December 2020, I got Covid, For 2 1/2 weeks, I struggled. I cannot lie and tell you I wasn't worried about recovering. I was. I was writing goodbye letters to my family and sharing memories of our lives together. Fevers daily, many days a fever would break then kick back in maybe 7 or 8 times. I wasn't getting any better. I had pneumonia setting in. After a visit to the emergency room and getting on meds, the fevers eventually stopped - 5 days before Christmas - but I was left a shell of a man.
Weaker than I had ever felt in my life, I could barely stand for 2 minutes before I had to rush to find a chair to sit in. A year and 3 months later, I am still struggling with much of the damage that the virus left behind. One of those health issues of concern was my heart and lungs. I went to a cardiologist to see if there was any damage. The doctor decided I would wear a halter monitor for 2 weeks, 24/7, and see if he could find any issues. When I signed for the monitor, I also had to sign a paper stating if anything happened to it while in my care I was out 1400 smackers (that's boomer for dollars). A bit cautious about proceeding, I figured what could happen? It's going to be on me all the time. I'm going to wear it around town, when I'm eating, sleeping, etc. The only time I would remove it would be to take a shower.
LET'S JUMP IN THE WAYBACK MACHINE NOW SHALL WE?
As an elementary student in the mid 70s I was heavily bullied. The bullies, who unfortunately lived on my block as well, would taunt me, tease me, threaten to beat me up after school and all manner of other bully things bullies do. I lived most if not all of my childhood years in constant overwhelming fear. I would wait around after school and sneak home an hour later so as to throw the bullies off my scent. There were the off times when I thought I was safe, that I would be ambushed on my way home from school and pushed to the ground, ruining my homework and sometimes my clothes if it was rainy or snowy and the grass of the yards in my clone home neighborhood was muddy. It was abuse. It was traumatic.
When I was home, I would not leave my house. I would keep the lights off so the bullies would think no one was home. If I was alone in the evening hours because of my parent's work schedules, I would turn on all the lights and the two TVs we had - one big console TV with a corded remote (woooo) and the other a tiny B/W in my parent's room - just to give the impression that the family was home so the bullies would not come to the house. Here's the ringer: these same kids would ask me to play kickball in the streets (inevitably because they did not have the appropriate amount of warm bodies necessary), ride bikes with them or play other "reindeer games" and NOT beat me up. I wanted them to like me so I often agreed to hang out with them but eventually the good times would cease and we were back to the old tricks. So I learned very early not to trust people. The lie I believed about people was: Everyone would be nice one day but stab you in the back the next.
The other struggle I had in elementary school was that I was not into sports. I didn't play them well. I didn't know the rules. Whenever we would have recess and play sports like kickball or softball, etc. the two best sporty type kids in my class would be team captains. As each kid started to pick players for the team, I knew what was coming. I was always last. They would pick a kid with cerebral palsy or the girl everyone teased for being ugly and overweight prior to me. I was always "process of elimination." When it was decided by random selection whose team I would be on, I would predictably hear, "great now we're going to lose." If one was looking for self-worth, this would not be the place to find it.
OK BACK TO THE HEART MONITOR STORY....
Everything was fine. The heart monitor was working fine, or so it appeared. I couldn't tell. I wasn't getting any calls from the doctor's office that it was not working properly as they told me I might. However, I woke up one night around 1pm and had to utilize the loo. No biggee. I drink a bottle of water each night before bed. I heard somewhere it was good for you. As I was reaching over to flush the Number 1 down the drain, the monitor came loose from it's holder and fell into the commode!
I quickly reached into the urine-laced water rescuing the monitor and grabbed a towel quickly drying it off. An error message came up and a red light - where a green light had always been - came on. I knew it was ruined. This one moment in time sent me into a flailing tizzy. I began to scream, "I can't believe this!!" Over and over, I was just screaming it. I might add a few choice morsels escaped my mouth as well. My wife had awakened from the commotion and like she always does, goes into fix it mode. A bag of rice, putting it in front of our fan we sleep with 365 days a year - and yes on Feb 29. Nothing was working and I was really starting to lose it. "This isn't happening!!!" And then --- I broke into my own self-righteousness. (This oughta be good). Through my tears, because stuff like this always follows me AND because I was sure to be in hock for $1400, I began to get in God's face. "I tithe!!!" "I serve you by helping men fight for their freedom from sexual brokenness!!!!" "I don't steal or kill people!!!" "I make poverty wages just so I can help others!!!!" "Why didn't YOU protect me and this device????" "I haven't watched porn for ten years!!!" You know, when you try to prove to God how awesome you are, it usually ends with something like, "But the Cross..." UGH. Ok, I get it. He's right. This was nowhere near the anguish of the Cross. But it was anguish!
