“Just as with faith, love, we discovered, was not a feeling, but attitude in action. We took the actions we knew we should be taking toward others because we did not feel like it. The feelings followed. Love for us is doing – doing what does not come naturally.”
SA White Book, Step 12
We know that faith without works is dead, not because doing work proves us faithful, but because a person who claims to have faith but does nothing is lying to themselves. In the same vein, claiming I love God and others but doing nothing about it makes me a liar. Doing things for other people does not prove I love them, and it certainly does not earn me love. But as this quote says, I must force myself to take action despite my feelings because my natural state is to NOT take action:
- My natural state is to claim I love my wife and lie to her about my pornography use
- My natural state is to claim I love my children and blow up at them in a rage because of the inner turmoil I feel regarding my own sins
- My natural state is to claim I love God and use the financial resources He has blessed me with on pornography
What comes natural to me is sin and addiction, so to love God and others I must do what does not come naturally: Confessing my sins, making amends when I harm others, and admitting I am powerless. As they say, “What’s feels right ain’t been working…it’s time to try some wrong.”
And the feelings do follow:
- When I confess my sins I feel strong and free, not ashamed any longer. I love God when I confess my sins because then I feel forgiven
- When I make amends to others I feel strong and free, not afraid any longer. I love God when I make amends to others because He frees me from the prison of my own guilt and remorse
- When I admit I am powerless I feel strong and free, not desperate and confused. I love God when I admit my powerlessness because He proves to me that His strength is made perfect in my weakness
Is it time for you to do what don’t come natural?
“If (a suspected addict) does not want to see you, never force yourself upon him.”
The Big Book, Step 12
This is great advice. If more Christians followed this simple rule of thumb I suspect the church would have a better reputation, and would-be evangelists might become far more effective.
I clearly recall the conversation that pointed me in the direction of my pornography addiction recovery program. Several months before I entered the program I asked a friend from my church to be my ‘accountability partner’ for an Internet filtering tool. This gentleman was able to observe my Internet use through weekly notifications of the websites I visited. Though he noticed I broke down and viewed pornography (or try to view pornography; Covenant Eyes was pretty good at stopping me) several times, he never said anything about those failures.
It was not until I tried deleting Covenant Eyes from my computer and reached out to him for help that he finally offered the words, “I think you might be a pornography addict.” Then he told me about his own struggles and said, “You are where I was six years ago.” I learned a number of valuable lessons from that exchange.
First, God will put people in your way to help you, if you will see them…and maybe even if you will not.
Second, you cannot force yourself on other people. When I first approached my friend he could have told me, “If you need help with accountability, you are probably an addict.” In such a case I probably would have found myself another accountability partner. I would not have listened to him and I would not have learned about my recovery program.
Third, I learned that sharing your experience with your own addiction is the most powerful testimony you can give, if you give it at the right time. This has always been modern Christianity’s most powerful evangelical tool: A story of personal salvation delivered in God’s time. However, having the patience for the right moment is tough, especially if you are forced to watch someone destroy their lives in the process. My accountability partner may have felt this way as he watched me violate my own vows to stay clean, but he had to have the patience and wait until I was ready for his help. If he had offered too early, I would not have taken his advice.
The only way we can help others is to have patience and wait until they are ready, regardless of how we feel or when we think they should be ready.
Is there someone in your life you are trying to help? Are you working on God’s timing, or your own?
I see Christian Science ads on buses around town which say, “Know Yourself, Know Peace.” That is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read.
I know all about myself: My bad habits, my character defects, and my idiosyncrasies. Knowing these things does not give me peace…all it does is help me understand why I do some of the screwed up things I do.
I believe that by knowing more about who God is I can trust Him more fully, and that will give me peace. Furthermore, I believe God designed me and everything around me. Asking the designed thing, rather than the Designer, what the designed thing’s purpose is, is silly!
