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yearning to know God
By Caleb Simonyi-Gindele / November 13, 2017
Reading Time: 8 minutes

We have been going deeper and deeper in our work with the addict. In this episode, we really get to the core issues that the addict is challenged by. Often there are faulty or unbiblical beliefs the addict holds about him or herself, or God, or others. These need to be gently confronted with objective truths from the Word of God.

This step of the work typically takes one or more sessions. You do not need to rush this part. While it deals with some deep, core beliefs carried by the addict, it sometimes is easier work as it often involves more teaching and (gentle) confronting with the Word of God.

This is soul work. There are few acts of service requiring more tenderness and delicacy than the healing of the human soul. Be gentle; be very cautious with your use of humour, and go slow.

As shepherds, we have to go to Christ for this work. He is the answer: not our own ingenuity nor our own ability to lob verses at a struggling saint. We are required to bring the struggling saint to the Lord just like Philip brought Nathanael.

The Root of Brokenness

At the root of brokenheartedness is one core yearning that I have observed in every pornography addict. While not exclusive to addicts (I believe this is a universal need), this unmet reality is common to every addict I have met. That is the need for at least one sound, wholesome relationship with another person.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. God Himself is relational: we see this in the doctrine of the Trinity. Since all humans are made in His image, it follows that we require relationships too. Even in the Garden of Eden, God concluded that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18, NKJV).

Consequently, every human being needs at least one loving, compassionate, trustworthy, secure and validating relationship in order to survive. Stories of those who have experienced extended periods of isolation without even one companion speak to the severe emotional consequences if this need is not met.

What About Parents or a Spouse? Or a Friend?

Ideally, parenting should provide this high-quality connection, at least through one primary caregiver (if not two). But parenting has two major challenges:

  1. It is never perfect. In fact, about 40% of the general population begin their lives without this advantage (in research, the ideal parenting outcome is called secure attachment and is present in about 58% of adults ).
  2. Parents usually pass away before their children: nobody cannot guarantee the existence of this relationship throughout the child’s lifespan.

Allow me to take a quick sidebar. In my travels with our family during 2016/2017 I met a brother who is an overseer. We were discussing the pornography problem. He shared that when he was a boy he found a magazine in the neighbour’s woodpile. If I remember correctly, he investigated it briefly with his brother and then put it back. That was the first and the last time he ever intentionally viewed pornography. My next question to him was very deliberate. I asked, “What was your relationship like with your parents?” He replied, “It was excellent: warm, nurturing, caring. Everything I could have asked for.”

I did quiz him on his assessment of his relationship to his parents because as Christians we tend to idealize those. But, as far as I could tell, his assessment was valid. Again, this is anecdotal but it’s another example of my point that having one or two sound, healthy relationships is vital to shaping resilience against pornography.

Marriage should also be a relationship like this. But, again, sin (or the impact of it) prevents a perfect score. Many marriages end through divorce and even if that is not the case, almost one half of spouses die ahead of their spouse. A vibrant marriage is a wonderful experience when it is obtained but even then is not a guaranteed permanent (because of death) or flawless (because of the flesh) solution.

Every man and woman should have a same-sex friendship, or two, that provides companionate love, trust, security and validation. David and Jonathan shared a friendship like this in their lifetime. However, we are once again confronted with the fact that this was not a permanent relationship: it ended prematurely with the untimely death of Jonathan.

I have never met a pornography addict (recovered or otherwise) with a friendship like David and Jonathan’s, nor one with a thriving marriage, nor one with flawless parenting.

Allow me to qualify the last point: I have dear friends, near and far, who I respect deeply and yet who have raised children that ended up addicted to pornography. I have three children myself. These matters terrify me: it just takes a season of busyness in one’s life as a father, or distraction by health or work or assembly matters and then the devil’s introduction of pornography in a time like this and an addiction can be initiated. Having a porn-addicted child does not mean we are failures as parents (that is a shame message) but it may indicate that there are ways that, as parents, we have failed. There’s a difference.

What is My Point?

To reiterate my point, there is one thing we all desperately need: a loving, compassionate, trustworthy, secure and validating relationship that never flounders. This cannot be reliably found in another human being, although a few enjoy something close to this with a spouse or a parent or close friend. Truly, a perfect companion like this can only be found in our relationship to God: with our Father, with the Son, and with the help of the Spirit.

When this companionship does not exist, it leaves a hole in the addict’s heart that he or she attempts to fill with pornography. It kind of works: porn is a form of pseudo-intimacy, after all. But, like the broken cisterns of the well-known gospel hymn, it never truly satisfies.

The Fatherhood of God

This is not to say that we should not pursue these other relationships. We should. But our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in God. Likewise, the ultimate relationship can only be found with God! All of these other things are helpful and beneficial: but if you are going to ask the addict to stake their heart on something you had better choose an anchor point that will never, ever fail. Only God can be that reliable.

The Blame Game

When it comes to talking about earthly relationships, it is easy to get into a blame game. “It was my parents’ fault” appears to be an easy escape from taking responsibility for one’s actions.