I knew I was going to have to call the doctor's office and humiliate myself with this story come morning. I hated the thought of this happening. While I was up in the morning trying to stay calm and make some breakfast, in the midst of my anger and inability to understand why this had happened, I heard God say to me, "You know the two don't go together." I knew what He meant. I say it all the time to men. "God has interrupted your life at this time in this way because He wants your heart." "He disciplines those He love." "He wants you free from everything that stands in the way of His love reaching deep into your life." Turns out I still had stuff standing in the way of His love reaching deep into MY life. God knew that this one moment in time would expose pain I was still holding onto. Pain that still messed with my self-value. A self-value that I didn't have because I was either no good for anything but a punching bag or that I had zero to offer people who were counting on me to kick a ball or catch one. That worthless feeling I had been living under for decades which is why I felt better when I would escape to porn or some type of sexual fantasy. No one there ever turned me away because I wasn't good enough. Living in that realm truly was the perfect storm that created and sustained my sex addiction.
God was showing me there were still areas of my life dictating my thought processes. Subtle as they may be, there were areas (and are areas) in which I was not fully free. Areas that if God did not deal with them, they could rear their ugly head and in the twinkling of an eye, I might change course and revert back to my old ways of dealing with life.
And furthermore, He's not on our calendar so these moments could pop out of anywhere when God says it's the right time. You will most likely be caught off guard so use this blog as a bit of prep. If it happens and your whole soul goes on display for the world to see, remember, it could very easily be God reaching further into your heart to actually heal the pain. It normally doesn't feel like it, but it IS what's going on.
I also heard Him say that He was pleased as punch to see how I had trusted Him with my finances as I tithed and that He was blessed beyond measure to see that I was helping men, fighting for their lives in sexual addiction, to find freedom. But still, the two don't go together. But they are both going on simultaneously. God is always after our heart to see to it that it is the most free it can possibly be, because He has an inexhaustible love to share with each of us and talents and abilities He wants to instill in us to do the work of His Kingdom. The Psalmist said it best, "Lord show me YOUR way that I may walk in YOUR truth" and "Even darkness is light to You." He sees it all. He wants it all. But even more than that, He wants YOU!!! It's difficult at times but we must recognize, God is doing all this for our good. One day it will all make perfect sense.
I know this isn’t anything new. It’s just an observation I made by my own little lonesome.
We know that in Biblical numerical symbolism 7 is a number of completion or perfection. When it is used it typically means “in it’s entirety,” or “always,” or “every time.” It can also mean “complete in every way.” 7 days of creation. 7 times a man stumbles but he gets back up. Etc. Likewise, when we see 70 at times, it can mean an extension of such. As if to say to infinity (and beyond).
Isn’t it interesting that the nation of Israel went into captivity in Babylon for 70 years. This equaled one year for every sabbath year they blew off. In fact, Israel never observed a sabbath year. A sabbath year was commanded by God every seventh year. Israel would not do anything that year. They would let the land replenish by not farming it. Seas as well would replenish not having fished them. They would prepare early on and then trust God solely for that year for His provision. (Similar to when they first entered the wilderness and God supernaturally provided manna, quail and water). There were other aspects that were part of that commandment as well but those are a couple of the biggees. This is not to be confused with the year of Jubilee that took place on the 50th year. But the Sabbath year was a precursor to it. However, every time a sabbath year rolled around, Israel wouldn’t keep it. They kept on planting and fishing and living life as they always had.
So God disciplined them for their disobedience. After all, it was a command...to rest.
He allowed Babylon to take them captive. Finally after 70 years God brought them back home. Again, one year for every Sabbath year they did not observe. This means that the nation of Israel as a whole, not just a few people, went 490 years without ever observing a sabbath year. Ok, so follow me on the math here. It’s interesting that every 7th year there was a sabbath year and their disciplinary action for not obeying God was 70 years of captivity under the rule of another nation. He then relented and forgave them. He forgave nearly 500 years of disobedience. And that was just ONE sin. Think of the countless others they committed against him. Think of the ones we still commit!
Fast forward to Jesus' day. I wonder if that’s what Jesus had in mind when He was asked how often should a person forgive another, should it be 7 times? (Remember the symbolism here) Jesus answers actually, you should forgive them 70x7. In essence saying choose to release people from their offenses against you just like His Father did for Israel when He forgave and released them from their bondage for disobeying Him 70x7.
Just a thought. Maybe nothing. But in a very creative way, it seems we are being told by Christ that regardless of who hurts or offends us, and regardless of how many times someone hurts us or offends us, we need to consistently and completely forgive. Think of it this way. Each time a person commits some kind of infraction against you in anyway, you have to think, "well God overlooked 500 years, so we must do the same." Even if you were to think of it literally, we should be ready to forgive each person 500 years worth pain and offense they bring into our lives. Either way, it's going to be utterly and completely covered because...just in case you haven't notices... we just don't live that long anymore. :)
1 Corinthians 6:15 - 7:5 "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
Ok! This will be chock full and long. Sorry. Not sorry. LOL! Tie up your knickers so they don't get in a twist!
