As I considered and prayed about writing this, the clear word that I heard was “wandering.” In Psalm 107 the psalmist describes wandering in desert wastelands, driven by hunger and thirst all the while having life ebb away. Such an apt description of those first decades of my Christian experience!
Raised in a devout Catholic family, I’ve come to appreciate and value this foundation laid for my relationship with Christ. However, as an adolescent my life in Him became colored and obscured by guilt as I gave myself over to ever increasing sexual licentiousness. I approached sexuality with an insatiable hunger and thirst that distorted the gift of my gender and sexuality that God intended. Images, predatory approaches to women in dating and other attempts at experiencing sexual “highs” outside of the boundaries God established became obsessive. As with any other addiction, scratching the “itch” didn’t satisfy and only made it worse.
Though impactful to my spiritual growth, a renewed encounter with Jesus in my college years did little to break through the stronghold of sexual sin. The Lord brought me a lovely Christian wife in Diane; my expectation and hope was that marriage would be the provision for overcoming sin.
However, I continued to pursue sensuality outside of the safety of God’s boundaries. Defiling and depersonalizing expressions of sexual lust progressed from pornographic images to strip bars, and culminated in massage parlors and anonymous encounters. All the while I was not a peripheral Christian but deeply involved in a Christian community as an elder and a worship leader. I frequently gathered with others and shared my life as best I could.
In the midst of my downward spiral, God kept reeling me in. Crossing interpersonal lines sexually woke me up. I confessed my sins to brothers and to my wife and would do better only to reimmerse myself in failure. I toppled fences meant to protect me and was overrun with temptations that I could not resist. Embracing a defeated, “dirty” identity, I lived in shame and became the opposite of a “good gift” to my wife and the community around me. Others loved me but didn’t really know what to do with me or how to support me effectively.
I was heading to heaven but experienced little victory on earth. I was taught there were pools of healing I could drink from, but all I could find were “sips.” I tried books, teachings, seminars and conferences. These were good things but diluted and shallow puddles compared to what God had in store.
Twenty years ago, God brought me to the cross: the signpost to the pool where I could drink deeply of mercy. For me, Living Waters has been the distillation of that cross. The program reduced lots of good but extraneous teachings to one thing: Jesus’ death and resurrection as it applies to my sins and the sins against me. Not just religious jargon, Living Waters helped me to experience and embrace death intentionally so as to be able to experience new life through resurrection. That same method also applied to experiencing and extending forgiveness because of Jesus’ redemptive work.
This death-to-life provision has always been there; it was promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. Yet somehow I had not applied the blood to the lintel of my heart in the way that caused the angel of death to “pass over” me! I began to learn the rhythm of letting go of sin at the cross, then taking up His love and forgiveness. That “cross-walk” is a lifestyle, not a one-time event!
The deadening effects of my compromise had deeper consequences than I first realized. As I dealt with the obvious impact of sexual sin, I began to see more subtle expressions of masculine insecurity and brokenness. I saw vividly how I devalued women and vented my inward gender insecurity in anger, withdrawal and detachment. These, too, passed through the cross.
All of this brokenness had roots in my wounds, which Jesus wanted to touch and heal. But only after facing and halting the addictive cycle could I allow Him to do this deeper work. He is faithful to deal with the core pain and false beliefs that keep me from being the gift of God that I am.
I learned to trust Jesus in my trusted Christian brothers as they walked with me. They admonished me with His truth, which easily became obscured by the shame and accusation that hovered around my broken identity. As I grew in the riskiness of disclosure, they treated my trust with the honor of confidentiality. They steadfastly corrected lies I believed with the truth of the good news of Jesus. I needed the audible “other” voice to enable me to hear the inner one. In times when I expected harsh judgment—the weight of disapproval and disqualification—their voices spoke acceptance as if flowing like blood and water from the cross.
I wish I could say being vulnerable became easier. It did to an extent, but God made me unsatisfied with hiding. It still aches to disclose failure. It feels like death—but death is needed before resurrection can be realized. I’ve come to know that the ache of trying to live without disclosure is worse. And He is faithful. The more risk, the more freedom. In His generous mercy, Jesus has ruined me for the pleasures of sin and provoked me to aspire to more.
Mercy has restored me to sexual freedom within holy boundaries: a life and marriage lived chastely. Now I’ve come to know that the greatest gift I can give is the one I’ve received: truthful mercy.
The Psalm I quoted at the beginning of this article adjures me: “Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story . . . [H]e satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Ps 107:2, 9 NIV 2011). He is so faithful!