If I asked a kitchen knife what its purpose is, it could look at itself and say: “Well, I’ve got a handle, which means I suppose that someone is supposed to hold me…but if no-one is holding me, am I useless? I continue to exist despite the fact that no hand is holding me, so perhaps I don’t need to be held after all. Then there’s the fact that one of my metal edges is very sharp. This probably means that I was made to cut things, but what kind of things? Shouldn’t I get to choose whether to cut vegetables or hurt someone badly? Since I know myself well enough to sense that I have a handle and a sharp edge, perhaps that means I know myself well enough to determine my own destiny and have peace.”
This kind of thinking would not work for a kitchen knife, and it does not work for me. I want the One who designed me to tell me who I am and what I am supposed to do. I am tired of coming up with my own plans, only to see those plans hurt myself and those around me. I do not know why I was gifted with intelligence and empathy, but I would wager it was not so I to manipulate people into giving me what I want. Sadly, that is exactly how I’ve used these gifts in the past when I charted my own course. Enough is enough.
Who do you spend more time and energy getting to know: Yourself, or God?
I went to happy hour with a group of coworkers today and had a rather odd exchange.
Our group was planning an office party for the end of the month and one woman mentioned that her friend in the company would be bringing her boyfriend. In response I said, “Yeah, that’s going to be a problem for me,” to which she replied, “Aren’t you married?”
Understand that I was (mostly) kidding and trying to ‘stir the pot’ a bit…it’s what I do. I wasn’t kidding in that I hate it when a significant other shows up to a work party because it’s awkward for everyone else. And while I’m not ‘in the market’ anymore there is still a competitive streak in me that gets riled up whenever ‘boyfriends’ are around…so like I said, I was mostly kidding.
But what really struck me was this woman’s question: “Aren’t you married?”
The obvious implication of her question is that my comment was inappropriate; she was publicly judging me. Why in the world would she think it appropriate to ask something like that? If the shoe was on the other foot and she made a similar comment, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. Even if someone came out and said something outrageous like, “I’d sure love to have an affair with him/her,” I still don’t think I would say anything like, “Aren’t you married?” I’d probably say nothing at all. If such a person asked for my advice I guess I’d give it, but is it really any of my business what anyone else is doing?
I suspect that hidden behind the question, “Aren’t you married?” is a person riddled with tremendous doubt and fear. Perhaps her parents had ‘issues’ when she was growing up; maybe she’s been badly hurt by men in the past. I simply cannot fathom what would drive one coworker to assume such a position of moral authority over a coworker.
Do you often find yourself playing the role of the Morality Police with friends and acquaintances?
What do think drives a person to play this role?
“And who can forgive? Forgiving another is as divine an act as we humans can ever aspire to. It’s as hard or harder to say ‘I forgive you’ as it is to admit wrong. But we can and must forgive!”
SA White Book, Step 10
Yes, this is SO difficult! When I struggle with resentments I can spend weeks trying to forgive those who hurt me. Even asking for the power and ability to forgive is difficult. We know that God forgives us our sins, so forgiving others is the most divine act we can aspire to.
I don’t understand why it’s so hard for me to forgive other people, though. I think maybe I am afraid of getting hurt: If I forgive someone, I am opening myself up to the possibility of emotional pain. I am reminded me of how I must hurt the heart of God every time I sin against Him. Jesus died for me , He forgives me of my sins, yet I’m all too eager to sin, even in this moment. I can only imagine how much that hurts God. But He did what He did willingly, despite the hurt, so I guess I need to do the same thing…
Maybe my problem is that I have the wrong expectations about what forgiveness is supposed to ‘feel’ like. In my mind the process is supposed to go something like this: I ask for the power to forgive, then I forgive, then I feel good, and then life is good forever.
But maybe the reality is more like this: I ask for the power to forgive, then I forgive, then I feel good for a little while, but then I get hurt and I have to start the process all over again.
Maybe my expectation that forgiveness-equals-happiness keeps me locked up and afraid to forgive because a part of me knows the reality: I’m going to get hurt. Perhaps if I accept that I’m going to get hurt I will be more likely to forgive. Jesus had no illusions about His fate when He came to earth; maybe that made it easier to pray for us as He hung on the cross. He wasn’t surprised or disappointed when we rejected Him; maybe that made it easier to forgive us.