I recently found myself utilizing the verses above dealing with sex addiction issues and the marriage. Oftentimes this is the go-to passage for many a minister who has not been trained or educated in the aspects of sex addiction. It runs deep. it damages and breaks everything in its path with the odd power of making the broken soul cry out, "Yes sir, may I have another!" Then as the woman suffers oftentimes in silence, she is faced with the torment of the broken covenant, the feeling of inadequacy literally overwhelms her and she feels as though the world that she knew is dying (and it is) and nothing will ever be the same. "What about the children?!?" "Will I need to get a job? A second job?" "Who can I turn to?" They often feel like an outcast, especially within the confines of the church. So thankful we've all turned the local church into a place of judgment and condemnation aren't you? And while the addict is somehow feeling this sense of freedom and weights being lifted off of him for coming clean, the wife might as well have walked onto the battlefields of Gettysburg, Normandy, Vietnam and Afghanistan all at once with a bullseye on her back.
Enter the pastor. (Not all pastors miss this, some get it but there are many....)
"Maybe if you'd have given him more sex....?" (INSERT EYE ROLL HERE) After all your body belongs to him and the Bible says you shouldn't block the road, so to speak, so he doesn't fall into temptation. ("Here pastor let me lift up my blouse so you can see exactly where the knife is entering my flesh to get it as close to my heart as possible.")
This verse normally gets taken out of context and quite consistently stays one sided toward the wife. Yes, the patriarchy is alive and well is some places. But not for the reasons one thinks. It's just a lack of understanding and most likely fear of not knowing what to do. Fear seems to be at the root of everything these days.
Yes. Ok. Guys have physical release needs as it relates to sex. There, I said it! We feel things differently than a woman. We hang out in the physical realm and respond to that first just as much as she hangs out in the emotional realm and responds faster to that. Does it mean that women never find a guy attractive if he's ripped like the construction worker in the old Diet Pepsi commercial? No, they get jazzed about a guy's body, but it is not the primary draw of a woman to a man. Does a man rarely have an emotional moment and only feel his feels when he nabs a deer in bow season or when his team wins the championship? No. They quite often have emotional moments relating to the their wives and especially children, but it's not the primary draw. Men are more physical, women are more emotional but the other party is not void of the other trait. It's just primary and secondary. When the pastor says more sex is the prescription for a happy life, he is misinformed, even from Paul's inspired writings. First let's settle what Paul meant by your body belongs to the other.
If you flip back and read what Paul was writing to the neurotic Corinthian church that wasn't quite getting the whole "new life in Christ" thing, you see him bringing some correction to an issue that permeated every facet of normal life under Roman rule: S-E-X. It was everywhere. Not just prostitutes and hook-ups. Incest was rampant on all fronts. Even in the political leadership of the day, brothers marrying sisters and just yucky stuff. Ewwwww. Even this second I'm shaking off the willies.
Paul first had to explain to the church, among other things, that having sex with a prostitute actually made you one with her (or him). It is because God designed sex to be the catalyst to oneness in a covenant relationship. God is not going to remove the power and purpose of sex just because it gets abused by mankind. As long as you keep the marriage bed undefiled you can pretty much do anything. If you want to try it swinging from a chandelier just to change things up, I guess if it's just you two and you are both in agreement ... I mean it's dangerous and you could die so that would suck, but in some odd way, it would be allowed. The bottom line is, God gave us sex for a myriad of reasons but it is not to be treated with contempt. The behaviors exhibited when two people in a covenant, God-ordained relationship are "making love" need to be pure. Whatever you do in word or in deed...you do it all to glorify God and yes! that means when you are sexually engaged. (Colossians 3:17) Not outside of marital sex and no, no masturbation thinking about your wife. Seems noble at first but for the sex addict, it only fuels the addictive mechanism in the brain because you are doing the exact same thing you do when watching porn and objectifying an image. Your brain doesn't know the difference. The actions are exactly the same. Did I mention they were exactly the same?
Now onto moving from the purity aspect of sex to the functionality of it. When Paul was writing that the woman's body belongs to the husband and the husband's body belongs to the wife it wasn't for this "permissive taking of the body" whenever you wanted it for your own needs. That's not love now is it? Sounds a little more like lust. Paul was simply clarifying, in light of his point about oneness with a prostitute that in the marriage covenant - and this is my take on it - your bodies belong to each other, not to anyone else. Not a prostitute. Not a family friend. Not a person you met in the local bar when you went to drown your sorrows. To each other. God will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8) and so a woman or man should not share the glory of their covenant relationship with anyone else. EV-ER. If you have invited God to take part in your journey together stating your covenant vows, what do you think happens when you traverse outside the bounds and bring that brokenness back into your marriage? Yeah. It slimes God too. Not very kind to the One who bankrupted all of Heaven to rescue you from sin, death, hell and the grave, now is it?
