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Practical Atheism

randomlychad  —  September 18, 2012 — 2 Comments

I’m an adult child of divorce. It’s a part of my story. A large part. If you are familiar with the New Testament, you know the story of Jesus’s wilderness sojourn, and subsequent testing. What did Satan tell him? “If you are the son of God…”

He went after Jesus’s identity. He does the same still. For a child, especially as I was–an adolescent, entering high school–a divorce does much the same: strikes at the core of who one is. I was already struggling, casting about for answers, wondering who I was, when the divorce hammer fell.

As dysunctional as my family of origin was, it was my family, and as Fiona Apple sings it was “all I ever knew of love.” Tolstoy says that all unhappy families are dissimilar; even so, it was my unhappiness–it was a known commodity.

The coup de grace came from a family member who lobbed this bon mot: “It’s always the kids’ fault” into the powder keg.

As if such things never go “Boom!”

The net effect of that explosion was that Satan played my heartstrings like a harpsichord. He had me believing that I was alone, that life was up to me.

I had to take care of myself.

This is a terrible leitmotif to carry into life–let alone a marriage–because it is so isolating. It is bound to leave one, or both, partners feeling like they are entirely unnecessary to the union. “You don’t need me.”

It is a terrible, terrible lie, and is merely another assault on one’s identity. In my case, even coming to the Lord at almost nineteen, it meant that I lived a kind of practical atheism. God had saved me, but I was on my own, adrift, free to live as I pleased. It meant, really, that God was the same kind of Father as my own dad: distant and uninvolved.

Such a lie! And yet my childhood, and my parents’ divorce, set me up for it. Yet I prayed, sought him, and.. didn’t seem to have the same kind of victories I saw in others.

Didn’t seem to have the same depth of relationship. I got jealous, and shut down even more.

The plain fact is that God had been trying to break through for years, but I didn’t hear it–because I didn’t believe I could! That he didn’t, or wouldn’t, speak to me. I belived he was obligated to save me, because he said so…and that was about all.

In the midst of this struggle, I read a book–a well-intentioned, well-researched book–Decision Making & the Will of God, that essentially confirmed my core convictions: that God is not a personal god, and as such has given us all we need in his book, the Bible. Nowhere in its pages did I glean any notion of God desiring a relationship with me. To my soul, it was akin to me saying to my kids: “Here’s a book telling you everything you need to know about life, and me. Why do you want me to speak to you–it’s all written down!” Where is the relationship, the surrender, the trust, the faith in this?

It is just served to confirm what I already believed: God was sterile, distant, cold, uninvolved.

Because, in my heart, I still believed I was entirely on my own. And there’s a thing about such core convictions: they are laid down in pain. According to John Eldredge, such can only be removed by pain.

For years, I just didn’t want to go there–didn’t want to follow Jesus there–into my deepest woundings. Why would he want to hurt me so, to expose these things?

Because he is faithful. And in his fidelity, he is faithful to wound us in the places of our deepest hurts, because he wants to heal them! In order to do so, he has to bring them to light. If you think on it, if you ask him for insight, there is a theme common to your greatest hurts, issues that keep coming up over and over again.

God is the one bringing those things to light–because he loves you.

Will you let him into those places today?

When I was eleven, I read Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. It is a harrowing tale of haunted hotel, and a father’s descent into madness. Though it’s been over thirty years since I read it, I remember look of the book–a silver and grey New American Library paperback. And I remember the opening chapter with Jack Torrance being interviewed, calling his interviewer an “officious little prick” in his internal monologue.

Jack Torrance was a man setup by the demons of his childhood to fall prey to possession by the haunted hotel. In the fight for his soul, the cards were stacked against him (as they are all of us, really). He was a man who wanted to be free, but couldn’t get there. In that sense, though he became the victimizer, he is a man we can pity.

Even more than Jack’s story, I remember his son, Danny, who fell prey to his wrath (Jack at one time dislocated his young son’s arm). Danny had a special ability–the shine–he could see things. The hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran, mentored him in his gift (Dick had it, too–just not as strong as Danny).

