The following is an excerpt adapted from my book, Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity. The excerpt is by Joe McClain.
There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.” And he divided his living between them. —Luke 15:11-12
It was 1980, and my father was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio when I began to perceive the confusing way he treated my mother. I was six years old. I didn’t understand what he was doing, but I knew it wasn’t right.
What I didn’t know was that my father was addicted to pornography and sexual promiscuity, and he treated my mother like an object instead of a person. Needless to say, this led to divorce, leaving my sister and me hurt and bewildered. All we wanted was our parents together under the same roof, even if they were always at each other’s throat.
I found my father’s sexual paraphernalia, and at seven, eight, and nine years old I often perused its detailed illustrations. I soon had my own stash of porn. I will never forget when a friend and I were caught with a Hustler magazine—in elementary school. My mother busted her butt to provide for my sister and me, and being called to school about this was not the proudest day in her life. She told me it was wrong, but I never heard why it was wrong. Sure, it felt dirty, but dirty felt good.
It was at this time that my mother’s third husband, Wes, entered our lives. Wes was a hardworking man, but he struggled with cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and—oh yes, porn. By ten years old I had found his stash of pornographic videotapes and began watching them almost daily. Masturbation took root.
All I ever knew about sexuality, love, romance, the value of women, and relationships was based on what I was watching on TV and finding in the magazines late at night with a flashlight in my bed. I thought this is what “making love” was all about, and what women were good for.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. —Luke 15:13-14
As a teenager it was my mission in life to have as many sexual relationships as possible before graduating. I was trying to impress my father; he had countless girlfriends, and so would I. I wanted to show my father that I was becoming a man who was made in his image and likeness, and I desperately wanted him to be proud of me.
So I, too, didn’t really consider women as persons; they were commodities to be consumed. They existed to please me, to meet my needs. As a senior in high school I took full advantage of girls who wanted to impress me—you know, to show me they could “meet my needs.” They wanted love, affirmation, acceptance, and security, and I wanted their flesh.
In 1991, the first Gulf War broke out, and I was gung-ho to serve. I was eager to prove myself to my father. I graduated first out of a class of 450 U.S. Marines. I had earned “the title”: I was Lance Cpl. Joseph McClane.
Even though the Marines taught me discipline and some honor, my worldview hadn’t changed. In fact, things got worse in the Corps. Drinking, bar fights, strip clubs, porn, and chasing women were pastimes for most of the “Devil Dogs” in my unit.
Upon my discharge from the Marines, I returned home to San Antonio and fell into a deep depression. I spent all my time and money on alcohol, strip clubs, and pornography, gaining a lot of weight and wondering about what occupation I should pursue. I ended up at my sister’s house in Oklahoma City. There was a radio broadcasting school nearby and she thought it would be perfect for me. I thought, “Yeah, chicks dig a cool deejay. I’ll hit it big—a great job, lots of pay, and lots of women.”
But ten months later, seven thousand dollars poorer and with a hundred and fifty “no thank-yous” from radio stations across the country, I sold my car so I could buy a train ticket east. My father was living in New Hampshire with his latest girlfriend and I felt that moving in with him would give me a fresh start. It didn’t take long to find my father’s porn stash and I started using it as often as possible.
It was at my first live remote broadcast, from a Nashuab pizza joint in the summer of 1997, that Michelle introduced herself. She had been calling the show, and we had begun to talk off the air as well. I was enjoying our conversations, trying to make myself sound like the “hip” radio guy. She sounded so cute over the phone, but when I saw her I was caught off guard. She was stunning; and I knew right then and there that I wanted to marry her.
By the end of that year I was working for a local telecommunications company, trying to survive on eight bucks an hour. By the time I did get on my knee and present her the ring, I had worked my way up to project manager, which included a decent pay raise. Michelle said yes.
“But if we’re going to get married,” she said with some hesitancy, “you’re going to have to become a Catholic.”
I grew up in the Church of Christ, but I had fallen away as a teenager and didn’t really care what religion I was. All religions were the same. “Sure, I’ll become Catholic,” I said.
I signed up for RCIA classes at the cathedral in Manchester. There, I found people who tolerated me and my crazy worldview, foul mouth, and twisted sense of humor without making me feel like the biggest sinner on the planet.
One evening during class, I listened to the facilitator read the Beatitudes in St. Matthew’s Gospel and it struck me just how true it rang. “Jesus is talking about seeking holiness,” I thought to myself, “and I am everything the opposite of these beatitudes. I mean, I’m not ‘free’ to live or seek holiness!”