So now let's hit the meat of the reason I wrote this blog shall we? The age old response to marital conflict: have more sex. Sex was meant to be a lot of things but the two main things that sex is never to be is a weapon or a quick fix for deeper issues. Paul says that it is good to fast sex - not have sex fast - but to abstain for a while for a greater purpose like people who abstain from eating to devote themselves to focusing on God. But Paul also says to do it for a season but come back together because if there is too long of a break, then it gives Satan a real playground for your emotions and physical needs. As people engaged in a godly marriage, there are targets on our backs. If we are not working on our marriage in all the areas we need; communication, finances, dreams, goals, children, maturing, spiritual growth, self-care, date nights, and yes sex, then Satan will look for some type of foothold in there to create conflict and tear the marriage apart. So even God, speaking through Paul by the Holy Spirit, knows that it is not good to elongate the times between our sexual encounters because we aren't perfect...yet. We both have needs and it does start to create a sense of conflict when sex does not take place. If we were not created to be sexual creatures, then everything would be great! If we were created to be sexual creatures, but there was no pleasure in it per se, and we simply pro-created like two machines, then fine. But that's not why God gave us sexual bodies or created a sexual realm for us to enter into and experience deep abiding pleasure...and said we could do it whenever! (within the proper boundaries). So it is good to engage in sex as regularly as you both can agree upon. I know couples who have regular sex 4 or 5 times a week. Some women are probably looking at that saying, "uh, yeah, not in this universe!" Some guys are going, " if only..." and then letting a bit of a whimper escape their mouth. Others it is not as much and it does not affect them toward the negative. But it does need to happen. The times where it does not happen for the most part is when there are women, who because of some form of sexual betrayal, will not give themselves to their husband because they no longer feel safe. COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE. (Yes there are medical/emotional health reasons as well but for the purpose of this article I am speaking about sexual betrayal.) If you were to take the above pastor's advice the woman would feel forced to perform sexually - which is all it would be - and the man entitled to receive it.
When there has been a crossing of a line, say, when a man (for all intents and purposes - yes it happens vice versa) indulges in and probably has been indulging in porn for years prior to the marriage, this becomes a betrayal to the wife. You can't minimize it or justify it. The man has betrayed his wife sexually because he has gone outside the boundaries of the marriage to achieve sexual fulfillment and satisfaction. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. The reason that the man went outside of the marriage is rarely, "we fasted sex for a while and pursued God for a month but the wife didn't join back together with me so I had to find another outlet." If you were pursuing God for a month, you should've walked away with something more powerful than sex will ever be. An encounter with God I would hope. No, the reasons the man was so able and willing to walk outside the boundaries are as endless as the sands on the seashore. Ok, well maybe not that endless but there can be many. Trauma (Big T or little t), neglect, abuse, loss, much of which can affect the man in deep and profound ways. The reason a woman does not want to have a sexual encounter, even in the confines of the marriage are equally as many and for the same categories listed above plus betrayal. This infringement upon sexuality, although caused by humans, finds its origin in the pit of hell. As I mentioned, there is a target on the back of marriages. You are becoming one in body, soul and spirit; just as God designed it to work. He designed it after the pattern of His interaction with His creation. That interaction is based upon love, trust, vulnerability, and intimacy. The picture of the marriage is meant to be a snapshot of who God is at His core. When that is destroyed or marred in some way, the world around us doesn't get the full glimpse of God. We can say a lot of religious things to make people want to experience God but they will look at our life before they ever trust our words. Satan knows this and so he wants nothing more than to eradicate the ability of Christians to share the truth of God's heart for all mankind. You may think, "Wow, all this boils down to sex?" Well in one way. If you go back to the building blocks of covenant relationship that God set up when He created Adam and Eve, there is relationship (with God), purpose (tending the garden and growing it larger), relationship with each other (loving, cherishing, serving, understanding, intimacy, and yep! sexuality). So sex is important. God told them to multiply after their kind but He also made it enjoyable and it should do both. Bring newness of life but also pleasure - both leading to a deeper experience that unifies two souls and draws both closer to God and godliness.
When it gets interrupted by the enemy's activity in our lives that assaults us from every direction, we do need to take the time necessary to distance ourselves from it because it is not going to end up being done in a healthy, holy way. It is a tool to create unity but when the tool is damaged, it doesn't fix things. At least not long term. It needs to be repaired but there does come a time when the hurt parties (usually both man and woman are damaged in some way) will have to step out into the water together to attempt to take back the land the enemy stole. It's not a "giving in." It's a "taking back." That will be the focus of my next blog.
My answer to all this is is this: SEX (wish I could make the font bigger) needs to be knocked down a little bit as far as our perception of it. Man typically craves it and wishes the woman would too. Women can often dread it and wish the man could understand their perception of it. Both need to come closer to the middle. For the man, stop making sex so centrifugal to your existence. It is like this because you have fed yourself a steady diet of it for years or have believed some lie that life is supposed to revolve around sex. It's become like eating, sleeping and breathing to you. Women, aside from deeper issues, don't keep it in the dirty category that your folks, in trying to keep you vigilant and a virgin made you think it was. If it has heinous, painful, unsafe, unthinkable then there are some serious large fish to fry as far as betrayal or deep rooted pain, or both.
