Three Personal Stories about Struggle, Addiction, and the Role of the Church to Help
We asked some men and women who have come for help to Harvest USA if they would write a brief testimony on how the church helped (or didn’t help) them. Stories are powerful narratives that can help us learn how we can minister to others more effectively. These brief stories are not meant to cast guilt or blame, but show how struggling people need others to help them in specific ways.
The Heart of Darkness and the Father of Lights
Dirty, ugly, shameful, unwanted, and unloved are a few words I’ve used to describe myself. For twenty years I have lived in the darkness of sexual addiction: a darkness so thick and consuming I thought I would never find a way out. Yet, John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Here is the story of how God is shining His light into my darkness.
My story doesn’t start in darkness. I was raised by Christian parents, attended church, and made a profession of faith at the age of nine. I was the “good girl” who volunteered, memorized Bible verses, and could answer any question in Sunday school. Yet, none of these things kept me from becoming addicted to solo sex and pornography.
Sex was a taboo subject at home and church, so I came to believe that sexual sin was the worst sin. The first time I engaged in solo sex, I assumed I had lost God’s love. I had attended True Love Waits weekends, but they only discussed purity. They didn’t mention redemption or grace for those who weren’t pure. This only strengthened my belief that God no longer loved me.
My addiction to solo sex became a persistent coping mechanism I used to deal with life. As is the nature of addiction, eventually I needed more to achieve the same emotional release. Pornography was perfect in feeding the addiction.
After 10 years of not finding freedom, I finally decided to talk with someone. Two times I talked with elders from my church. These conversations increased my sense of shame and despair. I was told I was sinning, was given practical suggestions, even a referral for professional help. But I didn’t hear what I most needed: how the gospel—the good news that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a present hope and power—could be applied to the very real struggles I was facing in life.
The next year God began moving in my heart. I attended a small group Bible study and listened as another elder spoke of God’s steadfast love for His children. I desperately longed for that kind of love, but believed I could never have it. That kind of love was too good to be true for someone like me. Yet, God was determined to hunt me down. This elder took time to get to know me. To him, I wasn’t a problem to be solved or fixed. I was a scared human being in need of the gospel. In that study I continued to hear of God’s love and grace each week, even while I continued to disbelieve it.
January 16, 2012, is a day I will never forget. On that day the truth of John 1:5 came alive to me. I shared my story and the light of the gospel shone into the darkest corners of my heart. I wept as this same elder spoke words of love, peace, restoration, and forgiveness to me. Over and over again he showed me the love of God in Christ. Did he talk about my sins and struggles? Yes, but he didn’t focus on them. Instead, he led me gently back into the arms of the Good Shepherd.
Two days later I shared my story with my pastor, and he, too, applied the truth of the gospel to my heart. He showed me the heart of the Father in Jesus. One thing that has made it easier to talk with my pastor is his willingness to talk about these struggles from the pulpit. He doesn’t treat them like a taboo subject or some delicate topic we have to tiptoe around. He is comfortable talking about them the same way he does any other temptation or struggle. Because of his approach, I am not scared of shocking or surprising him.
In the last five years, I have learned more about God as Father and His steadfast love than at any other time in my life. I have started to believe the truth that His love and grace knows no bounds. Our Father loves to lavish His grace on sinners like me.
Two years ago I heard about Harvest USA and met Ellen Dykas at a PCA Women’s Leadership Training conference. I was encouraged to learn that an organization existed with staff that was trained to help people deal with sexual sins and addictions. In many ways, it was a relief to learn I was not the only woman struggling in this area. Ellen reminded me that God could, and would, redeem this part of my story. She was gracious and kind as she listened to my story and my struggles, and reminded me many times of God’s love and grace to me.
The temptations are still a struggle, and may always be so. I’ve stopped praying for God to take them away. Instead, my prayer is to love Him more than I desire the addictions. I am so thankful that my life in Him doesn’t depend on how tightly I hold His hand; it’s all about how tightly He’s holding mine. According to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” God’s grace is meant to go somewhere, and I cannot wait to see how He uses this part of my story to help other women.
