Don’t Look Here!

(The problem of lust, part 2)

There’s a theme park that has an iconic building with a small hole in the exterior wall. Above the hole are the words with an arrow pointing to it saying, “Don’t look here!” Of course, that’s exactly what everyone does. You look in the hole and there is some creepy picture or something. I don’t even remember what’s in there, but it’s funny anyway!

It’s true of human nature that when you make a rule you get almost nothing but infractions! Take this sign as another prime example. This poor “No target shooting” sign has been nothing but a target for shooting! And this bird pictured atop a “no birds” sign is not unlike the behavior of its human counterparts.

Let’s keep thinking along these lines for closer examination. The prohibition era made liquor illegal, but did nothing to curb the drinking problem. It gave rise to the black market and launched many homemade moonshine operations.

Andrew Farley has a book called “The Naked Gospel” (not a naturism book) that points out the futility of the law to save one’s soul. Yes, we say only Jesus saves, but then we try to go back to a pseudo law-based form of Christianity. It’s not working very well! I heard Farley use this illustration in a message the other day: the law is like a mirror. It points out problem areas like a mirror would show we need to care for our teeth. The mirror will not fix anything, it will only show where our needs are. You don’t chip off a piece of the mirror and use it on your teeth. That’s not why it’s made!

I saw this quote the other day by David A. Holland in “Praying Grace” that was quite insightful: “Adam and Eve’s labor to create fig leaf garments to cover their shame represents mankind’s very first religious work. Cain’s rejected offering was the second (and that rejection led to the first murderous rage.) From the Tower of Babel, to the meticulous rules and regulations of the Pharisees, to all of the world religions, right up to our modern day– fallen man’s impulse has been to work or earn our way back into the Garden of Eden.”

I used to suffer from a problem with porn. Of course that was because I had a problem with lust. This developed in part because of youth groups and other Christian guys telling me that we all had this problem and needed to work hard to fight against it. The very prohibitions and warnings made me curious and wanting to see for myself how bad porn really was. I realize I can’t blame anyone else for my own behavior. James 1:14 (KJV) says, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” This is true, however, the “laws” against such actions, were a factor for creating the very problem with lust which they intended to prevent. We are already programmed in our culture to respond sexually to the sight of bare skin. The church in its teaching (though well meaning) reinforces these ideas and makes it seem as that’s the only “natural” way for men to respond.

So that’s how I responded. I did not like porn, but I couldn’t ever quite shed it from my life. I knew it wasn’t good for me or my relationship with my wife. But even that knowledge and the “rules” did nothing to stay my desire. It was like Romans 7:7-8 (KJV) “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” And a few verses later, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV) I was indeed asking the final question in this passage, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24 NIV) I felt like a dog returning to its vomit. I felt so much guilt and shame. I felt like I was a disappointment to God. As a result, I hated the body God gave me because of my actions toward it and the impure thoughts in my head. I wondered why most of the Christian men I know also expressed this lifelong struggle?

The solution seemed to be more will power and more rules to safeguard against the power of lust working against us. Like the Pharisees, we’ve added more regulations to God’s ideals and created man-made traditions and “solutions” that have solved nothing. Also, like with the Pharisees, the law becomes a breeding ground for hypocrisy. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23 ESV)

Indeed it’s as futile as wiping away a spider web. It won’t solve your problem if the spider is still alive. They will surely reappear. Man-made attempts at defeating porn may wipe away the webs, but the spider of lust is at the ready to come right back unless you kill it.

Then something surprising and unexpected occurred. I saw that naturists had an aversion to porn. They were adamant that nudity does not equal porn. It seemed they had a greater respect for the body then everyone else. They were also less judgmental towards others than most Christians, who should excel in these virtues. Even Christians were naturists and held the body and everyBODY in a sort of holy esteem that is more biblical than our present day dualistic views, where we see the world through spirit=good and body=bad lenses.

Could it be that some people don’t fall into lust at the sight of nudity? Or are their hearts hardened? No, from what I’ve observed firsthand, these people are more passionate about the Lord than the average church goer. This baffled me, but I was so drawn by it. What’s the worst that could happen? I gave this lifestyle a try, and found those claims to be true. There’s an innocent beauty in these people. They are not perverted. The way I used to be was perverted (at least on the inside). Now that way of thinking has completely vanished as my mind has been renewed.

Is my conscience seared? Am I desensitized? No, the body is simply demystified for me. It’s lost its allure. I no longer fixate on body parts that our culture has deemed purely sexual. Do we not all have the same parts? Is the body only for sex? Isn’t there more to a person than their body?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “If your eye causes you to sin gouge it out.” What if it doesn’t? I reject the notion that my eye will cause me to sin. This seems unbelievable to those in the church because they teach it’s an automatic reaction, so we need to avoid any sight of anything that could be tempting. They haven’t worked through their own views of the body, not realizing that they are projecting their own impure thoughts onto everyone else. They would rather have a set of rules and follow them as best as they can. They would rather cover up the women with phony and arbitrary modesty standards that do nothing to curb men’s lustful thoughts. It only serves to excuse their behavior and place blame on the clothing choices of others instead of taking responsibility for their own thought life.