Is it difficult for you to forgive those who hurt you? Why do you think that is?
The last time I chose to use pornography I was twelve years old. Back then pornography was almost innocent because I didn’t understand the consequences…it was just fun and exciting.
Unfortunately, in the twenty years since then I stopped ‘choosing’ to use pornography; it became a compulsion, and later, an addiction. Those of you still mired in pornography know what I mean: If you could choose to stop, you would. You have some sense of the damage pornography is doing to your life, but you need pornography. You are compelled to use pornography to satisfy your emotional needs.
But there is hope! Thanks to my recovery program and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the first time in twenty years I can again choose whether or not to use pornography.
But do I want to start using pornography again, knowing what I know today? Absolutely not! The cost is far too great to justify such a decision.
If I was able to speak to the twelve-year-old me about pornography (or when I talk to my son one day about pornography) I would present what I know in the form of simple Cost/Benefit Analysis:
- Visually exciting
- Mentally and physically stimulating
- May temporarily fill perceived emotional needs
- Physically addictive
- Psychologically addictive
- Damages relationship with one’s spouse, possibly leading to divorce
- Potential for legal trouble including jail time
- May lead to job loss
- Significant costs associated with purchases
- Increased anxiety
- Declining mental health
- Diminishes mental capacity
- Decreases performance at work
- Decreases frequency of sexual activity
- Decreases quality of sexual activity
- Significant moral hazard
- Increasingly frequent outburst of anger and/or rage
- Physical injury associated with masturbation
- Increases isolation from friends and family
- Leads to depression
If you are tired of paying the high costs of pornography use, please seek help through a pastor, mental health professional, or recovery support group.
Choose to take your life back today!
Since I cut my hair two weeks ago (for the first time in over 18 months; the bearded, pony-tailed guy was replaced with a clean-cut man) I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the amount of attention women give me, and I‘ve assumed it’s because of my new hairdo.
Maybe, maybe not.
I was at a happy hour function with a handful of coworkers last night and the subject of my haircut surfaced. I described the extra female attention I’m receiving these days and finished with something to the effect of: “It must be the hair.”
To which one of the women present responded, “No, it’s your personality.”
She went on to say that when I came back from getting my hair cut, my personality had changed dramatically; she said I was a ‘new man’.
When I walked out of the salon two weeks ago, I knew I looked good. I felt confident. I felt like smiling. It was as though I had forced myself out into the ‘wilderness’ of my soul and denied myself a return to the ‘promised land’ until such time as I was prepared to shed my old Self. I guess I was ready.
My whole world is suddenly changed.
I look younger but feel older and wiser. I feel ready to take responsibility for the rest of my life rather than drift along the currents, as I’ve done most of my days.
I can look people in the eye like no other time in my life; not in challenge but in curiosity and wonder that other human beings are all around me, each unique and wonderful and terrible.
For the first time in my life I feel comfortable in my own skin. At the same time, I’m eager to find out who I really am underneath my disappearing fears, resentments, and character defects.
I’m relatively unconcerned with how other people (especially women) perceive me, and I care less than ever about winning the approval of others. I can just be myself; some people will like me, most won’t.
The compulsion to give in to lust has all but disappeared, replaced with a desire to choose: Use pornography, or enjoy the thousands of other blessings in my life.
I feel as though powerful forces are coming together in my life, like the confluence of many rivers. I’ve got life right where I want it.
It’s funny what a haircut can do.
I need to make amends to you for some of my past actions. I’ve been guilty of carrying out a pattern of sexual sin and sexual misbehavior for the last 32 years. I’ve been working on my own personal recovery for the past 18 months. I’ve come to see that in order to live a sane life, and to restore my relationship with God, I need to live in a more loving and ethical way. There have been many times in the past when I haven’t acted ethically or in a loving way, and I know I’ve hurt you and others. I’m now in the process of going back to those I’ve hurt and attempting to make it right.
