One Day at a Time

It’s that time again: New Year’s resolutions. For many men, this is the time when they decide (yet again) to stop their sexual acting out. Quit porn. End the affairs. Stop going to strip clubs. Finally, no more personal ads.  These are all good and noble causes that we should aim for.  Much like eating right, hitting the gym or abiding by a budget the streak usually ends within a few weeks.  Then the same guilt, shame and (sometimes) excuses set in. When this happens with regards to sexual integrity issues, it can feel so defeating. That’s why I’d like to suggest a better way.

The Bible tells us it’s not about the streak. It’s not about how many consecutive days we can string together without committing a particular sin. In fact, that can easily slip into idolatry. Instead of grace-based faith, it becomes performance-oriented self-salvation.  That takes the Savior out of the equation. Instead, our focus should be on His continual provision.

When the Israelites were wandering the desert they had God’s provision. He was committed to their sustenance every day. To that end, His commission to the people was to only take enough for that particular day. To stockpile manna was to hijack God’s glory.  Think about the morning prayer of the average Israelite wanderer when he woke up in the middle of nowhere: “God… I’d like to eat today. I don’t know where that food is going to come from. There isn’t much to hunt out here, and I’m short on ammo anyway. Would you mind showing up today?” The stage is set for God to come through, to provide and prove Himself faithful.

It robs God of the opportunity to prove His faithfulness when we begin counting the days of sobriety.  We run the risk of shortchanging God of the glory He deserves.

What if a better way is to focus on daily sanctification and a deeper relationship with God rather than not breaking the rules?

That would mean we begin asking ourselves different questions and measuring movement by a different ruler.

Instead of asking ourselves if we did or didn’t commit some sin today, let’s ask if we were faithful to God’s call on our lives today. Instead of asking if we lusted, perhaps we should ask if we dwelt on things lovely, pure, excellent, praiseworthy and noble. Rather than aim to end the day without having a “slip”, let’s aim to end the day having triple-jumped towards what we know God is calling us to.  Wouldn’t you rather hit the sack tonight knowing you were faithful to what God is trying to teach you as opposed to just being glad you didn’t act out? How sweet to be in a deeper relationship with God, to be more in awe of Him, after experiencing Him consistently sustaining you.

And suppose you did act out. Suppose you did look at porn again. Could there peace in knowing you are a step closer to who God is developing you to be, rather than on the chaotic hamster wheel of simply resetting the clock? Could there be hope to rest in God’s faithfulness tomorrow rather than gritting your teeth and psyching yourself up to white-knuckle your way through another day?

I’m not saying we should toss our resolutions out the window. Nor should we engage the struggle for sexual integrity in a casual, passive or lackadaisical way. I’m simply suggesting that perhaps God desires to teach us more about ourselves and Himself, rather than just helping us stop some bad behavior. Maybe God wants to show us His faithfulness, providence and sovereignty and our sexual struggles are the stage on which He’ll be glorified.

Final Four

After the brief detour to talk about the many faces of a man in recovery, we’re getting back on track. Time to round out the discussion on Secondary Boundaries. What we’ve covered so far:

  1. Geographic
  2. Situational
  3. Relational
  4. Intellectual
  5. Psychological
  6. Financial

Now for the final 4.

7. Emotional feelings. This is the stuff going on at a heart level that might propel us into the addictive cycle. It is important to identify and acknowledge which emotions increase your propensity to medicate. That said, we have to go to the deepest levels. For example, Anger is easy to identify. However, underneath that anger may be hurt, fear, failure, shame or disappointment. We must identify those. Stress is a common one. But when many people say stress, what they mean is they feel overwhelmed and fearful of failure. Some guys act out when they feel excited and happy. Others when they feel sad, lonely or rejection.

8. Spiritualwhere are you and God? We know we can’t fight this alone. And we know that if God doesn’t intervene we’re hopeless. Sometimes God is near, sometimes far. In one of my groups a guy described his relationship with God like this: “I feel like I’m a member of a large audience, 1000’s of people, and I know God the way I know the speaker on a stage. He doesn’t know me, he just knows I’m out there. I don’t really know him, but I know he’s up there speaking, and I should be listening.” Living in that relational space with God could be a space where you act out sexually. Or perhaps when you feel like God is miles away. Or maybe even when you come off a mountain top high with God, like after a mens retreat. The important thing here is again to raise your awareness and plan for those occasions.

9. Physiological – think body. It is unfortunately too frequent for guys to say that crossed a line and acted out sexually because of some bodily urge. Is there a reality to our cycles of sperm production and the feelings of needing a release? Yes. And did God make appropriations in our bodies for that release? Yes. Which means we don’t have to take matters into our own hands (literally or figuratively). Don’t let natural urges be the driver on acting out. Create plans around physiological boundaries. Limit time laying in bed in the morning, or limit time in the shower. Double check your motive for pursuing sexual intimacy with your wife. Don’t give yourself the excuse that your urges and just natural impulses and thus you are entitled to some behavior. I always come back to this verse when thinking about these boundaries:

Jude 1:10b – and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals – these are the very things that destroy them.

10. Technologicalanything related to technology. We’ve heard so many of the stories of guys acting out using playstations, kindles, ipads, cellphones, laptops, etc. There’s an endless supply of media devices to be used for evil or good. Don’t be so careless as to think that using an online device is safe. It is not. There is always a risk, even if you have a filters in place. Create safeguards around how & when you use technology. Make sure your accountability folks know those boundaries and help you be accountable for them.

Hopefully this info is helpful. Another reminder, the goal isn’t to have a narrow, boxed in life. It is to have freedom because we have guard rails that keep us from getting off in the ditch.