Written by Simon
I can remember my conversion experience vividly even though it was over 30 years ago. Here’s a brief testimony of the grace and faithfulness of our God in my life…
I grew up as the youngest of several siblings in a home with my mom and a stepfather who entered our lives around the time of starting school. My dad left our family when I was very little, and many of my childhood memories were of my mom trying to hold it together and often having screaming matches on the phone over child support and abandonment/betrayal, etc. I did not connect well with my stepfather, who stayed emotionally distant for various reasons, and so I lacked a good male role model to help me navigate the formative events of my youth. I became increasingly quiet, inwardly focused, melancholic, and anxious as I grew into my early teens, and started seeing a therapist in middle school for suicidal ideation. We would regularly attend a traditional protestant church on the weekends, and remember thinking how strange and pointless it was for people to be singing and praying and financially giving to an invisible, made-up, and impotent God who clearly didn’t exist.
Just before I started high school, I went begrudgingly to a church retreat in the mountains where there was bible study and church services, and some fun activities. There I met a youth pastor who befriended me and told me that he would be my friend if I was interested. He was kind, thoughtful, honest, peaceful, and had a joy and a sparkle in his eye I had never experienced before and wanted so badly. He exuded the fruits of the Spirit and was appropriately named Paul. The night before we were to return to our homes, there was a foot washing ceremony where all of us sat in a circle and had to speak about what the experience of having our feet washed meant for our relationship to God. As my turn approached, I became overwhelmed with anxiety as I had no idea what to say and didn’t believe in God at all anyways. I was overcome with nausea, started sweating, and began to stand up to leave the room when I felt what I describe as a pouring out of the Holy Spirit onto my whole body and felt at once a calmness and euphoria that made me start laughing uncontrollably. I could not believe what I was experiencing and it was so surprising I couldn’t help but laugh. Paul was sitting next to me and asked if I was feeling better, and I asked him what had just happened…he said that God knew my pain and wanted me to have freedom, so Paul had prayed for my anxiety to go away and that I could know Christ. He later led me in a prayer of commitment that night and gave me his bible to read, which I did late into the night starting with the book of Matthew. The words leapt off the page and I was instantly enamored by the person of Christ.
Of course I thought it appropriate to tell all of my family members and my friends that they needed to accept Jesus as soon as I returned, which was met by a mixture of confusion and outright rejection. My heart and mind had been radically changed, but my character, speech, and actions took much longer to start looking Christ-like. My social anxiety and depression continued to be present in my life, and although I understood about sexual purity before marriage, masturbation was never discussed in my bible studies or discipleship groups. Every once and awhile I’d come across a random reference to it that suggested it wasn’t harmful, as long as it didn’t involve lust for another person. It was during this period, in my early to mid teens, that my CD life began and served as both an emotional escape and an embarrassing prison until last September (2022). The longest period of sexual purity, without regular masturbation (with or without CD) was during a summer mission trip in college, where I lived with other guys and didn’t have the opportunity or desire to engage in that behavior. The rest of the past 30 years have been a nearly constant struggle to be free of this life, through fasting, prayer, confession, ministry, marriage, etc. And more times than I’d like to admit when I didn’t care and just gave in to my depravity as I thought it was pointless to keep fighting.
So it’s been almost a year to the day since I last acted out in my mind (fantasy) or in action (online reading, dressing or masturbation) and I have noticed a few ways I see God’s work in my life as a result. First, and likely not surprising, I’m not constantly guilting, manipulating, pouting, or begging my wife for sexual intimacy so I don’t ‘have to sin because of my wife’s lack of obedience’. Without my insatiable appetite for sexual release, she can actually build a relationship with me that’s not tied to obligatory physical intimacy. I don’t feel like I have to engineer circumstances to force my wife into pleasuring me, which makes me feel like SHE’S been freed as well, and as a result we fight much less often and I don’t act like an out of control teenage boy all the time. I’m not resentful towards her and God for giving me an ‘unequally yoked’ mate in terms of sexual desire, as mine has now returned to something less than hypersexualized and it is SO FREEING! I’ve also become MUCH more bold and outspoken about my faith, hopefully with more tenderness and compassion than when I was younger, and I’m much less ashamed of the gospel or about what people will say when I talk about my life of faith or call them to a decision about Jesus. It’s like a huge weight of hypocrisy has been lifted as well as an increase in my confidence in the power and faithfulness of God in my life. I tell my family and my colleagues regularly that I don’t mind ‘selling them Jesus’ because I just haven’t heard of anything that comes close to offering the life we long for outside of becoming a child of God. I also notice that I’m less judgemental of those that struggle with belief in God generally, or with issues regarding ‘organized religion’, ‘patriarchal church structures’, ‘outdated and bigoted views on sexuality and gender’, etc because I recognize that without the light of Christ, I have believed the same lies and chased after the same cultural mantras that keep us in bondage to our sin. It was so easy in the past to be judgemental and hateful of others since I was so judgemental and hateful towards my actions and my heart when I