The Loophole of Denial

Fred Feliciano

I love a good story. Good stories catch us off guard. A good story has the power to show us what we believe about the world and how we think things ought to be. They stretch our minds, challenge our beliefs, and move us towards change. That is why I love Jesus’ stories. His stories move me, jolt me and propel me towards facing and embracing the reality of who he is and who I am. In short, his stories catch me by exposing me. That is why I also struggle with his stories. They expose me and my thoughts. His stories bring me back to facing my self whether I want to or not. So, I find ways around his stories in order to avoid stepping into his light. I just focus my attention on something else, anything. I use denial as a loophole. A loophole is a term used to describe a way around a particular obstacle with little to no negative effect to oneself. We find ways out of situations where we anticipate feeling shame.

The loophole of denial assists us in avoiding the light of God in two ways. First, denial provides us a way of alleviating the stress of our shame by refusing to face it. Shame can be defined as an intense fear of being exposed based on a corrosive belief that one is fatally flawed, unlovable and deserving of rejection from others who are deemed worthy and perceived as merciless all at once. As long as we do not have to face what we do that’s wrong, we don’t have to confess or own up to others in honesty and we find relief from the burden of our shame momentarily. Good shame allows us to focus attention on the welfare of God and others above our own.

Confessions made in the light of good shame lead us to restore relationships with loving dignity and help to develop true self perceptions in light of God’s true view of us which does something better than provide relief from the shame we feel. It provides us a deep sense of rest in our minds and hearts. The cost of not facing our shame is too high a price to pay.

Secondly, the loophole of denial provides us a way of avoiding painful truth by creating an alternative to the truth. Alternatives to the truth are simply lies. Lies help us to maintain the illusion that we can avoid rejection and increase the chances of acceptance by presenting ourselves as someone we are not. The problem with creating alternatives is that acceptance is never fully experienced and we are never fully known because the truth of who we really are remains hidden underneath the lies;  we remain distanced from others. Those who are closest to us never experience us as we are. They experience a false self. The alternative at first seems like it will increase acceptance and decrease rejection but in the end it isolates us further by taking us farther away from the truth of who we are, others are, and who God is. We wind up never trusting or being intimate with anyone.

Christ provides us a way out of our shame-based loopholes of denial by reversing the path our loopholes have taken us. Traveling in reverse back into the loophole of denial transforms it into a doorway. A doorway that leads to a redemptive path of trust for prodigal sons. Prodigals who, in repentance, come home, face the truth of their guilt in relation to their legitimate failures and face their longings for acceptance never received. But most of all are able to trust, face, and receive the Father’s healing embrace. His embrace declaring to us, ‘Not only are you forgiven but you are my son. You were dead but are now alive!’

I want to encourage you to read in Luke 15 about the transforming power of the Father’s deep love for his ragamuffin sons. Let that story catch you, expose you and shake you loose from your denial and fear.

For help facing your denial and experiencing God’s transforming power, see Every Man’s Battle.

Discouragement in Recovery: A Silent Ambush on the Heart

Invia Betjoseph

“Why don’t you just give up on me Lord? I’m hopeless!” Sound familiar? Thousands of Christian men have uttered those words out of sheer frustration. At some point they promise God that they will stop acting out their sexual fantasies’that THIS time they are ready’ that THIS time it is different’ that they are, to quote a famous Alcoholic Anonymous saying, ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.’

Maybe you’re one of these men who decides to ‘starve’ himself of anything remotely sexual. You get rid of cable television, cancel the internet access, throw away all pornographic material, and even avoid having sex with your wife for a while! Several weeks pass and you notice that you don’t have the desire to view internet porn, visit massage parlors, or even masturbate! You begin to think that this is pretty easy and tell yourself, ‘maybe I can conquer this after all’ or, ‘I think I’m on my way to getting healed.’

But before you know it, lustful thoughts invade your mind like ‘pop-ups’ from Yahoo! You try not to panic but find yourself completely preoccupied with sexual thoughts for the next few hours or even days. At work you try to concentrate and endeavor to meet deadlines but your attention span is that of a woodpecker. You attempt to pay attention at staff meetings but each minute that goes by makes the struggle more intense. And then it happens’you end up in front of a computer screen or an x-rated video and for the next three to five hours you gratify your fleshly desires by viewing every known porn site under the sun, compulsively masturbate or ‘binge’ the whole weekend from massage parlors to escort services.

You cry out, ‘What happened? Why can’t I just quit?’ You not only feel disillusioned and guilty but you also feel like you are perverted to the depths of your being. You want to ‘resign’ as a Christian because you continually feel helpless and hopeless and you believe that no one can relate to you.

Well, you are not alone! You don’t believe me? Read with me Peter’s letter; specifically chapter 5:9 ”because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.’

All of us are running in this race for sexual integrity and sometimes we trip and fall. And when we do, we can’t afford to just sit there and watch everyone run by. Can you imagine watching Olympic athletes trip and fall and just sit there in bewilderment as to why they fell? No, they immediately get up and run’ they don’t even wipe the dirt off of themselves. Their whole focus is the finish line. Proverbs 24:16 adequately captures the theme of what you’ve read thus far: ‘For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again!’ So before you decide to beat yourself up any further let me suggest that we pay a visit to some of our Heroes of the Faith and see just how human they really were.

