Everything was ready: the lights, the tree, the gifts; even the weather cooperated with a few inches of snow.
Quite honestly, it was magical.
On this very same night my life went from the landscape of a winter wonderland to the nightmare before Christmas.
I remember that we were unloading groceries from the car. I gathered the items from the front seat, including his phone when his screen lit up. This, for me, always felt like an invitation to take a sneak peak. So I did. My heart broke as I saw 10 missed, and dialed phone calls, to a number outside our state.
I dialed. She answered. We both sat there silently. I hung up.
That evening, instead of wrapping Christmas presents together, we sat on the floor by the Christmas tree as he began to unwrap us.
If you have been here you know the deep, heart-wrenching moment of waking up the next morning only to discover that what took place the night before was not a bad dream but your new reality––one that now sits like an anvil on your chest. And every morning thereafter, you are expected to carry this weight with you, including while having a house full of guests on Christmas morning.
So how do we do it? How do we go from the joyous task of making those perfect fork imprints on grandma’s peanut butter cookies, to the task of remembering to breathe without completely breaking down? Or in our angry moments, not acting on visions of throat punching our spouse as we pass him in the hallway?
Clearly, there are a myriad of emotions that we will need to learn to manage as we continue with life, family, and the holidays; present and future. For many of us, the holidays aren’t just a part of our trauma but the epicenter of it. The same can be said for our healing.
Despite the pictures of forced smiles, reminding us of what we would rather forget, recovering the holidays after such a painful experience is not impossible. In fact, they can become measures of growth, both within ourselves and our marriage.
I will warn you though, it is not for the faint of heart. You are going to have to fight for it. At least I had to.
If the opposite of contempt is gratefulness, then we must practice gratitude.
I had to be intentional to search and find the things to be thankful for:
- My kids: the very heart of who I was, needed me to be a mom who engaged.
- My home: despite the circumstances, I loved my little home and the protection it gave.
- My health: my body was working so hard to help me process stress.
- Space: opportunities to be alone, where I didn’t have to “be-on” for anyone.
- My God: who held and comforted me while I screamed and yelled at Him in anger.
- Simple things: my animals, nature, people laughing, going for walks.
This list seems pretty typical, but in the backdrop of what was taking place, finding a deep sense of gratitude in each of these areas was essential to balancing the internal havoc.
If self-care is essential, then we must practice identifying our needs.
- I needed my crisis to go away, but until then, I needed to pinpoint how to meet myself in this impasse:
- I dropped ALL activities that were not necessary to my survival. I was going to need every bit of energy to fight my battle.
- I told three close friends what I was going through and invited them into my pain. I needed to not be alone.
- I joined a Betrayal & Beyond group. I needed to surround myself with women who understood the depth of my trouble.
- I sought space from my spouse when I needed it: going on a walk, meeting a friend, and sleeping in a different room.
- I listened to my body and met its needs including taking an occasional nap.
If we are going to redeem the holidays, we must write a new narrative.
Yes, those photographs will remind me of the Christmas that changed everything. But if there is one thing I can count on, it’s change. And it starts with me:
- “Pictures will always bring painful memories.” Possibly yes, but if we allow it, they can also reflect God’s faithfulness to protect and provide. Even when I don’t feel God’s protection, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. He is faithful in all things and my narrative needs to align with this truth.
- “Holidays will always produce disconnection.” Not always. In fact, if we allow it, when we live in transparency we can remain deeply connected to God and others; and hopefully, our husbands someday.
- “Celebrating will never be the same.” Perhaps, but I must hold space for the possibility that my celebration can be deeper and more meaningful than it ever could have been without having gone through this.
Changing my narrative isn’t wishful thinking, but an active engagement in exploring the potential of a positive outcome. It becomes my source of measuring growth and redeeming a season that seemed unredeemable.
Listen friends, I don’t know how your story will play out. But I do know that the pain softens when we detach from the outcome and attach to Jesus and His promises.
