My wife and I were traveling somewhere – the destination I don’t remember, but I clearly remember the conversation.
Karen was talking about the moral failure of a pastor where she used to attend church. The pastor was looking at pornography, which led to an affair, which led to the breakdown of that family. She was angry about the impact on the family, church and community.
I was thinking…if she only knew. My heart was breaking. The burden and shame were crippling me.
You see, at that time I struggled with pornography.
Hello, My Name is…
It seems nowadays that everyone has an addiction of some kind. Some have even suggested that we are addicted to the word “addiction.” The reality for every human being is we learn to cope with the life we have been given. We find a way to cope with our journey. The challenge with our journey is that we are either turning towards Christ or we are turning away. My struggle with pornography, as you will see, was not a “banging down my door” experience. It promised me something it could never fulfill—“I can fulfill your longings.” What started out as dabbling became a way for me to manage my emotions and identity. I quickly built an idol for myself.
Throughout Scripture, idols are addressed. From Genesis through Revelation God condemns idols and tells His sons and daughters to turn to Him and away from false worship. In opening up about my struggle with the idol of pornography, three verses in particular came to my mind: Exodus 20:3-6 ESV, Psalm 135:15-18 ESV and Colossians 3:5 ESV.
Growing up I lived out a pretty strong Christian faith. I did not get involved in lots of the drama of high school, although I had my moments. In fact, I would often invite my close friends to church. I didn’t attend parties. I didn’t drink, smoke or have sex. I had a great core of friends in high school and was in an amazing youth group. I was a shy guy around girls; in fact, I went to my senior prom with my cousin who I was very close with.
In college I continued to grow in my faith. I had a college sweetheart until my senior year when I broke it off because I felt that was what God wanted me to do. It was an ugly breakup. I was ugly. So much of my identity was tied up in that relationship…
After college I started dating my wife. What started out as friendship developed into something much deeper. I asked her to marry me and after a turn of events and a few months she broke it off with me. It was during these very dark months for me that I turned to something that has haunted me ever since… pornography.
Living on my own—not really connected to a church or community, living as a residential director at a community college—was not the best environment for me. I turned to “soft porn” magazines which turned to the internet. When I look back on this short period of time in my life, I realize I did not guard my heart, but looked to medicate with what the world offered not what Christ offered. This led to reinforcing how much I didn’t measure up to anyone’s standards – not mine, my wife’s, or more importantly God’s. I remember thinking, “I am not hurting anyone. No one will know.” Boy was I wrong.
Eventually my wife and I got back together and married. I felt once I got married that it would fix a lot of my “issues” surrounding how I saw myself and the idols I had established. It did not. In fact, it got worse. These unmet expectations in my marriage (intimacy, communication, sense of worth, etc.) fueled my poor view of myself which led to me leading—and living—a double life.
As we were driving that day in Pennsylvania, about 4 years into our marriage, my life and marriage were falling apart. We were new parents, we were raising girls who were not our own, and the baggage we carried into our family began to overwhelm us. I could no longer be an “expert” in sin and idol management.
It was during that car ride that I came to the defense of that pastor. My wife was confused and then asked me that dreaded question, “Do you struggle with porn?” A shameful pause: “Yes.”
That simple word, “yes,” shattered my walls of shame and my double life crashed down like the walls of Jericho.
I have always struggled to find what is good and loveable about me. I lived a life that I thought God and my parents would be proud of. I didn’t drink or party. I didn’t smoke or do drugs. I remained a virgin until I was married. I followed all the rules…why did I feel so empty. I felt my performance—striving and fighting for my identity—would eventually win out over the poor way I looked at myself.
Oh how I struggled internally. On the outside, I looked squeaky clean. On the inside I was a mess.
Over the course of the next few months, my wife and I went to counseling. The counseling provided opportunities for us to address our individual issues as well as the mess we needed to work through together. My wife’s past mixed with my self-perception and idols were a toxic combination that was slowly destroying our marriage. I was losing my wife and my greatest friend and ally. We longed to be whole. Over the course of that time we learned the valuable lessons of trust, unconditional love and extending grace. We allowed God to show up in the most painful parts of our lives.
Our culture is constantly looking to enslave us with pleasure. Addictions are everywhere. I sometimes find myself secretly saying, “be careful what you wish for,” when I hear people advocating their rights to everything and anything they desire. Our cultures’ definition of freedom enslaves our hearts by offering us empty promises.
Pornography is easily accessible and every single day is enslaving the hearts and minds of men and women,boys and girls. There is so much information out there about the harmful effects of pornography. A recent article from the former editor of a “soft porn” magazine stated that pornography is, “Like leaving heroin lying around.” Please read, “Experiment that convinced me online porn is the most pernicious threat.” You will be shocked by the teens’ responses. It is not an easy read—especially when you know that those giving the answers are between the ages of 13-15.
As for me, I have come a long way. To say I no longer struggle would be a lie. But I have learned to protect myself in so many ways. Internet filters and safety nets; accountability groups and Bible Study. What has been most important though, is a strong marriage. What I have to guard against is that “doing all the right things” does not necessarily lead to the right outcomes. My heart is the key. A great process to walk through is found through Peacemaker Ministries, “The Progression of an Idol,” walks you through this process of unmet needs and how to win the battle against addictions.
I don’t want my sin management to lead to divorce management and custody management. Pornography’s promise of a fulfilled sex fantasy is exactly that…a fantasy with empty promises; an idol that leaves you empty.
I am not sure where you are in your journey. Maybe you are tired of living a “double life.” Maybe you know that your addiction has left you empty and is slowly destroying all that you have, including you. Don’t wait another minute… reach out.
The beauty of Christ is that he redeems us. He embraces us. He hates my sin but loves me despite it.
For those out there that struggle…there is hope. God promises restoration. (Psalm 517-12):
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
This is a fight for our hearts. This is a fight for our identity in Christ. This is a fight for our families and the hearts of our children. One of the most difficult things I will have to do is to sit down with my son and share my journey with him. I hope it allows him to understand the impact of giving in to temptation. Each and every day we have to guard against giving ground to what seeks our destruction. Typically it does not come as the gale force of a hurricane, but as a subtle “Hello, My name is….”
P.S. Focus has an incredible counseling service where you can reach out to someone and talk through your issue. They will then get you the right information to get you on the path to freedom. Christ came to set all captives free…and that includes you and me.