We are about to enter the holiday season, a time during the year when sexual acting out increases. Many who once tried a lust recovery program and dropped out will re-enter after the first of the year. Many others will attend for the first time in 2017. Why is the next six weeks so difficult for so many? Here are a few reasons among many and some suggestions on what to do about it.
- Alcohol. As we know, alcohol erodes inhibitions causing humans to often say and do things they would not say and do apart from its influence. Many people will attend office parties and other functions that provide out of normal interactions, ones not engaged in over the other 10 1/2 months of the year. Over-use of alcohol can grease the wheels for barrier-breaking behavior that will lead to regret. What to do? If you are in a recovery program, attend more meetings, make more phone calls, and take greater action like doing 12 Step work during this season. This is not the time to miss a lot of meetings. Decide in advance what your alcohol intake or lack thereof will be. Be accountable by letting someone else know your limit. Consume food with any alcohol and perhaps leave early, reducing the possible time for risky behavior.
- Stress. During the holidays, many people will add parties, gatherings, shopping and other things to their lives while at the same time missing sleep and recovery time. This is a recipe for burnout. Stress is not necessarily bad but this kind of stress can expose cracks in our personality and very quickly lead us back to our coping mechanisms. What to do? Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, say no to stress-producing events or too many invitations. Set a budget for Christmas or holiday observances and stick to it. Be kind to yourself, laugh and focus on the spiritual meaning of the holiday season. All of this will reduce stress and lead away from the potential high of too much activity and stimulation, an atmosphere that often leads to acting out.
- Memories. Many of us struggle with memories of either better times or troubling times in seasons past. Others struggle because of the deaths of loved ones, divorces or other trauma during holiday seasons past. This creates unrealistic expectations to either repeat former happy times or demands for the present to heal or obliterate past pain, which can also contribute to medicating ourselves in pursuit of the next high. What to do? Realize that this season cannot change the past in any way. Today is God’s gift to you now. Focus on the present, on creating the season you need to have now. Perhaps it will mean being more quiet and reflective or setting aside a time to share past pain with those close to you, rather than stuffing it down inside with alcohol, risky behavior or extravagant spending. Live the season in very short segments without sweeping generalizations about how the whole thing will go. Let it unfold. If we are gentle with ourselves and tear up our expectations, God has ways of surprising us. Many have testified to the benefits of simple Christmases or a return to a spiritual focus for their holiday celebrations.
- Isolation. This is the enemy of recovery. When we are physically isolated or dwell “in our heads” without others knowing our thoughts, we can get into trouble. Pornography and intriguing with others may seem like an answer to the pain of isolation but they simply lead to more isolation, pain and despair. What to do? This is the time to reach out, be with others, make more phone calls and find ways to give rather than receive. Break the spell of isolation by telling someone you trust exactly what you are thinking and tempted to do. Take action against isolation. We all need to find a way to affirm others and give of ourselves, if only in small ways. The kind word, the taking of someone’s hand in prayer, or the small gift or card can work wonders. This is how we can “rest merry” during the holidays, by taking action against isolation and building bridges of fellowship with others.
The truth about the holidays is that they cannot push us into our defects without our consent. But the holidays do present a challenge. Passivity is the enemy. Taking action is our friend. When we face facts and recognize that the world comes at us differently during these six weeks and respond creatively to this truth, we can discover this time of year to be a liberating blessing, filled with joy and peace.
Jay Haug is Executive Director of Jacob’s Well (www.jacobswellhope.com.) He is the author of The Rest of God: Finding Freedom from Lust in the Internet Age, available from amazon.com
The following selections are taken from Jay Haug’s soon to be released book The Rest of God: Finding Freedom from Lust in the Internet Age
What is wrong with us? The prophet Jeremiah knew.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)
When a Christian engages in lust, what actually happens is that we turn away from God and forsake him in the moment. We then dig our own pornography cistern, the leaky vessel of lust, and become secretive and dishonest in our relationship with others. More than half of married men who struggle with porn say that no one knows about their struggle. A Christian who lusts has three aspects of detachment going on. He or she is detaching from God, detaching from other people and detaching from their true selves. This is the cistern of lust. Its costs are alienation, dishonesty and idolatry.