It’s been eight years since my Christmas crisis. I can wholeheartedly say, Christmas 2020 brings an excitement and joy that I thought was gone forever. Today, I approach the holiday season with a deeper appreciation for how far I have come personally, spiritually, and relationally.
This year I will sit on the floor in front of the Christmas tree with my husband and we will wrap gifts while reflecting on the gift of our healing journey.
It’s Christmas. Redemption is here and it is ours to have.
Blessings on your healing during this holiday season.
This article is part of the Open Letters series.
What do you do when you are still struggling? What do you do when repeated failure, guilt, and shame weigh heavily on your conscience?
Let me begin with a story about a friend of mine. He had come to faith in Christ when he was in his late twenties. As they say, “He had history. He came with baggage.” I’ve never forgotten the way he described his life at the point when Jesus reached him. “If you divided my mental day into a thousand moments, nine hundred of those moments were immoral. I simply lived in a world of immoral images and desires and pursuits and behaviors.” His entire life was steeped in polyamorous, bisexual immorality.
Did his newfound faith immediately bring about a complete change? You know the answer: of course not. But his way of describing the process was particularly vivid. “It wasn’t as though I went from nine hundred immoral moments down to zero. But nine hundred went to seven hundred. And seven hundred became five hundred, and five hundred became two hundred, and so on. It was very hard to think that seven hundred out of a thousand meant progress! But it was. It was huge progress, and even though I was still failing, Christ was changing me.”
Jesus knows the kinds of people he has chosen to save.
He grew. Eventually, by the time I knew him, he was significantly changed—but still not perfect. And he lived with a daily awareness that, “I’m still vulnerable in the area of sexual temptations. I can never think I’m home free and will never struggle.” But he had entered into the long walk of discipleship, the patient, persistent obedience in the right direction, walking under the mercy of the Lord.
What sustained him for ups and downs of the long walk? I’ve never forgotten his words. “Early on I learned something that I’ve never forgotten. I had to presume that Christ loved me. Jesus knew the kind of person he had chosen to forgive and save. He who had begun a good work in me was committed to one day bring me to completion. I relied on the fact that his mercies for me truly are new every morning—I lived in that promise of Lamentations 3:22–24.” Christ’s love for him was the given on which his life depended. He could daily seek Christ’s mercies for what he needed that day: forgiveness from the Lamb, strength from the King, protection in the Refuge, guidance under the Shepherd’s hand.
Step by step by step by step he was moving toward the light. His long, hard fight was wrapped up in the mercy of Christ to him. It is the same for all of us, whatever our particular struggle—sexual immorality, anger and bitterness, fears, addictions, self-righteousness. Jesus knows the kinds of people he has chosen to save. We can seek him, and we will find him true and good for the long haul. My friend was honest, no secrets before God. He was honest to confess where and when he struggled. He was honest with friends, who helped him to seek and find the God who promises many mercies. He was honest in asking help from other people: accountability and prayer, counsel and conversation with brothers. He rebuilt a life that had good in it. He learned to treat both men and women as holy brothers and sisters, rather than as sexual objects.
Here’s an old metaphor about how a Christian fights against darkness. Envision your mind as a room. When sin reigns, that room is filled with dark thoughts, dark actions, and deceptive people who mean you no good. So how do you get darkness out of the room? There are two ways that you fight. First, you stand up to the darkness, expelling it from the room, learning to directly say no to evil. And second, you fight the darkness by filling the room with light. There’s no room for the darkness when the room is filled with worthy actions, true thoughts, and constructive people. When Christ enters the room, he is patiently committed to teach us to say no to what is wrong and yes to what is merciful and good. My friend began to care for other people, rather than using them as objects of his lust.
One of the actions that proved most helpful to him was getting involved in discipline teenage boys. (Pedophilia was not one of the sins he had indulged in.) They were entering adolescence and puberty in a hypersexualized world. At the same age that evil had trapped him, he could help to protect them from going down a self-destructive path. Serving others in need also helped him by filling the room with light so there was less room for darkness. In a sense, they were helping him as much as he was helping them.
