Recently I started listening to a podcast called Undone Redone by Tray and Melody Lovvorn. Tray and Melody share as a couple honestly about their divorce which resulted after Tray’s sexual addiction was exposed. The tag line for their podcast is that their divorce did not work out, because years later after healing and the work of the Gospel in both of their lives they reconciled and remarried. Their story has been very encouraging and healing to me, because it reveals that on the other side of our secrets being exposed, God can and does bring new life. Tray and Melody now spend their time helping others heal from sexual addiction.
Staggering percentages of men and women in church struggle with sexual addiction. According to Prodigals International:
- 5 out of every 10 men in the church are struggling with some issue concerning pornography
- 34% of churchgoing women said they have intentionally visited porn websites online
- 54% of pastors admitted to viewing Internet porn in the last year and 30% admitted viewing within the past month
- 50% of all Christian men are addicted to pornography
- 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography
- 60% of women admit to having significant struggles with lust
These statistics reveal that the church does not struggle any less with lust than the rest of the world. The way we deal with these struggles is crucial to to our spiritual and mental health. Healing cannot occur until we are willing to bring our struggles out into the light and be honest about them. Darkness will only grow if we cover it up.
A friend of mine once told me, Monsters hide in the dark.
Several years ago, my own lust felt like a terrible monster to me. It hid most of the time in the parts of my mind that I didn’t allow others to see. It fed on the shame and self contempt that had become a part of who I was since being sexually abused as a child. Unfortunately, I went to a pastor for help who struggled with lust, too and his own hidden darkness met mine and disaster occurred.
However, for the past three years, I’ve been able to share honestly with safe people and as a result the lies wrapped tightly around my soul have begun to unravel allowing me to experience true freedom.
Truly, when darkness is brought into light with those who are living in the light, the monster of lust begins to lose it’s power as God’s transforming work begins.
One of my first exposures to pornography was when I was around nine years old in a friend’s garage. She’d discovered the adult magazines hidden in some of her father’s things and could not wait for me to see them. I giggled at the images with her trying to pretend that what I saw did not bother me. Later, I would also discover the same kind of glossy magazines in a family member’s bathroom. As I flipped through them, I can still recall something stirring deeply in me that I did not understand. I had learned at an early age through abuse that there were certain things that were not supposed to be talked about, so I didn’t tell anyone that I looked at the magazines.
The sexual secrets that had begun as a stir of pleasure viewing porn for the very first time as a child grew into an insatiable appetite as a teen that I could not control when it came. Life at home was hard. My adopted father was severely depressed and anxious, and let everyone to know it. My mother and I walked on eggshells to spare ourselves from another outburst, but still they eventually came, and I escaped to my room to a fantasy life that sometimes took me to dark places. I shudder to think where I would have gone if I’d had Google, but thank God I didn’t, so the worst I could do was inside my own mind, which was bad enough. As I got older and had boyfriends, my fantasies had opportunity to be acted out, and my shame only grew. I believed when I married a good man and we went to church together that my struggles with lust would finally go away, but they only got buried more deeply in my soul.
Although as an adult,I wasn’t viewing pornography or giving into sexual temptations every week or even every month, the shame over my sexual sin from my younger years was still there. My tendency to give in to lust and escape the monotony and the pain of life was still there, too. Again, the lust was only inside my mind, but I feared one day that I might go too far.
Several years into our marriage, relationships in our extended family began to spiral out of control. In the middle of this family chaos, I was suffering from post partum depression and my husband was exhausted much of the time from dealing with his own pain by working too hard. And if this wasn’t enough, our church was experiencing problems that involved family, too. We were hit by so many forces at once it felt like a category five hurricane. We desperately needed relief and support from somewhere and decided to attend another church that some friends had told us about.
This church that was thirty miles away from home felt like a shelter from the storm. The people were friendly, the pastor appeared to be a smart and strong leader who would provide us with support. Two weeks after visiting this church he visited our home and comforted our hearts with the assurance that God was near.
Because my life was in such chaos, the desire to escape the emotional pain was overwhelming. Lust cropped it’s head up and the shame that followed it did, too. The darkness overwhelmed me like it never had before.
I still don’t understand why things got so dark so fast, and why the lust that had been somewhat under control decided to come out again. Maybe it was because the wheels had run off with so many things I’d placed my hope in. Maybe it was because of so many failed relationships. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my husband. I truly did. When I made a commitment to him for life, I meant it as much as I was capable of understanding what commitment meant at the time.
But I wasn’t aware of the ticking time bomb inside of my soul. I wasn’t aware of the desperation in my heart and the growing monster of lust inside.
I had no idea how powerful the sexual abuse I suffered as a child was in it’s ability to produce self-hatred and how much it had crippled me. I desperately longed for someone to tell me that I was loved. But strangely enough when they did, I found it almost impossible to believe. I just could not overcome the lie that I wasn’t worth anything.
The pastor seemed genuinely concerned for our family’s well-being. He reached out with kindness every opportunity he had to. I’ll never forget the first time he took my hand and asked me if I’d be willing to help teach the youth at church. It was strange that even in this short conversation I felt drawn to him. There was just something in his eyes that communicated he wanted to know me more. One email led to another and then the phone conversations began. It wasn’t long after that I confessed on the phone with him about the struggles with lust and the surfacing memories of childhood sexual abuse, and we agreed to meet in person to talk face to face.
