I sat with an old friend and mentor. He has taught me for over thirty years now, “Love requires an acknowledgment of the wrong,” he said. Though we don’t want to acknowledge this truth, my friend is right. We cannot escape Evil by pretending it is not there. Love can’t win unless we face evil and death.
The church in which I grew up observed only two days during Holy Week: Good Friday — the day we remember Jesus’ execution on the cross; and Easter Sunday — the day the Father, unable to bear the separation from His Son any longer, raised him from the dead. It was not until I went into exile in a little Episcopal Church (now part of the Anglican Church in North America) that I discovered two other holy days: Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday.
On Thursday, in obedience to a command of Jesus, many of us will gather and wash one another’s feet. The Thursday before he died, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples and then washed their feet. After he finished he told them to do the same for each other and then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. While prostrate in prayer, Jesus sweat drops of blood as he pleaded to have his life spared, asking His Dad to find another way to save you and me. The foot washing service often ends in the dark; a door slamming, to symbolize the moment we sealed Jesus in the grave. The people who just intimately served one another, exit in silence, pondering death.
It was Shelly Rambo, in her groundbreaking book, The Spirit and Trauma who properly introduced me to Holy Saturday. Because I am a Trinitarian therapist, the day has become one of the most important days in the Church’s year for me. For it is a day set aside to remember separation. There is no other day like it, for at no other moment, before or since has the Trinitarian relationship fractured. After breathing his last breath, Jesus was cast into Sheol, and the Father and Son lost their eternal communion. The demons laughed and partied, confident they had won. Jesus’ death was not merely a physical death; it was a spiritual one as well. While, He sat alone in the darkness of death. Shame covered him, separating Him from his Father. And as the cavernous space of their shattered relationship grew, hope died. The eternal party broke up at the cross. The Angelic music faded, and Evil thought it had done the impossible — killing Life itself.
If we allow the story in the Gospels to collide with our own, we can’t help but notice that His story is our story. For trauma with its silently-screaming memory keeps breaking us. Shame that grows in trauma’s furrow isolates us, keeping us from love, destroying our peace, and crushing our hope. No one can stand the darkness of isolation. We will do anything and everything to escape it. It is unbearable. The very thought of it terrifies even the most courageous. And, Rambo reminds us that this image of Jesus in Sheol mirrors the trauma and resulting shame that people too often endure. Too often ours is a dying life where the only promise is isolation. Rambo urges us to, first sit with ourselves in the dark, rather than trying to escape it by ourselves. For when we try to escape on our own; we dig ourselves deeper into the shit that covers us. All our attempts are but the flailings of our narcissistic defenses. They all lead to sadness, despair, and further death. And so, Rambo suggests we sit with our pain and wait, much as
the Hebrews, suffering in Egypt, waited for their Deliverer. She doesn’t stop there, however. She argues that as we stop struggling and remain in the dark, just like Jesus did before us, we discover a thin thread connecting us to the Holy Spirit. Holding on, we are given the opportunity to sit with others, also savaged by grief and loss. And as we sit with them in the darkness and bear witness to their shame, somehow both of us find life.
If we don’t hear Rambo’s appeal, we will never understand Holy Saturday. For it is an invitation to acknowledge the devastating effect of wrong, and feel its overwhelming weight so that we can be freed to love. For love recognizes the power and devastation of the wrong so that, with the full effects and hurt of the wrong in view, it can be forgiven.
“I found the bottom and discovered it to be sound.”
–John Bunyon, Pilgrim’s Progress
I sat in a small upstairs classroom in an unfamiliar church, thinking, “I am all that I feared I was…”It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.
“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”…
It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.
“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”
”Hi _________,” the group answered in unison.
I didn’t know if I was dreaming or if this humiliating nightmare was my new reality. It seemed too unreal to be real. But it was very real.Just a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of
Just a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of Cross Carrier Ministries, and dropped out of “life as I knew it.”
My identity was seeping away. How could I know that being crushed by the Church, and cast out into an unknown world was God’s way of letting me know he wanted a personal relationship with me. I also had no idea that my path was about losing more than sexual addiction, but about having to cut out all the “stuff” in my life that I considered, “a part” of me, but God saw “as harmful” to me. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey through the deepest recesses of my soul. It traversed the gullies of my resentments, the canyons of my fears, the cavernous holes bored out by my secret life and the quicksand pits of selfish and prideful attitudes that touched every other aspect of my life. I merely used fantasy and sex to hide from all these things. They were symptoms of much deeper problems I didn’t want to have to face.I’m the son of an itinerant evangelist and missionary mother, I quickly slid into the family business. I started preaching at age sixteen. As a communicator, I prided myself on being open about my weaknesses. At times, I even admitted from pulpits that I was struggling with “sexual addiction”. I’d reveal much, but never my entire story. By doing this, I relieved some of the suffocating guilt I felt while appearing and sounding like a much better speaker. Looking back, by revealing some of my struggles I helped some people on their journeys.