Christ comes with mercy for people who know their sins. His mercy leads to doing simple things that consistently head in the right direction. Do you feel discouraged and defeated by your struggle? Don’t let anyone kid you that there’s some magic answer and somehow you missed it. There are no magic answers. But a Person full of light is willing to walk with you in the direction of the light. He is willing to walk with you the whole way home.
Hello Daniel I hope this finds you doing well!
Thank you so much for thinking of me, I wanted to write an email of encouragement for you and your guys.
The first thing I want to say is well done! Getting into a group of honest men, all focused on overcoming the things of the past and becoming a victor not a victim!
Having a community is so important and surrounding yourself with like minded people brings about the accountability and encouragement you need to overcome.
Pursuing Jesus above all is the greatest honor I have ever had in my life, it has given me peace, given me strength and brought clarity to my life when i was confused, lost and without identity.
You see I was exposed to pornography at the age of 6 years old and from that moment it planted a seed in me that would hold me in bondage for another 20 years.
It intensified throughout highschool and into college and trickled over into post college. It became my crutch to feeling something and escaping from reality. It had my mind consumed and my body having complete control over me.
It wasn’t until I rededicated my life to Jesus, that I started to have clarity in who I was, how valuable women are, and how freedom truly felt and how bondage can be lifted in an instant.
I can tell you that after I rededicated my life to Jesus the temptation went away. And I can stand here today being porn free and having peace and freedom only Jesus can give.
I decided at that moment that I was going to choose to pursue Jesus over everything else and learning that God didn’t create us for our bodies to control us. He created us so that we can control our bodies.
You see I used to feel helpless and entrapped in my habits and emotions. I believed the lie that what my body feels is truth and i am only following what is true.
But as the Lord has shown me and by the power of his Holy Spirit I have learned that I am more than a conqueror and the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding will guard my HEART and MIND.
When I allow God to be the center of my heart he protects me, he leads me and he restores me. This is available to every human being on earth.
God is no respecter of persons and he wishes no one to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth.
So wherever you are today, know this, when you CHOOSE to follow Jesus he will always lead you to the freedom only his children have access too.
No matter how you are feeling right now, what you have struggled with or are continuing to struggle with Jesus is right there willing to step in for you.
Repent of that action, put on the full armour of God and walk in the authority Jesus died on the cross for.
We have the greatest helper on this earth, the Holy Spirit. He will guide you, he will convict you and he will help you overcome.
The future of your family depends on it, the future of your freedom depends on it and your testimony to help lead others to freedom requires it.
Stand tall, fight for yourself and know the God of the universe is walking with you!
WHOM THE SON SETS FREE IS FREE INDEED
Written by Joe Dallas, Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
Day has begun and I’m already sinning Help me to change this heart that I have Lord, help me taste of the grace that You’re giving. I want to be a spiritual man. “Let the Old Man Die” lyrics by Chuck Butler
Every one of us struggles with something. Some of us relapse into that “something.” Afterwards, how we handle the relapse will have a lot to do with our future successes or failures.
To struggle is to have temptations, sometimes towards one particular life-dominating sin. You knew the type. It’s usually some bodily pleasure that we’ve discovered, then returned to, and then, after years of repetition, we’ve established as a pattern.
Overeating, porn, smoking, gambling, and drug abuse are all pretty good examples. What we discover we incorporate, and what we incorporate becomes predictable – a regular, often destructive part of our routine.
Predictable, that is, until God puts His finger on that part of your life. That’s when He calls you to repentance, and when that happens, a new standard gets birthed.
Suddenly, what you used to allow is unacceptable, and abstaining from that “something” is a new mandate. New standards of what we do or don’t allow are sure to follow anytime we say “yes” when God says “this has to go.” That’s part of discipleship living.
