What I Want More Than an End to Porn

A friend told me recently about a kid in third grade who was having behavioral troubles: saying and doing weird stuff, relating oddly to his peers. A little sleuth work from adults who love him revealed why: he’d been exposed to—and nearly devoured by—porn on his phone. He is eight years old.

EIGHT.

This story was shocking because of the age of the person involved, but sadly not because of the content. More and more I hear from pastors and friends and wives-of-husbands and mothers-of-teens about the soul-destroying , imagination-crushing, joy-sapping and trust-smashing effects of pornography. In their homes. Classrooms. Churches.

And, more recently, I’ve had young men (and women, because this is not just a men’s issue) tearfully confess to me how they feel like they’re drowning in this addiction. They know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t know how to stop. They can’t unsee what they’ve seen, and somewhere deep inside them there’s an insatiable visceral growl to see more, and more, and more.

I feel their despair and some of their hopelessness: addictions are so hard to break. Will they ever be able to have healthy sex lives? Is it really that bad? If they’re Christians, will God forgive them? Will they ever be able to go to sleep and not be assaulted by mental images that tantalize and torment them?

Of course, there’s all the research out there that says STOP, JUST STOP using porn. It’s bad for you: it’s rewiring your brain, wrecking adolescentsdestroying your capacity for intimacy in relationships, underpinning human trafficking, and more. Heck, even manly man magazine GQ has a list of reasons why you should stop watching porn, including that it declines arousal rates, increases rates of erectile dysfunction, and leads to all-round lower energy and productivity rates.

Stopping such high-sensory-feedback, addictive habits is notoriously difficult, particularly when there’s the cloak of shame that makes community support and encouragement (often the bedrock of any addiction recovery plan) all the more difficult. But the good advice and necessary steps to stopping remain important and true:

  • find a buddy/community who can help you identify when you feel weakest/most likely to indulge.
  • take practical steps to make access more difficult for you: alcoholics purge their homes of alcohol. Porn addicts  need to get their screens the heck out of their bedrooms and enclosed spaces. Put your phone and laptop in the living room. Keep the office door open. Install software that flags porn and give someone else the passwords to check it.
  • Look for the encouragement from people who’ve walked this road before you, whether in person or online. There are stories of people who’ve come out on the other side. These are important for the wisdom they give as well as for cultivating hope. We *need* to hear stories of people who will say “I used to have these images in my mind ALL the time, but it’s been a year and I’m not so haunted anymore. It gets better.”
  • Celebrate little victories. A year without porn doesn’t happen until you’ve had a day, two days, three days, a week without it. Each of these is worth celebrating.

But the more I listen and read and pray over this situation, the more I realize that I want more for people than for them to stop using pornYes, I want them to be free of the entrapment and shame and damage that it does – but I want more for them than freedom. Just like I want more for a caged animal than for it to be let out of its cage: I want to see it run free in its habitat. I want to see it flourishing in the areas it wasn’t able to before.

This is what I want for a generation trapped in porn addiction: I want them to be free, but I want more:

  • I want for you to have a network of healthy, rich, rewarding relationships with men and women of different ages. I want you to be able to laugh, work, partner, play, and grow with men and women in friendship and companionship, without it being weird or erotic. I want for you, young men, to have female FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I want for you, young women, to have male FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I don’t want you to be afraid of your own psyche or taunted imagination: I want you to be able to share a story or a project or a hug or whatever with freedom and joy with men or women around you.
  • I want you to kindle your creative imagination: to use your time and energy to devote to something you love and can do well. Hours of addiction, particularly addiction which rewires our brain with (terrible!) narrative plots, kill our imagination. I want you to invent something, build something, write something, chase after an ambition, run a 10k race, take up rock climbing, adopt a puppy and train it to do amazing tricks. Whatever. I want to see you experience joy and fulfillment in something you put your energy into.
  • I want you to experience your sexuality – your maleness or femaleness – as something good, beautiful, and true – not terrifying or debilitating or depraved. We are not androgynous personalities, we are male and female in all our relationships and endeavors, and I want you to know that being a woman is good and being a man is good and to think and pray and explore what that means. Our sex-crazed society has eroticized all of our gendered conversations and I want us to reclaim that good and holy ground: what does it mean to be a BROTHER and not just a sibling? What does it mean to be a DAUGHTER and not just a child? How is it unique that you are a GUY-friend or a GIRL-friend to your community? How do we experience being sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in the church?
  • I want you to know the powerful and healing good of non-sexual, physical touch. Greet one another with a holy kiss, the Apostle said; and Jesus—while totally able to heal with a word—repeatedly TOUCHED people in his dealings with them. I want you to be able to give and receive hugs, handshakes, and the laying on of hands in prayer in life-affirming ways.
  • I want you to know, both in conviction and hopefully one day in experience, the richness that married sex can bring. It’s so much better, so much more rewarding, so vastly different from the sex that is peddled online. I want you to know that it’s possible and doable, even for broken people. I know, because I’m one of them.

