**I wrote this post in October, 2015, and have waiting to publish it. The primary reason for the two-year delay is that there were individuals who needed to hear this story about my family in person before reading about it on the internet. I hope you find it encouraging.**
I have had a lot of internal struggle with this little piece. I don’t think the apprehension comes from a desire to not write it; I actually do really want to write this. I guess I’ve just been unsure with how to proceed; timing, manor, method, tone—these are all considerations that have made me hesitate every time I’ve sat down, looking at a blank Word document. Some of the apprehension likely comes from the fundamental reality that I wish I had nothing to write about. There’s also the fact that countless articles like this have already been written, so what’s the point? But I feel compelled to write for the benefit of the Church, and so, I’m going to write.
Ok, enough with the shadowy introductory remarks. You may have already guessed what this post is about, so I’ll just cut right to the chase: yes, this is another article about porn. The predictability is nothing short of embarrassing, but humiliation is kind of the glorious point (more on that later), so I suppose I should own the shame, shamelessly.
A Brief Background
Let me set the context with a short history of my experience with porn. I don’t quite remember the first time I was exposed to pornography, but by age 14, I was regularly going out of my way to seek it out. On several occasions, I was busted by my folks, but a teenager can be quite creative with technology if he’s working for the indulgence of sin, so it didn’t take long before I was able to keep things under wraps. I never did have sex before I was married, but to call that “sexual purity” is laughable; I cringe to think of the impression I left on girls that I objectified as a teenager. Some girlfriends and “admirers” who would hear the shaggy-haired, guitar-sling’n, singer-songwriter preach about his love and devotion for Jesus from behind a microphone would later find themselves alone with him, making the kind of memories you wish you could forget.
The dishonor that I brought to the name of Christ still makes me sick to my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t insidiously using Christian-y words for ill-intentions; I think I was honest when I spoke about my love for Jesus, and I truly felt remorse for every one of my sexual exploits, whether they were with girls next to me, on a computer screen, or in my own imagination. But you need to understand, it’s truly difficult to express how much I loved the praise of people; if it’s appropriate to use the word in this context, I lusted after their approval. I grew fat from gorging myself on compliments, and I wasn’t about to sacrifice my title as the “wise-beyond-his-years-young-musician” for the sake of actually dealing with my sin.
So that was my existence for basically all of highschool; I loved my sin, and I hated myself for loving my sin. I was miserable. Things came to a head in my senior year of highschool when I confessed my activities to every person I was close to. It was only after this full disclosure that I experienced any sort of extended season of victory over this sin. However, when Shannon and I started dating, and eventually were engaged, there were a couple of times that I lapsed. The pain, mingled with disgust that was recognizable in her voice when I confessed to her left me with the impression that it would be impossible for me to look at porn again; I didn’t think there was any way that I could put my relationship with her on the line like that for such a pitiful sin. Obviously, if such a naive assumption were true, this post wouldn’t exist.
I’m not sure where I got this impression, but up until my wedding day, I had just assumed that sex with my wife would automatically solve my problem with pornography. You’ve heard the expression “we were promised jetpacks”—it was something like that. For some reason I thought that marriage would entail endless amounts of mind-blowing sex, and that all my sexually related sins would disappear.
I don’t remember exactly when the first occasion was of looking at porn after our wedding day, but I know it wasn’t very long. That moment, I swore to myself that I would never do it again—which is exactly what I swore to myself the next time… and the next… and the next… for three years of marriage this went on. All the while, I would share articles that radiated with righteous indignation toward the evil industry of pornography. I would write those articles. I would contribute in gospel-centered conversations about sanctification, and I would talk about my sin as if porn was something entirely in my rearview mirror. And I would confess… privately. I would spill my guts out in journal entries and prayers; clutching onto the proper doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone until my knuckles were white. I would ask that God would never remove the sting of conviction, and I would repent. Occasionally, I would vaguely confess “lust” to a brother in Christ and receive an “assurance of pardon” of sorts. And I would mean it…mostly. I really did hate the porn industry. I really did mean it when I warned people about how deadening it was to the soul. I really did mean it when I asked God to continue to convict me of my sin and to keep my conscience tender.
