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Bursting the Bubble

August 22, 2007

Duane had been a pastor for almost 20 years when he finally admitted to a counselor that he had a sexual addiction. The details of his addiction are unimportant at this juncture, since sometimes the details of an addiction can be as titillating to people as their own addiction can be. Let’s just say that he felt shame most of the time.

Duane went to a Christian Counseling center and spent almost $20,000 for treatment. This happened about seven years ago now. He came out of the center several weeks later and went home to a nervous wife and congregation. Slowly, he meted out the details of his problem to all of them and sought forgiveness and reconciliation, which they heartily gave. In fact, so many people were impressed by the openness and honesty of this pastor that they gave him opportunities to speak about his “freedom” and how the Spirit of God set him on a new road of purity.

The requests to speak on this subject kept coming and people eventually asked him to write a book on the subject. He always intended to, but never got around to it. In fact, that was the reason he and I first met. It was at a Christian writers seminar. As we talked, he learned that I did counseling with pastors in the area of his addiction. A few weeks after we had met, he emailed me and asked if he could fly down to where I lived to do some counseling together.

It had been five years since he had “come clean” about his addiction and publicly began teaching about how to be free from addictive behavior. But he admitted to me that for the last year and a half, he had gone back to his addiction. And though it wasn’t as strong as it used to be, it was still there and he now had the added guilt of speaking to people about Freedom in Christ without being free himself.

We began the process of Theophostic Prayer Ministry (TPM) which helped him to get down to the lies at the heart of his addictive behavior. As we saw the real reasons for his addiction, I suggested that he relinquish the teachings and the speeches on Freedom in Christ and just start living it.

I am not sure how much testimonies really help, to be honest. I hear testimonies these days that talk about absolute freedom and I wonder if that is even possible this side of heaven. Don’t get me wrong…I think we can be set from the evil in this world. I believe in holiness and godliness. But we still have freedom of choice every day. Absolute freedom is our goal, but it is not the reality we have achieved. The purpose of a testimony is to give God credit for what He has done. But perhaps we exaggerate how much God has done in order to lift His name up even higher. I call that “evangelastics”…stretching the truth to give glory to God. However, in Duane’s case, he really did feel free. Shouldn’t he tell the world about his freedom? My question is this: Did Duane’s ability to stay away from sexual addiction mean he was free?

Here is the bubble I want to burst. Most approaches to overcoming sexual addiction amount to some variation of “just say no” or “be accountable” or “ask the Lord to take this away from you”. However, sexual addiction is different from other addictions. You don’t have a relationship with alcohol. You don’t have intimacy with drugs. But sex is the ultimate expression of familial love between a man and a woman. Sexual addiction has so many layers to it and so many things that may contribute to it….in fact, any relationship problems can trigger a relapse into sexual addiction. In a posting a few years ago, I mentioned how the same person could have a dozen different lies they believe, and yet every one of them can manifest the same way. How can you then tell which lie is being triggered if the outcome is always the same?

This is often the case with those who have symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive behavior. As we go through various lies that their heart believes, each of them results in OCD behavior. It is therefore impossible to tell just by a cursory glance what the root cause is by the behavior. This is why I have bailed out of behavioral counseling. I don’t think it has the lasting power of the inner voice of the Spirit of God.

God has to show each person the root lies of their behavior. And none of us do anything randomly. Duane had a lie embedded in himself that told him every time someone disagreed with him they were going to find a way later to hurt him. When he felt this, he responded as he had always done: He pulled away from them. As he did this, they felt hurt and responded by pulling away from him or pushing him hard…either way, he would feel hurt and would pull away more. Eventually people in this process would pull away for good. When he felt this abandonment, he would always medicate it through his sexual addiction.