Thinking through this list gives me courage, though. Because while there’s not a lot I can do to help people STOP using porn, there’s a lot I can do to help be part of a redeeming and healthy community of men and women. I can invite men and women over and be a healthy female friend to them. I can ask questions about people’s interests and hobbies and encourage them in them in creativity: attend that art exhibition, cheer them on in their first race, post a picture of their cool art on instagram. I can notice and affirm healthy relationships where I see them – for someone who’s internally feeling that they are not a safe or worthwhile person to be in a relationship with the opposite sex because of their internal shame struggle with porn, perhaps it could be life giving to have someone else affirm: “you were a good friend to her when you said/did x,y,z.” And, of course, we can be healthy touchers. I’m a believer in hugs and handshakes and words of affirmation. And, as readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in sharing hopeful, redemptive stories about marriage and sex.

There’s a battle going on for the hearts, minds, and imaginations of this generation. I can’t be the 1am gatekeeper or take down the porn industry; but this much I can do:

I can pray.

I can encourage.

And I can help be part of the forgiven and flourishing community of women and men that God intended for us, and keep inviting people to experience True Life there.

This much, I can do.

 

 

Ask Me: How Should I Respond to the SCOTUS Decision if I Disagreed?

Dear Bronwyn,

How would you suggest Christians who don’t believe in the morality of gay marriage react to a culture at large who will attack and invalidate a dissenting opinion as hateful and bigoted? Almost everyone I know who disagrees is too afraid to say anything to the contrary lest they be verbally assaulted – by Christians and non-Christians. Is it just best to hold to the unpopular truth with as much love and gentleness as we can, and take the inevitable hate that is going to spew our way? Or be silent on the matter and show love and acceptance (without approval)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Conscience-Bound
Dear CB,
Within my own Christian community, there are those that were celebrating Friday’s decision, and a number who bore the day with heaviness. The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage was SIGNIFICANT, for a host of reasons.
The question is: what do you say or do now, if you were hoping the decision would go the other way? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Take the long view:
I loved Andy Crouch’s advice in this interview. He urges us to take the long view: our culture is in the middle of a long conversation about what it means to be male and female. This decision reflects part of a much longer arc – so we have some thinking to do on that. Here’s Andy’s quote (at length), but I found it so helpful:

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, we have to see this as a multi-generational story of our culture trying to negotiate whether there is any significance to our creation as male and female in the image of God. That is not going to turn on a dime, and healthy cultural change actually never happens quickly. It’s worth remembering that Christians — both liberal/progressive and conservative, but especially the modernist Protestants who were then in positions of cultural power — created and sustained the ideology of racism that gained power in the 19th century, advancing the supposedly “scientific” belief, concurrent with the rise of Darwinism, that some races were intrinsically superior to others. And there were plenty of Supreme Court decisions along the way — Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson — that seemed to reinforce that arc of history. It took the better part of a century to reverse that profound insult to the biblical doctrine of the image of God, which was always meant to be expressed in human cultural and ethnic diversity.

If, as I believe, we’re in the midst of an equally mistaken denial of the image of God in human beings as male and female, that is not going to be undone quickly. So any contribution to the discussion about this month’s decision should take the long view. What is our hope for human beings, male and female, several generations from now? What kind of society do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children? The more that our contributions to the conversation can be hopeful — not necessarily optimistic in the short run, but hopeful in the long run — the more chance we have of helping our society turn the corner on these issues.

2. Take it as an opportunity to refocus.

One of my professors at Bible College warned us often that those who taught wrong doctrine were in just as much trouble as those who taught right doctrine, but gave it the wrong emphasis. Christian cults are often guilty of exactly this: teaching true things, but in such disproportion that the net effect is not a faithful witness to the gospel.

I found Ed Cyzewski’s perspective helpful here: he views the SCOTUS decision as a gift to the church: an opportunity for us to recalibrate and, rather than using all our energy on fighting same-sex marriage, to major on the majors according to Jesus in Matthew 25. We have a hurting, bleeding, poor, starving world all around us, with nearly a third of people not yet even having the beginning of a Bible being translated in their language. We have work to do. Prayers to pray. Money to give strategically to Kingdom work. Let’s get busy.

