I agonized, I pleaded with God. But then I’d find myself again and again falling into lust.
Bored and without much to do on a Saturday night, I was alone in the basement surfing through TV channels. Like snapshots with sound, the images flipped by rapidly, telling me that, as usual, there wasn’t much of anything on TV.
Then I hit a couple of numbers randomly, and suddenly I was staring at slightly blurred images of naked bodies having sex.
The blurry reception told me our cable connection had picked up a station that wasn’t part of our package. I glanced at the remote, and then looked nervously toward the basement stairway. I knew I should change the channel, but instead I stared at the couple on the screen. Minutes passed before I clicked the remote. In that short period of time, I’d placed powerful images in my mind that would play over and over like a continuous instant replay.
It wasn’t the last time I’d turn to this “secret channel.” Throughout my junior year, I’d find opportunities to watch it. Sexually excited by what I’d seen, I’d go into the bathroom and masturbate. Then I’d experience intense guilt.
I tried to stop. Sometimes I’d go weeks without watching that pornographic station. Even so, there were still other things that stimulated me sexually—and I didn’t have to make any special effort to find them. It could be a model in a commercial or magazine ad. Or maybe I would stare longer than I should at a girl at school in a midriff-baring top, a short dress or low-cut shirt. I’d find myself daydreaming about what I’d seen. Sometimes those images I tucked into my brain led me to masturbate. But whether or not I masturbated, I knew I’d let myself fall into lust.
I agonized. I pleaded with God:
“God, forgive me!”
“I’m so sorry … “
But then I’d find myself giving in and letting my mind go places it shouldn’t. The shame and the guilt dug in deeper and deeper.
Help Me to Be Like Joseph
During this time, I really was trying to live my faith, which included reading my Bible. I remember reading through the book of Genesis and being surprised by the problems many of God’s people experienced. Apparently God used less-than-perfect people, I thought. There might be hope for me.
Then I came to the incredible story of Joseph near the end of Genesis. I was pulled in by this story of a young man who was sexually harassed by a powerful and probably very beautiful woman. She wouldn’t leave him alone, yet he consistently ignored her advances. One time she approached him, grabbed him by his coat and insisted: “Have sex with me!” He didn’t try to reason with her. He didn’t pause to think about whether he should or shouldn’t hang around. His first impulse was to get out of there—and quickly.
To make sure I hadn’t missed anything important, I reread the story. Then I prayed:
“God, help me to be more like Joseph … “
Far from Alone
As sincere as my prayer was, I continued to struggle. I felt so alone in my shame and guilt. But I knew I wasn’t alone. The guys in my small group Bible study would often hint at their own struggles. But they’d never get too specific. There would be a moment of embarrassing silence, then the topic would change. It was like we all knew we struggled, yet were afraid to get too vulnerable. I began to think lust and masturbation were problems too private to talk about—even with a group of guys.
Then I did take a chance and started confiding in a couple of close friends. I was really nervous about it at first, but I discovered they were a lot like me: feeling guilty about lust, yet unable to gain control over it. Throughout the rest of that school year, we occasionally talked about our problems. Even so, I still struggled.
Then something happened during my senior year that gave me hope. After our church’s midweek service, I started talking to one of the close friends I’d been confiding in. Since he’d had problems with Internet porn and masturbation, I asked him how he was doing. He looked at me and said, “Mark, I haven’t done any of that in a month.” He then began talking about sexual purity, and how he felt God was helping him make changes in his life. In a few minutes, another guy dropped by the table we were sitting at. Then another and another. Before long, there were six of us talking openly about lust. By the time we’d finished our conversation, I felt like God really could change me!
Before our conversation ended, we’d formed an accountability group. The six of us started meeting weekly. We promised to be open and real with each other—and not share anything we heard with anyone outside the group. We also talked a lot about the importance of not putting ourselves in situations that would cause us to think or do things we knew were wrong. And when it came to dating, we all agreed that going out with someone who wanted to push the limits was asking for trouble.
The discussions—and the accountability—were great. But there were still times we’d get discouraged over how often we’d fail.
“Run Toward God”
Around this time an adult leader from the church visited our group. He congratulated us for our courage and our desire to change. Then he told us something that really helped. As best as I can remember, here’s some of what he said:
“You need to ask God for forgiveness and then forget about it. After all, God forgets about it! He has a short memory when it comes to confessed sin.
“There will always be sin in our lives, so don’t dwell on it. Confess it, then move on and talk about prevention. But don’t focus so much on what you shouldn’t do. Instead, get rooted in God. Don’t just run away from lust. Run toward God.”
Our meetings changed after that. While we continued to talk about our struggles, we also talked more about building a solid relationship with Christ. By drawing closer to Christ, we discovered it was easier to distance ourselves from lustful thinking and actions.
We also discovered something about the power of Jesus’ death on the cross. We came to realize that Jesus not only died for our sins, but he also died for our guilt and shame. Up to that point, guilt and shame were like an enormous weight I dragged around wherever I went. But Jesus’ death meant I didn’t have to drag around that weight. What an amazing truth!
Answering My Prayer
I’m now a freshman at a Christian college. A friend of mine from last year’s accountability group also attends this school, and we decided to start a group like the one we had back home. This new group is not only helping us with our struggles, it’s also helping us grow closer to God.
I must be honest and say that I haven’t gained total control over lust. I don’t believe that will happen until I get to heaven. But I’m doing much better than I was a few years ago. I’m becoming more like Joseph: God is answering that prayer I prayed my junior year.
Most importantly, God is changing my heart. And it really is about turning to God. When I fill my mind and my heart with thoughts of him, and with the things he loves and desires, there really isn’t room for much of anything else.
*name has been changed
A Message for the Girls
Are you shocked by Mark’s struggle? Don’t be. Mark isn’t alone in dealing with lust. He’s not weird, sick or a pervert. Mark’s just more candid about this issue than many of our Christian brothers are comfortable being with us girls.
For guys, much of the battle is on the visual front. Guys tend to become sexually stimulated by what they see. Like Mark, many of them fight desperately to keep pure thoughts while they are surrounded by sexual images.
When he spoke to Campus Life, Mark shared that he’d like girls to read Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker (Waterbrook Press, 2002). Even though this book is written for young men, Mark says, “It will really help girls to respect how difficult it is for guys to be God-honoring in this area of our lives.”
Don’t get me wrong: We’re each responsible to God for ourselves. It’s a guy’s responsibility to gain control over his thoughts and actions. That’s between him and God. But the way we girls dress can help our Christian brothers maintain pure thoughts—or it can make their struggle with lust more difficult.
I’d encourage you to take responsibility for what you wear. With the help of your mom, a friend, your brothers or even your dad, look through your closet and ask yourself if each item there helps or hurts your male friends in their quest for purity. It’s something to think about when you’re trying on clothes at the mall, too.
By paying attention to how we dress, we’re doing more than helping our Christian brothers. We’re preparing ourselves to attract guys who will want to be with us for the right reasons.