But to say “God has called me to stop doing this” is also a way of saying “I’m committed to resisting the desire to keep on doing it.” Sometimes the desire is resisted successfully; sometimes not. And that opens up the possibility
Relapse happens when you return to a behavior you renounced. It’s often called “breaking sobriety” because it means you broke a commitment to abstain from something addictive; some would also call it a backslide. But whatever name the relapse rose goes by it smells just as bad, and is a thing to be avoided, guarded against, but also prepared for. It’s somewhat like John’s interesting statement about sin:
These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. I John 2:1
Clearly John wasn’t saying it’s OK to sin. But he was saying that if you do, you have an advocate. Likewise, when you commit to abstaining from porn, fornication, drunkenness or gluttony, you don’t by any means have to relapse. You can stay clean; there’s no reason to return to those behaviors.
But if you do, you have an advocate with the Father who will cleanse and restore you. In that vein, let me offer a few immediate steps to take if, God forbid, you should relapse.
Decide now who’d you’d call if you relapsed. In most cases an accountability partner is your best bet (and if you’re committed to abstaining from an addictive behavior, then an accountability partner really is a must!) since he works with you weekly and you’re probably in regular contact with him.
But a trusted friend or member of your church will also be a good choice, or perhaps a pastor or counselor. What matters is that you know who to call and what number to use, and that you call him immediately. Tell him you relapsed, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. If you have a severe crises situation, meet with him ASAP.
With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong. Usually people relapse because they slacked off on their prayer life, scripture reading, fellowship or accountability.
But there may be other reasons, so spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again. Human error is a terrific textbook, so you may as well use it.
3. Move It!
Get back on the saddle immediately, because you’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief over your relapse, and there’s no reason to delay beginning again. If you refuse to start over, you’re yielding to a more severe, deadlier sin than relapse: despair. Sin is something you can repent of, but despair? Yield to that, and you’re really finished.
Don’t be. Relapse is a temporary set-back; despair is the end.
You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect a valuable antique or piece of jewelry. Recognizing its worth, you work both to keep it, and keep it in its best possible shape.
The freedom of godliness, likewise, is a purposeful, challenging, exciting way to live, and keeping the ball in play is worth all the blood, sweat and tears a committed athlete has to shed.
So move ahead today in the power of gratitude for God’s grace, and let it manifest in the smallest and largest areas of your life.
Written by Joe Dallas, Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!” – from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The power of porn may not just be its explicit content. It may also be its capacity to take the viewer into another world.
Porn’s a place where bodies and people are perfect, where imaginary lovers comply with every wish, and where the scene created perfectly matches the deepest desires of the viewer. It’s a perfect and perfectly destructive world, and it’s the stuff both horror and heartbreak are made of.
Life on My Own Terms
Novelist Ira Levin tapped into the horror of it in his fantasy drama The Stepford Wives, a dark essay on chauvinism in which a New England town is inhabited by men who’ve perfected the art of re-creating their wives into compliant, flawless and utterly lifeless beings who live only to please
The procedure involves creating a replication of the wife looking and behaving exactly as she does minus anything the husband dislikes. Then the wife is killed, of course, to make room for her new and improved model. When the main character in the story discovers Stepford’s secret, she asks the leader of the town the obvious question: Why?
His answer is chilling in its simplicity.
“Because we can. If we can have you any way we want, why should we settle for you as you are?”
There’s the horror of married men and porn – that a man would betray the real woman who loves him so that he can indulge in a phantom figure that doesn’t even know him.
But there’s heartache along with the horror, lying in the number of men who’ve gotten hooked on the Stepford Syndrome, taking time, focus and sexual energy away from their wives and investing it in images that are perfect, exciting, and utterly unreal. CS Lewis described the issue decades ago when he wrote:
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete his own personality in that of another and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.
And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.
Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.
