February 25, 2018

What Did I Do Wrong?

Gary Thomas — 


When a family member—a spouse or a child—misbehaves or breaks your heart, the most natural reaction is to ask, “What did I do wrong?”

Wrong question entirely.

A therapist friend of mine, who has worked with thousands of couples in heartbreaking situations, always asks such people, “When God created the perfect world for Adam and Eve and even that wasn’t enough to keep them from sinning, do you think the Trinity asked, ‘Where did we go wrong?’”

When God blessed David, called him out of nowhere to make him a man of significance, put him on a throne, and David responded with adultery and murder, do you think God asked, “What could I have done differently?”

When Jesus lived as the perfect Messiah, giving Judas copious amounts of wondrous teaching, perfect counsel, and absolutely the best example anyone could ever demonstrate, and yet all that proved not to be enough for Judas, did Jesus ask, “What did I do wrong? Why did Judas stray?”

A near universal response for wives who find out their husbands have had affairs or been dabbling in porn—in fact, I’ve heard this from just about every wife I’ve talked to whose marriage has been marred by this—is, “What’s wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough? Am I not creative enough in bed?”

Wives, it’s never about you. Sex can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to either spouse thinking they have to be more beautiful, younger, more creative, and better “mechanically” than anyone else in the world or their spouse might be unfaithful. Think about that line of thinking for just a second—that’s not marriage, that’s not real intimacy. It’s sick to even consider all that as necessary for a spouse to be faithful. It turns sex into an ugly performance instead of a cherishing act.

Thinking that we can be such good parents or such good spouses that our loved ones will never stray is to think we can “outdo” the Trinity. You cannot, as a parent, create a perfect Garden of Eden experience for your kids, but even if you did, they’d mess it up. You cannot, as a partner, be a truer companion than Jesus, but even if you were, you’d face betrayal.

There may be a time, later, when you reflect on what you could have done better, as a parent or a spouse. We can all improve, and the Bible urges us to grow in every area. But that’s different than thinking you can be such a good parent or such a good spouse that your loved ones will never stumble. “We all stumble in many ways.” James 3:2

If anything, the real answer to “What did I do wrong?” is, “You were born in sin and you live in a world where every family member has been born in sin.”

God’s remedy to this isn’t you, it’s Jesus. His grace, his forgiveness, his wisdom, his power, his redemption—that’s the ultimate solution. As much as we’d like to be, we’re not the answer; Jesus is.

So let’s stop wondering, “What did I do wrong?” and start asking, “How can surrendering to Jesus’ grace and presence help us find our way back?”


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43 responses to What Did I Do Wrong?

  1. Heartbroken Wife he Left behind February 25, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    What if the last question is not about “finding our way back”? What if the spouse who left, isn’t coming back? What does one do with all of the “what if” questions? The question still stands: what did I do wrong, so that I don’t do it that way again? Or how long do I still wait to see if God does a miracle, after all these years?

    • Heartbroken, those are the kinds of questions best explored with a trained, caring friend or counselor. It’s certainly appropriate to want to improve yourself and relational skills for the future, and that may involve coming to grips with our sins and weaknesses. But keep in mind, every marriage is held together by two sinners. If our sin was the only cause of a marital breakup, we’d all be divorced. So learn all you can, but don’t wallow in shame. Find refuge in Jesus that he can heal, restore, renew and create a new future for you–regardless of whether your husband comes back.

    • So sorry for your pain!

  2. Thank you! I never thought of it this way. This helps with boundaries in difficult relationships!

  3. Yep, God was/is a Perfect parent, but every last one of His kids went bad.

  4. Thank you for this timely reminder! Our church had a speaker his weekend that is an expert on parenting and troubled teens. I found myself slipping into guilt and regret as I have so many times before due to some of the mistakes I made while my kids were still under our roof. Of course a few of those years my husband and I didn’t know the Lord but as we grew in our relationship with God we still made mistakes even though our intentions or motives were of love for God’s order and the souls of our children…I am free of those regrets now but still have to be cautious or that default button will get pressed and I will find myself feeling heavy. Our only hope is in our Creator and once we raise our kids it is up to them to reject or embrace God. My hope lies in the fact that they are now accountable to wether they choose Him or not but while I’m waiting I serve, pray and never give up hope that they will someday repent and be changed. Thank you Mr Thomas for sharing the wisdom God has given you. I have read Authentic Faith 3 times during my walk and Sacred Marriage twice. As believers we all have the ability to edify and teach one another and for that I’m grateful, as well!

    • It’s a tough journey Bee. Thanks for your testimony. And if the two books of mine you’ve chosen to read and re-read are Sacred Marriage and Authentic Faith, that tells me you’re a pretty serious reader! Those are the two heavy ones!

  5. Thanks again, Gary.
    Thanks for pointing out that the result of our sin and others’ sin and a world of sin / our selfishness and what we/others do with our evils desires, has always been the problem, while the answer remains the same. We need Jesus, or more of Jesus…an individual choice…which each of us makes many times each day…or not.
    Someone once said, the only gift I really have to give someone else is my own (God worked in) personal holiness. Your Sacred Marriage materials underscore this same need to pursue holiness …”what if God designed marriage more to make us holy than to make us happy?” Maybe, when it comes to parenting or relationships of any kind…what if God designed them to also make us holy more than to make us happy?” This does make Jesus the only answer, and might keep us from thinking that we are the solution/or are in charge of the solution.
    Thanks for helping us focus in on the right question(s).