In a recent Time Magazine article entitled “Porn and the Threat to Virility,” a new movement to give up porn was discussed at length. The reason? Younger men are discovering that viewing porn threatens sexual potency and undermines physical and relational intimacy. Alexander Rhodes said, “I thought it was normal to fantasize about porn while having sex with another person…He quit porn several times before finally swearing it off for good in 2013.” We are discovering that porn actually undermines the beauty and connection of authentic sexuality. “Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do,” says Rhodes. Though the secular world does not see porn in overt spiritual terms, the physical, relational and psychological effects of both using it and surrendering it are real and lasting. They accrue to every human being regardless of beliefs.
The reason lust is a spiritual disease is that like all addictions it is instigated and agitated by underlying spiritual issues. Like all substances, initial use may simply be for pleasure, but continued compulsive use is driven by character defects of resentment, control, self-centeredness, ego and fear. The substance takes on god-like qualities as we medicate ourselves repeatedly, in this case with the god of lust. This is the false spiritual connection that has run us ragged and ruined our lives, resulting in the long-term reality of broken relationships with God and others…
Is there a solution?
What the Christian addict needs is an authentic connection with God and his Son Jesus Christ, one that appropriates his radical identification with our fallen humanity and his availability to bear our lust away in the very moment it occurs. We also need connection with those who struggle as we do and with compassionate, transparent, relatively healthy others as well. We must have the authentically human and divine connection we are looking for or we die spiritually. It is this connection that saves us, not appeals to morality or a false and often fleeting “repentance” that seeks to be the cause rather than the result of spiritual change. The spiritual gives birth to the moral, not the reverse. This is the message of the gospel.
Years ago the Oxford Group, which came to be known as “Moral Rearmament” helped to give birth to Alcoholics Anonymous. But a day of reckoning soon arrived. AA was growing as it reached out to the broken and helpless. At some point, The Oxford Group made a decision that they preferred not to be associated with “all these drunks.” As a result, the Oxford Group passed into history. AA, with its emphasis on a “spiritual experience” offered to broken people is still growing. This message of the primacy of spiritual experience is the message of the New Testament. We should not be surprised to learn it is also the message of a recovery that works. There is so much more to learn and say about this topic. But all recovery ministry must begin here or it never begins…
For the lust addicted person mired in restlessness, the next relationship, the next porn image, the next illicit act often presents itself as the “must have” thing. The internet provides a seemingly endless array of “next” because of its vast content available for the clicking. The internet is the mirror image of our restless selves, the supply closet for the searching soul. One very wise person expressed it this way. “Conning ourselves time and again that the next one would save us, we were really losing our lives. (Sexaholics Anonymous, p 203).
It is remarkable how our modern world misunderstands lust. During John Paul II’s papacy, he addressed the issue of lust in marriage. Christopher West reports one reaction to it as follows. ‘The Washington Post article that reported on (it) shows how much the secular media missed the “good news” of John Paul’s call to sexual redemption. Judy Mann, in her article, “A Lesson on Lust for the Vatican,” grants that the Pope’s remarks were “motivated only by the best of intentions.” However, she then goes on to inform the Pope that “he may not be familiar with the role lust plays in the American family…From the time Americans reach adolescence, lust is a life force.” She concludes, “the Pope might want to bear in mind” that if “a man has lust in his heart for his wife, chances are he won’t have adultery on his mind for someone else.”… These are the sad conclusions of the psychological interpretation of lust. Not only does it normalize lust. It asserts it as a good.” (Theology of the Body Explained, p. 227.) The reality is that Mann’s defense of lust in marriage is false both psychologically and spiritually. The rooms of sexual addiction recovery are filled with people married to attractive spouses. None of these attractive spouses could save us. Mann’s article fails to understand that lust cannot be controlled and enjoyed. It cannot be satiated, only surrendered.
Daily surrender allows the power of this new life to flow into us and through us. God gives it to us “without measure.”
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