Derek Webb: On Failure, Liturgy and New Years
The singer-songwriter discusses infidelity and the power of confession.
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on Derek Webb’s Facebook page. It’s used here with his permission.]
I have thought for a long time about how, when, and honestly if I would write this, but with some time and healing behind me, and the start of a new year, I felt it was time.
As many people know by now, my wife and I divorced a little over a year ago. At the time, we put a lot of thought into what we considered an appropriately benign and simple statement, which we released together announcing this sad news. A very good and wise friend—someone who has also gone through some hard things publicly—gave what I consider valuable counsel: while your instinct, and people’s expectation, might be to go into a lot of detail in what you share publicly about a situation like this, it’s rarely a good idea.
But with some perspective and much personal health and growth over the past year, it now feels incongruent to leave the subject unaddressed publicly.
I can imagine that many felt and maybe still feel confused, disappointed, angry even, at hearing the news of our split. There was an understanding, a trust, broken between you and me. I’ve heard it said that trust takes years to build and seconds to break. My hope is that this writing might be the first step toward rebuilding that trust.
In the brief statement released about our divorce, it said that I took full responsibility for the events that led to the decision. That is true. The truth is, I cheated. I betrayed the trust of my wife. I betrayed the trust of my family, my friends and my community. And I betrayed the trust and support that many of you have entrusted me with for many, many years.
What started as a brief, inappropriate and quickly confessed connection with a very old friend evolved quickly into something more serious, which was hidden from spouses and friends. It continued in secret for a matter of months, was eventually discovered and set into motion the consequences I will now live with for the rest of my life.
More simply said: I was a fool. I believed lies, which led me to tell lies.
This is why temptation is so tempting. It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things. As much as I wish I could, I simply cannot change what I’ve done, nor the resulting consequences. I can only own these despicable actions, which have left me completely devastated and deeply ashamed. Sometimes, no matter how bad you want it or how hard you fight for it, broken things just can’t be mended. The only path forward from here is to continue focusing on health and healing, my children and parents and investing in safe community.
That brings me to one of the most important things I can emphasize. Through what’s easily been the hardest few years of my life, many friends left, a precious few stayed and some new friends showed up—for which I am so grateful and without whom I might not have survived. For most of my life (and certainly as these events transpired), I have been dramatically under-resourced with people around me with whom I have been truly vulnerable—who really knew me. The importance of having a handful, or even just one or two safe people in your life with whom you can and do truly share everything, especially the hardest and most shameful things, cannot be overstated.
I see this as one of the most important and life-altering changes that this devastation has brought about in my life. Although it took time, I found a wise therapist, several groups of men with whom I spend regular time, and a handful of friends I consider to be among the best I’ve ever had.
I would plead with you to find a small group of safe men or women, friends who will not respond with platitudes of morality but will instead get down and not only join you, but stay with you in your s**t, in hopes of helping pull you out. Inevitably, they’ll need you to join them in theirs someday.
You might be a man or woman reading this even now, finding yourself exactly where I was two years ago, seriously considering choices that could destroy your life, your family and maybe yourself. If that’s you, please listen to me: what you think you want—what you think you can have—is not real, and you’ll lose real things pursuing it. As an unfortunately and extremely reliable source, please believe me.
So, if you’re standing on that steep ledge, STOP. DON’T DO IT. At the very least, risk telling someone immediately and give yourself the opportunity to hear some understanding and perspective—maybe even some sanity-restoring words that might be the small disruption needed to shake you awake. Tell the whole truth and keep telling it. Your marriage is worth it. Your future is worth it.
The tone and spirit of the songs I’ve written over the last decade or so have sometimes been called “prophetic,” a term I’ve worn with extreme discomfort. But it turns out my songs have been eerily prophetic in my own story. For years, I’ve borrowed this language from Ezekiel:
I am a whore, I do confess, but I put you on like a wedding dress and I run down the aisle.
Hard as they have always been to sing, I am especially grateful to have those words to confess today, as I’ve never known them to be more deeply true of myself as I am running down that aisle still.
There has always been some measure of distance between me and the content of my songs. There’s a sense in which even the most confessional of my songs, like “Wedding Dress” or its more recent sibling, “Heavy,” felt like they were about someone else. So, the accidentally prophetic sting of those songs is especially acute and painful in light of my great failures. Songs like those have never been more difficult to sing, but I’ve never been more grateful to have to.
I’ve said recently that my songs feel like my personal liturgy, things I don’t necessarily or always believe but I show up to recite again and again in hopes of believing them. If I’m honest, most of the time, I don’t believe the words in my songs. I have a hard time believing in a God that could make, let alone love a man who could do such things. So I’ll go on reciting and adding to my liturgy in hopes of believing the words, because I wish to. More than ever, I wish to.