An Unusual Request

Two weeks ago, I went into the Verizon store at Harvard Square, and I asked a sales person to help me downgrade to a dumb phone. I had an iPhone 5 at the time, and I asked if I could trade it in for a flip phone. The sales person told me to buy a used phone and said that if I sold my iPhone, I could easily make $500+. After presenting what seemed to her a compelling case, I insisted that I do the trade in, and to do it then and there. She explained to me again, as if I didn’t understand the first time. I repeated my decision. Looking frustrated, she handed me off to another sales person. I repeated to him what I wanted, and he said, “You know, this is an unusual request. But you’re the boss. So we’ll do what you want.”

Why did I get rid of my iPhone 5? I have been a loyal iPhone user since 2009. The iPhone was the first and only smartphone I’ve owned. I really like the iPhone. So what happened? In very condensed form, there were two reasons: 1) to simplify my life; 2) in seeking sexual integrity, to block access to internet pornography. I will focus only on reason 2 in this post, and I hope to explain in more depth how I got here. To visualize my thoughts, below is a diagram.decision diagram


Chart: Addition and Pornography
List of Books Read
List of Sermons Listened

This decision started all the way back in 2006. My introduction to pornography was much earlier, in 6th grade. But in my freshman year of college, I made a life changing decision, which was to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Up to this point, I had some inkling that there was something about pornography that I didn’t like, although I was drawn to it, and when I got my own computer, viewed it regularly. But as I sought to mature in my walk with Christ, I felt intuitively that my viewing of pornography wasn’t pleasing to God. In some ways, I connect with what St. Paul wrote in Romans 7, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” Learning about what was right in God’s eyes, at the same time revealed to me what was wrong. So from a position of love and gratitude for what Christ Jesus had done and continues to do for me, I sought to grow in obedience to God’s laws and commandments. Thus began my journey.

In 2009, I purchased my first smartphone, the iPhone 3GS. It was thrilling to have it in my hand. Soon, I discovered that I had access to internet pornography through yet another device. It didn’t bother me until the fall of 2010, which was when I began to seriously address the issue of pornography in my life. God worked in a powerful way in the summer of 2010 to reveal to me areas of sexual brokenness and set me on a path toward seeking sexual integrity.

I read many books, had many conversations, prayed much and was prayed for by many, and I slowly began to see change take place. 2 Peter 1:5-7 encapsulates this process well. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” My faith is in Christ Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, his personhood and his works. But faith alone is dead. The particular virtue I was seeking to develop was chastity and sexual integrity, but that alone wouldn’t sustain me. I needed  knowledge and to learned about what I was striving after. And the more I learned, the more attractive it was to me, so I sought after it. But once I learned more about what it was, then I needed to act on what I learned, so I needed self-control and discipline. I needed to implement what I learned, so that information could become a way of life. But change doesn’t happen over-night, thus, self-control needed to be complemented with steadfastness, persistence, and perseverance. I needed to stay with it. And it wasn’t easy. It was costly monetarily, emotionally, and spiritually. So then steadfastness needed to be supplemented with godliness, characteristics of God, and in this case, notably, grace, patience, and forgiveness. There were many times when I failed or reverted to old patterns of behavior. So I needed to display grace to myself and seek forgiveness from others. And in seeking to develop this virtue, I needed to remain humble as I walked with other brothers and sisters who were struggling with similar problems. Brotherly affection was needed because seeking virtue was not just for myself, but for relationships and community. So it was important to reach outward, not to do things alone, to care for others and to be cared for. Lastly, all these things needed love and were tied together by love. It was for the love of God and love of neighbors that I was seeking to grow in this area. My motivation was love for God and his people. It wasn’t fear or shame or guilt. Those motivations wouldn’t have sustained me for this long.

In the recent months, two events served as a catalyst: a book and a sermon. The book I read in April and the sermon I heard in the morning before I went to the Verizon store. The book was titled Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. It addressed addiction to substances. I’m not claiming that pornography is at the same level as drugs, but I found many parallels. (Below is a chart I made to show the similarities.) An idea that stuck with me is that relapse is part of the healing process for someone recovering from substance abuse. But with potent drugs, a relapse can be deadly. Therefore, relapse prevention is critical and all access to a certain substance needs to be cut off. That’s where I got the idea to change to a dumb phone, because blocking pornography on a smartphone is harder than you may think.

But what actually got me to do it was listening to a sermon titled, “A Costly Obedience” from my church. It had nothing to do with pornography, but the message was that there are times when following God and seeking after His justice and righteousness comes at a high price. And the question that was posed was, “Is it worth it?” I thought about my own situation, and I decided that seeking God’s righteousness was worth more than the conveniences of a smartphone. So leaving church that morning, I made up my mind. I wanted to do it that day because I didn’t know when I would have that same level of conviction again. Despite it being an unusual request, I was able to follow through.