PLEASE GET HELP!!!
Don't run from it. If you both surround yourself with solid clinical and godly spiritual input you can knock the monster it has become back down to size, submit yourselves to God as he draws you into His way of healing - in time, not in like two weeks - maybe more like two years - and reclaim your marriage with a balanced perspective of the beauty that is sex. Never rush your healing journey. Do the necessary work you need to do for YOURSELF and if and when the time is right, venture back into each other's safe space, build trust through honor and sacrifice. There is the chance you could find a brand new marriage where you are both free.
Got any questions? Ask me below. I'd love to interact with you all!
Luke 22:15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer.” I have read this verse many times over the course of my life and even most recently as we always enter into a time of communion with men who attend the Gateway to Freedom Weekend Workshop due to their struggle with sex addiction.
Every Sunday, as we close out each weekend, we gather to receive communion, or as it is known in some circles, The Lord’s Supper. In that verse above, Jesus shares how much He longed to be with His disciples – friends – knowing what he must suffer over the course of the next 24 hours. Feeling the stress of this upcoming ordeal, I’m sure was now very real to Him. Not that it wasn’t real to Him early on in His ministry, but Jesus always told people not to say anything about the miracles He had performed because “it wasn’t yet His time.” He could discern the times and the seasons in which He walked. He followed His Father’s leading in his very private and very public life. I sometimes wonder if He thought about those similar words at the Wedding of Cana in which His mother, Mary, "coerced" Him into changing the water to wine. He told her that His time had not come. But now, at this meal, as he was dipping bread into the wine, He knew the culmination of His time was imminent. How fitting to start His years of earthly ministry over wine and end it the same way.
Jesus had spent the last three years of His life pouring into mainly 12 men, who would sometimes get it and sometimes not. He had a class of about 72 as a rabbi but a smaller entourage of students who were following His lead closely. And three of those with whom He dove deeper – Peter, James, and John. And it shows. Aside from the Apostle Paul, whose names are attributed to most of the writings in the New Testament?
So, suffice it to say, Jesus had built solid relationships these men as He shared the deep revelations of the eternal realm with them and now, we see him facing his biggest challenge to date. They don’t know it, but the balance of history hangs -literally - on this next event that Jesus will need to be physically and emotionally ready for. But before He submits Himself willingly to this, all He wants is to share His last moments of freedom (if you want to call it that) with the ones He truly loves. He doesn’t want the self-assurance that they are going to do everything right once he leaves. He doesn't want to quiz them on all of His commands and celestial policies. He just wants to sit down and enjoy a last meal with a group of guys who He had spent the last three years coming to cherish. He even stripped down to his undergarments to wash their feet. His last moments alive were spent serving his beloved friends and showing them what true love and intimacy between mankind are to look like.
As I read that verse a couple of times and thought about how much Jesus not only wanted that time, but needed that time for the heaviness in His soul, I thought also that this verse has a deeper principle. We need our friends before we suffer. Not the suffering we are talking about here, though. Let me explain.
When you are working to recover from addiction, one of the chief priorities in your life is to have a support network of people who can help keep you accountable for your behaviors. Not just in some benign way, but an invested way; an authentic way. Where there is real relationship building. Trust. Safety. Vulnerability on both sides. And real intimacy. Yes, intimacy between brothers in a holy way is necessary. That’s what the feet washing showed them. Jesus shared that kind of “holy closeness” with these men. I believe it is the chief reason they could face their martyrdom years later. Yes, they saw the healings. Yes, they saw him raise the dead. Yes, they saw him deliver people from demon possession. And yes, some saw Him transfigured on the mountaintop when Moses and Elijah came to prepare Him for His journey to the Cross. (Ok, let me just say, that so would have rocked!) But they also found Him to be the very embodiment of God who loved them deeply to their core. They probably felt their connection to their Creator. I mean it was through Christ that all things were created, and all things hold together. (I don’t want to overly mystify it all but I’m sure there had to be these moments where they touched that glorious realm of God's haven.) But these men found not only forgiveness for their sins in general, some found forgiveness of sins after they hurt him deeply as a friend. That feeling of love is what allowed them to face their death and not shrink back and renounce their faith when they faced their suffering. I bet each of them, as they faced their deaths, wished they could have had a few moments of connection, but many of them faced death alone.
Having relationships like that in place as you work to recover from addiction gives you the peace of mind that you can call upon them before YOU suffer…from relapse. Knowing that people like that are there - from a counselor to an accountability group to true close friends can give you hope, peace and confidence as you face the struggle that accompanies addiction recovery. Proverbs 27:9 "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel."