But ultimately, I never brought my sin out into the open; I was attempting to deal with it in utter isolation. Somehow, I had convinced myself that if I could only get a long enough porn-free track-record—say, 5, maybe 6 years—I could put off the task of disclosing my sin to my wife. But on October 9th, 2015, I knew I couldn’t do go on any longer. I called my pastor and a close friend and confessed my hidden habitual indulgence of pornography to them. This was an act of repentance and also a step towards accountability; I knew both of these guys wouldn’t let me get away without being forthright with Shannon. So that evening, I broke my wife’s heart.
What followed were the worst several days of my entire life. I can say with absolutely certainty that I have never experienced depression like I did in that brief season. It wasn’t simply that I was worried about my marriage, it was that I knew that I had killed the relationship. I knew that my wife could never forgive me. I knew that I had waited too long, and that reconciliation was now an impossibility. And, I knew that Shannon was totally justified to hate me for the rest of her life; after all, she had built a family for three years with a lying adulterer. The marriage was a sham. The foundations had devastating fault-lines that she had no previous knowledge of, and now the thing was crumbling under her feet. Furthermore, she had been faithful to her covenant vows where I had been unfaithful, and now she was stuck in a marriage with a scumbag. That was the situation; the marriage was dead, I had killed it, and I knew it.
“I used to feel safe around you, and I just don’t feel safe anymore” were her words that shot like an arrow through my chest; words that still bring me to tears thinking about them.
I had failed.
One evening, after communicating all of this to my (now fellow) pastor over the phone (I say “communicating,” but I don’t know if I can use that word; much of my blubbering was surely inaudible), I was answered with a very simple question from the other line: “Sam, does your wife love Jesus?” I knew where he was going, “Yes.” I responded. He then assured me, “Then your marriage isn’t over. She will forgive you. You guys will make it past this. Jesus will heal your marriage.” At the end of that conversation, my failure was no less significant, and my relationship was no less in peril, but there was hope.
The nights that followed consisted of several very difficult conversations—long hours of painful Q&A, long periods of silence, long periods of my wife and I simply weeping on the couch next to each other, side by side. But through that time, something inexplicable happened: Jesus healed our marriage. Reflecting back on that brief season, Shannon later noted, “I must have had a lot of people praying for me.” She had gone from feeling intense anger and disappointment towards me, to feeling compassion and genuine affection for me in less than a week. What God did to reconcile our relationship is truly all of grace.
Through those painful nights, Shannon communicated the love of Christ to me in ways that she will never understand. For example, she laid her head on my shoulder! I know, it doesn’t seem significant, but let me explain. For three years of marriage, every single time she laid her head down on my shoulder, I would think to myself, “There’s no way she would do that if she knew what kind of a man I truly am.” And, on one of those dark nights following my confession, while we sat next to each other crying, I thought to myself, “I was right; she will never again lay her head on my shoulder, she knows who I am now…” and no sooner had I thought those words did I feel her hair brush against my cheek as she rested there on my arm. With that slight movement, Shannon communicated the love of Christ to me more potently than any words she could have uttered.
Reflections on Three Years of Shame
As I think back on my sin, and the suppression thereof, there are several insights that I would like to share for the encouragement of anyone who may be reading this, especially anyone who may be self-detained in this shameful isolation.
First: By attempting to deal with this sin in isolation, I was depriving myself of genuine gospel-relief and significant aid. For three years, I could take no proclamation of the gospel entirely seriously. To be sure, I took the gospel seriously, but there was always that one sin attached the back of my mind like a leach, and every single time the grace of God was considered, that little parasite would suck ever so slightly. Even as I would stand up in front of my church to deliver the assurance of pardon, my own conscience had unique reservations. “Your sins, Christian, are forgiven in Christ!” I would announce, while thinking to myself, “How do you know that your sins are forgiven?”
Let me be clear, before my public confession, I do think that my sins—including the one sin that no one knew about—were forgiven. But after I confessed, it was the first time in three years I could hear a brother tell me, “Sam, that sin was nailed to the cross.” It was the first time in three years the sin that occupied my thoughts was identified by another. The liberty that came with bringing my indulgence of porn to clear daylight, pointing to it, and hearing my brothers and sisters in Christ consciously affirm with me, “That does not disqualify me from the love of God; that sin has been nailed to the cross and buried in the grave, and I have been resurrected with Christ as one who is free from its stain!” is more precious than anything I can describe. For three years I sacrificed that spring of life-giving water for the broken muddy cisterns of outward piety.
