It’s all about grace

By Anonymous

It all began innocently enough. As a teen, I was interested in photography and picked up a black and white glamour photography magazine – beautiful nudes, faceless, graceful forms. My father spotted it in my room one day and shook his head at me in disgust: “What’s wrong with you? This will put you on the road to hell!”

After a while, black and white gave way to colour and soft porn. I would buy a magazine, sneak peeks, feel guilty, promise myself I would never do this again, put it aside and experience a brief sense of having control of my life. But eventually, the cycle would start again.

I went to Bible School and felt a call to the ministry. All the while, I struggled periodically with looking at porn. It gave me a sense of acceptance. In the fantasy world I escaped to, I was in control. I would never be rejected. I was thoroughly accepted, significant, important. This is what I didn’t feel in the “real” world.

I took my first ministry assignment. Disappointment crept in; there were many demands from competing interest groups. I had little support from my senior pastor. I began to feel defeated, rejected, alone, misunderstood, vulnerable. I found myself unable to connect authentically with anyone-my wife, my family, the leadership at church, not even God. I again turned to comforting myself in the fantasy world, craving the sense of freedom from shame . . .

Except that the shame always returned and intensified. I’d give in to temptation and then realize I was lying, covering up, afraid of being discovered. It became a swirling vortex of one lie, one sin after another. The cycle of rationalizing, promising myself I’d stop, confessing to God, repenting, cleaning up my act and then getting sucked right back under was becoming a bizarre, twisted kind of psychological medication to me.

I decided to resign from my church. I was one in a long line of associates who hadn’t lasted more than three years, but that was small comfort to me. I applied for other ministry positions and took it very personally when I repeatedly became the various search committees’ second choice.

I decided to get some further training so I enrolled in seminary. I can see now that throughout this period, I was trying hard to fill the emptiness in my soul. There was little that was mutually emotionally satisfying in my marriage although I attempted to use sex as a way to feel close and intimate. Looking at porn increasingly became the place where I could feel good about myself, however briefly and deceptively.

As the cycle started to escalate, I recognized that my sense of disconnection was increasing. I noticed that I was having trouble focusing, was developing a terrible habit of procrastination and feeling a pervasive sense of inadequacy. I also began cruising around, looking for prostitutes. This scared me. Luckily, I never had the guts to follow through.

By God’s grace, this was my wake-up call. The tension and dissonance I felt as a Christian participating in these activities was excruciating. How could I call myself a Christian, pursue ministry and yet degrade myself this way? I realized I needed help and fortunately, the community into which God had brought me provided the way.

I found a Christian therapist with whom I would work for almost three years. There I found a caring man who fully accepted me, all of me, but also challenged me to look deeply at the needs I was masking with my sinful choices. He helped me to recognize the shame I have grown up with, the constant message: “you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, what is wrong with you?”

We traced the origins of my intense need for acceptance and fear of rejection. I realized that I’d never before experienced a relationship in which it was safe to reveal all of who I really was. I saw that when I felt vulnerable, judged, criticized, misunderstood, alone or inadequate, I felt a driving, compelling need to find release from this negativity and the fantasies had provided that, much as alcohol offers that release to an alcoholic.

I thank God that, for me, all this remained in the world of fantasy. I am horrified to think where it nearly led me. With the persistent, sometimes gentle, sometimes tough support of my therapist, facing my shame and naming my needs began to break the power this held over me. I began to build a stronger sense of self, defining who I am not through the demands and expectations of others, but through my own internalized sense of integrity and desire to obey God. I saw how desperately I had been seeking my father’s blessing, which I would never receive. By this point in my life, he had passed away, so I accepted that reality and instead embraced the truth that I could get the blessing from my Father God. I began to experience this through the Christian community as well. I started to be able to receive affirmation, acknowledgement and grace from God and from His people.

Looking back, I believe that my sense of call to ministry was another form of trying to please and get acceptance from my father. He was a very religious man. Ironically, although he held the church in such high esteem, he was never especially supportive of my pursuing the ministry. I’m not sure whether I could have made choices that would have been “good enough” for him.

Today, I cannot say that the temptation to revisit that fantasy world has completely disappeared. I still experience assaults on my sense of adequacy and have to face failures. But now I know there are healthier ways for me to deal with these needs. I can be emotionally vulnerable and still find acceptance with my wife, and a few close, trusted Christian friends. I can get some counseling when I need it. I can look to God to define my sense of worth and know that I am truly loved and accepted in Him. My children give me a heightened motivation to resist the temptation to become an unhealthy person again.