Mirage, Not Marriage
Ironically, however convenient it may be to skip the efforts involved in normal intimacy and instead settle for the cheap substitute of these ‘shadowy brides,’ the fact remains that the genuine needs of the soul cannot be met by Stepford Women. They offer no emotional support, provide no reliable nurturing, and have no partnering capacities whatsoever. Like the junk food some people eat in hopes of meeting their hunger needs, they supply a quick rush with no follow through, leaving the consumer hungry for more of what didn’t satisfy to begin with.
The husband using porn is ripping off both his spouse and himself.
Plenty of men have realized that, repented, and stayed on course. On the one hand, that’s something to cheer about. On the other, let’s look at it in light of what Christians in other nations, and other times, have suffered for the gospel, Saying no to porn is the right thing to do, but please don’t confuse it with martyrdom.
So when images beckon from all sides, and when memory of a quick pleasure derived from porn conveniently omits the aftermath of shame and hurt, I hope we’ll remember the real love and support that outweighs and outdoes the unreal hands down, slam dunk. With that in mind, we can consistently and resoundingly say No to the unreal and Hallelujah! for the real.
Written by Joe Dallas, 2/11/19 Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
I don’t believe people who say “I have no regrets.” Unless you’re of the sociopathic variety, you must have a combination of insight and decency – enough insight to know you’ve fallen short (and in the process, you effected others) and enough decency to care that your sin made someone else’s
So OK, we’ve all blown it one way or another, and in many cases, our sin was not only against God but against others as well. So we confess it and we’re forgiven (I John 1:9), which is great. But God’s forgiveness doesn’t erase our action from our memory banks, and there’s the rub.
There’s no condemnation to those of us in Christ Jesus, hallelujah. (Romans 8:1, as if you needed the verse) But there’s often regret, which isn’t condemnation, but an emotional response to the realization of what
You can catch echoes of regret in Paul’s writings when he mentions, years after the fact, his attacks on the Church (Galatians 1:3) and refers to himself as a former “blasphemer and persecutor” (I Timothy 1:13) who’s the chief of sinners. (I Timothy 1:15) Where else could words like this come from, if not a place of regret?
It seems to me that we pay a high price for spiritual maturity. The more Christ-like we become, the more we share His perspective on all aspects of our lives, failures included.
He surely doesn’t rub our noses in them; indeed, once they’re confessed and forgiven, He doesn’t even bring them up, having removed them immeasurably. (Psalm 103:12) Yet the more we grow in obedience, the more indignant we tend to become over past disobedience.
So what can we do with our regrets? Five things come to mind today.
Celebrate the change.
I hate the fact that I’ve failed. I love the fact that I care.
I remember once being so hardened to truth that I not only rebelled, I rebelled with complete indifference to God and others. I wanted what I wanted, consequences and Christians be dammed.
Afterwards, when God called me to repentance, my first concern was the sin I’d committed, which I had to put away immediately. Only then could I begin to feel something about what I’d done, and while to this day I don’t particularly enjoy feeling it, I’m grateful God softened my heart while restoring my mind.
If you regret something, don’t let the regret drown you, or distract you from living the life you’re commissioned to live. But do celebrate the fact that your heart is softened enough to feel the regret.
Contend with old patterns
Your past wrongs are a textbook about your potential. The fact that you were capable of doing something once means (bad news alert!) you’re capable of doing it again. Surely that doesn’t mean you will, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because you’ve repented of a sin, you’re now immune to any temptation to repeat it.
What gave you pleasure or distraction or pain relief in the past will beckon you when, in the future, you again crave pleasure or distraction or pain relief. So let the sin you regret now be the sin you take concrete action to prevent in the future. After all, if you feel the discomfort of regrets, the last thing you want to do is add to them.
Confess as needed
It’s possible you’re regretting something you’ve never acknowledged, at least to the person you harmed.
Confession to God is top priority, sure. Ultimately, as David himself said, all sin is an affront to Him. (Psalm 51:4) But the nagging discomfort you feel over something done in the past may be an invitation to let someone know that you know what you did, you know it was wrong, you know it caused them pain, and you yourself now feel pain as a result.