regularly gave in to CD. I have more self-compassion and compassion for others to where I can pour myself out for them and into their lives since I have so much more in my ‘love tank’ thanks to the infilling of peace and fulfillment that comes by walking with Him daily. I FINALLY feel like I’m starting to eat ‘spiritual meat’ [1 Cor 3:2] and be useful to others and to God’s kingdom as my needs are being met appropriately through my proper relationship with Him and my fellow believers at church and at work. I see myself doing more evangelism; more service; more prayer; and taking more initiative to care for others. And I’m just more courageous and settled knowing that there’s no huge ‘skeletons in my closet’ that I’m trying to hide, and I’m not worried if I cleared my internet history or if my work is tracking my website traffic or if my credit card transactions could be tracked to inappropriate purchases etc. I’m able to worship, meditate, be alone in my house surrounded by potential triggers and temptations without fear of what I might do; and I’m not plotting my next ‘episode’ hours or days or weeks ahead to get my next ‘hit’. There’s so much more time (and energy) to ‘be still and know He is God’ and so much more joy, and so much more contentment; and conversely, so much LESS lying; LESS shame; LESS hiding and deception and half-truths and justification. I noticed I worked entirely from home today and had a fleeting thought of all the days I’ve tried to design a scenario so that I could be alone and dress (for HOURS) without fear of being discovered…and instead, I wrote this testimony for you all with much gladness as I know that the fruit of those past choices just never quite delivered on their promises, and pulled me away from the life I want to live in Him. I feel like it’s possible that someone reads this story and starts to believe they can be free of this darkness too, and that hope is WAY BETTER than any short-lived dress-up session with the accompanying guilt, disappointment, condemnation, and despair could ever offer to me.
I’ve been wondering why God decided to wait this long to deliver me from this darkness even though I had prayed so many times and thought I was doing what I needed to be obedient. A few thoughts God is giving me as I write this are as follows:
1. God’s timing is not like our timing. I think of Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses, Job and so many others in our faith history that waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled in our lives. He has walked with me faithfully for all these years and has been sanctifying my heart and life in many ways (Phil 1:6), but has not delivered me from every sin. Even now, as I feel free of the CD desires and addiction, I see that I am addicted to other more ‘socially acceptable’ idols and I need to lay those at His feet too.
2. I honestly thought and felt for MANY years that this was an impossible desire to overcome. I knew that there were verses that told me otherwise (‘With God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26)), but I thought this was different somehow. I read many books and articles over the years, and then once the internet came around, everything I saw there was also that I should just embrace it since it’s ‘who I am’ and ‘resistance is futile’ and ‘there’s nothing wrong with it, completely natural, etc’…and of course there were these stories of how guys’ wives embraced it and they lived happily ever after, etc, but I never saw that in a Christian home and never felt right about inviting my wife into this life (Praise God). I had read about the ‘Christian CD’ but it never resonated with me. No matter how I rationalized it, deep down I knew it was not God’s best for me but I just didn’t believe it was possible to get free from. That’s both pride and a lack of faith in action, big time.
3. I loved my sin enough and wanted to hide my shame enough that I never became so desperate that I was willing to do whatever was necessary to be completely sold out to Christ. CD offered an escape that I thought I couldn’t live without, even though it caused me much harm and made me live a ‘double life’. Last year during my devotions I realized I had no testimony for sexual purity that I could share with my kids, and both were in their teenage years and that actually broke me. I couldn’t tell them that Christ could REALLY be enough for them, and that they could trust in His promises for sexuality just like all of His other promises. I was finally willing to do what was needed to pass on a godly legacy to my kids, and to stop ‘defiling the marriage bed’ by betraying my wife and hiding it from her. That led me to searching for Barnabas’ site and also a Christian counselor who specialized in sexual addiction. I can’t tell you how POWERFUL it was to start to hope, even believe, that deliverance was possible when I read through all of Barnabas’ posts. I was SO SKEPTICAL, I questioned his honesty, I questioned his authenticity, and I questioned his motives. I confess my unbelief, and I apologize for my judgement. Then I joined this prayer group and met others with similar stories, and started to have faith again that our God makes good on His promise that ‘the Truth will set you free’. AMEN!
4. I believed that I could ‘manage’ my sin through individual spiritual disciplines and without the help and accountability and encouragement from my brothers. I couldn’t stand the possibility of being humiliated, embarrassed, and rejected by those in my church by sharing my ‘deepest shameful acts’ with them, so I ignored all the passages that admonished me to do so (James 5:16). I was being a man pleaser, not a God pleaser, and it breaks my heart to admit that to you all today. What this deception accomplished was not bringing my sin into the light, so that Christ could redeem it. You all have shined into the deepest part of my dark heart, and have reminded me of what has been true all along but I never believed…that at my very worst, Christ is enough, and I can be fully known, and fully loved and accepted.
I pray that my story, since it’s so recent and speaks of the redeeming power of Christ through this group, may be an encouragement to you all. I would love the opportunity to engage with you in your journey too if you’d find that helpful.