Transparency, the Next Step Beyond Accountability

Mark Sellers

There is this old Russian joke from the Cold War days of the former Soviet Union. It goes something like this:
– ‘Moscow has only two television stations.’
– ‘Oh, really?’ someone asks.
– ‘Yes. One is the government station with the official Party line.’
– ‘Well then, what is the other?’
– ‘There’s this guy in a KGB uniform telling you to go back to the first station.’

I thought it was funny the first time I heard it, but the more I thought it through, the more I found parallels for what passes today as accountability.

The idea of accountability partners has been a staple in the Christian men’s movement for some time. Having an ‘accountability partner’ has a momentum of its own, one many of us accept without question, yet one that falls short of what I believe is really needed.

In many circles it is seen as a major piece of sexual sobriety. You and your partner meet weekly, usually at a restaurant, more often than not for breakfast. You ask each other the tough questions, ones typically pointed and direct. They often go like this:
(1) Have you been sexual with yourself, or with someone besides your spouse?
(2) Have you viewed pornography?
(3) Have you purposely lingered over sexually-suggestive programming on television and/or cable? and the real killer
(4) Are you lying to me now?

I probably have my questions around somewhere, folded up in one of my Bibles. Yet such meetings had a strange feel. I felt pressured to give good news each week to keep my partners as friends. Fortunately I know them now, and know our friendship is intact no matter what, but back in those early days our energy was wrong.

Let’s be honest. Men struggling with sexual addiction are terrible at investing in mutual relationships. We are instinctively secretive, we pull back a lot, and we give ‘happy news’ because we don’t want to be seen for who we really are. We are Marlboro Men, riding the prairie alone, keeping our worlds to ourselves.

Fortunately my partners are exceptional men, and we have pushed past accountability to a better place. We couldn’t sustain our friendship on the shaky platform of a question list. There has to be more than a KGB officer directing us back to the Party line.

Unbalanced partnerships form when one person is identified as the addict and the other is seen as the healthy one. These usually don’t survive the long haul.
I once had to console a man who was dumped by his partner because he wasn’t ‘serious.’ Certainly there are two sides here, but what killed it from the start was the lack of mutuality and its unbalanced nature.

Another time a man shared his story with his partner, and it was good. But the partner heard that the man’s wife had not been sexual with him for some years, and passed the information on to his own wife, who in turn passed it on to the man’s wife. We almost lost a marriage then and there.

One former pastor I know confided with an accountability partner about his struggle with pornography; only the partner had different ideas. The pastor wasn’t moving fast enough in his eyes, so he reported him to the other pastors. What could have been wonderful grace-driven restoration instead became a dramatic platform dismissal.

To be honest, the picture I laid out is not that bleak. God continues to move in all their stories, and they are seeing restoration despite such setbacks. More importantly, God is receiving the glory for it. Still we can do better. Accountability partnerships based solely on asking the hard questions cleans only the outside of the cup. Jesus said, ‘First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’ (Matthew 23:26 NIV)

I suggest caution before we move into accountability relationships. We can seek out men who are also in recovery, who have had their lives broken, who are not spiritual superstars, but who will sit with us through our worst storms. We need partners who will love us even if we mess up and act out. Such men should earn our trust, and we theirs.

I suggest an even higher standard. How about ‘transparency partners.’ ‘ men with whom we can walk in the light together, experience mutual Godly fellowship and not demand an immediate external fix? God heals in our openness. We already know that (1st John 1:7). Still we must discern the wolves out there hiding in sheep’s clothing. With a transparency standard we can be mutually open, and move beyond our false selves, see the dirt inside each other’s cups, and celebrate together as God begins to clean those cups.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.

Receiving the Gift that Heals: Forgiveness

Brad Stenberg

– Read: Psalm 103:2-4; 8-13; Isaiah 44:22; 1 John 1:9 –

We all wish there was a delete key for dealing with the past so we could forget the hurtful things we’ve done. But our memory gets in the way of forgetting the pain our sin has caused others. The only way this pain can be truly removed is through forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the basis of our life in Christ. The Christian life is a forgiven and forgiving life. Jesus taught us to pray, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We cannot give what we do not have, so forgiving is a function of having first received forgiveness. Thus, we live and relate to one another in the forgiveness of our sins.

What does it mean to receive forgiveness? Does it mean what we did is approved of, excused, or denied? Not in the least. Does it mean the hurt we caused is forgotten and not taken seriously? No. Does it mean we’re exempted from any consequences of our behavior? Not at all. Does it mean we’ve fully reinstated into the relationship we damaged as if nothing happened? Usually not.

To be forgiven simply means having our debt canceled. The forgiver, while blaming us for the serious, wounding wrong we did to them, gives up their right for vengeance and extends mercy instead.

Receiving forgiveness is experiencing grace ‘ receiving a gift we don’t deserve.

We all have difficulty receiving forgiveness and feeling it because we have difficulty receiving unmerited favor. We would prefer to have to work at it. Grace goes against who we are because we don’t feel like we deserve love when we’ve messed up. But deserve and love don’t go together. Gift and love go together. If we have to deserve love it’s not a gift; it’s a wage we have to negotiate. Forgiveness is a gift from the forgiver.

Receiving forgiveness is a process that requires several things. First, you have to be guilty of wrong doing. Some of us have difficulty accepting the fact that we did something wrong. We resist being in the ‘I am wrong’ position and owning the fact that what we did caused others to experience serious pain and to suffer the resulting, and often prolonged fallout of this. But you cannot receive forgiveness unless you own up to, take responsibility for, and truly feel remorseful of your wrong doing.