Lust is not a sight problem, it is a heart problem. As Jesus himself declares in Mark 7:21 (NIV), “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” 

I’m done with all that! I’d rather focus on relationship with the Lord instead of rule keeping. I’d rather please him out of my own desire, not as an obligation. It’s better to let Christ rule, instead of being bound by rules. There is a big difference there! He’s taken away the guilt and shame that used to hover over me unrelenting. He’s made me free because I have believed the truth (John 8:32), and that freedom is a gift that I do not take for granted. As Galatians 5:1 (NIV), “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The compulsion I could never seem to control is gone for good, and so is the bondage that came with it.

Porn is the last thing I want to see now. My mind has been renewed and transformed (Romans 12:1-2). I don’t objectify others. Instead, I see everyone as a beautiful creation of God, worthy of respect as a fellow image bearer. I would never be in the healthy place I find myself through a system of rules. It’s a rejection of culture, tradition, an embracing of God’s truth, and a desire to live righteously out of gratitude that has made all the difference. The Lord is gracious to me, and I’m happy to honor him and others around me. I no longer serve the Lord with a double mind out of guilt and shame. Now I serve him out of a heart of joy. Relationship will always yield much better results than rules ever could obtain for us. 

Ending this addiction was so easy, I could hardly believe it.  That’s because God did the work, and I stopped trying. Indeed I was surprised into freedom!

Phil’s Story

Though I tell my story in bits and pieces here and there, I thought it would be pertinent to tell it in a more chronological narrative. So here’s my very personal account!

I grew up in a Christian home, actually a ministry family. My parents were missionaries. I loved my upbringing which afforded me many amazing experiences and a greater perspective on life in general. However, there was one part of growing up that I’ve now realized wasn’t so good. I’m fortunate not to have any trauma or abuse in my childhood. What I will describe is not uncommon for most people in this day and age.

I’ve always had an affinity, you could say, for being nude. As a kindergartner, I remember my parents giving me the Adam and Eve story about God making them clothes (although, as it turns out, they invented clothing by sewing fig leaves together on their own without God’s consent, but I digress). As a young boy in a swimming pool, when no one was around, my shorts came off and I discovered the pure joy of skinny dipping. As a teen, I’d enjoy streaking sometimes at night, relishing the air on my bare skin. This is not the bad part of my growing up. What was bad is that I began to think of these things as bad or wrong. They felt like rebellion in a way. 

My inner nudist was crushed by how I was raised.

My parents were just doing what their parents taught them. There was no nefarious intent other than teaching me to behave according to what they thought right, and this out of love. I’ve now come to realize that their thoughts on the body and nudity are really less than ideal. They wanted to protect me from an overly sexualized society, but it didn’t work.

I remember seeing nudity on TV growing up, late night at a friend’s house, or the famous scrambled porn when no one was around. I even had friends on my basketball team wanting to teach me how to masturbate on a trip, but I resisted them. I’d hear of other people’s struggles with this in youth group. They were amazed I had not yet acted out on the lust which we all seemed to have. After all, it’s called “Every man’s battle!” We were all conditioned by our environment to equate the sight of the female body as an object that merits some sort of sexual attraction and/or response. My point is this: these moments of teaching against a certain action, made me want to try that very action!

I was a late bloomer. When I moved away from my parents house, just months before I was to marry my high school sweetheart, I had the complete privacy I had lacked before. I had a computer and access to the internet. It was in this new house, which was to be our first home as a new family, that I intentionally sought out porn and masturbated to it.

Pornography grabbed a hold of me, and wouldn’t let go for almost two decades.

I thought maybe I’d grow out of the phase. It was my secret sin (though I did confess it to some other men). I tried all the ways the church uses to combat this prevalent vice. They didn’t work. I have a daughter, and even the notion of “That’s someone’s daughter.” didn’t stop me from acting out in my addiction. (My Chains Are Gone website does a great job of proving why conventional methods don’t work.) I went to Promise Keepers events. In fact, as a church leader myself, I took men to these events, where they would quote statistics saying that most of the men there looked at porn before coming, and many will soon after the event, maybe even the same day! The conviction of guilt and shame was heavy upon me as I had an ongoing struggle to eliminate this behavior. 

I’d confess to my wife. We’d cry. I hated to let her down. I hated myself for these actions. I enjoyed some prolonged moments of “victory” but even those would not come without a fight, and the lust was still always there. For a while, as an addict would do, I had my wife give me a chip of sobriety (actually a washer, where she would write a verse or love note on it and a number) for each month in which I was “good.” I collected several. She could always tell when I was lying or when I’d go on another binge and fall “off the wagon.”

Even during this time, I would tell my wife that she is the most beautiful, that she’s the standard by which all beauty is measured. And this was true and how I saw her. But she didn’t see herself this way, and how could she with my unfaithfulness and looking lustfully at other women? (Read her story here.)

With smartphones, it got easier and easier to access the filth whenever I had the urge. If I was away from home on a trip or on business, there was a good chance I’d be fighting a losing battle at night.

