Jason (not his real name) is one of the over fifty-percent of men who struggle mightily with pornography. It was causing him to miss out on life and regularly be angry with his wife (an often-ignored “secret” is that porn is cultivating an entire generation of angry husbands). One time, after an hours-long binge in San Diego, he walked outside to a stunningly beautiful vista and heard God gently tell him, “This is the beauty you are missing when you spend your time inside like that.”
Jason has a poet’s heart, and God had found a way to show him the beauty, truth, and life that he was missing out on by pursuing an artificial intimacy based on a lie. The porn use began affecting his marriage to such a degree that he finally confessed it to a marriage counselor, who suggested Jason join an SLAA group (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous).
It was terrifying for Jason to cross the threshold of that meeting for the first time, but when he saw other men struggling like him, he said he finally felt like he had found a “home.” He started collecting the chips and finding some victory, until one day he had a really bad fall.
When it was his time to share his fall with the group, Jason broke down weeping in front of everyone. He couldn’t believe it. He had tried so hard. He had truly enjoyed walking in victory. And now he was overwhelmed by yet another failure, the feelings of hopelessness strangling him spiritually. He had thought the new venture into SLAA would “cure” him, but the results were in. He had messed up. Again.
Still weeping, Jason looked up and saw Leon the cross-dresser. Leon was crying, too. Leon knew what shame felt like. Leon knew how devastating it felt to try to control urges you are convinced aren’t healthy, only to fall again.
The tears of the cross-dresser (whose name spelled backward, Jason notes, is “Noel”) ministered Christ’s spirit to Jason.
Jesus hurt with him.
I want to be like that struggling cross-dresser, in this sense: I want to cry with others in their moments of devastation and defeat. I want to feel their pain instead of letting them feel my judgment.
Dozens (if not hundreds) of conversations like the one I had with Jason have convinced me that porn is a burden contemporary men (and an increasing number of women) must bear. If porn was fulfilling, men and women wouldn’t hate giving in so much. The marital effects (anger toward your wife, erectile dysfunction, lying, isolation, shame) bring far more misery than the lost hours bring lasting pleasure. It’s an assault on who we are and who we want to be. And so, Christ suffers with us.
I don’t expect wives to not take its use personally, and I’m not asking them to. Yes, it’s unfaithfulness. Yes, it hurts you as much as or maybe more than anyone. Yes, I believe its unrepentant use, over time, can constitute an affair. No, you shouldn’t accept it. Ever.
But I want to be the kind of spouse who will cry if my wife must suffer the shame of her fallenness rather than add to that shame.
I read the story of a newly married woman who had a food addiction and some past sexual abuse that made sexual intimacy difficult and complicated. Early on in her marriage, the panic began to rise when her husband was making advances so she paused and said, “Let me go to the bathroom first.”
But she didn’t go to the bathroom.
She went to the kitchen.
She opened up the refrigerator and started stuffing herself. If it was edible, she put it in her mouth. When she had some cold noodles from Chinese take-out hanging between her lips, she heard something behind her and turned.
It was her new husband.
She wanted to disappear. But her husband walked over to the counter, opened up a drawer, pulled out a fork, and said, “Hey, you don’t have to do this by yourself anymore. We’re married now.”
I want to be that kind of husband.
I’m not saying women should ever agree to watch porn with their husbands. Of course not. Or that they should cooperate with cross-dressing. Marriage is about progressive healing, not about walking further into darkness and dysfunction.
But I want to be the kind of spouse who cries first and with his wife, and only then starts to talk about taking a new path.
While the Reformed (Calvinist) branch of the church emphasizes God’s wrath against our sins (for good, biblical reasons), the Eastern Orthodox Church is known for emphasizing Christ the Victor, the one who came to save us from our sins, viewing us as victims of sin as much as perpetrators of it. And there are plenty of Bible verses supporting this view. It doesn’t need to be either/or. The biblical case, as it so often is, is both/and.
So, to be a both/and spouse, we want to see our spouses in the light of their being victims of sin and thus hurt when they are assaulted by the burden of its temptations and are facing the devastation of its false promises.
We are all so beaten up, aren’t we? Some people were so abused as children that addictions seem all but inevitable. Others don’t have a real excuse but chose their own ways of coping with stress, inadequacy, loneliness, and shame. And then they found that the way out was much more difficult than the way in.
Marriage can be so healing, and parenting can be so transformational, when we look at our spouse and our kids and cry with them in their fallenness before we talk to them about any “solution.”
In other words (and I can’t believe I’m writing this), I prayed this morning that I could be just a little bit more like Leon the cross-dresser.
I want to cry when loved-ones hurt.