The key words “before I suffer” are what stood out to me. We need to rely on these relationships and continually keep them active and alive so that as Christ longed to connect with His friends before He suffered - for a righteous cause - how much more do we need to cherish and connect with those relationships as we face the potential suffering of a relapse? If you have struggled with an addiction, you know the ups and downs, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” You know the shame, guilt, and self-hatred when you “mess up.” You know the feeling of just wanting to run away because the pain is too great and the failure is so tragic. You know the feeling of hurting the ones you love and opening their wounds after some healing had begun. You know the crushing weight in your soul as you lose hope that you will ever make it to the other side. Having those types of relationships can be the difference between whether or not you end up feeling all of that or making it through to the next day with another day of sobriety under your belt. And as all addicts know, one day of sobriety for us is different than a typical 24-hour period for the next guy. We can sometimes live 10 lifetimes in a day as we feel it is never going to end.
Do you have such trusted relationships in your life? Awesome! Do you call upon them in your hour of need just like Jesus did in His? Phenomenal! Do you sometimes feel like you are a burden to them? Like you’re just so needy and they don’t really want the hassle? I’m sorry. It can feel that way. I understand completely. I am one who doesn’t like to call on others when I am emotionally needy. I sit quiet in my room and pray. Sometimes I’ll send a prayer request out to people I think will actually pray but oftentimes I feel like I’m a bother. They have better things to do than to let Debby Downer spoil their day. But the truth is, although shame tells you no one could possibly love you or care abut you, the opposite is true. Your true friends and family deeply want to see you well. They may not know what to do, but even a quick check in with them or they with you can keep you feeling loved, affirmed, and encouraged. The reality is this: "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection."
If you answered NO above, that you do not have those relationships, I want to encourage you to find them. If you are struggling with destructive behavior patterns with substance abuse, sex addiction, anger, depression, or other compulsive behavior that just won’t bend, please find a support group. Share your struggles with the people who know what you are walking through. You have to know you are not alone and your struggles, although they may feel somewhat unique to you, in principle they are not as unique as you think. MANY will FULLY understand what you are describing to them. Tell your family. Tell others who you know have some type of investment in your life like a church pastor or leader. Bring your struggle into the light where shame, guilt, fear, loneliness, and lies cannot survive. All of that hides in the darkness where you end up living so no one will see you or know the truth. Healing only happens when you bring all of your brokenness into the light. That’s where God dwells. Regardless of any response by humanity, by people who can’t understand or won't, or people who will be offended DOES NOT MATTER. God knows you. God sees you. And here’s a little secret just between you and me, ok? God saw you and all your behavior before you were even born, and He still sent Christ to the Cross to cover all you are walking through right now and will walk through. He didn’t say “I’m taking all the sins of the world upon myself and paying the final price for them except for YOU.” No!!! You!! Yes you!!! were worth the Cross and every ounce of agony Christ went through to bring salvation from sin to the world. And you are still worth all of the effort Heaven is pouring into you right now to pull you into complete freedom.
So, before you suffer from any more relapses, with whom do YOU long to connect to help pull you back from the brink? They ARE out there. Ask God to lead you to them and them to you. HE WILL!
(and probably already is).
When we do something wrong but don't 'fess up, over time that unconfessed behavior eats away at us. It could be something as heinous as physical abuse against your children or accidentally killing someone with no witnesses to cheating on your taxes or driving off without paying after pumping gas. Likewise, when you lose someone unexpectedly (or even expectedly) or lose a huge chunk of change in the stock market, your home, your job or a relationship you thought was going well abruptly comes to a halt because the other party is not happy, it can also wreak havoc in your emotions. When these issues arise in our lives, some through no fault of our own, if we do not properly deal with them, we may find alternative ways to deal with the pain or the shame of it all. We can turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, we can throw ourselves into our work so as not to have to think about the pain or other times we may isolate and create our own fantasy world in escaping the pain sexually through porn and masturbation, prostitution, affairs, hookups...what have you. Then, if that is not dealt with, it can open up a whole new door to self destruction as well as the destruction of others. It can become a cycle of pain and shame with unsuccessful attempts to heal from it all - just trying to get through another day, another hour, another minute.
Well, there was a man in the Bible who had both of these going on. His name was Judah. He was the 4th born son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, the spiritual father and patriarch of Israel. God called Abraham out from his own people and told him that through him a mighty nation would arise and that God was forming this nation to be a light to the world of His love and power. It got off to a rocky start as God told Abraham and his wife, Sarah that they would conceive a child. Problem was, they were late in years and had no clue how that was possible. Sarah said, maybe you should sleep with our maidservant. So he did. And they conceived a son -Ismael. Well that opened up a whole new can of worms, not to mention years of jealousy because Sarah was showing to potentially be barren - which was a major stigma. Finally, Abraham and Sarah do conceive, as rather senior adults, and the nation is now officially 3 people. Their son Issac grows up and marries and has twins, Jacob and Esau; a rocky relationship within itself. Finally Jacob marries and in a weird turn of events becomes a father to 13 children through 4 women. We will deal with that at a later date. However, Judah is one of those children.
