Silent Struggle

Last week Shelley and I both had the privilege of speaking at Biola University in La Mirada, Ca. We’ve had other opportunities to speak to students at schools and ministry events through Campus Crusade for Christ, and every time we are blown away.

There is so little pretense.

It is almost like they haven’t had enough time in the Christian sub-culture to figure out they need to wear masks. Or maybe better said, there is still enough sensitivity in their heart that when they are invited into authenticity and transparency they can throw caution to the wind and enter that sacred space.

Shelley and I challenged the students to make a decision to be radically vulnerable about their struggles. We urged them to risk rejection and take the first step to open up. We tried to help them understand the value and reward of true intimacy. We talked about teenage pregnancy, bestiality, shame, guilt, pornography, sex addiction, anorexia and body image, work-aholism, abortion, forgiveness and redemption.

The stories that were relayed back to us from students covered all these topics and more. They were vulnerable, gritty, sometimes empowering and made us want to cheer, other times painful and hopeless, bringing us to tears.

Interestingly, two consistent themes came out as we engaged the students’ stories. First, the reality of a silent struggle. So many times we heard, “I’ve never told anyone” or “I’m afraid to tell anyone that I’ve…” I even received a handwritten letter from a student describing her shame and disappointment of struggling with repetitive sexual sin, and I’m the first person she has told [written to].

The second theme was that of divorce in the home. Several students came up and said their folks are currently or have recently divorced due to sexual integrity issues. One girl, in tears, talked about how at 20 she’s realizing that her father’s sexual sin has affected her deeply. It pains her to see her mom so resentful and bitter, and her dad simply declares it covered in the blood of Jesus so it doesn’t need to be spoken of again. Heartbreaking.

All in all, I walked away from that campus with hope. Hope because of the raw, unfiltered, willingness of the students to engage difficult topics. Hope because the faculty and staff decided its important enough to address from the main stage and create an open dialogue about. Hope because God is still in the business of redemption and those stories we heard are, for many, a turning point that will change the entire course of their lives and legacies.

If you are in the silent struggle, it doesn’t have to be that way any longer. If you are the ones divorcing with college age children, it doesn’t have to be that way any longer. Change, real lasting change, may be right around the corner.

Purposeful Prayer

One of the great things about purposeful prayer is that it can center us. It can anchor us to the truths and realities of our identity in Christ, even when the waves of life feel like they’re crashing over us. Further, purposeful prayer can remind us where we are going. By inviting God into particular places in our journey, we do ourselves a favor by taking note of where we are and where it is we’re trying to go. We can invite God into the present, pray for his help reaching the destination he designates, and also to help us develop the character He desires in us along the way.

I find purposeful prayer especially helpful when I know I’m headed into a circumstance where my integrity may be challenged. For example, on Thursday I’ll be driving to the airport for the next Every Mans Battle Workshop. I know that I’m driving towards an environment where I better be on my A-game. Not only is the airport a temptation filled placed because of the people, but also because in my past life of addiction I would use the anonymity of traveling to other cities to act out. I used to get excited and feel the drip of adrenaline just driving to the airport, knowing I was going to become a different person. Now I know that the electricity associated with that drive it is a trap; giving it attention or acknowledgement is a step towards forfeiting my integrity.

So, knowing I’m headed into that space requires me to prepare with purposeful prayer. Month after month on the drive I pray this prayer:

 God, help me be a man of integrity as I walk into that airport. When I’m on the plane, or at the hotel, help me honor you, my wife, my boys, my self, my clients, my ministry and my recovery. Help me honor you with my words, with my eyes, with my mind, with my hands and with my heart. Help me be a man worthy of the call you’ve put on my life. Amen.

What situations do you know in advance will challenge your integrity? What prayer can you pray to help center and anchor you to be the man God has called you to be? I urge you to write yours down and review it often.

PS: this idea of purposeful prayer is a part of the additional tools I’ve included in the Worthy of Her Trust Toolkit. I developed this ebook to summarize the key points of Worthy of Her Trust, as well as to provide additional prayers, exercises and Scripture to help with the process. You can purchase and download that resource HERE.

Looking, Noticing and Seeing

This little write up could potentially cause a stir. I haven’t written it for that reason. I’ve written this to open up a different dialogue and hopefully shed some light on a dicey area that causes much strife for both men in recovery and their wives.