In I Kings chapter 18 Elijah and the prophets of Baal engage in a contest to see who is truly God. In verse 27 when the prophets of Baal are struggling Elijah feels so confident that he begins to taunt them (how cocky we get sometimes). You know how the rest of the story goes. What amazes a lot of Christians is that after his amazing victory Jezebel puts a contract on his life and the man cowers into a cave and starts whining. God didn’t tell him to go there. The Lord even asks him, ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ (19:9). Do you see how human Elijah really is? Just like you and I, he distances himself from the Lord out of fear, shame, and other feelings that damage our confidence.

What about John the Baptist? Jesus says of him: ‘Among those born of women there is no one greater than John (Luke 7:28). This is a prophet who boldly spoke against Herod’s adultery, he put Pharisees ‘in their place’ and preached about the coming Messiah as if his life depended on it and he did not sugarcoat his words. Yet in Luke 7:18-19 we read that from his prison cell he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Excuse me John, wasn’t it you that said to Jesus, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’? It is amazing what despair does to the person. It slowly strips him of his confidence, blinds his eyes to past victories, and finally creates an environment in his soul in which doubt can thrive.

Let’s not forget good old Peter. When Jesus predicts his death and tells his disciples that they will all fall away on account of him our beloved brother protests, ‘even if all fall away on account of you, I NEVER will’ (Matt 26:33). Can you just picture him speaking in a baritone voice with his chest sticking out? Jesus then tells Peter that he will disown him three times. One can only imagine the level of agony Peter felt when the rooster crowed three times. The Bible says ‘he went outside and wept bitterly’ (Matt 26:75).

So, do you still feel alone? I hope not. There are many other accounts in the Bible where men and women ‘messed up’ but God used them anyway despite their shortcomings. Meanwhile, what does one do when he has messed up in the sexual integrity department? I thought you’d never ask!

First, it is very important not to mistake the absence of symptoms for cure. Just because you’ve thrown out your porn stash or haven’t masturbated for weeks does not mean that the condition of your heart has changed.

Secondly, if and when relapse occurs, there will be a tendency to abandon the whole process altogether. It is vital that you do not give up’to get up and run the race.

Thirdly, if you have someone in your life that holds you accountable pick up the 100 lb. phone and call him. Let him know what you did and do not hold back (Satan thrives on secrecy).

Fourthly, try to identify what exactly happened. Usually, there are 3-5 things happening at the same time. For example, you’re having car trouble, the boss is acting like Hitler and you have not been sleeping enough… all of the above can have a toll on your body and mind. Try to pin-point what the trigger was for you.

Finally, you need to strategize. In other words, you need to place preventative measures at each trigger point so that you do not repeat the cycle.

You know, theologians and preachers often speak about the work Christ did on the cross for our salvation. However, the work that Jesus continues to do on our behalf is often not talked about. Just as He prayed for Peter during some dark hours, so also he intercedes before the Father’s throne on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus’ ongoing ministry of prayer is there for you as long as you are in need of His guidance, comfort and blessing.

Robert Murray McCheyne, the beloved Scottish minister of the 19th century, wrote, ‘If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!’

If you are still sitting there asking the Father, ‘Why don’t you just give up on me? I’m hopeless!’ I would imagine he would say, ‘Because I who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6).

Making Amends with Extended Family Hurt by Our Betrayal

The atomic bomb has been dropped. A blinding flash of light, the explosion, the mushroom cloud billowing, devastation everywhere you can see, horror on faces of survivors, lives destroyed. You pushed the button!

You dropped the bomb! You did not mean to, it was an accident. How could this have happened?

It was a normal day at work. Routine is so routine. You predict on your way home the events of the evening. Your wife will be preparing the evening meal. You try to slip in without making a fuss. Keep peace at all cost is your life motto. But peace is not on tonight’s menu. It has been weeks since she confronted you about your secret life with pornography.

You thought it was well hidden and there would be no way you would be caught. She did! And you were! She should be over this by now, you are thinking. The drive home in the falling snow did not prepare you for the ice storm you encountered when you slipped in your own back door.

Her rage had been seething all day, like the steam emitting from the release valve on a pressure cooker. Tears were salting the mashed potatoes she was preparing. You attempted to hug her. She stiffened and pulled away.

As you began to reason with her that you had things under control and together you could work this out. “Mom and Dad want me to move home for a while, she numbly inserts.”

What? Mom and Dad? Want you? You told them? Were there others, you wondered, but wouldn’t allow yourself to ask. Words became racing thoughts, fragments of splintered sentences. They know about? About the porn’? About my acting out? About me? I’m exposed, they know about me. A sick nauseating wave of fear surges through your stomach. Anger emerges.

The thoughts “They have no business” How could you have, when you hear your angry words burst through the silence. “What did you tell them?” “It is none of their business!” “Why did you tell them?”
Supper was left on the stove. You blew it once again. When will this ever end?

