Continued from Part 2 of Noah’s story…
I was hooked on porn as a Bible college student.
I fell back into it in the first years of my marriage.
I wanted to flee marriage and pursue a life of promiscuity.
As I clung to God through failure, his grace carried me through. He took me into paths of freedom. I had a story to share and I began sharing it.
God rewired my heart and began satisfying the deep places of my soul that longed for validation and approval. I got beyond the simplistic message of “porn is bad, stop,” and even beyond being physically able to restrain myself from it, but all the while still wanting it. I got to the place where I no longer desired pornography.
I wanted other men to experience this too, so I wrote the book Beyond the Battle: A man’s guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world.
Temptation never just disappears.
But here’s the thing: no matter how much freedom you experience in your sexual purity, Satan will never stop attacking you with temptation. When one type of temptation doesn’t work anymore, he just morphs and shifts to another. With the greatest temptation of all being that you no longer need to share your temptations and struggles with others.
When you think you’re strong enough to defeat temptation on your own, Satan has you right where he wants you.
This is what started happening to me, and it was a direct result of publishing a book on sexual purity.
Two years after publishing the first edition of Beyond the Battle, I realized it was becoming natural for me to hold back about the areas I was struggling in. And I didn’t have any structured places to be able to share these things. How can the guy who “wrote the book” on sexual purity still struggle in the area of sexual purity? Doesn’t that make his book a fraud, and him a phony?
I had to be the expert and the answer man, and in so doing, I stopped cultivating places for me to be gut-wrenchingly honest with others.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to find these spaces. To no fault of theirs, I tried cultivating these types of accountability relationships with several guys and it wasn’t cutting it. Guys are busy. And frankly, as a whole, guys are tentative.
An ally relationship isn’t easy.
What I mean is that it’s a rare thing to find an assertive man who will take the initiative to ask you the hard questions. To actually ask you about how you’re doing in an area of purity you have confessed, without you asking him to ask you! To not be passive, but to get up in your grill like an old school football coach.
I don’t mean someone who shames you or lectures you; I mean someone who is going to keep coming at you. To “spur” you on toward love and good deeds like Hebrews 10:24 commands (spur = a sharp metal weapon attached to a boot, designed to kick into an animal’s flesh to make it go forward. Yikes!). To send you obnoxious text messages. To ask you probing questions. And most importantly, to just listen without judgment. To absorb and listen and be present and love. To allow you to expose your darkness into the light, something that is impossible to do on your own. And then to regularly check in with you about it and encourage you.
This just isn’t our culture. Our culture, myself included, is filled with busy men with busy schedules, many who are uncomfortable with grappling at a deep level with these sorts of conversations.
The other factor is this type of relationship takes up a lot of bandwidth. If you asked me to do this for you, I’d instantly say no. If I’m to do this well, I can only do it for a very small number of people. And it must be done well. There’s too much at stake. Everything is at stake.
But, an ally relationship is essential.
I’m tired of hearing from guys how their church isn’t providing this for them. Or how they can’t think of anyone to ask to be this for them in their lives. If you are motivated to be free from sexual sin, you must commit now that you will enter the marathon of finding guys you can have these conversations with and not stop until you’ve succeeded. You need to get past the learned helplessness of quitting because you can’t think of anyone or because the first guy you asked said no, or more likely, said yes but is doing an insufficient job.
Related: Why We All Need an Ally
And don’t get me wrong in all this, I’m not telling you to go find an ally whose job it will be to make you not sin, and to shame you when you do. I’m talking about people you can be vulnerable with and share all of yourself with. Where you can get stuff out into the light before it grows legs.
Most often this will not be during your church small group meetings, which is where we often categorize that this type of accountability will happen. But most church small groups aren’t set up for this. What you need is something more akin to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
The difference between a church small group and an AA meeting is people are intentionally showing up to AA knowing they will be sharing their deepest, darkest secrets. It’s normal. It’s what is expected. It would be strange if you showed up and didn’t share, or if you held back and only talked about surface level things.