So what happened during the 3.5 years that he didn’t medicate with sexual addiction? During that time, he was getting lots of props through the success of his speaking ministry. Speaking ministry is usually a one-sided relationship with the speaker giving and everyone else taking. Therefore, for several years, his old lies didn’t get triggered as often. And because he really was relying on God to give him strength each day, that combination kept him from the most egregious behavior of his addiction. But there is a reason it didn’t last. Eventually, the old lies began to trigger him more frequently. As he did not get his book written, people close to him began to suspect that he wasn’t happy with his ministry. Several people confronted him on his inability to finish tasks. He went back into the lie that he would be hurt…and of course, he was. Now, when he tried to “just say no” and to quote memorized scriptures, the internal pain kept getting more intense. In one weak moment in another city, he acted out his addiction. Then, because he couldn’t admit this to anyone, he buried the pain and it just got worse. Now he realized he would hurt more than just his wife and congregation if he came forward. He would hurt the many people who had heard his testimony. He was stuck. He did apply a lot of aversion techniques he had learned in therapy and these did help him stay away from the worst of the addiction. But he had to admit the desire to medicate his pain was still there. Poor Duane: He was stuck at a level of freedom that taunted him without relieving pain.

Duane’s situation just underscores a lot of the danger of the public testimony. So many Christians I know (and pastors in particular) feel doomed once they talk about their freedom. Now, if they have a relapse, they will be ostracized and have fingers pointed at them. I think of young Christians that were popular before they got saved, like Alice Cooper, B.J. Thomas and the Korn guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch who all had marvelous testimonies only to later fall back into some of their problems. All of them later were very sorry they went public with their freedom before they really knew they were free. Now, all three of them are much more quiet about their faith and prefer to grow in anonymity except for the people they know in their local church setting.

I am not saying we should keep quiet about what God is doing in our lives. Or maybe I am. Perhaps what we should say is that God is doing an incredible work and that there is more to do, but I feel freer than I have for a long time. And keep working at sexual addiction or any other addiction, and see that it is a work in progress. But the desire to let the world know how wonderful things are with us can be more of a desire to put on a show than a desire to be free. Duane can tell you today that he hardly acts out on his addiction any more. Oh, he has some relapses, but they are small and manageable. We have identified five different lies that all triggered his addiction. As each new one comes up, Duane is not defeated…instead he is excited that one more piece of his addiction puzzle will go on the board.

That is a testimony worth telling. Only this time, Duane is keeping the audience much smaller.

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3 comments

  1. I really think that testimonies have helped me over the years because they raise my faith level. I would like to hear more testimonies from people. Maybe you’re getting turned off to testimonies because you have heard the other side of them. But for those of us who don’t do counseling, the stories of God’s power are uplifting


  2. I appreciate where Jenny is coming from but I must side with Mike on this. I have been a church-going Christian for a long time and I’ve heard a lot of testimonies. I found them uplifting. But then I started getting to know a few Christian men on a deeper level and I found they struggled back and forth with the same junk for their entire adult lives. I think some eventually give up and allow the issue to become part of who they are…even denying it’s a sin. I also have the somber insight of one who has worked in an industry that exposed me to the deep ugly side of the human heart…a side that exists in Christians just like it exists in non-believers. I often find myself sadly amused at the naivete of folks who are shocked to discover that a believer has on and off struggles with certain sins. Even more disturbing is the the naivete of those who refuse to accept that someone they know personally is capable of certain sins. I am no longer surprised by anything. Scary! But that doesn’t mean I don’t see God working in the lives of others…and myself.

    I guess I still like to hear the testimonies, I just have a more realistic picture of their value. I refuse to allow them to make me feel like a second-class Christian because I haven’t found the healing or freedom these folks claim to have found for themselves. I can see that God has worked in my life in ways that are customized to me.


  3. I like to hear testimonies but I have noticed in my own life that victory is fleeting. Satan just keeps coming back and attacking, again, and again, and again… even when the truth has been revealed to me through theophostic counseling. It’s like being in a battle that never ends. Of course the revealing of the truth behind the struggle makes the battle less intense, and maybe less frequent, but it’s still there.

    It’s almost cruel in a way: to see those shining faces share their testimonies and know that battles and discouragement await just around the corner.

    I’m coming to the realization that the Christian life is more like a long distance race than a sprint. That doesn’t reconcile with our culture at all!

    How do you teach new believers to pace themselves, it’s a loooong run? The goal isn’t even to finish first, it’s just to finish without being consumed by the course.

    It’s very tempting to go back to the old life: make money, buy toys, play with toys, brag about toys, repeat.



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