12 Apr 2018
Pornography is more than looking at sexual images; it’s an all-encompassing worldview that many men and women embrace to find relief from their struggles in life. But by turning to porn, they find deeper struggles. Jesus shows us a way out and forward: lay down your life. Lose it in order to find it.
Click here to read more on what Mark is saying on his blog: “Losing Your Life: Jesus’ Invitation to a Porn Struggler”
05 Apr 2018
I didn’t struggle with porn at first; I enjoyed porn. Porn promised satisfaction, uncovered secrets, and pretended intimacy. Then at a moment of spiritual crisis, I realized that porn wouldn’t ultimately satisfy me.
But though I saw the truth, living it out in my life was a much harder and longer process, one that took years.
What got me through that struggle? As “Sunday school answer” as it sounds, a Bible verse did. At the time, though I imagined a life free from pornography, it didn’t seem like I could ever get there.
Then I read Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (ESV). This verse transformed the way I began to look at my struggle with porn.
Before reading Philippians 1:6, I thought that I had little chance of me shifting from the way I was living to the way I should have been living because whether I succeeded was up to me. But what could I do? I was someone who regularly gave into the temptation to view porn, so the chances of success were slim. But Philippians 1:6 taught me this: Whether I succeeded in escaping from porn’s grip was not up to me, but up to God. And God always finishes what He begins.
Was God working in my life or not?
That was the question I had to ask myself. If God had begun to work in me, then He would finish it. If not, maybe I would never be free.
In my life, God gave me a sign. When I repented of my porn struggle and confessed it, God gave me half a year without porn. I had a decisive (though temporary) break with this sin. Looking back at that time, I knew that God had started something.
Then that initial success blew apart; I slowly began to look at porn again. A slow trickle of looks gave way to a flood of viewing. And once I fell back into repeatedly viewing porn, I started to doubt. Is God really at work in me? Maybe that’s where you are as you read this. But this is what I realized: The very fact that I was concerned about the question was a sign that God was already at work in my heart.
That meant something huge. Since God had started His work in me, I knew He would finish it.
Completing the Work
Maybe as you read that, you’re thinking, “Well, if God is going to do it, I don’t have to try so hard, right?” But that’s not the attitude that makes sense.
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine you’re running a half marathon. You know that you can only win if you run the race faster than you’ve ever run, which seems impossible.
Now imagine that somehow, you know in advance that you’re going to win the race as long as you keep running. How will you now approach running this race? What are you going to do? As you run this race and find yourself exhausted halfway through, will you give up? No! You’ll run even faster because you know you will win!
When you have Philippians 1:6 in hand, and you believe that God’s “good work in you” was accomplished in Christ’s death on the cross for you, you have hope and encouragement to fight pornography and any other sexual sin. If you can see the value of the prize, the promise of success provides more motivation to overcome the power of pornography.
Winning the Prize
What is the prize? On one level, it’s freedom from the shackles of pornography. It’s also freedom from guilt. But most important, the prize you get from quitting porn is intimacy with God.
Right around the time I realized that porn really wasn’t worth it, I remember thinking, in a moment of inspiration, If I don’t get porn out of my life, I can’t draw near to God. I’ve never again felt the force of that thought quite in the same way (inspiration just never seems to last!), but neither have I forgotten it. How could I draw near to God when there was a huge part of my life that I wanted to hide from Him? How could I love God when my heart was wrapped up in pornography, in desires that enslaved my heart?
What about you? In your most sane moments, when sex isn’t anywhere in your mind, wouldn’t you prefer a life of sexual integrity and knowing God closely, to a life of sexual sin and distance from God and others? One type of life leads you to love others and delight in who they are; the other leads you to live for yourself and use others for your selfishness.
One leads to life; the other to death.
Perhaps you don’t feel any desire for God right now because you are so ensnared in porn. What then? Well, think about what you’re reading here: Even if you don’t feel a desire for God, maybe you at least wish that you had a desire for God. Maybe you just hope that someday you could wish for a desire for God.
I want you to know that even the smallest hint of that desire might be the first flicker of God’s work in you. It was for me. Then add to that the promise of Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”
So run the race! Because of Jesus, we know that we will succeed. Fan that flicker of love for God into flames, and one day, you will be free from pornography. Then, on the day of Jesus’ return, we will all be free from sin forever, and we will know God, the deepest desire of our hearts, perfectly and eternally.