Rebuilding My Life
I was raised in a loving Christian home. In spite of that, however, my sexuality was deeply impacted by two sexual experiences I had with other kids in two churches I attended over the years. The first encounter occurred when I was about 11, with another boy, and the second one was with a girl, three years later. Both those relationships left me boundary-less when it came to trying to live within God’s design for sex. Porn was also part of what I was exposed to as young boy, and that fueled a reckless and unforgiving idol in my life.
When I first realized that I had participated in a homosexual act, I panicked inside. I struggled to reconcile what I knew to be wrong with how my body felt. Then, when I had my second relationship, with a girl, I felt relief. But that wasn’t the right way to think, either. Instead of being focused on how I should manage my sexuality before God, I was obsessed with not being “that.” I knew and felt the shame of being defined as gay by others.
As I matured into my teen and college years, sexual relationships then became very easy. It was my “social currency.” I began to take more sexual risks, crossing every boundary, desperately trying to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of my sexual idolatry. The details don’t matter, but this point does: I was a good, Christian boy raised in a good Christian home and community, and my life didn’t look any different from the world and what it promotes sexually. I wasn’t the only Christian who found himself in this place.
I am exceedingly thankful for the folks at Harvest USA and how God continues to work in my life. As I reflect on where I have been and where I am now, there are several things I wish my church would have spoken about and taught. I think it might have made a big difference in the life of a young boy who was scarred early on.
I wish the church spoke about the gift of sex that God created, and how it was to be used positively. Instead, I only heard about what was wrong with sex. I wish I heard the church talk about how to deal with your sexual feelings and desires, because the world did, and it filled the void of knowledge, confusion, curiosity and lust that lived inside of me. I knew all the Christian doctrines, but in my heart I was helpless to resist, a slave to my desires—for the next 25 years!
I have been like so many, living in secrecy and shame, and not knowing how the Scriptures could actually be applied to these issues. It is my hope that the Church will learn to love its children enough to move past the social awkwardness associated with discussions on sexuality and teach them that sexuality is a tremendous gift from God. And that it would teach practically how Satan and a broken world seeks to confuse and distort God’s design for sexuality, while at the same time reaching out to those who suffer from sexual brokenness, telling them that the power of God’s love does indeed set one free.
Honestly Facing the Facts
I am a woman in her late 20’s. After college I “stumbled” across pornography following a broken relationship. I was crushed and lonely. Looking at porn began as a curiosity, and I rationalized that even while looking at it, I wasn’t really ensnared—I was still in control. When I did look at it, it was only a moment of “weakness.” But a nagging voice kept saying something else. I was allowing sin to run rampant in my life, fueling lust, and fleeing to a false refuge for relief and comfort. The more I ran to it, the less comfort and relief it brought. It became a vicious cycle that I hid from everyone. After every fall I would be crushed with guilt and shame; I would ask for forgiveness; I would feel better; and then shortly thereafter fall again. Frightening questions rose in my mind: “Am I really a Christian if I struggle with these particularly dark sins? How do I stop this? Is there any hope of this ever changing? What must God think of me?”
During this time, I went to seminary, and God brought into my life a few good female friends who were honest about their own similar struggles. As they were transparent with me, I was freed up to confess, too. I found out that as a Christian woman, I was not the only one struggling with pornography and masturbation! After sharing my own struggles, a weight lifted off of me. I see the gracious hand of God in bringing these friends into my life.
Harvest USA has been a huge light to me in all this. A few of my friends and I joined a Harvest USA biblical support group to walk through the Sexual Sanity for Women workbook material. There we found a place to be honest about our sin. We learned humility, as well, as we lifted one another up in encouragement and prayer. We learned the freedom of confession, the need for accountability, and the power of God’s grace and love. We sensed the Spirit moving in each of us to desire real change. We wondered, why are these healing and life-giving groups happening at Harvest USA, and not in our own churches?
As for my church, I never heard the subject of pornography and masturbation brought up as something women struggled with. There’s a whisper here and there about a men’s group, but that’s all. But now I know that women do struggle in this area, so there must be other women who were like me, alone, caught in the same vicious cycle I was once trapped in. I fear that they, too, are overwhelmed with guilt and shame, since no one is talking about this. I’m praying that God will open up this subject for discussion and that a community of women would rise up and shepherd one another. As Jesus went outside and brought in the bruised lambs, so we can, in his power, go and find those who are hiding and bring them to the Shepherd who heals our souls.