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I was standing at the doorway of my home office. I stood there for a moment and could see the cursor blinking in the search engine box. I had just connected to the Internet by repairing a broken modem long-forgotten in my basement.

My wife was gone for the weekend. This was her first time away from me since my lifelong pornography secret had been exposed the month before. It had been incredibly difficult as I recounted the ways I had deceived her, the depth of my addiction and even the content of the sites I had visited. She was hurt and had lots of questions. She was also loving and gracious to me during that time. That weekend she had even taken our primary modem with her to help keep me safe.

But here I was, not thirty days removed from nights of teary confessions, contemplating searching for porn and masturbating. But then a thought jumped into my head. If I could destroy the modem, I would effectively cut off my access to the Internet. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a hammer. Seconds later, I ripped out the modem and smashed it. Victory! Or so I thought.

What happened next was shocking. I sensed a dark presence in my apartment. I was so scared, I ran from room to room turning on every light in the place. I moved from one end of the building to the next, but the darkness was oppressive. I was desperate, so I called my wife.

It was two o’clock in the morning. I told her what happened. She immediately knew something was wrong and started praying for me. She said if I was still scared I should leave and sleep at my sister’s house. When I hung up the phone it was worse than ever. I grabbed some clothes and ran out of the house. When I returned the next day all the lights were still on but the presence was gone.

Real idol hunting is serious business. When we go after the things that have trapped our heart, it is a fight. Closing doors to idols disrupts the spiritual order that controls this world. And we are not just oppressed; we also are invested in hanging on to idols. The secret is idols provide us comfort. For years we have been complicit in this dance. We have created altars in our life that are regularly visited, whether it’s a person, computer, TV or addiction.

That’s what I did. I developed my attachment to porn after years of believing the lie that I was unlovable. It brought a temporary relief to the aching aloneness I felt. It was a way that I met my needs and self-soothed my pain. Destroying that modem did not bring relief; it brought terror. I felt exposed and alone. I had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was the exact opposite of hiding in comfort. But it was necessary.

Saying no to idols is not always dramatic. Sometimes we have to just say a resolute no to temptation or to our sense of entitlement. If we want freedom, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to ask ourselves regularly: Am I avoiding God here? Am I trying to meet my own needs?

In Jeremiah, God says this about Israel:

for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer 2:13 ESV)

This is a great picture of our predicament with idols. We first turn our backs on God, the spring of living water. Then we create a substitute by digging out cisterns, or deep holes, to catch rainwater. After the rain, when the cisterns are full, we feel pretty good. But it doesn’t last. There is a flaw and they can’t hold water. We’re soon empty again and thirsty.

Later in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is imprisoned in an empty cistern. He is lowered down by rope to the muddy bottom and left there. When we’re so entrenched in meeting our own needs, our cisterns become our prisons.

In the days after I fled my apartment, I still had a problem. The office computer and Internet were not secured. I wasn’t acting out, but my mind kept entertaining it as an option. Something had to change. I went out and bought an industrial, double-hinge hasp and a Master lock. Picture what you would put on an outdoor shed to lock up your lawn mower. I drilled it on the cabinet door where the computer was. I gave my wife the lock and she memorized the combination. Then she locked it.

The door was literally closed to the Internet. If she was around and we needed the computer she would unlock it. But all other times it was locked and turned off. At first, I was ashamed of the lock. When people came over I would make sure the office chair was in front of the lock, hiding it from view.

But as months passed in the safety of the strong boundary, I felt empowered, not limited, by the lock. It began to symbolize my rejection of the idol. More powerfully, it began to symbolize freedom to me. Removed from the darkness of the addiction, I was able to experience God in a new way. Every prayer time did not start with a pornography confession. I was able to be in His presence without shame and guilt.

When Jesus meets the woman at the well, He speaks truth to her and invites her to drink “living water.” This is a direct connection to Jeremiah. Jesus is the one helping us return to the source of living water. He is restoring our identities as true worshippers of God.

I look back at my last eleven years since those early days and I see my life full of cisterns that have been sealed closed. Even now when I expose a comfort or empty cistern, my Living Waters community responds, “What are you going to do about that?” They are not content to let me wallow in my self-pity. They do not gloss over my confessions. They want God’s best for me.

An example of this came up during a prayer time a few years back. I confessed that I had watched a TV show that troubled me in my spirit. It was a dark show, but I was still drawn to it. It was popular and a part of me felt like I should be able to watch it. The two women praying for me looked at me and said, “Matt, it will never be okay for you to watch that show.” It was a blow to my false self. At my core I knew it was true. It would never be inbounds for me. That door needed to stay closed.

As you grow, the idols become smaller but sometimes more stubborn. You have to keep hunting them, and when you become aware of them you have to get rid of them. Take heart, Jesus is our collaborator in this. He is not calling us to a life of joyless self-denial. He is offering us something valuable in return. C. S. Lewis writes of this in Mere Christianity:
The Christian way is different . . . Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and there, I want to have the whole tree down. . . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked . . . I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

By Matt Dobschuetz – Matt and his wife Janice live in Evanston, IL and have two sons. Matt co-leads Living Waters in his local church and hosts a weekly podcast called, Pornfree Radio.

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2 Comments, RSS

  • Aaron

    says on:
    July 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    All I can say is wow, this is my first time on this website. I’ve read the others and identified with them as well as this one. Thanks for publishing it! I identified with the darkness you had in the apartment as well. I also liked the part about looking at all the empty cisterns that were covered and how we become imprisoned in our own cisterns. I am appreciative for your sharing this.

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