Devastated! For most wives, that word describes sexual betrayal. When a woman confides that she’s discovered her husband’s porn habit or his infidelity with an online sexual encounter, what do you say to help? What can you do?
Here are five good first steps to take:
- Listen, listen, listen
The woman in front of you just had her world rocked, and a primary way to love and help her NOW is to know her and understand her situation. Too often, wives who find out about their husband’s porn problem hear others minimize their pain. “Is it really that bad? You’re making such a big deal out of this! It’s not like it’s with a real person!”
No, this is a big deal! Porn, along with its many ancillary behaviors, means that her husband has gone outside the marriage and engaged sexually with others, and the fact that it’s an online image, person, or fantasy persona doesn’t matter.
You’ll need patience and self-control too, to hear her heart and resist the urge to overwhelm her with interrogating questions, advice, resources, or actions you think she must take now. No, make your initial priority to love her through listening, comforting, and knowing. Don’t be afraid to cry with her and get angry at sin with her. Give her hope from Scripture, like Psalm 32: 8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Leaning into Jesus will give you everything you need to gently help this wife do the same.
- Understand that sexual betrayal is traumatic
This wound can trigger paralyzing fear, depression, sadness, confusion, and bitter anger. Any combination of these is a normal response! Your willingness to grasp trauma’s impact is vital. God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
- Offer practical help and love-in-action
Are there practical ways to help her today or this week? Childcare, meals, making phone calls? If she discovered her husband’s sin rather than him confessing it, she may need help knowing how and when to confront him and may desire that someone be with her for this scary conversation. The goal is for all things to be “brought into the light” (1 John 1:7) so that the couple is facing the truth of their situation and not a façade. This is the healing path that Christ is calling them to walk: honesty, humility, and a new beginning through the gospel of grace which enables repentance.
God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
If everything is out on the table already, yet her husband is resisting repentance (say by minimizing what he has done), and refusing to get help, she may need guidance and encouragement to speak with a pastor or another trusted spiritual leader, effectively ‘outing’ her husband and his sin. This marriage is in crisis, and it needs outside help from one or two mature believers. This kind of sin and the pain it causes won’t just work itself out in isolation.
- Check in on her and follow-up
Follow up is not just important, it is probably the most powerful help you can give. A text, call, FaceTime chat, walk around the block are simple ways to help her not feel so alone.
Do not fear getting in over your head, or that to love this woman means signing your life away. Yes, you will be giving her your time because right now she’s hurting and needy. Focus on this week and not on an unknown future. Reach out to her with love, even if this week your presence can only be a series of text messages that say you are praying or a Scripture passage. The main thing is: keep in touch.
- If you’re her husband reading this, you must be completely honest
This means full disclosure of what you’ve been involved in. Not the nitty-gritty details, but enough to be fully known. I cannot emphasize how painful it is when a confession comes in like a slow trickle of admissions over weeks or months. Ongoing deception will be crushing to your wife, and it will profoundly damage any attempt to rebuild trust.
If you need help, listen to a podcast by Brad Hambrick called False Loves. Steps 4 and 5 regarding repentance and confession are particularly practical. God is with you in this humbling and scary process, and you can only take responsibility for your obedience and not your wife’s response to your confession.
These 5 points will help you connect well with a hurting wife. She, and the marriage, will need lots of different kinds of help over time. But utilizing these five things will help her move forward on the right foot, gently helping her to trust Jesus to bring healing to her heart and wisdom over the long haul.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, every broken marriage has two sinners contributing to it. A wife is never responsible for her husband’s sin, yet I’ve seen God use the trial of sexual betrayal to bring transformation to so many wives. One woman said,
“I was not only bitter towards my husband but marriage in general and ultimately towards God as well. If God was sovereign, why did he allow me to marry a man with such a struggle that was so isolating for me? As God worked on my heart through a couple of friends who journeyed with me through this season, I began to see that I needed grace as much as my husband. My lack of forgiveness was just as despicable to God as his pornography. At the foot of the cross, we were equally in need of Christ’s mercy.”
Hurting wives and struggling husbands need Christ’s mercy, just like those of us who want to love them well and wisely. Hopefully, these five steps can assist you in doing just that.
