I had been caught again, even though I had been careful. Really careful. At least, I thought I had been. But despite my best covert measures, Jen had caught me engaging with pornography. She was supposed to be gone to a hair appointment. Gone for at least 45 minutes. Our eldest child, 2 at the time, was preoccupied with Elmo on the television. The youngest had been down in her crib for a nap. It would be long enough for me to sneak away to our home office, shut the door, and get on the computer.
But what I didn't know was the salon was closed, and as Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story." Jen soon found me out. She felt betrayed and devastated, and I felt exposed, ashamed, helpless, hopeless, and weak.
At that point in my life, my source of pornography was always the computer. After all, the internet makes it easy. Anything and everything you could want is there.
With pornography, the first thing to realize is that we all have a choice. We can choose God or we can choose the sin. We can choose to be either obedient or disobedient. Sounds simple. Why then is it so hard to choose God? What drives us to choose sin again and again?
Frustrated and oppressed by my guilt, I desperately prayed to God, calling out and asking Him, Why can't I beat this? Why do I keep failing?
I heard nothing.
So, I asked, time and time again, pleading with Him, Why am I so burdened with this? I've struggled with this for so long! Why won't you just take it away?
Again, multiple times, no answer.
Hurt and discouraged by God's lack of response, I finally decided to sit there and wait. I sat in silence waiting anxiously, hoping the clouds would part and God would finally give me an answer. It was only a few minutes, but it seemed much longer. Then, my mind began to let go of my anxiety. My body and spirit began to become calm, and then God gently spoke. The simplicity of His response hit me.
"Craig, you are trying to fill a space that only I can fill."
This perfectly summed up my reasons for failure. I was trying to replace God with my own inadequate inventions. I was trying to substitute something made by man for something that God had already created. No wonder I was failing!
Now that I knew why I was failing, how was I supposed to stop? The truth is it's really hard. It's very hard to choose God over sin. Paul said, "I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate" (Romans 7:15).
Part of this has to do with our sinful nature. We will always struggle with our flesh. But along this journey, I've discovered four delusions that trap us in the cycle of pornography addiction. I've experienced all four. Some of this may apply to you, and some may not. What's important is to recognize them for what they are—delusions.
Delusion #1: Once I get married, I won't need pornography.
I dated a lot before I met Jen, and sadly, some of these relationships involved sex. Regardless, I still continued to view pornography throughout my relationships. I rationalized that the infrequent nature of sex in these relationships wasn't enough to satisfy my carnal urges.
When I met Jen and we got serious right away, I convinced myself that I wouldn't need pornography after we were married. After all, I could have sex anytime I wanted, right? Well, those of you who are addicted to porn and are married already know the answer. The addiction doesn't stop after marriage.
The main reason it doesn't is because pornography is not about sex. It's the illusion of sex. It's about fantasy. And it's about control—the control of your imagination and your mind.
When you use porn, you're participating via your mind. That's what makes it so dangerous, and that's why it doesn't stop after marriage. Your mind doesn't change when you get married, and even if you are having sex on a regular basis, that alone will not end your desire to watch pornography.
Delusion #2: Internet filters can curb, and maybe cure, my addiction.
After the first time Jen caught me, we talked about setting filters on the computer. We looked at several different types of software but settled on using the parental controls included with the computer's operating system. This didn't work for us, mainly because I found a way around the filter.
In my experience, setting up software safeguards is only a temporary fix. It's merely a defensive wall, and walls can be compromised. The problem of pornography runs deeper, and so the solution to the addiction must be even deeper than that.
Even if you have internet filters or filtering software on your computer, it doesn't mean you can't find pornography. Pornography appears "offline" in magazines, digital media (i.e., DVDs, Blu-rays), and on cable and satellite TV. Movie channels often have "soft core" pornography as part of the "after dark" programming. Increasingly, cable providers also grant access to their "on demand" libraries that contain many of the same movies. Streaming services online also carry "soft core" pornography as a part of their libraries. Smart phones and tablets have internet browsers and porn applications, not all of which are caught by the rating system. There is no shortage of access to porn.
