Key Ingredients of Change

Over and over again I hear people talk about what brings about change in a person. Especially for folks struggling with sexual integrity issues like pornography, visiting prostitutes, strip clubs or massage parlors. Once sexually addicted, the question becomes even more difficult to answer. Psychotherapy and counseling some people say. Only God, others say. Circumstances. The twelve steps. Crisis.

I’m going to suggest there are 3 key ingredients that facilitate change. Sure, we can name a bunch of things that help, but I’m suggesting that if these 3 aren’t present, true change will not occur.

First, being unwilling to accept our personal status quo. I was talking with Shelley last night and, after she expressed a way I had hurt her, thought about the reality that I’m kind of tired of being me. At least, I’m tired of that part of me; that way of living. We all know that feeling where we just sort of realize we’ve become comfortable with the status quo. The question becomes: will we do something about it? People who are unwilling to change reach a point where they consider it adequate to measure the present against the past. The mindset here is saying, “at least I’m not who I used to be” instead of “I’m not yet who I could be, who God is calling me to be”. If we want to guarantee change, we cannot accept that who we are today will suffice for the future God has for us. We must be unwilling to accept our personal status quo.

Second, we must challenge our constants. Sounds pretty underwhelming, I know, but it can be surprising how much we’re willing to accept about ourselves because it’s how we’ve always been. We land at our age, be it 25, 45, 55, 75 years old and we’re “just the way we are”. But how’d we get there? Because we didn’t challenge the constants. To guarantee change is to question our norms, our standards and our default settings. It is to question our motives, why we believe what we believe and why want to believe what we believe. It means we have to question the narrative by which we live, and ask ourselves where it would be more meaningful to just tear up the script.

Third, in order to change we need to humbly submit ourselves to people who are unwilling to accept our personal status quo and who will challenge our constants. You know the people who, when you bring something up and sort of know what their response is going to be, blind-side you with some out-of-left-field question that puts you on your heels? Those are the folks I’m talking about. One of my accountability partners in the early days, Kurt, would always ask “5 whys” when he was digging into something in me. He’d take my first answer and toss it like garbage. Then my second, he’d give a little “hmm” and challenge a 3rd answer to be more insightful. Eventually, even if we didn’t get to 5 (which when we did was super-frustrating and made me hate Kurt some mornings!), we went beyond the status quo, beyond the easy answer, and deeper than I typically thought.

Maybe the people that do that for you are your accountability partners. Perhaps it’s a counselor. Maybe it’s the pastor you listen to on Saturdays or Sundays. Could be the guys at poker night. It might even be what you read that does it for you. We have to humbly submit ourselves to people who won’t let us stay the same.

I believe if we’ll adopt a posture of humility, submit to others’ input, challenge ourselves, and stop measuring progress by what we’re not doing anymore we actually make ourselves malleable. We become willing to see what we were once blind to, and become perceptive to what the Spirit prompts in us. We become moldable in the hands of God to be made like his son.

Prison

This weekend at the Every Mans Battle workshop I heard someone say they finally have hope they can life free. Like they were getting out of prison.

While hard for some people to believe, living the sexually addicted lifestyle is not fun; it is horrible. Sure there are moments of excitement, where getting away with something taboo feels like an adventure. And moments where we feel self-confident and reassured, like we measure up. There are brief periods of feeling like we matter, are wanted and even needed.

Then we get slapped in the face with reality. It’s not exciting; it’s a prison. And a hellish one at that.

The shame that drives the addiction is compounded by living in the addiction. The prison door swings open wide for us to escape, only to be handcuffed and locked up again – by ourselves. It’s not the life we want. Most guys I talk to want to be married, to be in love, to serve and honor their wives, to feel deeply respected by their families, to be pillars of leadership at work, church and home. If singleness or the playboy lifestyle were all they wanted, they would’ve pulled the ripcord long ago.

Instead, the authentic man is trapped inside a self constructed prison. We sometimes look out on the lives we wish we had like an inmate stares through the fence to freedom. To carry the metaphor further, we’ll even try to make a break for it, all the while knowing the guards of the addiction are tracking us down. It feels like it’s only a matter of time until we’re locked up again. It can seem like a life sentence.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be.

Freedom is possible through the power of Christ, changing our hearts, minds and character. Shed the jumpsuit and take the steps of confession, repentance and doing the next thing to get help. Maybe that’s come to the workshop. Maybe its just tell your counselor the truth. Perhaps its call off the affair. Whatever it is, take the next step!

Motivator vs. Motivation

A quick bit of info on motivation for recovery.

First, a note to husbands. Your wife probably doesn’t want to be your motivator to change. She wants you to change for you. And for God. It is way too much pressure for a wife to be the motivator. With that pressure, there is often a trap that wives feel caught in. On the one hand, some wives feel like they have to be the encourager or cheerleader, praising you for making meetings, counseling, etc. But that comes at a price; having to be the positive takes away permission to be angry, hurt, sad and disappointed. Without the freedom to feel this range of emotions the grieving process is stunted. In other words, when she has to be your cheerleader and feels like she can’t express this stuff she can’t heal.

On the other hand and different than the cheerleader, is the wife who feels like she has to stay angry and on your case. These wives feel like if they let up and give an inch of breathing room, you’ll take a mile. They often believe that if they aren’t holding you accountable for changing you’ll either go back to your acting out (at worst) or you’ll simply settle for a crappy status quo. Here again is a trap; well meaning wives who want to be encouragers to their husbands feel like they can’t or they’ll pay for it.

Either way, for your wife to be the motivaTOR is a bad thing. But, for her to be some part of your motivaTION is a great thing.

It’s fantastic that your wife is a motivation for you. This need not be vilified. The catch comes when she becomes the only motivation and/or you allow her to be the primary motivator.

 

Now a note to wives. There are a multitude of reasons for your husband to change. There are a number of different motivations which, at any given moment, may be at the top of the list. One morning you may be the motivation; earnestly striving to keep you and keep the marriage. That afternoon it may be his legacy to his kids. That night it may be because of what God is calling him to. The next morning it may be so he doesn’t lose his business. Another time it may be to simply keep you and any body else (his counselor, perhaps? ) off his case.

This is normal!

The merry-go-round of motivation is okay. Give him permission to be motivated by any and all these things, and be required to have the right motivation all the time. No, you should not be his motivator, but you can be some of his motivation. And listen, if you’re reading this thinking, “But Jason, if I don’t keep being his cheerleader, or keep being angry, then he’ll quit doing the work”, then you need to stop and let him.

Give him the power to either pull the ripcord and walk away (and yes, settling for mediocrity in a life of ‘just not acting out anymore’ is walking away), or to find new motivation. A different motivation. Sometimes this is simply a necessary part of the process, because both of you need to see him engage new motivations. I can almost guarantee that if you do ease up and he finds new motivation, works his recovery and strives to be who God is calling him to be you will respect him more in the end.

Certainly there are caveats and every situation is unique. My primary point is for husbands to do recovery in a way that wives don’t feel like they have to be the motivator, and for wives to give their husbands permission to be motivated by a multitude of things at different times.