This is the type of vulnerable community you and I need.
Accountability starts with ditching shame.
After several failed attempts of reaching out to friends to try to get something like this going in my life, here’s what I did. I emailed 14 guys that I’d feel comfortable bearing the darkest corners of my soul to. You might be saying, “I don’t know 14 guys I can share the darkest corners of my soul to!” I disagree. You do know 14 guys. Everyone knows 14 guys. And if you really don’t know enough guys, join a church small group! Getting to know new people is what church small groups are really good at.
The underlying problem doesn’t lie in not knowing enough people; it’s that we don’t want to share the darkest corners of our soul with the people we know. It’s up to you to believe in grace enough to become completely vulnerable in cultivated contexts of trust.
If you don’t think you’re up for this, I challenge you to believe deeper in grace. To believe deeper that if I’ve been shown grace, how could I not show it to you as well? To believe deeper that grace is the antidote to shame.
Jesus’ grace kills all shame. Yes, you can experience this in your personal time with him, but you must also experience it in bodily form. You need brothers (or sisters) in Christ who can look you in eyes and tell you they love you and accept you, no matter what you’ve done or thought. To model to you in person the love and grace that Jesus pours out to you every second of every day.
Where grace lives, vulnerability abounds.
So I emailed 14 guys and I laid it out there for them. I told them exactly what I needed. I set up the expectations just like an AA meeting does. I told them I would say no if someone asked me for this, so I didn’t want them to feel bad if they had to say no to me. I also told them I didn’t want them all to say yes, because 14 would be too many!
I told them not to say yes to being on this team if it wasn’t something they could follow through on. This is going to look differently for everyone, but I knew I needed some guys I could share everything with when it happened, guys who could remind me of the gospel-truths taught in Beyond the Battle, and guys who would pray for me and check in with me on how I am doing. I asked for a one-sided relationship, making it known in advance I would not be providing these same services to them.
I’m not prescribing that you need to do this the way I did. I’m taking you behind the curtain on what I had to do to make sure I don’t become the next pastor-author guy who ends up cheating on his wife, particularly after writing a book on how to not cheat on your wife. Particularly because Satan’s attacks do increase when you write a book like this, and you’re an utter fool if you think you can fight them off in your strength or maturity.
I wouldn’t stop until I found the vulnerable community I needed. Made up of guys who would defend me and attack Satan back with the supernatural power of prayer, because I knew I needed this vulnerable community in the same way I need oxygen. Or the same way a drowning man who can’t swim needs his friends to jump in to the ocean waters to save him.
You need this too.
I now have a team of five guys who I tell everything. For me, it’s over email and then follow-up text messages.
Do you have a group of guys you can tell everything?
The point is: you can’t do this alone.
The wolf is going to take out the sheep that’s wandering off by itself, not the one buried deep within the pack.
And here’s the thing: I’m not even talking about pornography anymore! For those stuck in the tar pit of porn, I know it feels like you’d do anything to get out and stay out, and once you’re out, you’ll have “arrived.” And I don’t mean to downplay the incredible victory that overcoming pornography is. But we have to know that porn is only the tip of the iceberg.
You will overcome your porn addiction. And when you do, you can’t hang up your cleats and retire from the game of keeping your heart and mind sexually pure. Satan will always try to bring you right back down into the porn pit, but your soul’s longing for validation will also move on to other sources of satisfaction once you take the buffet of porn away.
You need people you can talk to when your eyes seek to objectify women in real life.
When you become dissatisfied with your marriage or with your singleness.
When your movie or TV watching habits take you down roads of sexual sin again and again.
When your thought life becomes rampant with lust.
If you leave these thoughts in your mind and don’t expose them to the light, they will fester there. They will grow legs. They will turn into monsters that get far beyond your control.
Mine were starting to. No one is immune to this.
You need people you can share your sexual temptations and struggles with. I have this in my life now, and what a relief it is. And I have realized that this will always be a part of my life.
Is it a part of yours? If not, take this courageous step today!