Every Monday we post something about maintaining your sexual purity. Hope it helps.
“Mr. Dallas,” the card read, “how long have you been sexually sober? And does it ever get easier?”
A pointed but fair question. I was teaching a conference in Orlando last October, and during the Q and A session, one of the attendees sent up the card wanting to know about my consistency over the years. Feeling a bit like I’d just been asked if it was boxers or briefs, I replied that it had been 27 years since I’d viewed pornography or engaged in any kind of sexual contact apart from marriage. That brought some applause, but my next remark didn’t:
“Let’s remember, though, that sexual purity isn’t just about behavior. It’s about the inner man as well, which Jesus made clear. And in that area – my thought life – I struggle. It gets better every year, but I can’t with any integrity say the battle’s over.”
Memories about past sexual behavior and images come popping into my head at the most inopportune times. (Though I guess there’s no good time for a lustful thought any more than there’s a good time for a flat tire.) Sure, I repented back in ’84, but what the heart rejects, the mind has nonetheless recorded, and there’s no delete button for that. Those irritating, unsolicited pop-ups keep intruding, like unwanted ads charging into your screen when you’re trying to work on something else.
Your past, if it’s included sexual sin, includes a whole repertoire of sexual fantasies and experiences. Though you’ve put those experiences behind you, you haven’t, nor will you ever, banish them from your memory. They stay in your mind like an old movie, ready to be replayed and reviewed time and again. In a sense they’re like a handy piece of pornography you can always pull out and browse through. They’re not just passive, either. They won’t wait for you to refer to them. They’ll intrude into your thoughts like unwelcome burglars, robbing you of a sound mind and clear thinking.
They also try to entice you to a concrete way of dealing with loneliness, boredom, anger, or any number of negative feelings, by inviting you to return to the old faithful method for getting temporary gratification, and you’re especially susceptible to that invitation when you’re not at your best. (Another good reason to be watchful.)
This is especially true if you’ve recently turned from sexually sinful activity. If so, you’ve done a good thing, but you’ve given up a habit that not only gave you pleasure, but also made you feel complete, satisfied, beloved. Praise God you gave it up, sure. The problem is, you may not have found alternative methods—acceptable ones, that is—that will give you a legitimate sense of satisfaction as well. So when you’re hit with pressures, mood swings, or anxieties, your past urges you to go back to the coping mechanisms which have proven to be somewhat effective. Sinful, yes, but still effective.
The Good Old Days always look better in retrospect, especially when you’re having Bad New Days. But isn’t the fact that you’re having struggles proof that you’re stretching? Stretching isn’t always fun. You stretch when you force yourself to try new behaviors, or when you deny yourself what you used to indulge in. When you stretch yourself, you exercise patience. And when stretching, you force yourself to go a little further than you’ve gone before. You get tired, so naturally your thoughts turn toward the days when you weren’t stretching; days when you indulged. And, of course, your thoughts turn toward the indulgence itself.
So whether the past holds the memory of one particular lover, or of pleasurable times in general, it can take on an enchanting quality, perhaps making you feel empty, unsatisfied, deprived.
Like the “heat” of arousal, these periods of looking back and longing for something different can be cyclic. David had a similar experience when he envied the seemingly terrific lives of wicked people. “I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” he wrote in Psalm 73. Describing their strength and success, even when committing evil deeds, he concluded, “I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence.” (Translation: What good is godly living when the ungodly have it so much better? And what’s the use in giving up ungodliness when it seems to provide more happiness than righteousness? Righteousness doesn’t keep me warm at night!)
But then he looked ahead a little and considered not the good life the wicked enjoyed, but the end result of it. And it hit him like cold water: “Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!” The value of right living, he concluded, is not its present satisfaction, though there is that as well, but its long range benefits.
There’s the key, it seems. The value in leaving an ungodly though pleasurable past is that it has no future. Your memories look good only because you’re not seeing them panoramically. Take them to their logical conclusion, considering not only what you did and enjoyed, but where it was leading you, and you get a more accurate picture of your past. That’s one way today you can shake off the power of “good” but sinful memories. View them with an eternal perspective, and that’s perspective that will always keep you thinking clearly.