I read that book, devoured it really, and despite the abject terror of it, the monstrous heart of evil bound within the Overlook Hotel, I wanted to be Danny. I wanted to have abilities–to see, and to know, things. It’s explained in the book that Danny was born with a caul. And that this covering, this caul, was the fount of his gift.

I asked my mom if I, too, had been born with a caul. Although she couldn’t have known it, in my heart I was asking “Am I special?” She answered “No.” (Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t available to take my question to. Would he have answered any differently? There’s no way to know with any degree of certainty, but his unavailability spoke volumes. Like the Overlook of the novel, it haunts me still).

The thing is, I would have endured everything Danny went through in King’s story to know that very thing:

That I was–am–special.

It wasn’t until many years later that Jesus whispered it into my soul. He told me that God is my Father–the father I’d always longed for–and that he, Jesus, was my friend. A friend that sticks closer than a brother. Like Robert Frost’s divergent path, “that has made all the difference.”

Do you know that you’re special, too, and loved more than you can fathom? That God is your Father, and Jesus is your brother?

You can.

Look up from wherever you are–Jesus is coming for you.

Where do you see Jesus moving in your life?

Did you ever want to be a character in a beloved book?

In A Boy and His Drug, I wrote of how I was not only allowed, but encouraged as a young boy to look at pornography. How that period lasted from the ages of ten-eighteen.

In The Unexpected Face of Grace I wrote of how God brought grace, and freedom, to me unexpectedly.

This is the rest of the story.

How I wish that had been the end of the story. How I wish, after breaking free, throwing out all of my posters and magazines, that I had never again looked at pornography.

As much as I’d like it to be true, I can’t say that. You see, as life got hard–had its trials–porn was there, cycling in, and out, of my life. I didn’t want to look, but I did. It was familiar. It was a friend from my youth.

Not really requiring anything from me, it had never let me down. Friends that is the insidious nature of evil, and of the evil one. First to tempt, then accuse. To first tell me “This will make you feel better,” only to follow it with “You horrible sinner! You call yourself a Christian! What would your wife think?”

Now let me be plain: Satan didn’t make me sin. I sinned–I chose to heed the voice of temptation. And true to his nature, the enemy was there to ensure I received a proper beat down for my choice. He’s not known as the “accuser of the brethren” for nothing.

In my guilt, and shame, I would cry out to God, confess to Him, tell Him how sorry I was. But in that spirit of that shame, believing I was alone in my wretchedness, I never told another human soul. And there was my undoing: I told no one. Not my wife, friends, anybody.

I bore the burden alone.

And so it went for many years–lather, rinse, repeat.

Until the time where I either wasn’t careful, didn’t care, or wanted to be caught: my Internet history found me out. Or rather my wife found my Internet history.

And what a blow that was–to me, yes, but much more to her. What do you suppose Satan’s message was to her? That her husband’s involvement in pornography was a way to anesthitize his pain, and stemmed from his childhood?

Not even close.

It was: “You’re not enough.” He looks at this stuff because you’re not enough woman for him. Thereby compounding his lies. He took my sin, and used it to assault her in the very core of her being: her femininity.

Even though to me it was never about sex, but rather medicating the pain of a life I couldn’t control. It was my besetting sin.

How I wish I’d never hurt her in that way, could take it all back. But I can’t. However, it is now covered under the blood, and not something I struggle with anymore.

Why? Why don’t I struggle with it? Why is it not cycling into, and out, my life like before?

There are five key reasons:

1) I have a God Who loves me enough to not leave me as I am.
2) I have a wife who, despite the pain I caused her, loves me enough to not leave me as I am. And who encouraged me to seek help.
3) I found help at Celebrate Recovery, and confessed my sins to similarly struggling men. I was astounded to learn that I wasn’t alone. Of all the lies Satan tells us, that’s got to be the biggest: that we are alone.
4) As corny, as cliché as this may sound, God spoke to me through Dr. Phil. The good doctor was doing an episode that featured a segment on porn, and said something that was seared into my soul: “That’s somebody’s daughter.”