When present, this is typical of the distorted thinking in the addict’s mind. You may need to gently remind the addict that many, many people grow up with inadequate parenting, and all of us with less than perfect parenting, however not all people turn to pornography. They must take responsibility for their choices regardless of the challenges they have faced in life. An empathic but firm hand is required to guide their thinking through this discussion.

Now, to be fair, almost all the addicts I have met are very cautious about placing blame elsewhere. However, you may run into this from time to time.

What About Those Who Did Not Have Amazing Parenting?

Returning to our subject of close relationships that matter, I will often point out to the addict that we cannot stake our choices and our spiritual and emotional wellbeing on other humans.

Truly, the only anchor that will weather all of life’s storms is God Himself.

Our Core Yearning

An excellent illustration of our need for God is found in John 4 where the Lord Jesus meets the woman at the well. She is a serial monogamist: like the addict, she has sought to complete herself through the pursuit of others. Observe that the pinnacle of the Lord’s discussion with this woman is to point her to the worship of the Father. She had been attempting to sate a soul thirst with men: she was going to a well that would never satisfy.

Now, she learns that there is a source of true, reliable satisfaction: that source is God.

In this, we see the essential yearning of the human soul. It is a thirst placed there by God and designed by God to only find its satisfaction in God. This core yearning is a desire to know and be known by God.

Ultimately, your work with the addict consummates with rebuilding their relationship with God. Through shame, sin and guilt they have long avoided an open, active and lively relationship with Him. Consequently, they have attempted to fill this void with a cheap imitation; with a lie.

Your task is to redirect this deep yearning back to God. They will need to take the meaning of their fantasies, and the feelings that have become emotional drivers and this core yearning to God to have these needs met in him.

Make it Practical

I always find this part challenging because it forces me to reflect on how real and tangible my own relationship is (or is not!) with God. It is easy to get into a quick, shallow reading of the Scriptures each morning. It is hard to nurture a prayer life that is vital: that lives and breathes throughout our busy workdays and in our evenings and weekends at home. And yet, we require this as much as the addict. In short, this work also becomes a call to authenticity for ourselves. How can I teach the addict to live a life of faith and to develop a real, active relationship with God if I myself have never understood or implemented this in my own life?

Nevertheless, this is what is necessary. I would encourage you to get very practical with the addict here. Take this down to where the rubber meets the road in the life of the addict. Turning to God needs to become a reflexive habit to replace the reflexive short-term buzz of turning to pornography. Once he or she discovers that a real relationship with God is the only thing that satisfies their thirsty soul, they will never want to go back to the cheap, fleeting, unsatisfying lure of pornography.

This part of the recovery process is very individualistic from addict to addict. I will often coach the addict on prayer, help them set up Bible reading habits that work for their life, and teach them how to confront themselves with the Word of God on a daily basis.

Other Relationships

Their relationship to God comes first. Next, after helping the addict to get firmly planted on Christ, it is time to look at the other relationships in his or her life.

If the addict is married, now is the time to begin working on the marriage. Often, restitution and amends will need to be made to the spouse. However, the recovering addict also needs to learn how to talk to his or her spouse about the deep feelings, emotions and yearnings that you have uncovered together.

This opening of the heart and soul of the addict to the spouse is often meets a request the spouse has been calling for some time. It is the foundation for sound marital intimacy. This opening up is often very uncomfortable for the addict as they have never shown another person this part of themselves. However, with Christian grace from the spouse, the addict will learn that they can show their deepest parts and still be accepted and loved. This further undermines the grip of shame in his or her life, leading to further freedom as the love of Christ is experienced through the spouse.

The only caveat to note here is that the spouse may not yet be ready to provide this support. Gentleness is necessary as is respect for the spouse’s recovery from the betrayal of pornography.

If The Spouse Cannot Meet the Addict

If the spouse cannot emotionally meet the addict at this point in his or her recovery, it may be necessary to seek professional help for the spouse. Remember that about 70% of spouses develop the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder following a betrayal of this nature. In fact, this impact is so common that a new term has been coined in recent years: Post Infidelity Stress Disorder. These symptoms are similar to those experienced by first responders or veterans returning from war.

As an alternative, another same-sex friend can be valuable to the addict because the friend can also act as an accountability partner for the recovering addict. This burden of accountability should not be placed on the spouse as it easily leads back to the addict relying on the spouse to manage recovery rather than taking ownership him/herself. Another useful task to work on is helping the identify possible candidates and then building healthy, emotionally intimate same-sex friendships like David and Jonathan had.

Come Unto Me

In closing, we do well to remember and live by the words of our Saviour in Matthew 11:28 when He said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (KJV).

Ultimately, the addict must find rest is found in Him on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. He is the only one who can be a Rock through whatever life circumstances may arise.

This is your top priority in this step of the pornography recovery plan: helping the addict relate to God. At the same time, building healthy relationships with other believers in this phase will be important to the addict’s ongoing recovery. The goal of this whole step is to take the valid yearning, which has been previously directed toward the invalid, sinful coping mechanism of pornography, and direct it towards reliable, edifying relationships. With God and with others.


Bibliography

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.