After I experienced relapse after relapse, Jen ultimately came to the conclusion that she couldn't possibly hope to keep me from it. Even the thought of trying to do so was too exhausting. Jen finally realized that if she wanted to help me out of my addiction to porn, we had to attack the reason for the addiction, not the temptations themselves.
Delusion #3: Pornography makes me feel like a man without actually having to be one.
As men, we want respect. I would go so far as to say that we actually need it. It feels affirming to be wanted and to be seen as desirable. Sex between a husband and a wife can be the ultimate display of fulfillment of this desire. The producers of pornography understand this basic need/desire of men, but in their hands it is twisted into something much darker.
The situations in pornographic videos and magazines show ready and available women. They depict women who crave men or, in some cases, other women. This is designed to prey upon the strong desire of each man to be wanted. It also preys upon the strong desire of a woman to feel beautiful and wanted. But with pornography it's not about freedom, it's about control. It's not about respect, but rather domination. It's a dark false reality.
In the fantasy world, you can be whoever you want to be. When you place yourself into the dream, you don't feel the pain of rejection. You don't experience the sense of inadequacy. You don't see yourself for who you are. You see yourself for what you want. But like the videos or images you are viewing, it isn't real. If you want to be free, truly free, it starts by accepting the truth. And the truth is this: God created you in His image! (See Genesis 1:26-27). He accepts you, and He loves you. You are worth far more than any fleeting fantasy.
Delusion #4: There's no way out—I'll never be free.
Go to any bookstore and take a gander at the self-help section. It's rife with tomes of how to improve every aspect of your life. Feeling anxious? Want to be more assertive? Are you depressed? There's a book for that.
Throughout my addiction, I have often gone to God for help. However, I have been so wrapped up in myself that I failed to listen to what He was trying to tell me. I cried out a lot but very rarely was I quiet enough to listen for His voice.
My addiction was a vicious cycle. I'd sin, feel guilty, repent, feel better. I never seemed able to overcome my addiction. As a result, I went through periods of hot and cold in my relationship with God. I'd go to a conference, go on a mission trip, or maybe just get more diligent with my quiet times. These might get me on fire for God for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, but like the seeds in the parable of the sower that fell along the briars, my fruit never developed, I never seemed to tend my garden well. As a result, my fruit suffered, as did I.
Through a long process of relationship-building and the prayers of those who love me, I have become living proof that we can be free from porn addiction. The cycle-breaker is a true and intimate relationship with Jesus. His love and guidance keep me from seeking fulfillment and release from pornography. He is the only real answer to our problem. Who better to know you than the One who created you? Paul talks about this relationship in Colossians 1:15-20.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross.
So God created everything through Jesus and for Jesus. That includes you and me. God has reconciled us all to Him through the power of the cross. You have access to that same forgiveness and love of God. All you have to do is claim it. Jesus will respond. I promise you.
Today, I'm a recovering porn addict and actively cultivating a relationship with Jesus. Only He can fill the void that I have been trying to fill for most of my life. You have this same void, the same God-shaped hole. We all try different things: money, fame, sex, drugs, whatever we can. But it's a unique shape that only God can fill.
If you are trying to beat this addiction with willpower alone, you are going to fail! It's not about willpower. It's about a relationship—your relationship with God and His Son Jesus. The power of temptation is strong but we serve a God who is stronger.
Taken from Pure Eyes, Clean Heart. Copyright © 2014 by Craig and Jen Ferguson. Used by permission of Discovery House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. All rights reserved.
1. Read “Pornography Was Killing Our Marriage” and other articles about overcoming pornography.
2. Listen as Craig Ferguson tells FamilyLife Today® listeners how to have pure eyes and a clean heart.
3. Order a copy of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart for yourself or someone you know.