Ellen talks more about this on her accompanying video: What Should I Say to a Hurting Wife? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
14 Mar 2018
In the second part of this two-part blog on how to help wives whose husbands are looking at porn, Ellen gives five key things to say and do, at the beginning, to effectively help.
Click here to read more on what Ellen is saying on her blog: Wives and Porn: What to Say or Do that Really Helps – Part 2
08 Mar 2018
What to say to a friend who has discovered her husband has been looking at porn is important. What NOT to say is even more critical. Ellen gives five common remarks wives hear from friends and leaders, well-meaning comments that are anything but helpful and encouraging.
Click here to Ellen’s blog, “Wives and Porn: What Not to Say after She Knows.” And click here to read our harvestusa magazine, “Just What is Godly Sex?” where there are two articles on how marriages can heal after sexual sin: www.harvestusa.org/magazines
Another wife, another victim of her husband’s porn problem. Another marriage reeling in pain and shame. I kept listening to her reading her journal.
“God, I come to you very weak and broken, grieved over my husband’s sin. I feel shocked, betrayed, angry, distrustful, and sad at sin’s corrupting power – very aware of my own desperate need for grace as I confront him.”
I wrote these words in a journal entry when I discovered that my husband had been viewing porn. Although I knew of his struggle prior to our marriage, I naively assumed that he was finished battling porn and that our marital bliss would provide the antidote he needed against temptation. I felt my dream of a happy, secure marriage in which I felt compellingly beautiful to my husband were instantly shattered that afternoon.”
In the ache of her raw emotions and pain, what would you say to this woman if she reached out to you?? I’ve sat with hundreds of women over the years who’ve faced the trauma of a husband’s sexual unfaithfulness. As if being betrayed wasn’t enough, many people tell these women unhelpful things that heap more confusion and pain onto their situation.
Here are five things never to say immediately to a wife after she learns her husband has been unfaithful sexually through sins like pornography, adultery, and sexual fantasy.
- “Well, you do realize don’t you, that most men, including Christians, struggle with these things?”
This kind of response minimizes both the ugliness of sin and the real pain a wife experiences. Yes, reports keep coming in with staggering and sobering statistics regarding how many men (and increasing numbers of women) are struggling with pornography addiction. However, as well meaning as it may be to attempt to normalize sin, these words will wound rather than help a wife just after she has learned that her husband is also a struggler.
- “I know it seems impossible now, but God is going to make something so beautiful out of this! Before you know it, you’ll be looking back on this with praise and thanksgiving!”
Those who want to truly offer comfort and help to a wife need to avoid spiritualizing her pain, which is something so easy for us to do when we feel uncomfortable.
A time will come when we will need to challenge and exhort this hurting woman with God’s redemptive purposes through trials. Often however, a wife first needs to be comforted and known by someone, to be able to hear and comprehend what God’s bigger picture may be. It’s always a good idea to encourage someone to look to Christ; it’s just as important, however, to discern what a traumatized person is ready to hear and receive.
- “Wow, if you think that’s bad…listen to what so and so’s husband did! At least what your husband did isn’t ___________________.”
One-upping someone’s difficult circumstances rarely leads to Christ-centered encouragement. Furthermore, minimizing a woman’s specific situation and pain attached to it can be devastating. Comparing stories so as to make a wife’s own not seem so bad will actually communicate that she shouldn’t make a big deal out of it.
- “I know you’re hurting right now, but I have to ask you, how often are you having sex with him? Have you asked him recently if there were ways you needed to change your appearance to please him?”
Oh, the anger that boils up in my heart when women tell me this is what friends and spiritual leaders have said to them in the vulnerable minutes after they reveal their anguish! Sex shared in love between a husband and wife is important. However, a lack of sex is never the cause of another’s sinful choices. Never place blame on a wife for what her husband has pursued and done. Two people contribute to every broken marriage in one way or another, but God holds each of us responsible for our own sinful choices.
- “What?! Are you kidding me? Men are all the same…and we all know they’re after one thing: satisfying their own selfish lusts. Time for you to get OUT of this marriage.”
Sexual sin is a grievous breaking of the marriage covenant between a husband and wife. There are many marriages which do not survive the anguish of this form of betrayal. However, there are many marriages which not only survive but thrive in a rich new flourishing after a long season of healing, hard work, forgiveness, and restored trust. You don’t know what can happen, so never make definitive pronouncements to a wife whose world has been rocked.