Granted, most of what we’ve done can’t be undone, but that’s not the point. When our wrong has offended another yet we’ve said nothing about it, that person’s left not only with the hurt we caused them, but also the belief that our silence on the matter proves our indifference to them. We owe it to them, in cases like that, to acknowledge their value to us, by admitting both the wrong we did, and our inability to undo it.
If you’ve caused someone to doubt their worth, whether by words or actions, do something now. You sent them the wrong message before. Try again, and this time, get it right.
Correct when possible
Some regrets invite us not only to acknowledgement, but to action as well. Since our God is a God of justice, if we’re guilty of injustice and have the capacity to make restitution, then restitution becomes a mandate.
It may be symbolic (a trip to the florist comes to mind) or quite literal (an uncollected debt also comes to mind). Either way, the money owed, the promise broken, or the commitment left undone, all call for more than a simple “My bad.” They call for a “I will.” In that case, do more than feel. Do.
If you regret something you have the ability to correct, good grief, don’t leave it hanging. One of the quickest weight loss tricks I know is the correction of wrongs left uncorrected, and the relieved conscience and lightened soul that come as a result.
Commiserate from experience
I’ll never be OK with, or cavalier about, my own failures. I hope you
But we can both let them soften our hearts with a compassion for fellow strugglers, of whom there are multitudes, who are dealing with their own shortcomings. It’s amazing how profitable God can make a formerly unprofitable servant who is now fully aware of her or his own weakness.
People need grace extended from someone who knows what it’s like to fall, and has some ideas on how to get back up. So as much as I hate failure, I’m blown away by the irony of the fact that my worst failures are now largely responsible for my ability to be, hopefully, of some use to others dealing with similar failures.
The perfect mentor won’t have many followers, for obvious reasons. Who the heck can relate to him? But we the imperfect, the flawed and the broken and the forgiven, can limp our way into the lives of sheep who really do want to get back to the Shepherd but aren’t sure how. Pharisees won’t show them the way. Wounded warriors will, with compassion and clarity.
So here’s to our regrets, whatever their size and shape. And here’s to their ability to fashion our future while teaching us invaluable lessons from the past, and to shape our character in the here and now, with eternal benefits.
Sex is like fire. When it blazes in the fireplace, a good fire warms and brightens the room, enhancing joy and companionship. But when fires ignite in the wrong places, the house burns down. Is your sexuality igniting in the wrong places? Are you treating sexual sin casually? How do you know when this has happened? Let me offer a few tests that can rouse your conscience.
- Is what you are doing simply wrong? The outright evils of sexual immorality are not hard to identify. Our culture makes the water very muddy, and preaches the doctrine that dirty water is good to drink. But the line between love and lust is clear. We are to treat other human beings in a familial way. You don’t ever sexualize a person whom you are called to treat as your brother or sister, your mother or father, your son or daughter. Sexuality is reserved for marriage. You are to protect other people, not lust after them. Consensual immorality is still immorality.
- Are you captivated by sex? One sure tip-off is that you are preoccupied. When something takes up too much airtime in your mind, when you’re driven, when you must do it, you just do it, you can’t help doing it, you can’t not do it, you’ve got a problem. Whenever sex becomes obsessive, impulsive, or compulsive, it’s going astray.
- Do you hide what you are doing? Hiding what you are doing and the time you spend doing it is another clear tip-off. Wrong doesn’t love the light (unless it’s become shameless and brazen). We hide when we know something is wrong. When you create a secret garden of any sort in your life, mutant things inevitably grow. So we hide from the eyes of others, from the eyes of our own conscience, from God’s eyes.
- Do you use sex as a refuge? Boredom, stress, loneliness, and pain tempt us to look for an escape. Do you try to flee discomfort or mask pain? We are meant to look pain in the eye, to grasp the experience, to bring it in hand to our God, to cry out for help, to find refuge, and then to do what can be done constructively, however seemingly small our powers.