Specifically, I’ve hurt you by:
- Compulsively using pornography for many years
- Spending your money on pornography
- Interfering with your success at work
- Letting my character defects control your life
- Damaging your relationship with God
- Threatening your relationship with your wife and your daughter
- Holding you back from accomplishing your dreams
- Allowing my negative self-talk to berate you on a daily basis
- Stalling your emotional growth in adolescence
In all those actions I was selfish, inconsiderate, dishonest, self-seeking and afraid. I’m truly sorry for the deep hurt I caused you. If there’s anything I can do to make things right, please tell me.
In my last post I tried to describe the difference between Jesus’ yoke as noted in Matthew 11:30, and the yoke of expected performance the Church places on us. In response, a reader posed the following question: “What do I do now?”
To answer that excellent question, let me refer to the concluding lines of my last post:
In context, then, I believe verses 1-27 of chapter 11 provide justification for why we follow Jesus: He is the Son of God. Furthermore, I believe chapter 12 tells us about following Jesus: He lives only to fulfill the expectations of His heavenly Father, not priests, pastors, legalism, culture, or His biological family.
I believe Jesus wants people to serve the Father, not culture (no, not even ‘Christian culture’).
I believe Jesus wants people to worship the Creator, not the creation.
I believe Jesus desperately desires for people to see with absolute clarity the difference between Truth and Idolatry.
So what does this mean? What should you do? Here are ten ideas:
- Make up your mind to serve God, not the Church
- Be prepared to serve God more often Monday through Saturday than on Sunday morning
- Consider whether you use the Church to make yourself feel better
- Consider whether the Church is the most important thing in your life
- Remember that the Church was made for man, not man for the Church
- Ask yourself if you are often forced to choose between doing what’s best for people and doing what’s best for the Church
- Remember that Jesus is in heaven and all the Apostles are dead; your pastor’s name is not in the Bible
- Make a list of the rules and cultural expectations of your Church that have more to do with where you were born than what’s in the Bible
- Quit serving at your Church if you’re doing it because you think you ‘have to’ or because a member of the Church staff pressured you
- Take responsibility for your relationship with Jesus Christ; quit forcing your pastor to spoon-feed you every Sunday morning
“When you’re attempting to make amends, love people, and get your life straight, your relationships with them must have caring integrity.”
J. Keith Miller, A Hunger For Healing
I had a strong and immediate reaction to this quote when I first read it, a reaction created and driven by a dysfunctional relationship from my past. When I think about attempting to make amends to this person, to love him, and to get my life straight…it’s almost too difficult to contemplate.
I’ve been praying for several weeks for God to help me forgive this person, for Him to give me the strength and courage to make my amends. God did me one better and gave me a big “Aha!” moment by revealing to me what was really behind my resentments. You see, I’d been blinded by my resentments and his harms, and as a result I was unable to see past these surface-level issues.
Then it hit me: The real problem is the nature of our relationship, one based on my dependency and inferiority. The thought of ‘loving’ him as Miller describes above makes me feel like I will revert back to that dependent, inferior role. That is what I’m resentful about! That is why it’s been so hard for me to approach this amends! A healthy, rational part of me knows that to go back to that relationship would be bad for my recovery and bad for me as a person. What that healthy part of me didn’t realize until now is that I don’t have to go back just because I make amends! If anything, by making amends I will actively shed my dependency on this person. Instead of waiting for his command or hoping for his favor, I will be able to look him in the eye and clean up my side of the street without his direction or approval!
One other ‘lightning bolt’ hit me as I read Miller’s quote above: I should have relationships marked by “caring integrity”. However, my relationship with this person was not marked by caring integrity because I hid my true feeling about certain subjects to get his approval. He did not always get honest answers from me because I was afraid of angering or disappointing him; thus my behavior was not one of caring integrity. I could have disagreed as an adult and let him have his own feelings, but instead I tried to manipulate and control his feelings about me by controlling what parts of myself I let him see. One of the things I’m most sorry about is that I never let this person see the real me, only the false image I created for him.