I was exposed to pornography at a very young age. I was six. At that point in my life I really didn’t know what I was looking at. I didn’t understand my body’s reaction to it. All I knew was I felt good and I felt guilty. Those two feelings drove me to a life of shame that I still haven’t fully unpacked. The hallmark of that shame was sneaking. And I was good at it.
But to have an entire area of my life in the dark and not talked about, meant that I knew I wasn’t functioning properly. Something was wrong, and that reality drove me to Christ.
When Christ drew me to himself and saved me, He made some radical changes in my life. I experienced a certain amount of victory concerning my habit. But I’ll never forget the first time I used pornography after I got saved. I remember thinking, “Its back.” I also remember looking in the mirror and realizing I couldn’t wait for my good works to kick in, in order to get right with God. My promise to faithfully do my devotions for a week didn’t really help. I needed to trust Christ for what he did for me on the cross, right then and there.
The problem was that I was dealing with this on my own—by myself. Because of my shame, I didn’t open up to anyone when I occasionally fell. I had no understanding concerning what pushed me toward acting out. I didn’t believe anyone would understand my behavior, and I had no concept of accountability. Becoming a leader in the church meant it was even more strategic to not let the cat out of the bag. The fact that I had an occasional bout with pornography and masturbation just wasn’t going to be brought up.
Then came along a wonderful invention called the VCR. The curiosity of wanting to see just what went on in those videos was just too much. As I began to give into this temptation I realized I was getting in way over my head. I also felt like I couldn’t stop because I hadn’t stopped. I’ll never forget when I came to what I now consider the worst soul-deadening conclusion ever in my life. And that was: “Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can be a leader in the church and look at porn at the same time.” After all, I was getting away with it, in a sense, already. I had plenty of opportunities to teach and lead in the church and nobody suspected anything thanks to my deep theological convictions. And, don’t forget my uncanny ability to sneak.
The problem with all of this is that I was married. My wife kept sensing more and more that she was living with a stranger, somebody she really didn’t know. She noticed that I wasn’t spending much time in the scriptures in my preparations for Sunday school classes. She realized I was living off of leftover energy from years’ past. As she tried to communicate this conviction to people in the church she got blown off as a woman who needed to go home and submit. Frustrated, she almost got to the same place of giving up and just living with an unresponsive husband.
Finally, two couples in our church heard my wife’s cry. They started to keep an eye on our behavior in public and realized something was wrong. One Sunday after church, these two couples approached my wife and I. They mentioned they had observed a few things in our relationship that they had concerns about. As they confronted us with their observations, we agreed to go to counseling. After all, I did love my wife, and I would rather see our marriage work out than fail. As we waited for an opening at the local counseling center, our four friends became an accountability group for us. We met together once a week to go over how my wife and I were dealing with each other and working together through everyday struggles.
Around a month into this process I rented a pornographic video. The next day, I immediately noticed how this impacted my communication with my wife. Our words were flying over each other’s heads without connecting and we were only frustrating each other. I knew I couldn’t move toward my wife and continue looking at pornography. I decided to confess my sin to the accountability group. This was the first time in my life I ever spoke out loud to any one about my problem. Needless to say, my life hasn’t been the same since. That confession, in that room, with those people, whose pursuit of my wife and myself I knew I couldn’t get around, changed my life forever.
One of the first things that happened was that God opened up an opportunity to counsel with a man who specialized in sexual issues. He directed me to a men’s Biblical Support Group at Harvest USA. I remember the first time I walked into the support group. I carefully looked around to make sure nobody knew me. Then I sat there and wept. I couldn’t believe where God had me. This was a whole new experience for me. I became aware of the fact that one of the main reasons why I kept losing this battle was because I was fighting it by myself. I desperately needed the body of Christ to act like the body of Christ. I needed men in my life to challenge me in both my thoughts and actions. I also began to see my sin as idolatry. As men courageously revealed their rituals and described their heart’s engagement when viewing pornography, I began to see clearly the same experiences in my own life. There was no other way to describe this behavior than as worship—as idolatry.
Let me conclude by saying this: If it weren’t for the loving pursuit of those two couples in our church, I really don’t know where I’d be right now. Their courageous step into the chaos of our lives is a living example of how the church is to put the “one another” passages of scripture into practice. Whenever I share my testimony, people think of situations in their lives where they wish someone would have walked into it in a similar redemptive manner. If you see people struggling in your church, that’s a call from God to you to apply his Gospel to his people.
Men's Ministry Staff
Bob Heywood has been on staff with Harvest USA since 2004. Bob is an elder at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA), Philadelphia, PA. At Harvest USA he works with the biblical support groups for men struggling with sexual sin.More from Bob Heywood