Now that we’ve covered some of the don’ts, next week I’ll share several do’s that can guide you in offering both truth and mercy to hurting wives.
Ellen talks more about this on her accompanying video: What should I NOT say to a hurting wife. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
The #MeToo movement keeps rolling along. As with any new cause, there is a tendency to go overboard and push things too far, but overall what has happened has been a very good thing. As a father who raised a daughter, I worried that she would be taken advantage of and then shamed or scared into silence. What a horrible experience that is for a child, for a young girl or boy to go through! With every outing of such men and their behavior, I say, Good! You finally got caught!
The latest offender in the #MeToo public bullseye is Larry Nassar, the doctor at Michigan State University who has been on trial for sexually abusing more than 100 girls. So many of the men in the news who are accused of sexual violence and misconduct did these things over and over. For years. With victim after victim silenced by power, reputation, fear, and shame.
The details of what they did vary, but what finally brought about the means to stop them was the same. They got caught. That is, someone talked. One woman, and then another, and another, mustered up the courage to give voice to expose such evil. Tragically, horribly, inexcusably, it took years for those voices to be heard. But finally someone listened, and now we are all listening.
We have an expression in our men’s biblical support groups here at Harvest USA:
It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.
Here’s what I mean. Many of the men who come to our biblical support groups are married, and they’ve been trapped in pornography. They aren’t sexual predators like Nassar, but in some ways, they are like him. They’ve spent years doing these behaviors, hiding their behavior, lying to their wives and family and looking respectable on the outside, while giving their hearts over to desires that rule them and own them.
A few self-confess and seek help. But the majority have gone so far with their sin, and have staked their livelihoods on their reputation and identity, that outing themselves is unlikely. Getting caught becomes the only way out.
But getting caught does not feel like God’s mercy at all. It feels like hell itself! Their entire world has crashed down upon them. Some have lost jobs, others their marriage and family, all have had their polished public image ripped to shreds.
Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And then we tell them when they show up at group, “It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.”
It takes some time before the men come around to understanding this.
First, they have to acknowledge a strange paradox of human behavior. Rachael Denhollander, the gymnast whose legal action outed Larry Nassar, gave a stirring Christian testimony at Nassar’s sentencing where she touched on that paradox. She spoke about how Nassar pursued his desires to get sexual satisfaction from his victims, while being, at the same time, ruled by those same desires. She said, “You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others…”
Sin is slavery, said Jesus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And the first damage it does is to your own heart. Because sin—repeated sin—over time hardens your heart. Hardens it to the point where the heart begins to justify whatever it wants. Freezes it, with little warmth or compassion left for those you hurt because your needs must be met. Eventually, that heart, though made in the image of God and capable of great love and beauty and kindness, becomes the shadow of death to others and to itself.
In her testimony, Rachel then spoke about what repentance and forgiveness would mean for her abuser. “The Bible you carry speaks a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found…I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God…”
All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to Larry Nassar. Sure, primarily because the evil he did has now been stopped, and justice is now being meted out on him for his crimes. But also for his sake. That is what Rachael is offering him. He now has a chance to face, while still alive in this world, a God whom he would inevitably face in the world to come. Repentance is being offered to him, a chance for him to allow God to restore his heart and his humanity.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to the men who come into our groups. Only now can they clearly see themselves and their behavior, see the damage it has done to others, the damage to themselves, and fall upon the grace Christ gives only to those who know they are guilty.
If we are honest with ourselves, all of us need to be caught. We need the eyes of others to see us, and we need their voices to speak up when they see us act wrongly. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to do these very things with one another: “But exhort one another…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Where does this blog find you? Are you still in hiding? Jesus warned, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Either way, it’s God’s mercy to us.
Nicholas talks more about this on his accompanying video: Why Is It Good to Get Caught in Your Sin? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
01 Feb 2018
When you get caught in sin, it’s an awful feeling. No one likes to get called out for their behavior. But when it comes to living your life in secret, getting caught is the best thing that can happen. It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught. When you come to see that truth, and embrace it, it restores your heart and your humanity.