Judah and his brothers have a bit of a thorn in their side. Their brother Joseph. Joseph was the firstborn son of the woman Jacob truly loved; Rachel. She was barren for a better part of their journey together but finally conceived a son. Joseph was son number 10. But this child took precedence over the rest of the children. As you may have heard, he received a special coat of many colors and was seemingly being trained to take over the family business. That didn't sit well with the other brothers who had been working the fields and tending to the livestock for years before this pip-squeak came along. Son number one or number two usually got the nod to be the inheritor of the next generation, but son number 10????? Jealousy got the best of them and so they decided to kill him and concoct a story to tell their father. Fortunately another plan was devised to not kill him but to sell Joseph off to their cousins, Midianite traders, who would take humans into slavery and sell them at the markets in Egypt. So they did that. How benevolent. Now, what to tell father.
The brothers took his colorful coat, smeared it with the blood of an animal they killed and made it look like a wild animal had killed their brother out in the open fields. After sharing the news, the father ripped his garments and lay in sackcloth and ashes mourning the loss of his son. FAMILY SECRET. They made a pact to never speak of this again. Only one problem. You can just leave something like that in the dust of yesterday. This is going to eat them from the inside out. As time goes on, the brothers marry and start their own lives. We will now follow Judah along his journey.
Judah marries a Canaanite woman. No name listed. Not the best choice since they had other gods. But he does it anyway. (Incidentally, Esau, Jacob's twin brother married one and it was a thorn in the side of their parents). So Judah and no-name have three sons - Er, Onan and Shelah. Life seems good. Judah then finds a wife for Er. Her name is Tamar. However, before they could have a child, Er did something pretty loathesome in the sight of God and God struck him down dead. Whatever it was, it was highly offensive to God. Because of the culture, the widow falls to the next born son, Onan. Onan understands that even if he conceives a child with Tamar, that child will receive the lion's share of the inheritance from Judah, so it won't actually be Onan's child per se, even though he would have sired it. Onan doesn't like that so while he and Tamar are "knowing each other Biblically," Onan pulls out before impregnating her. So it looks like they tried but he doesn't have to take the rap for her inability to conceive. The Bible only mentions this once but this might have been a routine for Onan to blame Tamar for the problem. However God saw his heart and he took the place alongside his brother, 6 feet under. Next in line was Shelah but he was not of marrying age yet so Tamar was sent back home to live with her folks until Shelah was old enough. Well that day came and went but no marriage. My guess Judah was once bitten twice shy on the whole losing his sons debacle. So Tamar is waiting but you know, always a bride, never a bridesmaid.
Now shall we spice things up a bit? Judah's wife dies. Not sure how, but she is now out of the picture. So it's just a single dad raising his youngest but only son. FAMILY LOSS.
Well it doesn't stop there. One day when Judah was on his way to get his sheep sheared, he looks over at this building and lo and behold, there's a woman dressed up like a prostitute. Judah tells his assistant to go on ahead and take the sheep to the shearer and Judah will be there "after a bit." Judah decides to compromise his morals and hook up with a "pay to play." After doing the nasty, Judah realizes that he doesn't have any money on him so what does he do? He gives his staff and signet with cord to this prostitute. It's a pledge that he will get back after he pays her in full for services rendered.
Now those two objects given as a pledge are a little more than just a wooden staff and a piece of metal. The staff was a well known instrument of service of helping one to navigate over the craggy terrain of the middle east. It was used to prod along livestock and was more than likely use to kill snakes or scorpions or wild boar or foxes. But even more than that, it was yours and people knew whose staff belonged to who because it was probably designed with some carvings and had your name on it. It was something individually yours. It might even have been given to you by your father. The signet, in its own right, was a way of signifying one's identity. You would melt hot wax, sap or metal and press the signet into it on parchment and it would let the recipient of a letter or the public of a declaration know who that was from. Kings have used it all throughout history. It was important to keep it on you at all times. So that in whatever type of contracts or agreements were formed, you could use that as your signature. Similar to a notary public these days. Those two things were an extremely important addition to your person and to give them up like that would not have been an easy task but you owe this prostitute money and you don't have any so you give something for her to hold, but it has to "hurt" so she can be assured of your return. Why not just the staff or why not just the signet?
When he finally returned to pay her, she was gone. No one around the little village had ever seen or heard of a prostitute being there. Hmmmm. What's going on? You just gave away two very important parts of your identity. (That's what happens when you sell out to such behavior).
Last but not least, Judah, out a staff and signet is hanging out, probably carving another rod, and he gets word from a servant that his daughter- in-law is pregnant. "For Pete's sake, why this? Now?" This was a no-no according to culture because she was to wait for Shelah. "Why that little hussy!" Seriously she couldn't wait? She's not even married!
