Last week, David Powlison of the CCEF posted a superb series entitled
“Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken”. The 2-part article went into some depth in giving biblical counselors insight in identifying problem patterns in those who struggle with lust and pornography, as well as helping the counselee truly grasp the grace Christ offers and allow himself to be transformed from within. I highly recommend you read the series (there are many parallels between the life-dominating sins of sexual lust and eating disorders).
While reading Part II, I was particularly struck by how similar the thought patterns of a man habitually falling into sexual sin are to a bulimic. Powlison relates a conversation with a single Christian man who has struggled for years and years against his flesh, only to succumb to the temptation after seasons of “success”. He vascillates between remorse and apathy; hope and despair. Yet he always goes back to the magazines. Powlison writes:
"I asked Tom to do a simple thing, attempting to gain a better sense of the overall terrain of his life: “Would you keep a log of when you are tempted?” I wanted to know what’s going on when he struggles. When? Where? What just happened? What did you do? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? If you resisted, how did you do it? If you fell, how did you react afterwards? Does anything else correlate to sexual temptations? Through all the ups and downs, Tom had maintained a great sense of humor. He laughed at me, and said, “I don’t need to keep a log. I already know the answer. I only fall on Friday or Saturday nights – usually Friday, since Saturday is right before Sunday.” If you have any pastoral counseling genes in you, you light up at an answer like that. Repeated patterns always prove extremely revealing on inspection. I asked, “Why does sexual sin surface on Friday night? What’s going on with that?” He said, “I go out and buy Playboy magazine as my temper tantrum at God.” Now we’re not only dealing with a couple of bad behaviors, buying pornography and masturbating. We’re dealing with anger at God that drives those behaviors. What’s that about? Tom went on to give a fuller picture. “I come home from work on Friday night, back to the apartment. I’m all alone. I imagine that all my single friends are out on dates, and my married friends are spending time with their wives. But I’m all alone in my apartment. I build up a good head of steam of self-pity. Then by nine or ten o’clock, I think, ‘You deserve a break today’ – I even hear the little MacDonald’s jingle in my head, and then sexual desires start to look really, really sweet. ‘God has cheated you. If only I had a girlfriend or a wife. I can’t stand how I feel. Why not feel good for awhile? What does it matter anyway?’ Then I hop in the car, head to 7-11, and fall into sin.” Amazing, isn’t it? Pornography and masturbation grabbed all the attention, generated all the guilt, defined the moment and act of “falling.” Let’s call that Screening Room #1. But we’ve also heard about anger at God that precedes and legitimates sexual sin: Screening Room #2. We’ve heard about hours of low-grade self-pity, grumbling, and envious fantasies: a matinee performance in Screening Room #3. We’ve heard Tom name the original desire that leads to self-pity, to anger at God, and finally to sexual lust: “God owes me a wife. I need, want, demand a woman to love me.” That’s playing in Screening Room #4, an unobtrusive G-rated film, seemingly no problem at all. It’s a classic non-sexual lust of the flesh that Tom has never viewed as problematic. In fact, in his mind, it’s practically a promise from God: “Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If I do my part, God should do His part and give me a wife.”
Powlison’s analysis of the spiritual chaos brewing just below the surface of Tom’s life continues from there. (I highly encourage you to read the full article linked above). But I quote this portion to point something out to you that you may have in common with Tom (even if you’ve never looked at porn): do bouts of self-pity precede your binges? Is anger (or disappointment) with God at the root of your rebellion?
Very often, people in bondage to life-dominating sins (addictions) are most likely to succumb when they are going down the road of self-pity. We feel sorry for ourselves, so we must reach for something – anything – to deaden the pain. Most likely, for you that is food….copious amounts of it; preferrably the high-carb variety. The cycle continues in the remorse following a binge. Powlison continues:
“And why does Tom mope in self-lacerating depression for days and weeks after falling, rather than finding God’s living mercies new every morning? That’s the self-punitive, despairing ‘downside’ of the legalistic construct: “I’m bad, therefore God won’t give me the goodies.” Screening Room #6 is where self-punishment, self-atonement, penance, and self-hatred play out.”
It is only by catching these sinful thought patterns as they enter your mind that you can free yourself of the inevitable downward course. In fact, it isn’t really you freeing yourself at all – but rather, as you consciously and deliberately yeild to the Holy Spiriut, He will renew your mind in order to help you conform more closely to the image of Christ. In other words, you will “put off” demonically-inspired, sinful thinking (self-pity; anger at God; thinking God “owes” you something), and “put on” the thoughts of Christ (gratitude; love; others-centered thinking; peace in circumstances).
The self-abasement following failure is a subtle form of legalism. Typically, after a few days of victory and fleeing the temptation to purge, do you feel somehow more ‘acceptable’ to God? Surely He is pleased with me now! Of course, God is well pleased whenever one of His children walks in obedience, but to think that you are more acceptable to God at one time than another is the height of pridefulness. Even your ability to obey is from Him – any big or small victory you have in your spiritual life is all of grace, “so that none should boast”. There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, and when you hide from Him in shame He does not love you any less. (In fact, it is also pride that keeps us running – and allows spiritual apathy to creep in). This apathy is what eventually leads to open rebellion.
So the next time you feel tempted to turn to the food, check your spiritual pulse. What’s going on? Why is your soul downcast, or what is it you are expecting from God that He hasn’t provided? Self-pity is a sneaky, subtle sin that must be caught and rejected – before it leads you back into the pit of your addiction.