After all is said and done about this decision, it is only one part of the healing process. External modifications only does so much. I relapsed and stumbled in this area even without my iPhone in the few days after I finished this post. So I know that there is much more in my mind and spirit that needs healing, and true transformation happens internally. I can see it taking more years, but it will be worth it. In the end, it is to point others to God’s love, holiness and righteousness. In all this, I’m motivated by love and gratitude to God as I seek to supplement my faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Chart, adapted from Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy

METHOD DESCRIBED IN THE BOOK WHAT I’VE PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
Detox: Getting the drug out of the person’s system. The withdraw symptoms. This is just the start. Stopping the consumption of pornographic material. Setting up filters and accountability software. Destruction of idols; cutting off the right hand that causes you to sin;
Primary Treatment involves a bunch of different steps which target the behavioral component of addiction What I found is that just by blocking porn doesn’t really help. There are deeper issues at play. God is not about behavioral modification, but heart transformation. It’s what comes out of your heart that defiles you.
Education: Learning about what the drug actually does to the body and the mind. Learning about what porn does to the mind. Learning about how it can damage relationships. Learning about the porn industry. And for me, learning about what sex actually is from a biblical perspective. God’s laws and boundaries that he sets in place so that humanity can flourish. Understanding theology and God’s design for human life, sexuality, relationships, marriage, work, justice, etc.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Identifying the cues, “triggers.” Stopping the thought before it begins, “nipping it at the bud.” Recording feelings, when triggers happen, and engaging with the emotions. These are all things that I did with my counselor, so when I was reading it, it was really eerie to see someone describe what I went through. Learning God’s truth. Praying about everything. Circumcision of the heart. A new heart is needed. Confession. Not letting Satan have a foothold in your heart. Reconciliation. Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Renewing the mind. Obedience to God’s words.
Motivational Inquiry: Asking questions that open up possibilities for change and allowing the person to entertain alternatives. “What would be a situation that would lead you to ask for help?” “What can you get if you go into therapy?” These questions enable and empower the person to see beyond his circumstance and is not defining them by what they do in the present. I think one of the significant questions that my counselor asked me was, “Do you like porn?” And for me it took some time and it is still a wrestling with me to say no. But I realized that how I answer that question shapes how I engage with the issues. And for her to say to me, “It doesn’t seem to me that you like it, because it makes you feel terrible afterward.” And soon, for me to be able to say to myself that I don’t like it was a step in the right direction. New identity in Christ. The old is gone, the new has come. A new humanity starting with Noah. God has called his people to be a light to the world, a holy priesthood and bearers of God’s image. People are called higher and to more than they know.
Relapse: The author argues that relapse is part of the recovery process, but also noted that in regards to potent drugs, it can often lead to death. So relapse prevention is a high value. And in these relapses, learning how to not let it spiral out of control. How to prevent future relapses, and learning what happened that led up to the relapse. These are all valuable information to prevent future relapses. That is something I had to wrestle with because I felt like I should be over it. But I keep relapsing and it was when I came to terms with the fact that it is something I need to continue to come back from. And that relapse was actually part of the process. And I’ve seen how each time there is a relapse, I’ve learning more about myself and how my mind works. That is in hope that in the future, I can be better prepared. Israel after slavery in Egypt. The constant relapse into idolatry and sin. Humans repeated evil throughout history.
Alternative Activities: This is important in the re-training of the brain. Drugs change how the brain is wired and can damage it. It can get to a point where behaviors and thoughts are not volitional but biological. What needs to happen is to get the brain back into a healthy function. This involves developing alternative thought processes and alternative activities that can replace the unhealthy ones. Scheduling activities to prevent idleness and boredom is important. After months or years, depending on the damage, the brain is capable of healing. I think this is the hardest part because a lot of work and discipline, attention, structure, support is needed to re-wire the brain. What happens during addiction is that strong and intense experiences change how the brain works. So drugs and porn are potent ways and easy ways to radically change how the mind works. It’s much harder to set healthy behaviors because often they are not as intense and requires much more work. So what I have found is that it takes way more work to set in place healthy patterns as compared to bad patterns. Love the Lord and love your neighbor. Meditation day and night on scripture. Fruits of the spirit. Sacrifice. Festivals and feasts. Remembering God’s work. Prayer. Service. Compassion. Contemplation. Silence and solitude. Justice.
Life Long: Each person is different and depending on the addiction, people can achieve different levels of healing. But dealing with a chronic-illness is that it will require constant attention in one form or another, and one needs to remain vigilant and one’s support networks also needs to remain so. In my own healing, it has taken almost 3 years, and I still haven’t felt like I’ve gotten to a place of feeling like it isn’t a problem I have to struggle with. Fighting the good fight. Staying in the race. Straining for the prize. The promise of redemption even from right after the fall. Hope of new heavens and new earth. The here but not yet. The mixed kingdom of weeds and wheat. Having a community of faith. Continued forgiveness and grace. God’s mercy toward those who repent and turn back to him. The continued battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Hope of God triumphing over evil and that we will be made new and made like him.

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Books

Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free
Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity
The Holiness of God
Naked Surrender: Coming Home to Our True Sexuality
Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality
Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families
Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Highjacks the Male Brain
Signature Sins: Taming Our Wayward Hearts
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other
The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics
Bringing Sex into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity
Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace
Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism
Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy

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Sermons

The Covenant of Marriage (Genesis 2:18-25)
What is Sex? (Genesis 2:18-25)
A Costly Obedience (Judges 19:22-20:48)

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