You see, I knew what I would do that night as soon as I got back to the apartment. By then I had high-speed Internet access, and all the porn I could want was a mouse click away. That was my reality, not seeking holiness. I took every opportunity to indulge in lust—listening to the radio, watching TV, or even just replaying the images in my mind. I was a slave to my passions. But there, in that class, I had a moment of clarity. “It’s a good thing I have a long life to live,” I thought. “Maybe someday I will be able to seek holiness; maybe someday I will be ‘free.’”
The Low Point
So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. — Luke 15:15-16
It was a busy couple of years, completing RCIA, planning the wedding, getting married, buying our first house, and then having Michelle’s mother, sister, and two brothers move in months after signing on the dotted line. Yeah . . . good times.
Needless to say, I was feeling overwhelmed and suffocated. My work environment lent itself to my perverse lifestyle, and I was living like a drunken sailor. I yelled at my in-laws constantly, disrespecting them and making them feel unwelcome in my home.
In the spring of 2002, I was laid off. Now, not only was I not bringing home love, charity, and integrity, I was not even bringing home a paycheck. Combine this with the many times my wife had caught me using porn, and she had had enough. She wrote it on a piece of paper: “We’re done. I want a divorce.”
But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’” — Luke 15:17-19
My world was crashing down around me. I had lost my job; I was losing my house, and now my marriage, too. I had nothing left, nowhere to turn, and nothing to hope for.
Desperate, I turned to the one person I was sure would not be there for me: God. I mean, I was never there for him, so why would he give me the time of day? I took up the Bible I was given in RCIA class and opened it to Matthew’s Gospel, chapter five, and began reading those Beatitudes. I didn’t know what else to do. I had no idea what to expect, so I just read them over and over again.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” — Luke 15:20-21
My heart filled with so much emotion and desperation. I got down on my knees and said, “God, I cannot do this. You’re going to have to do this.” I cannot explain how, but in that instant God allowed me to understand things that I didn’t understand the instant before. It was as if scales fell from my eyes.
In that miraculous instant, God allowed me great clarity, and I no longer made excuses for my selfish ways. Not knowing exactly how, I understood for the first time in my life that I had to maintain sexual integrity and practice chastity. For the first day since I was about ten years old, I would not masturbate.
The idea that women were not objects to be consumed but were made in the image and likeness of God, to be truly loved and cherished, confused and mystified me. My marriage was permanent, worth saving, worth working for—yes, even worth suffering for—and I would need to beg my wife to stay and work it out.
Another gift I was given that day was an insatiable hunger to know God. In the moment before, I turned to my Bible out of desperation. But now I could not get enough of God’s word. I had to have more!
I’d had a personal encounter with the living God, but I had no clue who he was.
But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to make merry. —Luke 15:22-24
A few weeks later I entered the confessional, begging God’s mercy for decades of debauchery, abortion, and licentious behavior. I didn’t really expect to receive it, but, as I knelt at the screen, I heard the voice of Christ through the person of the priest saying the most beautiful words I had ever heard: “I absolve you of your sins.”
How many times had I prayed for forgiveness, on my knees even, in the solitude of my bedroom, but had never heard God’s voice? Every time I watched porn, masturbated, or had sex with a woman, I was seeking satisfaction, but every time I found only shame. No matter how many times I “confessed” it privately, I never found God’s mercy, never received the assurance I so desperately desired.
But there, in that confessional, I came as a slave wallowing in the mud with the pigs, and my Father restored my dignity as a son of the most high God! I was lost but now was found! I was dead but was alive again! God clothed me in his mercy, and I was a slave no longer. Now I am truly free to pursue holiness, to live the Beatitudes. Now I realize that I was not born to lust but to truly love; for Christ came to set us free from sin and death.
Sharing my testimony with others even changed my relationship with my father. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in 2002, the same year God brought me to my knees, my father also had an encounter with Christ and gave his life to Jesus. Given the way he had lived his life, it would take some time before my sister and I realized the fruits of his transformation. I had received many letters over the years from him, but one stands out. He handwrote a letter asking me to forgive him for the sins he committed and for the effects they wrought in my life. He also wrote to my sister and my mother as well as others, asking for their forgiveness. I knew at that point he was no longer the same man. However, it was a talk I gave at a men’s conference in July 2008 that changed our relationship. After hearing my testimony, my father wrote me, “It was like getting to know you for the first time, son. . . . I am so proud of you.”
The cycle of sin handed on from one generation to the next will end with me. My father inherited pornography addiction and sexual license from his father, as I had from mine. We once talked of conquest together; now, thanks be to God, we talk of what we now love most—Jesus Christ. I have drawn the line in the sand and have declared, “This far and no farther!” My sons will not inherit this from me. They will not find porn in my home. My daughters will know that they are precious in my eyes and daughters of the most high God, never to be used as objects, but to be truly loved and deeply understood. Although my father is not Catholic, we have much in common; and God is leading us on a journey toward the day when we shall sit together at the same table at the wedding feast of the Lamb.