Let me start with my premise: there is a difference between looking and noticing.

I may have lost some of the women reading this already. Hope not. Hope you’ll read on.

In the context of sexual integrity issues or sexual addiction, men develop a habit of looking. There becomes an automatic response that once a woman (or man, if that is your style of acting out. For the sake of this conversation I’ll use ‘woman’, but both apply) enters the periphery our eyes are drawn there. The more depraved and deeply entrenched our sexual integrity issues, the more focused that looking can be. We can develop a habit of looking at exactly the right height to notice the body parts we’re most interested in. I’ve talked to men who have an uncanny ability to pinpoint a woman’s ring finger when he turns to look at her. To be clear, by saying it becomes automatic I am not excusing the behavior. It’s become a bad habit because of deliberate choices that over time have sunken into our subconscious. To that end, men entering the recovery process often don’t even realize they are doing it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the conversation where a wife is demanding her husband admit he intentionally checked out a woman, and he swears up and down he didn’t. Typically they find a stalemate at the point where she is fed up with trying to convince him to own that he looked, and he is feeling powerless to convince her that he simply noticed. Ugh.

Unfortunately the way many men (Including myself in the beginning) handle this difficult situation is to act like a petulant child and start in with the all-or-nothings. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I can’t remove all women from this world”. “Am I supposed to quit my job and live in a cave?” “She’ll never believe that I didn’t look – she only believes what she wants to believe”. “Fine, we’ll just never go out in public together”.

But it can go other unhelpful directions too.

Some guys will land at the ‘its my recovery’ place where they further jeopardize their wife’s heart. “Well, I know I did the right thing and I can’t convince her otherwise, so she’ll just have to deal with it”. This will go south quickly.

Or here’s another one I used to justify my looking behavior: “She’s just a pretty woman, and God made her that way. It’s not wrong for me to appreciate her beauty”. Nice….cloak it in Scripture and make God the scapegoat. I wonder how that conversation will go when God looks us in the eyes and asks why we used him as the ‘out’ for our sin?

Then there’s the minimizing route. “Hey, I just looked…I didn’t touch. At least I didn’t flirt with her, or hit on her, or [fill in the blank with some past acting out behavior]. Just FYI, when wives are triggered, it is almost never helpful for them to hear you measure present progress against past acting out behavior. The guys in your accountability group can high-five you for not flirting or whatever, but most of our wives don’t want to give kudos for doing what we should’ve been doing in the first place: living with integrity.

Anyway, I digress. For men who are actively working recovery, managing their eyes and thoughts, as well as trying to honor God and wife, inevitably they will notice other women. Their eyes will be drawn that direction. After having lived by objectifying other people and trying to get a hit of the lust drug, the old habits and mechanics won’t die easily. But there is a difference between noticing and looking.

Looking is a willful, intentional behavior specifically connected to a lack of integrity. Noticing is a twofold thing. First, it is the residue from a life of looking. It may now be a habit, but in recovery noticing lacks the willful intent. I don’t say this to excuse it, nor to convince a wife that it shouldn’t be hurtful, but the heart attitude is different. Further, if a man in recovery bounces his eyes, replaces his thoughts and honors God with how he handles it, those notices that are residual from the addiction will gradually decrease over time. But I don’t know that they’ll ever go away, which leads to my second point.

Some noticing is normal. We notice people; because of their looks, their clothing, mannerisms, gait, etc. It is part of life. I didn’t say oogling, double or triple-taking, staring up and down, or laser focusing on specific body parts.

If this debate has led to a stalemate at your house, I urge you to talk about the differences. Talk about the heart attitude behind what your eyes take in.

Finally, what I hope we all move toward, is seeing. Not looking, not just noticing, but actually seeing. Let me explain.

God the father and Jesus the son both saw people as image bearers. Throughout Scripture we see interactions between the Divine and humanity where He sees beyond skin to what is happening in the heart. In John 4 we find a story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well. While she’s bending over to draw water, I suspect Jesus isn’t looking down her shirt! He’s not gawking at her and he’s not checking her out. He even reads her mail in a sense and knows her promiscuity. Opportunity perhaps? No, Jesus sees beyond all that to this woman’s heart. My hope is that we can all begin to see people through the lens of image bearers. May God work in us to see beyond boobs, hair, butt and body, to instead see people as He does; broken, beautiful and in need of a relationship with Him.