Thursday, October 13, 2011

We Don't Do Altar Calls

     When Marty and I travel to a church and share our story of recovery around sexual addiction, we don't give an altar call at the end. Don't think us unspiritual, but we are not there to expose anybody who may be struggling with sexual sin, but rather to encourage them , connect with them, and hold out hope. That's not to say that we don't talk to several people after a seminar or a sermon. Some boldly approach us, like the woman who bee-lined to me after I was done preaching. This stranger hugged me, and through her tears, thanked me for sharing my story. Her marriage was destroyed by her husband's pornography use, but her gratitude towards us revealed that there was healing happening in her heart.

     Another young man waited patiently for us to finish up a conversation. He was a brawny guy, looked like he could hold his own, but he sat there timidly until we were available to talk. He told us that he used to be a bouncer in a strip club, and that job led to him participating in adult films. He admitted he had been completely desensitized to the intimacy that is supposed to be involved in sex. Then he looked at me and with one tear running down his face he asked, "With my past, how is anybody going to love me?" We were there to hold out hope to him.
     After one particular weekend of ministry, we were packing up the car getting ready to pull out. As I was putting our bin in the trunk, another young man walked up to us. Perhaps he didn't want anyone to see him talking to us inside the church for fear of people wondering what his motives were in approaching us. He apologized for interrupting our departure, but I assured him we were there for him. And he began to tell us his complicated story. We listened, encouraged, held out hope, and prayed with him.
     And these individuals represent people who sit in churches all over our country. On the outside, everything looks normal, but behind the scenes is a story that no one would fathom. That's why we do what we do. We share our story of brokenness and healing so that others will know there is hope. Our details may be different, but our God is the same and His healing is available to all His hurting children.
     If anything is taken away from a sermon, a seminar, or a one on one conversation, we want it to be the message that there is hope. We are living proof. So, we don't do altar calls, but a lot still gets accomplished whether it's inside the building or out in the parking lot.
     There is hope.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Power of Denial and Compartmentalization

     I'm glad Rep. Anthony Weiner admitted his indiscretions today. I'm not happy about it, but I'm glad because it gives me a chance to address something that has such a hold on so many people, denial and compartmentalization. The married New York lawmaker was caught up in a scandal involving lewd pictures of himself that he sent to some female facebook friends. At first he denied it claiming his account was hacked. But today he came clean.
     In my studies about sexual addiction, I read that someone has to be scared enough to change (or angry or frustrated enough), and for too many men, it takes being caught before a true confession comes out. Why is this? Why do so many men live secret lives when their  appearances depict something completely to the contrary? Denial and compartmentalization make it all possible.
     Denial is something we develop when we are young. It is a defense mechanism. It keeps us safe from a painful truth. When I was in 9th grade, I still hadn't started showering daily before school. On one particular day, we were taking school pictures. This one kid in line took notice of my appearance and exclaimed, "Your hair's greasy!" I immediately responded with, "It is not!" But it was. He was right, but I was so embarrassed because of his declaration, that I had to defend myself from the painful and humiliating truth. After this incident, I immediately began showering daily.
     Rep. Weiner said in his press conference today that he was embarrassed to admit that he was involved in this and he didn't want to bring duress upon his wife. His denial defenses were in full swing.
     He also said, "If you're looking for some kind of deep explanation for this, I don't have one except to say that I'm very sorry." May I offer one? Compartmentalization. Men are very good at it. It helps them live out double lives and not go crazy because their actions radically contradict their morals and beliefs. In dealing with my sin cycle, I had to compartmentalize so I could live with myself. When I was tempted to act out, I would leave Christian, Pastor, and Husband Shane over here so I could go do what my flesh wanted to do. I even compartmentalized God, putting Him way up in heaven so I could indulge. I knew He could see me, but He was a universe away in my thinking, even though I was raised to believe that God dwells within us as Christians. And on the journey back from Sinful Shane to Christian Shane, I would ask forgiveness for my sins and then carry on with my normal looking life. 
     Sadly, this is the cycle so many men are trapped in. Denial and compartmentalization  are the bars on the prison cell, but silence is the lock. When men don't talk about their struggles, weaknesses and temptations, they stay bound and for many, it takes getting caught to change one's behavior. And in the meantime, they live a lie. That's what I was doing. I never spoke untruths from my mouth, but I led my wife to believe things were one way when they were actually another. That's deceitful. That's living a lie.  That's leaving behind a legacy I would never want to leave. And it's all made possible because of the power of denial and compartmentalization. 
     Brothers, if this is your life, please talk to someone. There may be consequences to telling the truth, but at least you won't have to be living a lie anymore. "Therefore, confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other so that you may be healed," James 5:16. Confession + prayer = healing. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time Hurts All Wounds