I'll save you the suspense. Because Tamar was waiting and waiting and waiting....and waiting and waiting and waiting....and waiting and waiting and waiting to be married and conceive a child, she decided to take things into her own hands. Soooo, she dressed up as a prostitute and lay with the patriarch of the family in order to bring this to fruition. Judah, not knowing this at the time was ready to have her stoned for bringing such disgrace to the family. When Judah asked her how she could do this to him, she showed him the staff and signet ring. He stated, "she has acted more righteous than me." From that child came a series of generations of children, leading right up to Jesus. Yes. From that mess, God still watched over the line of descendants and made sure Jesus would be from that line. Often called the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
This can give us time to pause and think about Judah's life. Judah has this family secret of knowing the truth about his brother Joseph who was sold off to slavery. It's not like they could find him even if they did search for him now. It's been years possibly decades. Not to mention that Jacob lost Rachel after only one more son. Then Judah has to bury not one but two sons and a wife. What is going through his mind at this time? How emotional of a basket case is he? That's a lot to carry. What does he do ? He ends up willing to cross a moral boundary, deny his God and choose to have sex with a harlot. This was a coping mechanism for Judah. After years of pain and loss, feeling alone, no longer engaging in sexual intimacy with a wife, he decides to hide his pain - albeit just for a moment but that's how addictions begin. One little moment here throwing back some brewskis. One little moment trying a hit from joint or a bowl. One little moment snorting some cocaine. One little moment thrusting a needle in your arm, One little moment cruising downtown to pick up a prostitute or a moment just accessing porn online. If you don't deal with the pain or loss, if you don't face it, walk through it and come out on the other side stronger, you will always settle for the counterfeit of real peace and healing. That one moment will add up to minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and then decades. Like me.
God wants to walk with you through those painful moments in your past and heal them and bring you through the fire and the flood. There is no need to fear. He can set you free from that which has begun dictating your thoughts, decisions and behaviors. He has promised, He will do it. (Numbers 23:19) (Isaiah 43:2).
Oh and Joseph was alive (I know, you know) and has this incredible story of doing everything the "right way." We'll talk about that later.
Triggers. Triggers are mysterious. They can be sight, smell, taste, a spoken word, a way you are touched. So in essence, all five senses are affected by triggers. If we have had any form of trauma, abuse, neglect, loss, we continuously attach those moments from the past to other things as time moves on. For instance, if we were in a serious accident we might hear a screeching tire and freak out. If we lost a child, anytime we see a child their age we can be triggered and feel the loss as if it had just taken place. It usually leads to episodes of anxiety, isolation and for an addict, acting out in their addiction to escape the pain.
Think for a moment about the nation of Israel. They grew prosperous under Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:41) but then after a few hundred years of flourishing and working as shepherds and farmers in Egypt, a pharaoh arose who knew nothing of the legacy of Joseph, the famine, how God rescued them, (Exodus 1:8) and he decided that because Israel was growing too big for his own comfort, they would subdue Israel and make them slaves.
As the story goes God heard their cries for freedom and sent Moses to deliver them. After 10 plagues and Pharaoh losing his firstborn son they were allowed to leave. God promised to bring them to a land flowing with “milk and honey” and a place they could forever call home. It came with a catch though. They had to go in and subdue the godless nations there before they could claim it. Beat down slaves had to go to war? Seriously?
The First nation they were to face was Jericho. A huge walled city that towered over the land. After a couple months of hanging out in the wilderness, providing for their every need, Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land for reconnaissance. Two of the ten, Joshua and Caleb said, "No problemo. We can take these cats with the Lord on our side." (Reese Revised Version) However, the other 10 said "No way, Jose! They are huge! We look like grasshoppers in their sight!" They were triggered.
These 10 were also in Egypt treated as slaves with whips and forced to build the huge buildings that made up that towering metropolis. In fact, all they saw when looking at Jericho was a city that reminded them of Egypt. They most likely began to relive the pain of the whips, their feet in the clay making bricks and the harsh treatment from Egyptians taskmasters and fear gripped their soul. And what if they lost the battle??? Who knows what Jericho might do to the survivors. Beating? Raping? Other forms of torture? "No way am I going back to that again!" (Funny how later on in the wilderness they complained about their conditions so much they thought going back to Egypt was the lesser of two evils).
That one negative report caused God to say, “Ok you don’t think I can handle these guys after how I set you free from Egypt? Do you not remember that whole parting of the Red Sea where you stepped onto dry ground and crossed over into the land I was giving you and then I completely plundered the entire Egyptian army under water? Then you will stay in the wilderness and the generation to come will go in and take the land." And so it was. They stayed in the wilderness for 40 years and the former generation died off except two - Joshua and Caleb. At around 80 years of age or so, they entered the land with the others of the younger generation - now middle aged - fought the battle and defeated Jericho. (Joshua 6) It could’ve happened 40 years earlier but everyone was afraid. Because they were triggered, those 10 spies sewed an incredible amount of fear among the whole nation of Israel - numbering most likely in the millions.
Triggers can extend our journey to true freedom. Sometimes for decades. If we allow them to loom large over our life, like a walled city, we will never enter into all God has for us to experience. There’s a saying, “It’s always today in Traumaland.” But you can move through to tomorrow by holding fast to a loving Father who will not only carry you through the pain, He will fight the battle for you.