In reality, my ministry—indeed my whole life – was a façade or a hologram. I was not really real. I was a “hollow man,” who perceived the world as his stage, and people as his opponent, or tool. Everything was about me. I was at the center of the universe. The world revolved around me. I was a narcissist. And though I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what. Existential questions plagued me continually, and I found no respite. I was powerless, and my life became unmanageable, and I was incapable of recognizing that reality.
After my fall into grace, I listened to a tape of a seminar I taught at a singles convention on the topic of sexuality. As I listened to that distant memory, I was amazed at how right I was about so much. But I also realized that I offered no enduring, sure hope. How could I give away what I didn’t have myself? I had nothing to give. I was an addict with no recovery. Indeed, I was an addict that didn’t even fully know that I was an addict. I cognitively understood the lust trap and often expounded on it for hours. I knew every inch of the pit called addiction. I spent my life exploring its inner walls looking for a way out without any success. I read all the books, tried all the prayers. Nothing worked. I had nothing to offer but a tour of the prison I inhabited. It is a harsh reality that too many people live and are familiar with addiction without ever realizing that it holds them captive.
Sexual addiction (like every other addiction) does not discriminate. It doesn’t seem to matter who one is. Men and women from different faiths and classes of society whither and wilt inside, little by little, trapped and controlled by powers beyond their control. Many are physically dying from a seemingly endless list of diseases contracted through illicit sex. Or depression and anxiety that nearly always accompany sexual addiction. Some will take their own lives, hopeless and lost. Others simply wander with hollow eyes searching for their next “fix” trying to make it through another day.
I spent hours immersing myself in pornography, cruising bars, the red light districts, phone lines, or the Internet, looking for an adrenaline hit I only achieved while “hunting.”. Many addicts have no idea the amount of time we lost in a secret, shameful, fantasy world that sucked us in, refusing to let go. I lost weeks and months of my life to lust that I never will get back. I could get on my computer for a minute and snap out of one of my hypnotic-like state four to eight hours later.Looking back, that has changed.
Now I discover each day a new path to freedom. Like many in recovery, I am slowly finding the fullness of life I was promised (but never experienced) way back in Sunday school. Life is full of hope for recovering addicts. We discover that we have no choice to but to rely on God for our very breath.
For the first time in my life, I began to experience a real relationship with Jesus because I have no choice but to run into his outstretched arms every day if I want to live. I am not a disciplined person by any stretch of the imagination, but some simple disciplines have become a matter of life and death for me. Forgetting them, I consciously decide that I don’t want a relationship with Jesus that day or in that moment, and I isolate; alone in my addiction that, untreated will kill me. Today the Bible is not merely a book of theory. It is becoming a book of solace and connection.I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.
I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.
There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.
On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.
The church is haughty and has an excess of hurtful “truth” it wields all too freely. In the process lives are shattered, and people turn from Jesus to something more “loving.” The Church too often feels it has a monopoly on understanding God and His methods. We’ve boxed Him in and demanded that He limit Himself to our systematized categories of thought and action.
A mentor, known the world over, said to me, “Sadly, the church has no helpful concept of grace.” My experience agrees with him. And, I am aware that there are churches and people who do know and offer grace to the world — to me. The sad news is too many Christians haven’t and don’t, all the while thinking they have, and do.
Recovery is my journey. It maps the way I need to walk. Who knows, it might be your path too. There are a multitude of women and men who have earned chairs in sexual recovery 12 step fellowships without realizing that there is such a thing. They are unaware that there is a society of men and women who share their stories and experience and will walk with them no matter how far down into the pit they have traveled. For innumerable reasons, only a few will find their seat, begin to undo their wrongs, and discover real freedom. Don’t let anything stop you if you belong. Sex addiction (any addiction) is truly a matter of life and death. Often I write a gratitude list to God, and on that list I give thanks that I am a sex addict. For ironically, if I weren’t, I’d never have discovered him.