Looking back to my first meeting with him, I should have known something was wrong because of how badly I yearned to be with him, but my heart clung desperately to the hope that he was going to help me heal. It felt like the most beautiful moment in my life when he wrapped his arms around me after listening to me describe what my adopted father had done to me. I thought I’d met God for a moment when I stood up to leave and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said he loved me. But then a few months later, he shared with me his desire for me sexually, and asked me to keep it a secret. The ticking time bomb inside of me went off and the monster grew.
Lust isn’t just some dirty thing we do when no is watching. It comes from a place of longing in the deepest parts of our soul to know that we are wanted, but also to know that there’s something good about us that’s worthy of being loved.
A bad connection can feel better than no connection when one’s heart feels all alone.
Dark secrets shared between two desperate souls can feel an awful lot like love.
But it’s not love, it’s abuse when it’s with someone who’s been placed in a position to watch out for your soul.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I realize looking back on things, that the reason my lust felt like a monster, was because before I met my former pastor, I’d never been forced to look it in the eye. I was too ashamed. But time after time of giving in, standing in front of the bathroom mirror before and after I sinned, I faced the monster and saw a broken little girl behind it’s eyes. A little girl desperately longing to be loved and belong, relentlessly seeking to know she was worth something and clinging tightly to whatever control she could find through five minutes of pleasure that she was willing to risk everything for. She knew it was self-destructive. She knew she could destroy everything. There was a part of her that believed it was what she deserved. Maybe when she lost everything she could finally rest in the truth that she was the awful person she’d been fighting not to believe that she was.
The saddest and sickest parts of the abuse I experienced from the pastor was his rationalization that it was OK to give into lust a little bit to find relief. Just so it wouldn’t take over and consume. He normalized the behavior, made some of it feel like it wasn’t a big deal. We all struggle with lust. We just don’t talk about it. It keeps us humble and compassionate towards others who are in sin. And this went on for years. He was desperately clinging to his control, too.
But it was never OK to give in. It was never OK to hide. God was not tempting us to sin. He did not call us to continue in sin so that grace would abound.
You were running [the race] well; who has interfered and prevented you from obeying the truth? This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ]. A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church].
I’m so thankful for the Gospel that one day finally cut through all the lies and called me out of the darkness into His holy light. I will always wonder why it was listening to Tullian’s sermons on the Ten Commandments that God used to ultimately get through to me, especially since not too long after that he was exposed for clergy sexual abuse. But regardless of who it was who read the scriptures, God used his message to remind me of His law summed up in only two commands.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The scriptures finally cut through the lie I believed that day that deceived me into believing what I had with the pastor was love. It wasn’t love. Love does no harm to it’s neighbor. Love does not lie. Love rejoices in the truth.
It’s been a long road of healing since that time. My confession brought an overwhelming amount of confusion and pain to my family, the pastor’s family and the church. It resulted in so much loss. I will always deeply regret these things.
But the monster finally died in the light. And because of the Gospel I have been set free from it’s power over me.
However, I admit I still have a long way to go in healing from all the shame. I need the Gospel daily to constantly remind me that God is not judging me.
For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin.
Jesus knows our struggles. He sees the pain we want to escape. He knows the longing that’s behind our lust and His desire is always to set us free by satisfying our souls with His love. Jesus is not shocked or appalled by our sin. He knows where it comes from. He knows what we really need. He sympathizes with us. His love relentlessly pursues us until we cannot run from Him anymore.
A good friend once reminded me that in the church the greatest need is for broken people to preach the Gospel to each other. I might have given up on the church all together if it hadn’t been for people like him reminding me of what church is really all about.
When one has been spiritually abused, fear of the church is the most difficult thing to overcome. But I’ve come to realize that the thing I fear the most, is also where my healing lies and my story has an opportunity to be redeemed.
I shared with my counselor recently how I would really like to be able to write about something else. Let’s face it, sharing about dark battles with lust and sexual abuse aren’t things to be proud of. But then she pointed out if my story wasn’t told that there would be a big void, and reminded me how other’s broken stories have helped me. She jokingly said that she and I unfortunately had not been called to be a Joel Osteen! Her own broken story of alcoholism is what caused me to reach out to her, and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t! So I know that she is right.
If you’ve got a similar story, I encourage you to find others to tell. Without it there is a big void, too. Our brokenness is where His light shines through and transforms the darkness in other people’s lives. I thank God for people like Tray and Melody and others like the ministry team at the church we attend now who do that so beautifully.
If you are struggling with sexual sin, please know that you are not alone, but also know that God’s desire is also to set you free, not keep you trapped in the dark. Run to Jesus. Cling to the Gospel. Preach it to one another. He’s a lot closer than you think.
Inasmuch then as we [believers] have a great High Priest who has [already ascended and] passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession [of faith and cling tenaciously to our absolute trust in Him as Savior]. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin. Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment].
HEBREWS 4:14-16 AMP