In light of Arnold Schwartzenegger's recent admission that he was unfaithful to his wife of 25 years and fathered a child out of wedlock, I'm betting what compounds Maria Shriver's pain is how long it took for her husband to confess. For over 10 years, she had no idea what her husband had been involved in. The betrayal is bad enough, but believing things are one way for so long when they are not is salt in the wound.
     I could expound on the former governor's situation, but I'll shift to my own experiences. When I was still struggling with my secret sins, I didn't think I was lying to my wife about it because I didn't tell her any untruths. My mouth was not guilty of lying, but not saying anything led her to believe things were one way when they were actually very different. That was deception, but my denial didn't let me think of myself as a liar because I didn't tell any lies. Looking back on those years, I was living a lie.
     So many people are afraid to let their loved one's know what has been happening because of the fear of  hurting them. They assess their spouse's current stress level and don't want to add to the pressure, so they continue to live in a way that is deceptive. In my experience the longer it takes for the truth to come out, the more painful the situation becomes. I've heard wives express after hearing a confession from their husband that what hurt the most was how long it took for them to come clean. The original offense is hard enough to deal with, but fear of consequences leads to living a lie.
     When we're counseling a couple who is dealing with sexual betrayal, we help them set up a parameter. If there is a slip (viewing pornography, etc.), the spouse must be told within a 24 hour period. There is never a good time to admit an offense, but waiting adds to the difficulty of it.
     I'm heartbroken for the Schwartzenegger's and the other family affected by this. I prayerfully type this post hoping that it will help someone own their behavior and choose to make things right if need be. The consequences may seem unbearable, but at the very least there is the consolation of being free from living a lie.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Was a Two-Faced Pastor

     I've learned that as I share out of my brokenness, it connects with other people's pain and they can relate and hopefully start to heal. I want to state that I am a better husband, father, and minister now more than ever, but the road to today was not easy for my wife, Marty, and me.
     Pastors aren't perfect. They're actually human, fallible beings that sometimes make mistakes. They struggle with sin issues and temptation, and sometimes they even give in, perhaps a lot. That was my story, and I didn't know how to change. During adolescence my fantasy world was an escape from the pain I experienced as an awkward teenager and from the dysfunction of family. It came with me into adulthood and eventually into my marriage. I tried to live a pure life. I thought an accountability partner was all I needed but I still couldn’t get out of my cycle of sin. And when a computer entered our home, pornography eventually did too.

     I would preach about sexual purity but struggled to remain pure myself. I tried to break free. I made promises to God. I made vows, and I would have streaks of success whether for weeks or months, but eventually I always seemed to return to my cycle of sin and repentance. After asking God’s forgiveness I felt I could go on with my ministry because everybody sins and God does forgive, but this was no way to live the Christian life. Why couldn't I stop a behavior that was killing my spirit and drying up my marriage? Why was I living in direct contrast to my own morals and ethics? I couldn't take it any longer.
     Several years ago, circumstances in my ministry and personal life made me come to grips with my hypocrisy. I confessed everything to my wife. I had been in denial for years but we began, together, the long hard road of recovery.    
      We're all broken, and this is what my brokenness looks like, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful for a wife who was willing to stand by me as an imperfect man in spite of all the pain I have caused her. And I’m thankful for my God who did some spiritual plastic surgery on me, for this pastor who used to have two faces now only has one.