“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3 ESV)
I looked at my calendar, confused. I already had a dentist appointment scheduled Wednesday. But another one on Friday? I skimmed my phone contacts and of course I hadn’t saved the dentist’s phone number. I checked my wallet for where I’d placed the business card—gone now. And I’d recycled our Yellow Pages long ago.
Old Me would’ve simply looked up the number in my Safari browser (and probably neglected to save it once again).
New Me doesn’t have this option. As I paw fruitlessly through my wallet one last time, I feel a little angry. And a lot humbled. If I didn’t have a porn habit, sending pictures of myself for cheap approval, then I wouldn’t be fishing for something as routine as my dentist’s phone number, simply because my husband helped lock up the internet. Now I’ll have to interrupt my husband at work so he can Google it for me or wait until he returns home to log on for me so I can search for it myself. I feel childish and rather petty, seeking “permission” to use a computer or have a new app installed on my phone. But costing my marriage, my family, and certainly God’s glory for the sake of freely accessing the internet will never balance. I must know my sin.
I’m reminded of my sin, even as I experience changes in my daily minutiae, like figuring out a new way to locate a phone number. My sin is ever before me as I feel frustrated by these changes, however trivial. Then there are times when I feel victory as I see my almost-full cell phone battery from lack of use—and lack of temptation. My sin is before me when I’m quietly folding laundry and my brain starts to replay porn that I viewed five years ago. My sin is before me as I watch my husband spend two hours trying to correctly install web-filtering programs on our computers. Tenderly, my sin is before me when he hugs me afterward and tells me he loves me.
An hour after my missing-phone-number debacle, the dentist calls to confirm Wednesday’s appointment—like a nod from my heavenly Father that he sees my plight.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user. I have no history of abuse, and the only traumatic event I seek to escape is the tedious monotony of life on-call with preschoolers—diapers, laundry, dinner, dishes, repeat. Sometimes not fitting the stereotype can make me feel lonely, or exceptionally depraved. In those moments when I’m more responsive to God’s wisdom, I see it as a reminder of how desperate my heart is: no matter how orderly my life looks on the outside, I was born a sinner and a sinner I will be until Christ’s return.
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user.
I didn’t date much in high school. I was painfully shy but constantly craved affirmation that I was good enough—pretty enough, smart enough, friendly enough. Motivated by curiosity and feeling some warped pressure to ‘keep up’, my first internet search for pornographic pictures occurred after hearing a fellow female classmate share that she missed having sex. I’d never even seen male genitalia and my research was a way to feel good enough, perhaps even prepared enough.
In college my curiosity morphed into intrigue. None of my friends dated much or seemed pressured to be in a relationship, while I felt plagued by loneliness. I discovered porn videos and in the solitude of my dorm room began fantasizing that I could be that woman in the videos—beautiful, desired, confident. Although I contemplated it, my resistance to sharing this new habit with anyone left me vulnerable and solitary. Praise God for his mercy, that he protected me from any harmful relationship in which my lonely heart would have undoubtedly sought affirmation in a man’s physical attention, rather than God’s perfect affection.
I met my now husband in my junior year of college. This led me into a prolonged season in which the internet wasn’t a temptation. He truly led me to desire a deeper relationship with God; beautifully the desire for affirmation elsewhere faded as I found it in this godly man and perfectly in God, Himself. As an engaged couple, we stumbled our way through a conversation about sexual histories and our desires and expectations for physical intimacy. I remember feeling deep shame creep over me as I shared pieces of my struggles, but what sweet, precious relief to yet again experience not only his forgiveness but my heavenly Father’s as well.
As newlyweds, we enjoyed—and struggled through, on occasion—our new physical freedom as husband and wife. I don’t remember feeling particularly tempted to find those old websites. But that all changed when we began expecting our first child. That old context of loneliness resurfaced with no close workplace friends and my husband’s first pastoral position. Combine that with hormone surges from pregnancy and few defenses, I began to find new access to porn videos. My husband had just left for an overnight church retreat. I was alone. And then the old lies returned: I’m not good enough…A good pastor’s wife wouldn’t look at porn…A good mom wouldn’t, either…Besides, no one would find me attractive, anyway…I’m not good enough.