As days of winter crept by you knew sooner or later you would have to face those who know and have been hurt. Can there be hope for a future after such a catastrophic explosion? Where do you begin to restore relationships of those who have been hurt by your betrayal?

Restoration is possible:

Consider not yourself, but those who have been hurt by your betrayal. Make a list of those who you know have been affected or in some way have knowledge of your acting out. Remember what the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15 did when he decided to go back home to face his dad?

First, he faced his pride. It was a giant. He probably had been plotting and fantasizing just how great life could be if he did not have to be strapped down. If he didn’t have someone looking over his shoulder,  watching him. Why, he could live anyway he pleased. “Hey Dad, I want my inheritance now. I want to make it on my own. I can handle it.”

He didn’t handle it any better than we did, did he? He lost everything. Squandered it on “loose living,” v 13. That is a nice way to put it, isn’t it? “Loose living,” sounds nice enough. His older brother wasn’t sugar coating it in v. 30, “this son of yours (no brother of mine, implied) who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes

Pride wants to minimize and to cover up and hide the magnitude of what we have done. While he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods he was feeding the hogs, v. 16, he was actually swallowing his pride. I will go to my father and tell him what I have done.”

Second, he rehearsed what he would say. He probably ‘hearsed* and rehearsed until he was confident that he had down exactly what he would say. “Dad I sinned (v. 18-19). I am not worthy to be called your son. Would you let me go to work for you as one of your workers?” He identified what sin he had committed against God and his father and confessed it. Because of his betrayal he saw his unworthiness, the true picture of himself. This was no longer about him and what he wanted to get out of life. He was ready now to see the reality of his condition. “I am not worthy”

Third, though it is important to rehearse and rehearse what you will say, be prepared for their response. The younger son, I don’t think was prepared for what his father said and did. Right in the middle of his well rehearsed presentation, his father interrupted him v. 22.

Read for yourself this amazing fatherly response. One of the reasons for the favorable response from his dad was due to the sincerity of his son’s confession. It came from his brokenness not from his pride. If your confession to your family members or friends is in any way marked by insincerity, minimizing, hiding, weaseling, it will become evident. That kind of brokenness can only come from feeding the hogs and becoming aware that we have been living like them. Rooting and snorting for anything that will feed our appetite for pleasure.

Regardless of the relationship with your parents or in-laws, can you see their heart? Can you begin to touch their disappointment and anger? This is not intended to shame you any more than you feel shame now. Again, this is not about you, but those your betrayal has hurt. By realizing what their hurt is and the depth of their hurt, you will then be able to formulate what you will need to say to them.

Fourth, I would suggest you write a letter to each person on your list for the very reason that they may interrupt you and you will not be able to complete what needs to be said. By presenting a well thought out letter of confession, it will be up to them what they will do with it. It may be thrown in your face. You may get yelled or screamed at, or told never to return. You cannot control their response or reaction. Keep in mind you are responsible for your actions. In the event of their rage against you, remember your purpose for being there… it is about them not you. The prodigal son recognized he had squandered his right of sonship as we have also squandered our rights of acceptance.

I want to share a story from one of my clients. I will not give details of her betrayal, but suffice it to say over a number of years her actions destroyed not only her reputation, but relationships with her family, extended family and several other marriages. Upon a realization, not much unlike the prodigal son’s, she became aware of the wake of destruction she had left behind. She decided to change her life, come back to Christ and surrender her life to His lordship. She made a list of all she had harmed over the years. She then decided to physically face each one and confess what she had done and ask for their forgiveness.

This was a monumental task, one filled with fear and dread. As she recounted story after story of meeting the ones she had hurt, you could envision her walking up to the door and knocking. Taking a deep breath, she would say words like, “I am (__________). I am the one who destroyed your marriage. I may never know the extent of hurt I have caused you. I am so sorry for what I have done to you and your children and your family. I have given my life to Christ. He is my Savior and Lord. I want to ask you to forgive me for the pain I have caused you.”

The last time I saw this precious woman, she had personally faced everyone she knew that she had hurt. She told me not one person threw her off the porch or slammed the door in her face. Time and time again she was received with such grace she was shocked. She did it right!

Fifth, realize it takes time to heal. In the story above the hurts this woman had caused had happened several years prior for many of these people, some more recent. In the case of the prodigal son, we don’t know how long he was gone, but apparently it had taken him quite a while to go through his inheritance. Emotional healing takes time. While forgiveness can be granted, trust has to be earned over time. Restoration of relationships is a process not an act. Talk to those who you have hurt and let them know what you are doing to prevent future betrayals.
We have all pushed the button that has devastated the lives of family members and friends. What is left for you to say? How will you say it? When will you say it? May the Lord Jesus bless you as you seek to rebuild relationships!

* Yeah, I know, “hearsed” is not in spell check, it just seemed to fit at the time.

Craig Boden

For help, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you have already attended Every Man’s Battle, please honor your wife by joining us in our couples program at our next New Life Weekend.