Then you must confess it in specific terms. Proverbs 28:13 says, He who conceals his transgression will not succeed, but He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy. Some guys admit they sinned in global terms, but not in specific, personal terms. They admit they’re weak in sexual sin like every other guy without naming and identifying with the specific wrong they’ve done. We are to be specific. General confessions do very little to convict of sin, convince the one offended of your seriousness, or to bring healing.

We are then to turn away from our sin; remove it from our thoughts, and resolve in our heart that we will not do it again. Isaiah 55:7 says, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. God knows the difference between those who are sincere and those who are trying to temporarily ease their conscience. He is not mocked or deceived. If you come in sorrow, humility and sincerity, His grace is abundant. However, He has little patience for those who would abuse His mercy. Search your heart for true repentance, and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to make the necessary changes.

We also need a forgiver. Forgiveness is relational. It’s an interpersonal process, not an intellectual thing, mind set, or some meditative state. It’s something that transpires between two people. Someone has to give forgiveness for us to receive it. The forgiver needs to be a good accuser by making the offense direct and specific. Once we’ve admitted to and taken ownership of it, the forgiver’s words should be something like those of Jesus to woman caught in adultery, Neither do I accuse you. Now go and sin no more.

The wrong that we’ve done is serious, but true repentance and the forgiveness received is more serious still. Wounds are healed, self-respect is restored, hope for the future is birthed, light removes the former darkness, positives replace negatives, and newness of life made possible.

Interdependence: Joined at the Heart

Jeff McVay

A few weeks ago, we had a celebration in America. People across the country prepared their grills for barbecue. Pools were cleaned. Firefighters prepared for the fireworks shows (both professional and the amateur) in case anything went wrong. And most importantly, folks unfurled their flags and joined in parades to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States of America.

Of course most countries have a day in which they celebrate the moment that they proclaimed independence from another nation or people and determined to make their own way in the world in the manner that they saw fit.

In the United States, independence is more than just a day that is celebrated. It is a way of life. We are taught to be ‘self made’ people. Some classic phrases that describe this thought are: ‘pull yourself up by your own boot straps,’ ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me,’ and (my favorite) ‘I did it my way.’

In the US, independence is not just about a people group breaking away from another country in order to make a new way of life; it is now about each individual person breaking away from all other people in order to do life their way. Most of us think that we have the right to live the way we want and not have anyone else ‘tell us what to do.’ This concept of individualistic independence has done some good for our society; however, it has also led to great isolation, loneliness and fear as we try to determine our existence without the help of anyone. This loneliness and fear also leads us into many avenues of false intimacy (such as pornography) in an attempt to make us feel better about being alone without really having to deal with the possibility of abandonment by another person.

The reason the loneliness becomes so great is because we are made for real relationships. We were not meant to be alone.

Maybe it is time for us to sign a new declaration; not one of independence but one of Inter-dependence. You may be asking yourself, ‘What is the difference?’ Well, interdependence is the radical notion that we really do need other people in order to survive in this world even after we ‘grow up’ and move out on our own. In fact, I am not sure that total independence even truly exists. Human beings perish without others. Even in subtle ways, we depend on one another. In the words of the writer Thomas Moore, ‘no man is an island’. This does not mean that you cannot do anything yourself or that there is no way to tell ‘Where I end and You begin,’ but that we must find the balance between allowing others to connect with us and help us, and what is the work that we have to do to help ourselves and others.

This is especially so when it comes to the addictive struggles that people may have. Addictions tend to isolate us from anyone who might find out what it is we struggle with. In fact Patrick Carnes says that the core beliefs of a person struggling with an addiction are ‘1) I am basically a bad, unworthy person, therefore 2) no one will love me as I am. 3) My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others and 4) whatever the addiction is: it is my greatest need.’

All of these beliefs foster an atmosphere of isolation. If I am a bad person and no one will love me, then I must face the world alone and I cannot rely on anyone to help. In that isolation I begin to look for something that will always relieve my pain. An addiction becomes that one thing that will always but temporarily relieve the pain. The addiction, however, becomes a source of embarrassment which leads to a greater need to isolate and repeat the cycle. Those that love us the most (family, spouses, children and friends) are usually the ones that we push away the most and who feel the greatest effects of both the addiction and the isolation that it creates.

How can a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ help someone in this situation? It is only in coming out of isolation and being willing to let someone else speak into your life that anyone can begin a road to recovery. Remember that from the very beginning God declared, ‘It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.’ We need one another. In beginning the recovery process we cannot do it on our own. We need to be interdependent on others who have the same desire to change behavior so that heart change or faulty core belief change can happen. This is probably the reason that the first 5 steps in a 12 step program deal with opening ourselves up to God and to other people as the beginning of behavior change.

Think of it this way. Pretend that there are absolutely no mirrors or reflective surfaces in the world at all. How would you know what you look like? There would be no way for you to know unless someone else could tell you. The isolation brought on by addiction and the faulty core beliefs that encourage them take away our abilities to see our own reflection.

The purpose of interdependence is to allow someone else to tell us what we look like. God tells us that we are loved enough to die for. Other people can talk about the good things that they see in us that we have forgotten or never seen due to addictive isolation. When we grasp how much we are loved and have a greater sense of who we are and whose we are then and only then is recovery a road that is opened up to us. This road joins us to the heart of God who calls us His sons and daughters, and to the heart of others who walk with us on this road all the way home. Maybe today can be the beginning of your own celebration. The day that you signed your ‘Declaration of Interdependence’!

For help with alcohol or drug addiction, please call our Resource Center at (800) 639-5433.
For help with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.