As my pregnancy progressed, I had numerous frank conversations with my husband to build accountability and resistance to this sin. Hormones shifted, our baby was born, and we were thrust into that world of figuring out how to be parents. Busyness temporarily outweighed any room for temptation.
But in the swirl of acclimating to my new role as a mother, I never fully processed why I’d been tempted in the first place. I didn’t root out the reason why my husband’s affirmation was no longer sufficient for me. I didn’t confront my own lie that a pastor’s wife does not struggle like I did. I just assumed that, because these temptations went away on their own, I was “better” now.
Not surprisingly, when I was pregnant with baby #2, my struggle came roaring back. This time I found a website where women submitted their own pictures for comments and even re-postings. Never having dropped back to my pre-pregnancy weight after my first child and desperate for affirmation in spite of my growing belly from my second child, I submitted my own photo. Never mind that my husband showered me with compliments and sought my physical affection. Was I still desirable to others? After the initial thrill from that post faded, I was deeply ashamed. I sat in a Sunday service, fighting tears, knowing I just had to confess this to my husband, and that he’d be devastated. I was also fearful. Could he be fired for this? What was wrong with me? I remember a tearful conversation with him and lots of crying. Then I remember a season of waking early for time in the Word and prayer—something I’d never done before. All glory to the Holy Spirit for convicting me and enabling me to obey his leading!
“[A] broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17b)
Oh, how I have been dreading writing this next part of my story.
I wish I had learned my lesson. I wish I had taken more time to pray, reflect, and see where these “triggers” came from, other than blaming pregnancy hormones. I wish I had remained vigilant, even when the temptations relented, to maintain internet filters and time restrictions on my computer and smartphone and more honest accountability check-ins with my husband. But how easily we forget!
I became pregnant with our next child and my husband accepted another ministry call, prompting us to move away from all that was familiar and stable. Cue again loneliness and fear of not being “good enough.” Again, I found virtual strangers to whom I could send photos of myself—more cheap insurance as I, the Homemaker and New Pastor’s Wife, sought affirmation from somewhere. I attended new church services, pushing forward, but feeling miserable.
Finally, I closed out my online accounts permanently—no more photos. I remember cold afternoons in our new backyard, reading my Bible and praying while my kids played. Slowly the temptation faded; slowly I rebuilt my relationship with the Lord. Significantly, I chose not to confess to my husband this time. Having nailed this online door shut to strangers, I felt it would cause more harm than good. Feeling almost noble, I bore my guilt alone, as if that were punishment enough for my crime.
It festered…until I couldn’t keep my secret anymore. My out-of-the-blue, terrifying-yet-impossible need to confess to my husband ended in another heartbreaking revelation. This one was even more difficult, because my sin had gone on for so long without him knowing. He felt lied to. It took weeks before our marriage felt “right” again; even then, shame would still creep up on me. Restoring my relationship with Christ was another uphill battle; I felt plagued, living a lie while serving in my home and my church.
My struggle continues. Usually I measure my life as ‘spiritually neutral’, distinguished by peaks of godly growth, cancelled out by valleys of sexual sin. Since my battles come and go, it’s easy to box them up, like a winter coat that gets put away when spring emerges. Satan’s lust for victory is never far away, like recently when I snuck off to send another photo to a website. Enter yet another hard conversation with my husband and new internet restrictions and countless tears. No internet filter can heal my desperation for true spiritual healing.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus. I could throw away my computer, but my wicked heart will still find a way to sin—even if only in my mind. My weapons for protection are still the same: prayer, regular Bible reading, tools like Sexual Sanity for Women, and Harvest USA’s Journeyers in Grace biblical support group. I’ve had both a recent failing and victory as well. One day I recognized my own loneliness before it could lead me to temptation by simply texting a friend to see how she was doing. I’ve pushed myself to serve high school girls at our church, instead of letting that “not good enough” feeling cripple me.
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus.
While I may never be sin-free in this life, by God’s grace my sin will continue to fade as he is ever illuminated.
Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also watch Shalee Lehning’s video, How to Be a Person Who Welcomes Honesty, which corresponds to this blog.