Every Monday I’ll be posting something to do with personal recovery and maintaining sexual integrity under the category “Keeping it Clean” Hope it you find it helpful.
“I’ve Got a Problem – A Big One. So Now What?”
(Part One of a Three Part Series)
Since you’re reviewing this website my guess is you’re either in crises over your sexual behavior, or you want to avoid ever having that sort of crises.
And why shouldn’t you? You’ve got other plans, after all – a family, a home, or a certain type of job or career. Or maybe earning a degree is on your list, or some other project or achievement. At the very least, I figure you want someone to love, decent health and enough money to pay the bills. And by now, you’ve probably attained some of those goals, so I’ll also assume you’ve steered your life in a certain direction and, to some extent, you’ve succeeded.
You have expectations, too, especially of yourself. You expect to be a certain type of man – not perfect, but the kind you can respect; a guy who lives up to his beliefs, has a decent reputation, and is the sort of friend, father or husband who makes his loved ones feel safe and cared for. And if you do ever wind up having any deep, dark secrets, you figure they’ll be the sort that aren’t really that deep and dark.
Plans and expectations – since you’ve got both, the last thing you want is to see them derailed by a moral failure. So maybe you’re here to make sure that never happens.
Then again, maybe it already has. Maybe it started so long ago it’s hard to recall how or when, but at some point you discovered It. We usually refer to “it” as sexual sin or “acting out”, but however you label it, it’s the thing that’s now disrupting your life so badly.
The form “it” takes varies from man to man. For many, it’s a combination of pornography and sexual fantasies. Others find it in a prostitute’s embrace, or in strip clubs, the forbidden thrill of adulterous or pre-marital sex, anonymous encounters, phone sex, cyber-sex or chat rooms. Maybe you’ve practiced it in less common ways, through some habit or private ritual you’re deeply ashamed of and have never admitted to anyone. (Although heaven knows, there really is nothing new under the sun, and I can guarantee you’ve neither discovered nor created a new sin.)
But whatever its form, it become part of your life, despite your plans and expectations, because in its own strange way, it works.
When you discovered it, you found something that delivered both meaning and ecstasy. Now, meaning isn’t normally a word we associate with immorality, but think about it: there really can be profound meaning in actions that are completely wrong. Just because they’re meaningful, that doesn’t make them right. But just because they’re wrong, that doesn’t remove the sense of meaning that so often goes with them. In plain language, if sexual sin wasn’t deeply meaningful in some way, men wouldn’t indulge it.
Masturbating to internet pornography, for example, can bring a man comfort, thrill, power and escape, all of which create a meaningful (though unhealthy) experience. When you add ecstasy to the mix– the anticipation of seeing the porn, the adrenaline rush that comes with viewing erotic images, the heightened sensations building up to orgasm, then the orgasm itself – then you’ve got yourself a powerful product. Morally wrong? Sure. Addictive; even destructive? Absolutely, but powerful, nonetheless. And when a customer tries a product delivering both meaning and ecstasy, there’s a good chance he’ll go back for seconds.
But it didn’t stop at “seconds”, did it? Maybe it became a fairly regular part of your routine. Oh, there may have been times – months, even years – when you stopped. But then it kept returning or, I should say, you kept returning to it. It was reliable and ever present, like an old friend who never said “no.” And so it became not only a secret vice, but a secret device as well – a product you’ve relied on for comfort, connection and escape.
But knowing your behavior was wrong hasn’t stopped you from repeating it. And repeating it did not, at least in the beginning, ruin your plans and expectations. While nursing your sin, you may have also built up that family, career and life you were aiming for. The sin didn’t keep it from happening. There’s a good chance, in fact, you’ve told yourself, “This is wrong, but it isn’t that wrong! If I’m careful and discreet, it won’t interfere with the rest of my life. I am, after all, a good man in general, and even good men can have a few bad habits.”
Then something happened. You got caught, perhaps, or at least had a close call. Maybe your situation is worse – an arrest, a sexually transmitted disease, professional or financial damage – and now your life’s been thrown into endless summersaults. Or maybe you’re just exhausted from the lying, double-mindedness and shame that comes from prolonged sexual sin. Whatever the case, a crises of truth has gotten your attention, slapping you in the face with a realization: This has to stop; I have to change.
Good, because you know better. You know God, you know something about His will for your life, and you know His will can’t include behavior the Bible so strongly and specifically condemns. In light of that, you know what you need to avoid doing. Or, if you’re already doing it, you know what you need to stop.
You need to stop using pornography. You need to break off the adulterous, casual, or pre-marital relationship. You need to distance yourself from the actions that have created your crises, actions that may have been meaningful, but have also done more damage than you ever thought they would. You need to stop, and you need to stop now.
Since 1987 I’ve had the honor of working with men who’ve reached this point, through private counseling and retreat seminars. I’ve admired their courage in admitting they had a problem, and I’ve learned from them, as together we’ve found answers and tools. I’ve also noticed similarities in their lives and circumstances, four of which you might relate to.
First, their introduction to sexual sin came early in life. Lost innocence has been a common theme: childhood exposure to pornography, pre-adolescent sexual experiments, or even molestation. They saw too much too soon, and explored too early. Masturbation, porn and sexual fantasies were incorporated into their lifestyle, and while many never had sex with another person until their adulthood, many others, in fact, were promiscuous while still teenagers. They found It while they were young; they indulged it frequently.
Second, despite their sexual behavior, they had a genuine and abiding faith in Christ. Whether raised in the church or converted later, these were not men who just pretended to be Christians. They were true believers: born again, belonging to a local congregation and, in many ways, committed. I haven’t needed to share the gospel with them, since they already knew and responded to it long before we met. Most were active in their churches; many were elders, music ministers, deacons or board members. More than a few have been pastors.
Which leads to a third common characteristic: their conversion experience, though genuine, did not make their sexual problems disappear. All too often they thought it would, so they expected God to provide a sort of microwave experience, rapidly cooking the lust and sinful tendencies right out of them.
But it didn’t happen that way. So when those tendencies returned (if indeed they ever left) they decided they must be doing something wrong. “If I’m still tempted to commit the sexual sins I committed before”, they reasoned, “then I lack faith, or I’m not trying hard enough, or there’s something radically flawed about me as a man.”
They’re wrong, of course, but the silence in the church about sexual sin only confirms their fears. How often, really, do we hear Christians talk openly about the problem of sexual temptation? When did you last hear, even in the privacy of small prayer and Bible study groups, someone say, “I’m wrestling with sexual temptations; please pray for me?” And when sexual sin becomes a sermon topic, isn’t it more often than not referred to as a problem outside the church, rather than a common weakness we ourselves need to guard against?
All of which can leave a man thinking he’s the only Christian with sexual temptations, which doubles his shame. The shame encourages his isolation and secrecy, and those are twin elements that make a man’s heart into a lonely place – dark and fertile – where sexual sin can take root, grow and thrive.
It’s thrived in so many of the men I’ve worked with, sometimes for years, until the fourth characteristic finally came into play: exposure leading to motivation.
Virtually every man I’ve worked with has had a crisis, whether in his conscience or his circumstance, that forced the problem into the light. And with that exposure came fear, anger, or deep dissatisfaction. These, in turn, became strong incentives for change. So by the time I’ve met these men, they’ve usually been highly motivated, humbled by their sin, teachable, and ready to work.
If these characteristics come close to describing you, and if you, too, are motivated and ready to work, then I’m looking forward to talking with you about a healthier, godly lifestyle.