Friday, June 6, 2014

Confession is Good for the Soul


Porn kills.

I’m not talking about the many individuals within the porn industry who commit suicide, are murdered, or who die of AIDS, drug overdoses, or chronic alcohol abuse.

Porn kills those who watch it.

It snuffs out the ability to love, turning men & women inward on themselves. It compromises their ability to deal with real life by offering the lie of fantasy instead. It destroys empathy and normalizes the objectification of others.

It becomes a hindrance to relationship with others and with God.

I know because I’ve struggled with porn.

I was spending an anniversary weekend with my wife. She always talks about memories she has of spending time with her grandparents when she was young. We were at dinner and I thought I’d try to come up with some of my own childhood memories to share. I had loving grandparents on both sides of the family. My paternal grandparents would take me on summer vacations with them and I often slept over at their house on the weekends. My maternal grandparents owned a small mom & pop store and they would always let us raid the candy case every time we visited.

So as we’re at dinner and I pause to think of a funny or endearing memory to share I was shocked by what first came to mind. It was at my grandparents’ homes that I was first introduced to porn. Many times while sleeping over at my paternal grandparents they would let me watch TV in the basement--by myself. They had HBO and HBO had R-rated movies. It wasn’t anything hardcore and was probably mild by today’s standards for movies and even made for HBO series. But it was alluring and it was more than enough for a wide-eyed young teen. I saw my first Playboy when I was 14 and spending the night with my maternal grandparents. Among the various sundries for sale in their store were Playboy and Penthouse magazines. I would slip downstairs at night to sneak a peek. It was 1985.

The timing of this exposure was, in retrospect, interesting. It was about one year before I had an encounter with Jesus on a youth group retreat. I used to think that it was as if the enemy was doing his best to lay claim to my heart and build a stronghold there to resist the coming grace and life I would find. What it really was--and I’ve only recently come to see it like this--was the enemy marking me with a deep wound in my soul. It is a wound that would remain for years. At times it would appear to heal only to become infected and flare up again.

Since those early years of high school my spiritual journey would be marked by this struggle to seek after Jesus with all my heart while allowing my addiction to porn to act as an anchor holding me back. I would go through vicious cycles of falling/sinning followed by self-condemnation & guilt then experiencing forgiveness only to fall again. I was living a double life, publicly living as a faithful Catholic Christian, involved in ministries and deepening my study of the faith. I dated and married a faithful Catholic woman. I was (physically at least) a virgin until my wedding night. I say that I was physically a virgin because mentally & spiritually I had given myself over multiple times through lusting after pornographic images. Privately, I would give myself over to lustful fantasies and look for chances to seek out porn. Thank God the internet wasn’t around when I was in high school and college.

I got a job as a youth minister at a Catholic parish in Maryland fresh out of college and right after our wedding. Lisa got pregnant on our honeymoon and had a difficult pregnancy. I was too immature to handle the independence of adulthood. I was unprepared for the autonomy I had at work and the responsibilities of caring for a sick wife. I did what came as second nature to me when reality was too difficult to face. I turned inward and that included turning to porn as an escape. 

I didn’t seek help. I didn’t talk to my wife. Porn does that. Sexual temptation and sin throws jabs landing hit after hit, and then the knockout punch of shame puts you on the floor. Someone said that the devil tempts you to sin by convincing you that it’s not that bad and that everyone is doing it; then after you sin he makes you feel as if the sin is unforgivable and no one could possibly understand or accept you if you confess it.

If only I had the fortune of being an alcoholic, or gambler, or drug addict. Admit to one of those addictions and people feel bad for you. They understand that it’s an illness and to admit to being a recovering alcoholic sounds virtuous. Admit to struggling with porn and you’re just a pervert. This way of thinking had convinced me for many years that I needed to keep my struggles private and hidden. I lived in a quiet prison of shame. I wanted to break out. I wanted to be free. I had even convinced myself that I had screwed up too many times for God to forgive me. Surely he had had enough with my feeble attempts at living in purity.

Finally, one day I had had enough and decided that I would pour my heart out to God. I wrote a lengthy letter to God in my prayer journal. I was brutally honest with him. Then I let my wife read it.

Lisa was hurt, but she was forgiving. She didn’t understand why I felt a need to look at other women, especially like that. I didn’t know either. I loved her, but couldn’t control myself. Her willingness to forgive and to pray for me was the first time that I truly felt unconditional love. God was loving me through her. I had opened up the deepest, darkest, most wounded part of my being and my God and my wife didn’t shun me. They loved me. I didn’t think I was deserving of that love, nor did I think I would ever be loved like that.

That was a turning point. That was THE turning point for me. It wasn’t a miraculous or instantaneous healing. I wasn’t immediately delivered from the temptation of porn. But, that moment set me on a path of healing that I have been walking on now for many years. I have learned how important the healing power of confession is when combating temptation and for restoration when I fall.

There are two other factors that have helped change my heart. First of all there’s my kids. I have five daughters and I don’t want them exploited. I have a son and I don’t want him to inherit the sins of his father. The other factor has been learning the truth behind the fantasy of the porn industry. Reading about the broken lives and the sex trafficking. I remind myself that these are real people, made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of Jesus dying on the cross for them, girls with fathers and mothers.

If you have been suffering in silence with an addiction to porn I want you to know that you don’t have to go it alone. I want you to know that no matter how many times you fall Jesus stills loves you with an unending love. Tell someone. Sin and shame are like mold, they thrive in darkness. Let the light in and they become impotent. Go to confession. Turn to the Blessed Mother. If you fall, get back up. Porn will suck the very life out you. It will make your heart hard. But, remember the words of the Lord, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

If you need help, here are a few resources:

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