I once saw a video on GodTube (yes, that exists) on how to deal with porn addiction. An enthusiastic pastor held out one hand and said, “Imagine a cookie. Satan’s handing you a cookie and telling you that you’ll like this.” The pastor switched hands and continued, “Now imagine God handing you an apple and telling you that this will be good for you. I promise you, if you imagine this every time you’re tempted to view pornography, you will overcome your addiction.”
I love cookies. Cookies are delicious. Especially the white chocolate chip ones. I don’t know how white chocolate chip is different from regular chocolate chip, but I just get more excited when I eat them.
Clearly that analogy didn’t work for me. If it works for Mr. Apple Loving Pastor or anyone else, great. But I feel like overcoming addiction is more complicated than tricking your brain into liking apples.
When I was fourteen, I started working at my grandma’s office. I made sure people paid their rent, helped with the computer stuff...and looked at porn online. It was my first time having unlimited access and freedom to check out naked women. My parents weren’t around. My grandma would work in the other room. I almost gave the computer a virus.
Every so often, you come across a dilemma in which the choice you make, a single choice, will forever alter the trajectory of your life. For me, that choice was to ‘fess up to my dad about my addiction. I would miss hanging out with my grandma, getting paid at the end of the week, and interacting with tenants, but fourteen-year-old Josh decided his morality was worth it.
My dad was reading the Bible in his bedroom alone. I nudged the door open. It creaked. “Dad? I have something to tell you.”
What transpired was one of the most defining moments I’ve had with my father. Instead of berating me, he helped me understand what I was feeling. No punishment, no condemnation, just love and acceptance. Sure, I’d have to quit the job, but I understood why. Often, we win or lose our battles before they begin. If I were to start breaking free of my addiction, I needed to avoid situations where I was prone to watch porn.
I’ll always be grateful to my dad for guiding me through the first step. But it was far from the end of the battle.
In an attempt to escape addiction, I got involved in ministry. It helped a lot, knowing that if I was responsible for the spiritual welfare of others, I should at least be somewhat spiritually healthy myself. Yet every couple weeks, I’d find myself falling back into the same vicious cycle. “Okay Josh, from this moment on, you are NOT doing that again.”
Fast forward one month later. “Really Josh? Are you kidding me? You are leading worship in a few weeks, get your act together!” Mondays were opportune moments to view porn. Then I’d have an entire week to get holy with God before Sunday came around. Ridiculous, yes. But it worked. I’d totally fall in love with God one morning, then check out a set of boobs the next. Ministry, while positive in all sorts of ways, only served as a temporary distraction from my porn battle. For years, I was stuck in a cycle of watching porn, then serving God, watching porn, then serving God. It eventually became depressing, causing me to believe that I’d be struggling with this until the day I died.
Writing that last paragraph disgusted me. Some of you may be wondering why I’m bothering to cover this topic. It’s safe to say a majority of us deal or have dealt with pornography. So why not talk about it? Problems remain problems when they’re kept secret. Darkness, when exposed to light, is vanquished. Simple as that.
So how did I eventually overcome my lust? I won’t lie and say I’ve been completely victorious and in control, but I struggle less with it after recognizing that porn was never the real problem.
I once heard a pastor say that if you’re dealing with lust, look out for anger. Keeping track of when I felt most susceptible to binge-watching XXX vids, I realized I’d often watch porn when I was resentful or bitter, especially toward my dad. Whenever I was pissed at him, the one who taught me to flee temptation, I googled naked women as if to spite him. Or maybe some crappy life events had just occurred and I succumbed to pornography, seeking relief. But why would I seek relief from something that increased the burden of guilt and shame? Did I really think I could spite God by sinning?
No matter how far I ran away from porn, I would always return to it if I hadn’t dealt with the core issues. My hurts, my anxieties, my grudges....God promised He would bring healing and peace to them all, if I let Him. But sometimes, I don’t trust God. Porn gives me a sense of control, like I could create my own joy or my own rest. It never works for long, though. When I surrender to His ways, which are far better than my own, porn loses its appeal. Why settle for artificial pleasure when I have the eternal love of my Lord and Savior?
After wrestling with porn for so long, I finally realized that despite all my filth, God never stopped loving me. He loved me when I was viewing porn; He loved me when I had self-righteous pride from not viewing porn. He loved me even when I hated myself. That stupid, stupid fourteen year old, look at him waiting for his grandma to leave the room so he could waste her time and money. God, you love that kid? That kid who promised you a million times that he would stop looking at your daughters that way, only to break his promises a million times plus one. I hate him, God. He’s me at my worst. Please don’t keep looking at him. Why are you still looking at him???
Gently, I hear His voice:
I love fourteen-year-old Josh. I love twenty-two-year-old Josh. My love for you never changed. My promises remain the same. Come to me child, and I will give you rest.
That was it. That was all I needed to hear from Him. The hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done was say yes.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (ESV)