Years ago I had come across a website devoted to Christian Nudists (or actually Naturists). I thought like most people think. “That can’t be good! That’s just a bunch of peverts trying to justify their evil actions.” Projection much? That was just revealing what was in my own heart. My undue judgment of them was betraying my own heart. Are Christian Naturists a bunch of sickos? The truth is that they are quite the opposite! I was the sicko! But I dismissed the notion that there could really be a devoted Christian that could live as a naturist.

I have teenage boys. I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps in this area, but how could I effectively train them up without having a sustained and real victory myself? 

Nothing I’d try would deal with the problem at the root issue. It would only put a bandaid on the surface, but it would not cure the ailment.

Somewhere during this journey, things got worse before they could get better. I hit rock bottom. But I had a realization that I preferred the non-sexual nudity more than the sexual kind. But in the porn sphere, there’s not much non-sexual nudity! The venue was wrong. Could it be that I’m just a nudist? Have I always been a nudist, and just suppressed that side of me because I learned prudery?

My close friends growing up knew of my propensity for being nude. My wife also knew it. When I’d work from home on Fridays and the kids were at school I’d institute “Fully Naked Friday” and sometimes my wife would join me in doing regular stuff but in the buff. This was nice! Freeing! Liberating!

I looked into “true” nudism again and found it’s not the same as pornography. True nudists make that distinction passionately. I finally decided to embrace myself as a nudist, which “naturally” made me want to gravitate to the section that labels themselves as Christian Naturists. Could there be a rational and even Scriptural justification for this lifestyle?

I want to share all aspects of my life with my wife. I went on a walk with her and asked if we could talk about something. I brought up that for our anniversary, maybe we could go to a clothing optional bed and breakfast that’s nearby. I thought it’d give her a chance to lay out by the pool, we could walk the vineyard, and there would only be the owners there and possibly one other couple. She got so angry! This did not go over well.

As a compromise, we went camping on private land by a river that was secluded. I spent most of the time completely naked. She did not. (Now she wishes she had!) I skinny dipped, and she saw me from the banks of the river looking like a little kid again! Pure joy.

I learned of www.nakedandunashamed.org and joined a group on MeWe. I found answers to my questions. I found people who were like me, even those who used to have porn addictions. Yes, used to, but no longer do. I found that my own issues with porn vanished as soon as I renewed my mind on how I thought of the human body. I decided I would test this to see if it was real and true. I determined to wait a year to tell my wife of the change. That wasn’t necessary!

I felt different. There were no struggles of the kind that had plagued me my whole adult life! There was a change that took place, and no withdrawal. So I laid groundwork before sharing these revelations with her. I prayed. I dropped little truth bombs. I prayed more. I solicited prayer from the group on MeWe, and the day came to break the news. You can read about this day from her perspective here.

She wasn’t shocked that I said I was a nudist, like “No duh!” She was angered initially that I had naturist friends in a group online. Then she was even more surprised when I turned it around and asked that she join me in this life, thinking it would help her find healing from her own issues of insecurity. 

After days of talking more openly than ever before, and praying together, and reading Scripture and other literature she started to see the truth. She did this very quickly. Upon reflection, she had already noticed a change in me. We were tearing down the stronghold that was holding me back from so many good things, from being a great leader, starting in my own family. She sensed a difference in me and attributed it to what I was claiming had changed in my mind.

We had a great marriage before. Sure there were many rough moments, but it was good for the most part. Now, it’s just amazing. This lifestyle has brought us closer to each other and closer to God. Even our sex life is sweeter and entirely based on our relationship, and not just physical response.

Now we are trying to undo what we were instilling into the minds of our children, so they will not fall into the same traps. Like us, they need to unlearn the things that have been taught or picked up from the environment around us.

To my wife, I’ve made a commitment. Actually, we renewed our vows on a nude beach in Florida! But before that, I promised to her and myself that every physical arousal that I would have in my own anatomy, would be by her direct involvement. In plain words, I will not masturbate. This is not out of rule keeping but born out of my own desire for our best relationship. That’s my conviction: that for every orgasm I have, my wife be a participant, present and fully engaged. That’s her rightful place for such an experience.

I don’t lust after anyone anymore. I’ve written about that change all over this blog. I definitely don’t seek out porn. I can’t stand the thought of it!

Think of recovering alcoholics; they despise the stuff that used to cause them so much trouble. The real victory is being able to walk down the liquor aisle in the store and not have any unwanted cravings. This is my experience now. Someone warned me not long ago, to wait a month, a year, because Satan doesn’t want a warrior for the truth and will try to make me fall. I think there’s some truth there, but I’m not afraid. I asked my friend who’s further on this journey than I am if he’s had any setbacks since renewing his mind. He told me the year this started for him and said, “No.” I believe him, and I don’t foresee any backsliding for me. My mind was like a corroded battery that wouldn’t work right. You can’t just try to clean it up on the outside and hope it works. You have to replace it with a new one, and it will function as it was designed to function.

My wife and I often will look at each other and reflect on where we come from and together conclude, “We’re not going back.” Why would we ever want to go back to our previous existence? When we’ve found the closest thing to the innocence of Eden, the closest thing to paradise, this side of heaven, why would we opt for the pig sty? 

I’m not going back.