Click here to read more on what Nicholas is saying on his blog: “Getting Caught Is God’s Mercy: Reflections on Larry Nassar and Repentance”
24 Jan 2018
It’s pretty well established that pornography impacts the way men view women, even in the way they treat them non-sexually. But for one man, the impact of pornography on his mind and heart started as a young boy stealing glances at his father’s porn stash. This wasn’t harmless activity; it caused confusion that lasted well into adulthood and his own marriage.
Click here to read more on what Bob is saying on his blog: ‘Coming to Grips with how Porn has Damaged My View of Women.”
I was born two years before the first issue of Playboy premiered, and when I was only six years old, I found some Playboy magazines in my father’s night table next to his bed. I stumbled across them quite innocently enough. Looking back, it was nothing like the porn I looked at as an adult. But it was porn, and I do remember being impacted by the images of naked women.
As a boy of only six, I felt strange sensations looking at the women sprawled across the pages. Feeling excited but also feeling guilty, knowing, somehow, I was looking at something I shouldn’t have. In my young heart and mind, I intended on coming back for more looks because of the good feeling, but I felt compelled to sneak because of the guilty feelings. Later, I discovered that my father had many ingenious places to hide these magazines around the house, but I’m pretty sure I found them all.
Each month I would look forward to new magazines showing up in different hidden places. This was a little private adventure in my life that I never told anyone about. You see, the sexual revolution had just started (thanks to publications like Playboy) and back then people were not openly talking about pornography and masturbation.
So I kept my behavior to myself thinking I was quite alone in what I was experiencing. I also had a tough time processing information I heard about masturbation. I connected it so much with my shameful sneaking that I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing what I was doing.
The point here is this: something happened to me. The images I was too young to process impacted my soul. Some sort of damage occurred. That is why I liken aspects of that experience to being molested. The women in the photos didn’t know how they impacted a six-year-old boy, but that does not make them entirely innocent. This might sound a little overboard for you. But the way I experienced all this felt, in one way, similar to what some people who have been molested have experienced—feeling pleasure and guilt at the same time and ending up confused and conflicted. How was I to think about women after looking at them this way?
If I felt that my experience of looking at porn as a young boy was similar to being molested, then my looking at porn as a grown man was like molesting women. How common is this: the abused becomes the abuser?
But I also had to come to the point of questioning my dad’s behavior and how that confused me. Why did he hide the magazines if they were OK to look at? I didn’t see the magazines laying around other people’s houses. The shame I felt about my inability to process the sexual information I was gathering was huge. I couldn’t get over the idea that normal people probably would go to bed and then go to sleep. I could not do that. I had to do something else first.
Coming to grips with my own personal soul damage was very strategic for me. I certainly believe my indulgence in viewing pornographic images impacted my relationship with women. Among many ways I have disrespected women, speaking to them in a condescending manner is probably top on the list. Dismissing women as too emotional, irrational, and calling them “sweetheart” or “honey” when all I was doing was keeping them in their place. Pretending to listen to them, but all the while trying to catch a glance at certain body parts or saving circumstances in my mind for future fantasies. After all, I could use their body any way I wanted to in my imagination. This is strange behavior for a Christian, I know. But I have come to see that porn taught me to treat women in a more misogynist manner than I probably fully recognize.
And then it hit me. If I felt that my experience of looking at porn as a young boy was similar to being molested, then my looking at porn as a grown man was like molesting women. How common is this: the abused becomes the abuser?
It’s taken me a long time to repent of the way I treat women. I’m still repenting. I have learned that the healing power of the gospel consists in being confronted with the truth of how I have treated others, and repenting as a result. Knowing what I deserve even for a glance (Matt. 5:27-30) can be overwhelming.
But knowing God’s call to repentance goes way down to the depths of your heart. It tears away any pretense of false integrity and assures you that you are really dealing with God. And when you know that the God who made heaven and earth is graciously offering forgiveness and a new start—your heart becomes equipped to change behaviors and attitudes. I needed the healing that only God can provide through what He accomplished in Christ on the cross.
I see it happening with me, and I want to encourage you, men, that it can happen to you. You can treat women as those who are created in God’s image and relate to Christian women as your sisters in Christ. You can go eyeball to eyeball with the women you talk to and not let your mind wander elsewhere. You can care for their hearts, and later you can pray for them.
This is living by faith and not by sight; this is having eyes that are no longer filled with darkness, but rather with light.