  6. Kendra Templeton February 25, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for this great article! Just like you said, I have thought in this manner on many occasions. As I continue to grow in Christ, I have learned that it is not about me and all about Jesus! Next time I am tempted to go down this rabbit hole, I will focus on Jesus to help find the way.

  7. Thank you. I’ve asked myself this dozens of times. I even recently asked my counselor the same question. Obviously, as Christians we desire to grow to be more like Jesus, but I appreciate your addressing the issue of a spouse’s behavior or unfaithfulness not being about the other spouse causing it. No one does anything to deserve verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and we can’t ever be “good enough” to keep someone from treating us that way. While I’ve grasped this concept as a parent – there is no better parent than God and his children sinned – I’ve never thought to apply it to marriage. Thank you for offering us another question to ask instead.

  8. This is awesome, Gary. Thanks for always writing about topics we all really need to hear!

  9. That is a good word!

  10. Wonderful! I’m not the answer-Jesus is.

  11. Thank you for another great article, as a wife of almost 8 years, mom of 4 the oldest is 6 years old and severely disabled, I have asked myself this question countless times. But I still find myself stuck. My husband no longer shares my Christ focused enthusiasm, and I am afraid my sin has caused a portion of his current disinterest. How do you mend or heal a relationship when Jesus is only the answer for one, not both people?

    • Jami, Paul and Peter both answer this: we fall so deeply in love with Jesus, on a continuing, progressive basis, and earnestly pursue holiness on our own part, that hopefully others will see the peace, rest, joy, kindness and grace that overtakes us, and then they will want it for themselves. Having said this, plenty of people rejected Jesus, Peter, and Paul, so becoming more like Jesus never guarantees anyone’s response. But wanting more of Jesus for ourselves is always a win-win. Even if it doesn’t “work” to win others, we draw nearer to the source of life and the joy of our souls.

  12. Thank you for sharing this, Pastor Gary. I grew up learning that there are at least two sides to every situation. ‘Tis true. I grew up learning that “it takes two to make a thing go right.” ‘Tis some truth to that. I found myself asking the question several times in situations of which I had no control. I stopped asking the question after examining the situation. I have forgiven and moved on, but heartache lingered. When I was in that period of time that I asked it more, those who had done the injustice used it as a way to justify their wrongs, and it merely enabled them. Thank you for speaking clearly on this to explain. Some cliches sound good and are even true and applicable in some situations. I know Jesus did not do that when he was wronged. He was wronged in the worst way imaginable as He bore the sin of the world. He is still the best example to follow.

  13. Thank you for this post. As a parent whose oldest son took his own life nearly 4 years ago and our youngest son turned his back on the things of the Lord when he was 15 (his oldest brother’s act did not help in that vein), I am daily nearly tortured with these questions– What the heck did I do wrong? What the heck happened? Why the heck were we called to endure this unwanted, “new normal”??!!

    This post was helpful.

    I still hurt badly–and no doubt always will. But this post gives good perspective.

    Thank you.

    • Rick, I’m so, so sorry. In the midst of such a long and ongoing trial, I pray God will use this post as a cup of cold water. You’ll need many more. Bless you brother.

  14. Oh my…I have been waiting to hear this for over 30 years. I literally just received a revelation. Praise God and thank YOU!

  15. Good thoughts. I know i blame myself for a lot. I know I blame my wife for my shortcomings at times. Jesus has given me a pretty nice sandbox to play in. Thank u 4 taking this to God’s perspective. He does love me and my marriage.

  16. It’s about time someone talks about this. Last year our college daughter took a wrong turn and she has not yet come back to Christ. I tried to find hope and encouragement online, and all I could find was criticism towards the parents and references to “train up a child in the way he should go…” I fortunately found ONE comment on a blog post where a lady reminded us that Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship w/God and yet they still turned from Him–and that was the comment that took the guilt away. Seeing a loved one doing something against God is incredibly painful, but we need to remember it’s usually about their relationship with God and not us–we need to try to witness the best we can, but it’s up to them how they’re going to react, and we need to pray and trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives.

  17. Amen! Very well said. It’s very hard not to take the blame when the wayward spouse or child is blaming you. Been there for many years. And just now realizing that I deserve to live. It’s not being humble to take the blame others pile on you. It’s abuse. Yes. Jesus is their Savior. We aren’t.

  18. Thank you, Gary Thomas, for writing. Every word of this message is inspired. Incomparable instruction is found in the last sentence where pronouns gently change from singular to pleural.

  19. Thank you for something that I so needed to hear and you’ve presented this truth in a way that I can remember! I’ve read your books on marriage (I think all of them!) and so appreciate how your teaching has correctly re-aligned my understanding of marriage and my husband.

  20. What does a parent do when his or her older teens are not interested in Jesus, even have distain for the teaching of their youth? I’ve been praying and fasting for years. This article addressed one aspect for me, the blaming myself, but what do I do, if anything, but wait on God?

    • Karyn,

      The Bible teaches us in many places to lead by example. Let Jesus so fill you with purpose and grace and rest and assurance and peace that perhaps your kids will be drawn to the effects of Jesus in your life. But as I told another reader, Jesus was rejected while he was incarnate, and he was the only perfect example of himself. So an example doesn’t offer a guarantee.

      One other thing I’d state is that it’s essential for teens to find a church that engages them. I don’t ever recommend people be cavalier about switching churches, but if it’s for the sake of your kids, especially when they only have a few or a couple years left at home, that may be one of the best reasons to find a new church. You can always go back to the old one after they leave.