Sunday, April 30, 2006

9 Years Ago

Last week, I jabbered a bit about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. (I'm currently reading an interesting if scary article on "the next Big One" in National Geographic. Yeah, my leisure reading is a barrel of laughs - you bet.)

This week, I want to talk about another seismic shift that occurred in the Bay Area just about 9 years ago. Instead of the ground moving, though, it was the fault line in my heart.

I was at Mt Hermon for a conference on GenX ministry & church planting. (Funny - we don't even use the word "GenX" anymore. What a difference a decade makes.) I was nervous & scared & excited about what God was doing in my life - calling me out of youth ministry & into the wild & wooly world of starting a new church whose vision was to reach my generation for Christ.

I remember meeting Evan Lauer, who pastored a surfer church in San Diego ("No life east of I-5, dude!") and hearing Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle) give an amazing talk which shattered many of my assumptions about modernity & post-modernity. That was the first time I heard David Crowder play, as well as Vigilantes of Love. (Their song "Double Cure" still grabs me and knocks me about the room.)

And it was the night that Chris Seay (that's his picture!) preached about the Sermon on the Mount. (I know this because I have a tape of the message in my files.) Frankly, it was not Chris' best sermon... in fact, it was (and still is) pretty weak. I don't remember many details - but I do remember one particular moment.

That was when God knocked the air out of me with the crushing realization that if I refused to deal with my addiction to pornography, I was dooming the church I would plant & the people I would minister with to a sub-standard, weak pastor. My eyes filled up with tears and I could barely sing as the UBC Worship Band led us.

I'd struggled with fantasies & lust since I was a teenager, augmented by occasional glimpses at softcore magazines & sneaking looks at hardcore sex between the scrambled bands on our TV cable service. As a seminary student, I lived alone & battled the urge to visit adult book stores on a weekly basis - overcoming not because I was surrendered to Jesus but because I didn't want to get caught. I even used the excuse of getting married to buy "adult" reading on sex to satisfy my need for 'fresh' material.

I thought that getting married would solve the problem - that a "God-sanctioned" way to deal with sexual tension would remove all the temptation. And, for a while, it did. At Shari's urging, we ditched the questionable books we owned. We decided to stop seeing R-rated films as an example to the teenagers we were working with. The addiction seemed to have disappeared. I even chose to speak about my struggles publicly for the first time, telling the story & implying that I'd conquered this particular sin.

But late in 1995, after five years of marriage, my pride ran straight into the Internet. We got CompuServe so that I could access the online resources of the SBC... and that access got me writing jobs with the Sunday School Board (now Lifeway). One of those assignments was to write about "cyberporn" - and it was in preparing that article that I found out clearly that I had never really dealt with the issues of my addiction.

For the next year & a half, I fought a downward slide towards pornography addiction... pretending that I could "fix" this on my own, without admitting my sin and/or talking to my wife about my unfaithfulness to her. I rationalized my behaviors:
  • at least I wasn't downloading movies...
  • at least I wasn't looking at anything hardcore...
  • at least I was still disgusted by the really raunchy stuff...
Sigh. It still had a hold on me - I planned ways to find time to surf and ways to hide the evidence of my surfing.

All of those memories came rushing back there at Mt Hermon, sitting in the middle of the chapel. I knew that I had to be done with this... not just for the church I was about to plant, but for my marriage & my own walk with God.

The night I got home from California, Shari & I drove around Nashville and I admitted to her how I had wronged her. I remember weeping and driving at the same time (something I DON'T recommend, btw). And I remember the gracious way she gave me forgiveness and prayed for me.

It made a huge difference to have friends like Chris Herndon & Buster Williamson who acted as accountability partners & brothers in Christ. They called me when I was on the road, asked the tough questions, and prayed for me and with me as God led me out of the wilderness of sexual addiction.

I led two groups through the Faithful & True material from Lifeway - which enabled me to take a real look at the root causes of my obsession. I discovered that I used pornography and the accompanying habits as a drug... I "took a hit" when I felt powerless or out of control, rather than turning to God and acknowledging my need for Him. I also discovered the triggers that indicated I was heading back towards porn - and found great freedom in having a group of guys to share honestly about our struggles.

I have to make very specific choices to stay healthy in this area: I'm careful about what I watch and what I read, so I'm not tempted to slip back into the gutter. I'm gut-level honest with Shari about when I'm tempted. I'm even in the process of building two groups of men who will step into those accountability roles in my life.

As I say each Sunday morning: "So what?"

Three things, I guess:
  1. You can get out of sexual addiction.
  2. It isn't an easy or short process.
  3. You need other people.
Step One: ask God to knock the air out of you and make you aware of the cost of what you're doing. Take the first step... it's a doozy.

This article originally appeared in the 4/27/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

2 comments:

Soph said...

I appreciate your post. My husband has been dealing with a pornography addiction since he was a teenager. I first found out about it 4years ago. I thought he was doing well, until last week.

He's been hiding it from me for the past two years.

I've started a blog to help me deal with my feelings, and I've been looking for other people who have similar issues.

It's been helpful.

Anyway, thank you for your honesty. If more people were open about their addictions, I think it would be much easier for for others to admit to their problem instead of lying and hiding it.

mark aka pastor guy said...

Soph,

I am sorry you are going through this - that you've been strapped into the rollercoaster of pornography addiction against your own will. And now the ride has started up again & you're being forced to experience it over & over & over.

That stinks.

I do offer encouragement - people DO escape from the addiction... but not without help. I would strongly recommend Living With Your Husband's Secret Wars by Marsha Means. (http://www.family.org/resources/itempg.cfm?itemid=2493)

I'm not very good at honesty - it's learned, not natural. But Jesus was the most authentic person on the planet... and if I'm going to claim to follow Him, I need to strive for that kind of authenticity myself.