Second: For three years, I was trading in good things for the counterfeit idols of them. I needed to appear honorable and virtuous for my wife. I needed to appear admirable and godly for my son. I needed to appear wise and pious as an aspiring pastor. I was willing to trade anything to maintain the outward veneer of those titles, even the transparency and humility required to actually make me that kind of man! For the sake of looking like an honorable and virtuous husband, I became a dishonorable and wicked husband by suppressing my adulterous indulgence of pornography. For the sake of looking like an admirable and godly father, I harbored my sin, and thereby gave my son an illustration of a despicable and godless father. For the sake of looking like a wise and pious pastor, I actually continued in the very thing that would disqualify me from the ministry had I been a pastor during that time. My senseless allegiance to my idols caused me to forsake the true and better gifts that my idols were fashioned after.
Now, gloriously and graciously, my idols have been stripped away from me. There’s no fooling my wife; she knows exactly who I am and what I have done. Any attempts to pretend to be a self-sufficiently honorable and virtuous husband are squashed by our shared knowledge of what my self-sufficiency looks like (namely, a pathetic, perverted liar). The same can be said about my other two idols as well. To be sure, I know that the possibility of being a truly honorable husband, godly father, and wise pastor are not forever forfeit as a result of my sin, but the idols of being a self-made version of those things are gone—and will continue to be as long as transparency is maintained. All of the people who need to be ignorant of my sin in order for me to maintain those idols (my wife, my boys, and my pastors) now have full disclosure of what I am and what I’ve done. And this is a beautiful thing!
Third: God has graciously transformed this horrible sin into a powerful tool for my humility. I am convinced that God’s primary means for sanctification is the affliction and suffering that we endure in this life. My wife has suffered. She still suffers. Even though she has been told, and retold, that my sinfulness is not owing to any inadequacy on her part, she has the burden of battling insecurity and distrust, and that burden has been placed squarely on her shoulders by me. She suffers unjustly because of my sin, and that suffering is sanctifying her. I have seen it! I have seen my wife grow in recent weeks and months in more profound ways than I can communicate; and while I rejoice and revel in that sanctification occurring in her, it is mingled with the sting of knowing that my sin has caused the suffering that now shapes her. For the rest of our lives, as I hear my wife testify to the experienced knowledge that God works sanctification through suffering, I will forever be reminded of the fact that at least one season of suffering that has taught her such a reality was brought about by my sin. This understanding is a bittersweet thorn in my side, and it will render me—willingly or unwillingly—humbled every time I’m reminded of it.
My Aim in Sharing
I share all of this for two reasons. For one, I simply want to share what the Lord has done in my life and in our marriage. This is redemption that I’m talking about! I can testify that the grace of God in the gospel is sufficient to heal any wound; I know that this is true because I have seen it! I’ve tasted it! I know that my God is a God who specializes in resurrections because I’ve seen one with my own eyes: I killed my marriage, and God brought it back from the grave. So I share this story for the simple fact that God is glorified when his gospel is magnified, and the theme of this story is the gospel. Jesus is the hero in this story, which in and of itself makes it a story worth telling.
But the second reason I share the story is this: I know that many other brothers and sisters in Christ are in the same position I was in. Therefore, I share this story as an exhortation: stop believing the lie and come out of the shadows. It’s a lie that you can sufficiently deal with this sin in isolation. It’s a lie that building an ideal porn-free future will make your porn-saturated present and past less significant. If your best case scenario comes true, and last night when you looked at porn is the last time you will ever look at it, confessing it years from now won’t make the days or months or years of hidden sin any less painful for your spouse; it will probably make it worse.
Don’t deprive yourself of the richness of gospel relief any longer. Don’t deprive yourself of a joined effort of confronting your sin any longer. Don’t convince yourself that your private confession is true confession any longer; you refuse to bring your sin to light because you refuse to give up your idols, and they need to be killed just as much as your fleshly love for porn does. And if you are engaged to be married and are dealing with this issue, bring it up now. The struggle won’t get any easier once you’re married, and the internal resistance to confess will only grow stronger (because the stakes will be higher). You will break your fiance’s heart, but you need his or her help in this battle of sin, and help cannot be given if the need is not communicated.
Be bold in your weakness.