
- Ask your friends to pray for you and to encourage you.
- Guard your heart and avoid building close relationships with those of the opposite sex.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for my marriage and for my spouse. Help me to continue to guard my heart and to keep it for you, for my husband, and for my family. Thank you for your gift of forgiveness and love.
In Jesus’ name, amen
Beth H says
Tricia, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think this happens more than people realize, particularly with vehicles like Facebook making it so easy to reconnect. I have had memories stirred by old flames, too, and have been SO grateful when God showed me exactly why those things didn’t work out. It’s hard to open up about them, though, because it’s embarrassing! I appreciate your vulnerability.
Tricia Goyer says
Thank you for sharing, Beth. It is hard opening up but I needed John to know the truth so I would have accountability. I needed my friends’ words and prayers, too. I don’t know where I’d be if I’d tried to hide it and deal with it myself … probably NOT in a good place!
Teresa H says
Tricia, thanks so much for opening up about that experience. I am in the midst of recovering from an old flame. 2 months ago, I was contacted by my first love. We had loosely kept in touch over the years and he was married, or I was in a relationship. I have been divorced for 14 years, And with no relationship at all for over 2 years. His wife had left him 18 months ago and he was alone and thinking of me often. He assured me they were divorcing once they had their taxes done, they hadn’t seen in each other in 10 months and she won’t even answer texts or calls from him.
I told him of my faith, and felt it inappropriate to see him, even with his claim the marriage is on paper only. He convinced me his marriage was finished and over. We started talking and texting several times a day, everyday! The connection was still there. We live in different states, but he kept saying how much he wished I was closer so we could see each other. Coincidentally, I had a trip planned back to my home town that coming month to visit my family. So I did see him. 1 week visit turned into 3 weeks. He asked me to stay with him longer, at his home. I was thrilled and excited and felt happy for the first time, I can barely remember in how long.
It turns out his estranged wife starting texting him. She missed him. Wanted to see if they had a chance to make things work out. And he let me go. Just dismissed me, with apologies, of course. And asked for my understanding, he wanted to fix his family (they each brought their own children onto that marriage).
So I am left here still reeling in the pain and regret. I went against what God told us is right. And I am dealing with the consequences of my sin. So full of guilt, shame, humiliation.
Please pray for me. and the hundreds, if not thousands of other women who get sucked into the seduction of an old flame!!!
Tricia Goyer says
I am SO sorry that you had to go through that!! I think maybe you were protected from something worse later. May God heal your heart!!! Hugs to you!
Thank you, Tricia for sharing. I am divorced because my former husband could not resist the lure of an old flame. Desires. longings and “what-ifs” can have a strong pull even for those who equip themselves before the situation arises. So thankful that people like you are willing to share out of their hurt and past experiences. God uses the horrific and heartbreaking to bring glory to himself. To God be the Glory!
Tricia Goyer says
I am so sorry about your divorce. The enemy likes to steal and destroy. I pray my story can help others!!
Debbie Rhoades says
Oh, Tricia. You would be floored to know how many women have been through this. I think this is one of Satan’s favorite tricks to play on women. It happened to me, and as I was starting to read this blog today, my mind was shouting, “don’t do it, don’t talk to him, don’t answer his email!!!!!”. I am so very glad you shared with John and that he and God helped you through this. You are so right about not forming any close relationships with members of the opposite sex. I have a childhood friend that I went to church with that I dearly love BUT I am in no way attracted to him nor would I ever betray my husband or my wedding vows with anyone. I keep most of my male friendships at an arm’s length and make sure that everyone knows that I think my husband is my gift from God. (I am not trying to toot my own horn here; I have learned through bad experiences in the past and won’t make them again). Thank you for sharing today.
Tricia Goyer says
You’re welcome, Debbie!! Yes, keeping male friendships at an arm’s length is so important!
James L. Rubart says
I’ve had two old girlfriends contact me recently. There haven’t been any feelings from my side, and I haven’t sensed any feelings coming my way whatsoever, but your post has woken me up to the possibility they might be feeling things even if it isn’t obvious to me.
But I do have to say the conversations (via e-mail) felt extremely above board in all respects. And they’re not ongoing. If they were, I’d see that as a warning light.
I would like to weigh in on the male/female relationship thing since I’m a guy, and I work in an industry where I’m around a lot of women and have made a lot of women friends (like you, Tricia) and I think a wise man (and woman) will always build safe-guards into their marriage.
First, I have a male friend that comes to a majority of the writing conferences I go to (which is where I’m around a lot of women). We have a pact that if either of us feels the other is acting inappropriately toward a woman, we will call the other guy out.
Second, I give Darci 100% access to my e-mail and Facebook page. She can go in anytime and read anything she wants to without ever having to ask. There are no secrets between us ever (unless it’s birthday or Christmas time. :))
Third, I tell Darci immediately if I ever feel like a woman is acting inappropriately toward me (which has happened.) The enemy loves to work in the darkness. By speaking about even the hint of something that’s off, it exposes it to the light.
Fourth, I talk about Darci often when I’m around other women. I want it very clear that I’m in love with my wife. I realize in some ways this can backfire, because it’s attractive to women to hear a man loves his wife. But I’d rather err on the side of speaking that truth out loud.
I do have two women I would consider good friends. But Darci knows them, and has approved of them. (I believe our spouses should have 100% veto power on any relationship with the opposite sex.) And even though these two ladies are good friends, I speak with them infrequently.
Err on the side of caution, friends.
Tricia Goyer says
These are excellent insights, Jim! I love the safe guards that you’ve put around. I have some great guy friends (like you), that I enjoy chatting it up with from time to time, but the conversations are few and far between. I’m thankful for the friendships, but I’m especially thankful for my amazing husband who is my very best friend!!
Thank you SO much for sharing this. So good!