If you are being nonchalant about your sexual sin, I hope that my list arouses a proper sense of unease. Fires are burning outside the fireplace. Is something not right with your sexual behavior? You are a child of light—don’t walk in darkness! God’s point of view is good, right, and true. He beckons you. Walk as a child of light—for the fruit of light is found in all that is good, right, and true. The God who invites us into what is good also warns us off what is bad. You may be sure of this: everyone who is sexually immoral has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Don’t let anyone deceive you with empty words. Because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the disobedient. That’s the gist of Ephesians 5:5–9:
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).
By the mercy of Christ, you will live a brighter, more loving, and more fruitful life.
Take it to heart. Don’t let peer pressure or the culture deceive you. By the mercy of Christ, you will live a brighter, more loving, and more fruitful life.
How do you change? There are many facets of that big question, but I will point to four. First, the starting point for change is to say, “What I am doing is wrong.” That acknowledgement gets you pointed in the right direction.
But God doesn’t just tell you to shape up. The second step is to realize “I need mercies from my Father. I need him to love me and forgive me. I need his strength and forgiveness.” Recognizing wrong leads to awareness that you need something that only God can give you—something he freely gives. He gives himself in Jesus Christ.
The third step in changing is to act on this. The Lord calls you to seek him, to find him, and from him to receive what you most need. Psalm 25:11 brings this to life:
For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Cast yourself on the care of your Father. Find grace and help from outside yourself. Seek, and you will find the mercy you need.
The fourth step is not really a step, it’s a lifestyle. It’s learning to walk out what those “good, right, and true” things look like. This has many different aspects that work out in our lives at different times. Choose to spend time with different companions. Put filtering software on your screens. Set up real accountability with someone you trust. Make the kind of lifestyle changes that get you out of the path of where you’ve gotten yourself into trouble. Jesus uses a vivid picture of how to deal with our own evil. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. He shocks us into a radical amputation of evil. And, of course, none of these battles are one-and-done. God intends to work in you a committed resolve to take seriously what’s wrong, to need him, to pursue what’s right. It’s an ongoing fight.
Here is one of the most helpful things I heard early in my Christian life. Think of your soul as a room. When you’re in sin, that room is full of dark forces, dark people, and darkness. There are two ways you get rid of darkness in your soul. One way is to cast it out, fight it, resist and reject it. The other way is to fill the room with light. As your life fills with better people, better things to do, and more reasons to live in the light, then there’s less room for the darkness.
Jesus Christ gives a beautiful call. He invites you to live a radical life. He challenges people who think that it’s okay to do wrong. He challenges people who think they have moved past outmoded cultural values. He challenges people who think that current cultural assumptions are good, right, and true. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t drift with the culture. Do what Flannery O’Connor said we should do: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” Live out in the daylight, not in the shadows and darkness.
Finding the mercies of Christ and learning to walk in his light is courageous. It has an impact on people around you. You demonstrate the Lord. That’s bigger than any one of us individually. In a world where the light is going out on sexual rights and wrongs, you have an opportunity to turn on the lights.
In the midst of addiction, our hope for freedom can be clouded by a loss of control, depression, and isolation. From personal experience, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more and more dim as failure and shame build. While trapped in my addiction to pornography, I thought for years that freedom was unattainable.
My pride and desire for control lead me to think that I could fix myself. The harsh reality was that I couldn’t. But I sit here today, in this moment, with a new level of health and freedom. How did I finally get here?
“Freedom is not having the ability to do what you want to do, freedom is having the ability to do what you ought to do.” – Josh McDowell
First of all, let’s define “freedom,” specific to addiction. About a year and a half ago, when asked to define freedom by a few of the staff here at Josh McDowell Ministry, I thought a moment and replied, “Freedom is not struggling with temptation or sin.”
At the time, I really thought that was the goal I was supposed to be aiming for. It was certainly my personal goal in the first few months of my recovery. But I have come to realize that it’s not the right goal or definition, because it’s completely unrealistic.
