Growing up in a Christian family, I was extremely blessed to know the story of Jesus from a very early age. My elementary years were happy ones for the most part, as I was homeschooled while also attending a Christian school.
Things changed for me when I transferred to a public school in eighth grade. Adolescence was extremely difficult, as I was subject to much ridicule and bullying during this time in my life. I found myself on unfamiliar ground, not knowing why I had become a target. I began to believe the messages of worthlessness that other teen boys fed me. I felt alone and isolated from my peers.
To make matters worse, my father’s affirming voice had become absent. He had been unfaithful to my mom, and was spending most of his energy and attention trying to save his marriage. How I longed for him to tell me I was okay, that I was a good and valued boy. Instead, I dwelled on lies such as “even my own dad thinks I’m worthless” and “if my dad does not want to spend time with me, nobody will.”
It was around that time that I discovered masturbation, which I used to subdue those intense feelings of worthlessness. Pornography followed shortly after, and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was addicted to both. I also used drugs to help suppress the pain I was feeling. The summer after high school graduation I lost my virginity to a girl I barely knew. This act was the start of many hopeless unions with women from whom I sought love and acceptance. Being the narcissist I was, I never let anyone in close and avoided serious relationships altogether. I feared being found out as a fraud with nothing to offer.
I dropped out of college and began working as a bartender. I had now fully emerged into the world of alcohol, drugs and sex. I never ceased believing in Jesus, but I stopped following His ways and chose my own path. In 2004 I received a DUI. I hit an all-time low. My behavior was putting myself and others at risk. I knew I was out of control, and it scared me.
Shortly after, I began spending time with some old childhood friends who were Christians. I saw Christ in their eyes. The love and fellowship they shared with one another was completely unique to me, something that I had never had. They prayed with me one evening, and I decided to rededicate my life to Jesus.
Much of my sinful behavior stopped at this time. However, I never really worked out what fueled my addictions. After a summer internship with a local church, I decided to go back to college in pursuit of a degree in elementary education. I graduated a couple of years later and accepted a job teaching the fourth grade. Things went well at first, but I did not immerse myself in a Christian community. I became lonely, the old worthlessness set in and I turned back to my old addictions. In 2009 I lost my job teaching because of pornography found on my school-issued laptop computer.
Another rock bottom for me. I realized that my tendencies to turn to these destructive behaviors were out of my control and I needed some serious help. Because of my father’s involvement with Living Waters, I was offered a summer internship with Desert Stream. That same fall I participated in a Living Waters training in Kansas City. The spring opened way to the Living Water’s program at my parent’s local church.
My healing began with confession. At first I was absolutely terrified. Thankfully the Lord granted me courage to be known within the context of my Living Waters small group. I never imagined I could share my darkest, most disgusting sins and still be accepted and loved by others. My Christian brothers pronounced the Lord’s forgiveness over me, and I began to tangibly feel the love of Jesus.
I also began to hear God the Father’s voice in my life, an affirming voice that slowly began to replace the lies I had believed for so long. “I love you, Jonathan, just the way you are. You’re my son, and I long to spend time with you!” I began to realize that God’s love, acceptance and companionship were my true desires, the source of my hunger.
More healing came as I set up accountability and boundaries, which helped break the patterns of my sexual addiction. Learning about the addiction cycle also brought much-needed clarity. I realized that the attachments I had made to masturbation and pornography were false desires that kept me from the feast the Lord was offering. Like the women at the well, I had been drinking dirty water that would never quench my thirst.
While there was much joy in experiencing freedom from addiction, hidden pain began to arise. I refused to play God and try to ease my own suffering. Thus began the process of meeting Christ at the cross. With help and guidance, I learned what it meant to sit quietly in His presence. I held a cross as I prayed and actually visualized myself pressing my pain into the wounds of Christ. I let His love cover me like a blanket. It took time and patience, but slowly the pain began to lift. I started seeing myself with new eyes. I began to love myself.
Even more healing came as I recognized the need for forgiveness. I met with my dad and shared the pain his absence had caused. I told him I had forgiven him. He told me how much he loved me and how sorry he was for not being there when I needed him most. I am so thankful for the renewal of our relationship. The Lord consistently makes all things new.
I am now on the journey of walking out my healing. Community and being known have become essential. While I may fall, I have learned to run toward confession rather than hide in the forest as Adam and Eve did. It is difficult to do, as my pride will often stand in the way. But I have learned that Christ is quick to forgive and that my trusted brothers will always respond in love. I have learned that living in darkness ultimately destroys the intimacy with Christ I have come to cherish so dearly. I have learned to rely wholly upon grace.