The Four Encounters with Lust
While acknowledging that lust is a universal human struggle, we have found that individual experience with it varies greatly. We have had hundreds of conversations about the lust problem over time. These experiences have led us to certain conclusions about what works and what doesn’t and how all of us, no matter what our experience, can help others to recover and find healing. A special thanks goes to LWL board member Steve for clarifying these four experiences. Please note:This understanding derives from what people tell us, not what we wished or hoped were true. Here are the four groups.
1. The Person Who Has Never Struggled. This group is extremely small. Setting aside any people who say they are a-sexual, I have spoken to only two men in 25 years who have told me they did not struggle with lust. One man said he was not drawn to lust. The other one apparently recognized the danger very early in life and slammed the door shut. How can a person with this experience help others when they do not sense a personal urgency about it? First, they must recognize that most men are not like them. This means that they must not universalize their experience and look down on others who are either constitutionally different or who were abused or traumatized and, through no fault of their own, had the door to lust opened early in life. If the “never struggled” group fails to empathize, they could come across as moralistic and superior or advocate overly simplistic answers which may work for them but definitely do not work for others. On the other hand, we should be grateful there are people in this group because they hold out the possibility of living a life without lust and show us that in some ways we are different and in other ways we are all the same.
2. The Person Who “Used to Struggle” or ‘”Was Delivered.” A couple of weeks ago, two young men who came to my house to repair an air conditioner told me exactly this. Some couch it in “time away” from lust or porn. Perhaps they just woke up and quit, prayed about it, or simply realized they were on the wrong path. There is, by most accounts,a lot of denial and dishonesty about the secret problem of lust. One study indicates that many Christians who claim, “I use to struggle” only had an average of two months away from porn. The people in the “used to struggle” group must be very honest with themselves about their thoughts and behavior. Unless the underlying issues are brought to the surface, events later on in life could push them back into lust and porn. We have heard many addiction stories where people have spent decades not using, only to return later in life. It is likely people in this group will need some kind of community, accountability and support, lest they return to their folly. For more on this, read 2 Peter 2:19-22.
3. The Casual Luster. We wrote about this person in our last e-news for one specific reason. They possess some willpower over when or how they lust. Unlike the lust addict, they are not progressing to lower environments, spending more and more time lusting, or encountering negative consequences they simply blow past. The casual luster is not sinking. But they will need to get very honest about where they are with God and others.
Many a casual luster ends up addicted over time and loses the ability to stop. This can be unexpected. Even if they remain a casual luster, they will need to be fully transparent with others, likely put some limits on their internet, tv and other media consumption, and pray, study Scripture and surrender to God regularly about this issue. The casual luster has a window in which to stop. If he or she is able to stop, they should not look down on the addict. This is again the same mistake of universalizing our own experience and expecting others to be like us. I have been handed many books and other resources over time that purport to be “the solution,” without the prior understanding of these four different experiences of lust. The addict has lost control and cannot stop without God and a program of recovery. The casual luster must understand this if he is to help the addict.
The casual luster can also help other casual lusters realize the danger they are in. They can also support resources and programs that help the addict because they identify deeply with the struggle. (There but for the grace of God go I). They might be especially sensitive to protecting their children and grandchildren. They can be humble by admitting a weakness nearly all of us share. I have had many Christian leaders who stopped short of full blown addiction say to me “Boy, I really could have crossed the line but by the grace of God I didn’t.” 1 John 1 is our guiding passage, telling us that “in the light” is fellowship and unity with God and man. Keeping secrets will keep us bound. The Apostle Paul understood this. “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” Acts 24:16.
4. The Addict. The addict is not longer able to function in the world of “I shouldn’t have done that or I wish I hadn’t done that.” Regret, willpower, shame, moral rearmament, none of these have worked for us. Many addicts have experienced shame, trauma, abuse or neglect early in life. Their lust addiction can be understood as an attempt to drown these painful experiences in dopamine and other brain chemicals. We need God, other recovering addicts, and a program of recovery we work every day and a new lifestyle of giving not taking. Honesty, recovery and healing must be ours or we die, first spiritually, then relationally and sometimes eventually physically.
But an addict in recovery can also be a sign of God’s presence, a powerful indicator that He never gives up on us and of just how remarkably He transforms lives by His living presence in communities of recovery. Most addicts have no problem believing that God can remove our struggle. We have asked Him repeatedly with tears. But so far He has not chosen to take our addiction away. Could it be that this is His way of making us dependent on Him and building bridges of recovery to others who struggle as we do? We think so. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 and 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 appear to agree.
Any ministry or therapy must take into consideration these four experiences of lust if it is to be effective. If we do not understand this we will miss the mark and provide an incomplete or profoundly unhelpful solution.
Living Without Lust exists to help people in each of these four groups to find a path forward and a way to help others to recover. We do not have all the answers. We pray that God will reveal more to you and to us. We are all in this together. The sooner we realize it, the better.
Living Without Lust
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