LUST: Before the Crash
He is a young professional, thirty-five or so, walking down the street of a major American city. The day is new, but his thoughts are not. He notices the women as they pass, the short skirts, the hints of cleavage, the eye contact they make with him or wishes they would make. He misses no attractive woman. Even when he pretends not to, the radar is always turned on. If you asked him, he would say this is the most ordinary of days. For him, all of this is perfectly routine. And if this were the only thing he does, we might call him just an average man. But he is not an average man, because his outward behavior today and most days is spiritually connected to deeper inner wrongs that threaten to undo the nice suburban life he has managed to put together. Whether he knows it or not, he is living on the edge.
Our friend has learned to live with lust on call. It has been that way as long as he can remember. He justifies himself that he is “just like other men.” But last night, he looked at porn on his home computer. The wife he believes he loves was asleep in the next room. He even tucked in and prayed with his two young children, four and six. The adrenaline jolt he felt at the end of their prayer time caught his attention. Just a glimpse online, he told himself, but 90 minutes later, after losing track of time, he pulled himself away and finally logged off.
He knows he shouldn’t do it, but somehow he can’t stop. Do other guys have this problem? Certainly the guys at church don’t, do they? It never occurs to him to call someone.
Things at work have “not been that great” in the last month, he muses as he walks. His boss is more demanding than ever. Moreover, the boss’s stress somehow radiates down the hall to his desk and envelopes our man’s spirit multiple times a day. Sometimes, he wishes he could quit and do something else. But how can he walk away from the salary? What else would he do? He resents the boss, but don’t most people? His underlying yet noticeable resentment provides negative energy as he walks down the street. It agitates his soul. He rehearses comebacks he would like to say to his boss. “Bastard,” he thinks. He wonders if there is any connection between the boiling resentment he feels and the relief-producing, temporary visual images that propel him toward his destination.
Our subject is, believe it or not, a self-professed Christian. Yet at this moment, following on from last night, without realizing it, he is detached from the God he claims to believe in and trust. He has emotionally and spiritually checked out, turned his back on the Risen Jesus, the one who walks right beside him and longs to commune with him, the one he has confessed to being “alive” many times, the one who wants to bear his burdens away and take his temptations. But instead, the light adrenaline rush of seeing woman after woman lifts him to what he thinks is a better place. He turns his back, enters his private world, and detaches from who he really is. He is living against his true self, setting up conflict in his deepest soul. This is the daylight version of nighttime porn. But the lust behind it is the same, a reality he has come to habitually dismiss. The pattern has been reinforced again and again. Having turned away, he finds himself alone with his lust, experientially separated from God. No matter what his theological beliefs, he is living out spiritual and relational separation. To make matters worse, he has reinforced this turning away by routine daily choices, isolating himself from other men who could share his burden in the moment it unfolds. It never occurs to him to call someone.
The truth is this is not just one, isolated, bright sunny day, much as he would like to see it that way. No, our subject is walking more of a well-worn path than he is willing to admit. In fact, since he discovered masturbation and pornography at the age of twelve, he has been routinely stoking the fires of lust in his heart. He thinks he is just a “normal red-blooded American.” But he is not. He is caught in a trap he cannot escape. He is a prisoner of lust, a force he cannot control or limit by willpower. He tells himself he will never cheat on his wife. But his behavior makes it more likely. He is an accident waiting for an intersection. It never occurs to him to call someone.
“A young man without sense, passing along the street…” Proverbs 7: 7b-8a NRSV
“Right away he follows her
And goes like an ox to the slaughter,
Or bounds like a stag toward the trap
Until an arrow pierces its entrails.
He is like a bird rushing into a snare,
Not knowing it will cost him his life.” Proverbs 7:22-23 NRSV
Something “spiritual” happened to him many years ago that is still in place. He became a man “apart” in his spirit. This began the day masturbation and rebellion joined forces in his young developing soul. Turning against his parents, authority figures and if truth be known, God himself, he found early the momentary but repetitive comfort of fantasy and masturbation. Sometimes the fantasy was inside, someone he saw, a remembered magazine image or a woman on television. Sometimes it was women’s lingerie catalogs or porn. Whatever triggered lust was good enough. But something more was happening. A ritual was being born. When stress, fear, anger, isolation or loneliness fell upon him like a heavy blanket, the “friend” he turned to was lust and acting out. The feelings reinforced the behavior and vice-versa. The loop of negativity captured his soul.
For a time he thought marriage would save him, until he finally realized that his wife was far more than a ready-made outlet for his addiction. He loved her, but the fights and tension indicated something was wrong. Sometimes, reality would intrude. What could he do? How could he change? Could he find another way to live? Why did he tense up when she entered the room? Why was she so disappointed with their marriage? What will happen to me? There were more questions than answers. But the rut remained in place.
How should we view our man? How can we help him? If anything in life is a “spiritual problem,” this is. What might a spiritual solution look like? The “man apart,” split off from reality, community and God himself must find a way to turn back to his true self and away from the “isolating obsession with sex and self.” (The Solution, SA White Book). He must find a way to honesty, enter a community of men who struggle as he does and get help. He must find the power of the admonition in James to ” … confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” James 5:16. He must find a healthy way to resolve character defects like resentment and self-centeredness and let go of the false solution of lust and acting out. He is likely to need to work the 12 Steps to live the life he wants to live, rather than the life he has been living. His future depends on it.
Tragically, too often a crash must come before recovery. The painful truth is that too many of us have had to experience the next stage, the painful one that awaits our man in the street. This next step will be extremely costly. He will engage sexually with a woman not his wife. It will ‘cost him his life,’ at least the life he has known before. His wife will discover the truth, sometimes sooner, sometimes much later. The marriage may survive and it may not. Perhaps then, the pain which he has so persistently avoided will cause him to admit his problem and he will begin to let go. Those who love him, if they know about his problem, hope that adultery will not have to happen. But one thing we do know. For the true sex addict, lust can only be surrendered. It cannot be “controlled.” No amount of moralizing, self-remonstrating or regret will save him.
Fortunately, there is another way to live, a way of freedom, peace, and a newfound healthy connection with God and others. But it is a road designed to be travelled with others, not alone. It is paved with honesty. Its rewards are profound. If our man sounds anything like you, we can help. If you are a Christian leader, we can help you to help the men around you find healing and on-going support. Jacob’s Well stands ready to help the addict who is suffering, either before the crash or after.