Back then I expected that there would be a moment in my recovery where I would experience complete freedom — which would last the rest of my life. I thought freedom meant I would no longer struggle with lust, experience the temptation of sexual sin, or have to deal with the consequences of my sin. Now I understand that complete freedom isn’t possible here on earth, because of our inherent sinful nature. We still sin.
From my mindset of not struggling, I defined freedom through the lens of justification. Justification is a big theological term that means “to be declared righteous, or to be made right with God.”
5:18-19 tells us what Christ did for us: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
When Christ died on the cross, He took our sins upon himself. In His resurrection, He conquered that sin. Because of His gift of grace, we believers are justified, or declared righteous, when we surrender our lives to Him. Christ paid the price that we could never pay; we are fully forgiven, if we choose to accept it.
I think a much better definition of freedom is found in terms of sanctification. To be sanctified is “to be brought into the presence of God and to share in the life of His Son through the Holy Spirit.” That sounds intimidating, so let me break it down.
You and I have been brought into God’s presence by Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. This is called adoption. With this adoption, we gain the gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Holy Spirit helps us in many ways, including convicting us and leading us toward repentance. When we repent and turn away from our sin, we become more like Christ. So sanctification is our growth toward a life that imitates Christ; a life of holiness.
In the same way, finding freedom is growth toward health. We find freedom in health. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Full freedom isn’t possible because of our sinful nature, but we can gain health.
If we look at Josh’s definition — that “freedom is having the ability to do what you ought to do” — we get a better grasp of how to view freedom. If we are free to do what we ought to do, we remove the barriers that keep us from doing what we ought to do.
Freedom, or health, looks a lot like being connected to the life of God.
Christian counselor Michael Dye created an addiction recovery tool called the FASTER Scale. The scale identifies the stages people move through toward relapse, so they can see it coming and get proactive. The FASTER acronym stands for Forgetting Priorities, Anxiety, Speeding Up, Ticked Off, Exhausted, and Relapse.
The FASTER Scale focuses on restoration (accepting life on God’s terms, with trust, vulnerability, and gratitude). If we live in restoration, we live lives saturated with healthy relationships, vulnerability, intimacy, identifying and dealing with emotions, walking with the Spirit, and working through pain. These aspects create health, which produces freedom.
This freedom is based on connection with God and other people. No matter our state of health, we still experience temptation and sin. But if we are living in restoration and connection, our connectedness provides healthy ways of dealing with them.
Often, to gain health or freedom, we must go to what hurt us in the first place: people. We learn to cope as people closest to us hurt us. But this woundedness creates isolation and barriers that keep us from living in intimate connection with God and others. To break down those barriers and return to health, we must learn to trust others and experience the intimacy that God intends us to enjoy.
Can we really gain freedom and health? Yes!
Walking in Freedom
I have been finding freedom and health for the past two years. It is unbelievably fulfilling to walk in health, because it is how God created me to experience life. Has it been hard to find health? Yes, but incredibly worth it.
I found health primarily by returning to my identity in Christ. I had to identify the root of the problem — my belief that I was not enough — and to experience my worth in Christ. I have had to process the pain in my past, and experience who I am in Christ through relationships with others. I have learned how to trust others with my fears.
Freedom is found when we live in health. It is characterized by vulnerability, connected relationships, intimacy, walking with the spirit, identifying and dealing with emotions, working through pain, and experiencing our worth in Christ.
Freedom is returning to our identity in Christ. Freedom is being less bound to the sins that entrap us. It is not always constant; it fluctuates day-to-day as we walk with others and navigate our sin-soaked world. We won’t find full freedom from sin here on earth, but we can find freedom from addiction. This is the hope that I and other addicts have, that freedom and health are possible. Here. Now.
Christ came to redeem, and we cannot forget that. No matter the struggle, we have worth in and to Christ.
Your road to health may be hard, but take my word for it: your experiencing intimacy with the Lord and others, and being who you were created to be, will satisfy your soul. It has mine. That is God’s design. That is freedom.