We live in a world dominated by stories, narratives and memes. Many of them propose premises the authors assume we already believe. They believe the conclusions are pre-determined. Many of these assumptions are false. But we are so immersed in them that we often fail to examine their foundation or question the premise. We are like the fish who asked his friend, “How do you like the water? ” To which he replied, “What water?”
Jesus recognized that we learn and grow through stories. It is one of the reasons he chose parables as a cornerstone of his teaching method. Similarly, in the recovering community and beyond, there is a lot of talk about “story theology” and finding our place in God’s story. Let’s reflect for a moment on three stories and how each might impact us.
God’s Story is the foundational story of the universe, a story in which all other stories must be rooted to find purpose and meaning and to live and walk in truth and love. Referring to an old practice in the theatre, C.S. Lewis remarked that when the author walks out onto the stage, the play is over. We must never forget that God is the author of the play, though we play our roles, however small. We don’t create our own meaning. It is derivative.
Personally, I have often failed to yield to this reality through much of my life and have tried to place my story at the center, into which I tried to shoehorn God’s story. Bill W. called this the “power drive” and it will never work as a life direction because it inevitably leads to frustration and defeat. Instead, in order to live in truth, I am learning to accept a minor role in God’s story, a quieter humbler one, but one that allows Him to emerge into His rightful place in my thoughts and actions. To live this way is to “right size” my life and my perspective.
The church I served in New England decades ago has now closed. I recently had a vivid dream that the property had been renovated and the builders had installed elevators to ascend to the top floors. But in the dream when I pushed the button to enter the doors they revealed enclosures that were very small, only enough for one or two people. When I woke up, it seemed as if God spoke to me and said in effect ‘That’s all the room you have for me. You need to make more room for me in order to ascend.” Within an hour I was in a pre-planned Bible study on Psalm 96 which entirely reoriented my focus on worship.
My recovery today to be effective must be completely dependent on God’s story dominating my life. Recovering addicts say all the time. “The Steps don’t keep me sober, God does.” It is true. The Steps point us to the real connection, the one that brings both a daily reprieve and lasting hope. This is a day by day process.
The Lust/Porn Story
(No Visual Necessary)
Storyline number 2 also has its influence and progression too. It is the lust/porn story, the reason most of us are in the rooms. How did we get caught up in it growing up? Each of us has his or her own story. Perhaps a large reason for our involvement was that it told us a story that we wanted or needed to believe. In some ways that story became a coping mechanism for negative emotions like fear, isolation, loneliness, rebellion and detachment. The false narrative ran something like this: “I’m not hurting anyone, especially if no one finds out. The next one will be the best one, or the last one. She/He wants me. I’m powerless. I’ll just step aside to do this. I like the risk and danger of it. Then I’ll get back to my real life. I know God will forgive me. I don’t want to stop. I just wish I could get rid of the shame… I’m afraid to tell anyone. This is just the way it is. I’ll never be any different. It’s hopeless.” Can you relate to any of this? Many of us could write our own narratives and they would all be authentic.
But In recovery, we actually take a wider view of the porn/lust story and begin to consider some alternative truths. Many of these we learn and practice in the fellowship of recovery. But today I want to focus on a wider view that about other people, not us. Pope John Paul II said porn is wrong “not because it shows too much but because it shows too little.” It fails to take into account the full human being, the entire person, their background, thoughts hopes and dreams. When we step back, we begin to allow ourselves think about how our actions affect other people, not only our spouses and family members, though they are vitally important. How about the people we may have consumed, if only in images?
The fuller picture of lust/porn would show a person, often a woman, but men too, who have been abused for many years and often trafficked. They are someone’s daughter or son. Their souls have been bought and paid for. They once had dreams and hopes that did not involve porn and many will escape later, to great relief and much pain. In letting go of our self-focus, we begin to surrender our false ideas about porn “not hurting anyone.” This doesn’t mean we launch out into anti-pornography campaigns. Addicts generally don’t do too well with these. But it does mean we recognize that these vulnerable human beings belong to God and not to us. They need our prayers that they, like us, will find in Him what they are looking for in their current acts. Some in recovery give to entities that help abused people as a way of making amends. But simply taking in the full humanity of others can help restore us to sanity.
Make no mistake. Knowing this will not bring recovery. Only taking action will. But accepting the bigger, more truthful picture may help us to chase false narratives from our heads and to accept the truth about lust/porn. We finally accept it may be more about what we are telling ourselves than what is actually true. As we find the truth in our groups and in the light of God’s word, we can finally begin to enter into the full orbed beauty of reality and stop living only and always inside our heads.
The Third Story will be decisive because it is our own. Our story. The awesome power, dignity and freedom to choose is a gift God never rescinds. It involves how we incorporate the two previous stories into our lives, both God’s and the Lust/Porn story. In recovery, we allow the God story to become the dominant story as time goes on. We do that as we place our story within His story. In doing so we see His presence love and power become more real. No matter where we have been before, we start to grow along spiritual lines. We become healthier Jesus followers. Progress not perfection.
This does not mean we reject or heap shame upon our lust/porn story. To do so would be to help it grow rather than see it diminish. Shame keeps it alive. After all, our lust story has intersected our lives and become part of our narrative. It has even illuminated our other problems the way nothing else could. That is why all recovery programs provide a way to speak honestly about our experiences. Promise #3 from the Big Book states “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” We learn to be gentle with ourselves and with others as we and they tell our stories.
The reality is that God’s story will finally eclipse all others. Our story will be swept up into his at the last day and for eternity, as the lust/porn story fades from all memory. Wouldn’t you like to be part of that? You can be. None of us can do it alone. But together and with God’s help, we can.
As always, we are here to help.
In the Lust- Bearer,
Jay Haug, Executive Director
Living Without Lust