3. Find a way to put it into perspective.

As I’ve said before (here and here, for example), I think that we fail in the realm of sexual ethics on a whole host of fronts. Our world is full of people struggling with pornography, our churches have adulterers and divorcees and who knows how many couples who are sexually active before they are married. Every one of these falls short of what God has said (even though, for example, a couple living together may not think there is anything morally objectionable about their arrangement at all!) And yes, I believe same-sex relationships are a violation of God’s sexual ethic, too.

So, for me it is helpful to see this current crisis in the bigger context: another way in which we need to think deeply about how we talk about sexuality and sex and our bodies, and what Scripture says to these bigger issues. God’s word is good and his truth is freedom – somehow, we need to be better at figure out how to give a vision for God’s good for us in his words on sexuality, and prayerfully seek gracious truth in how we encourage one another towards righteousness in all areas of life, and all areas of sexuality. This article from Karen Swallow Prior on Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture is a truly excellent example of this.

4. And if you take abuse, turn the other cheek.

It’s okay to be disappointed—heartbroken, even—but don’t be angry. If we are being labeled as  bigot or haters, I think that is a real invitation for us to search our hearts and figure out if there is any truth to those accusations. Have we majored on a minor, or caused “a little one to stumble” in our dealings? If so, we need to apologize for being offensive.

But if you know in your heart that you were not being hateful, that your position is one of sadness and wishing it were different for the sake of others’ well-being, then dear friend: try to turn the other cheek. As one wise counselor once said to me in marriage counseling, “What’s more important here: being right? Or being in relationship?”

Take courage. Jesus is still King and he has given us work to do. Let’s get on with it.

 

Garden-variety God-thoughts: overkill

My two best times for thinking are in the shower, and when I’m gardening. Some say their very best thinking happens while they run, but this is a hypothesis I am never going to test. So I shower, and I garden, and while I garden, I think. My soil time is soul time, good for reflecting on how things grow, and on dealing with sins as weeds.

Last week, however, I realized that sometimes I can take weeding a little too far.

Two months ago I planted an entire bed of sweet onions. One by one, I had laid them in neat little rows. I was so thrilled when they sprouted strong green tops. Surely this was a sign of deep growth happening beneath the soil.

Inevitably, the weeds grew too. Little creeper weeds began to grow and cover the area between each onion, creating an intricate lattice work of not-onions. There were a lot of them, and I began to panic about how my baby onions would fare.

In a rush one afternoon, I judged that my trusty scuffle hoe with its 3″ wide edge could safely and easily maneuver between the 4″ spaced rows. So scuffle, scuffle, scuffle I went.

Hoe hoe hoe. Weeds gone.

And within two days, most of my onions gone too. Not so Ho Ho Ho.

They were too young, too tender, too vulnerable for my vigor. They needed hand-weeding. They needed just a bit more time.

The onions made me think of one student in particular I mentored some years ago. She had a young, fledgling faith and it was exciting to see her grow. But there were things in her life which, if left for too long, would cause her damage: bad habits, bad relationships, less-than-wise choices.

However, instead of helping her deal with those gently, pulling sinful “weeds” out one by one, I went in with a spiritual scuffle hoe: full of advice on how to overhaul her life from top to bottom. Immediately.

Weeds gone. For a short while.

But within two months, she was gone too.

Let’s not deal with people with a scuffle hoe.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” – Galatians 6:1

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Fall

This is a 5 minute writing exercise from Lisa-Jo Bakers Five Minute Friday. Five minutes of writing on the topic fall. Here goes.

“Did God really say you may not eat of the tree?”

Hmm. Now that the snake puts it that way, I’m not so sure. It seemed pretty clear at the time. Besides which, dear hubby was the one who got the instructions anyway. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. I’m usually the details one out of us two anyway.

No, no. He did say not to eat it. Or to touch it. I’m not sure. But this serpent is confusing me. Maybe he’s right. And why not give it a try. It looks good. And how bad can it possibly be to know more than just good? Good, good, good – that’s what God said. But how can I know I don’t like evil if I haven’t even tried it? And besides which, if I don’t like it, I can just quit. Don’t have to try it ever again. And I bet Adam would like a bite. He prefers the redder fruits anyway.

Not so much a fall from grace as a leap, really.