That’s somebody’s daughter. I have a daughter. Would I want someone, somewhere, looking at my daughter? That thought alone brought me up cold–because the answer was a resounding “NO!!!!”

5) There is accountability in confession: by choosing to put my story out there I disarm the enemy. He’s no longer able to accuse me here in this place–because it’s not a secret anymore. And having done so, I was again astonished to learn that I’m not alone.

——————

Mike Foster of POTSC says this: “Being brave with your story gives others the courage to be brave with theirs.”

Anne Jackson puts it this way: “By going first, you give others a gift. The gift of going second.” Meaning someone has to be brave, be courageous, share the uncomfortable–because you never know who you’re going to encourage by doing so.

Will you be brave today, give someone the gift of going second? You don’t have to share here, but please do find somewhere to share. You’re not alone.

If you have seen the movie Braveheart, you know of the scene where
young William’s father is brought home to him, on a cart, dead. You may also
recall that, after the funeral, an imposing, battle-scarred man
arrives unlooked for. This is William’s uncle Argyle. And his
frightening visage is grace’s unexpected face.

Of all the things he does for William, the most powerful is to,
despite his heavy loss, let him know that he is not alone in his suffering.

Grace once came to me like that–unexpected, unlooked for. Only his
face was not that of a battle-scarred Argyle, but that of my stoner
friend, Pat. His wounds, the ones I could see, were the battle scars of adolescence:
he bore the telltale pockmarks of acne.

Pat was a husky, olive-skinned Italian. And oregano was not the only
herb he was fond of. We were the same age, had brothers around the
same age, and were fast friends from about 1978 until high school.

Then our paths diverged, and he got into drugs. Somehow, God knows, I never
got into pot. I smoked–cigarettes, cigars–chewed tobacco, drank. But
somehow drew the line there. I don’t know why. Certainly I was wounded
enough to make drugs an alluring escape. All I can surmise is that it
must have been the grace of God protecting me (even before I believed
in Him).

So Pat cycled in, and out, of my life throughout the high school
years. Our biggest falling out had to do with something said in passing about my aunt. I didn’t see him for sometime. And one day, he dropped by unexpectedly. We had shared some in
our appreciation of the feminine form, swapped magazines.

In fact, it was about magazines that he’d come by. Thinking that he
wanted to borrow some of my goods, we went to my room.

“Dude, aren’t you sick of this?” he asked.

“What?”

“The porn, man, the porn.”

I took deep breath, exhaled, took another. Realized I was.

“Yeah, man, I am.”

“Let’s trash it, dude.” It took a moment to register what he’d said. I swallowed, took a deep breath, and said:

“Okay.” So that’s just what we did: took down the centerfolds, gathered the
magazines, trashed them all.

I felt so free, so gloriously free. Here was Pat, the stoner I
couldn’t get to give up weed, calling me out about my porn, recognizing my addiction (but not his own. And isn’t that the truth? We so often lack necessary perspective about ourselves). Looking
back, I realize it was God moving, perhaps getting my house in order: less than a year later I would bow
the knee to Christ, make my faltering profession of allegiance in a speeding car.

————-

After that day, I never saw Pat again–until his brother’s funeral.

Grace often comes like that–wearing a face we don’t recognize. Look
for it, and you will see. And how I wish that was the end of my
involvement with pornography (oh, it was–for awhile).

How has grace come to you unexpectedly?

All, when the Lord moves, He moves. It seems that (big surprise!) He isn’t just desiring a deeper walk with me, but with my wife, Lisa, as well.

To that end, we’ve just received word that she’s been accepted to attend the Captivating Women’s Retreat in October. If we have learned anything from our experience leading up to the Wild At Heart Bootcamp, it’s:

1) Where God guides, He provides; and
2) There will be spiritual warfare.

With that in mind, will you please pray for God’s provision for us, and for His covering during the trials that are sure to come?

Thanks, and may God bless you very much!

Chad and Lisa