This post is from a larger series under the category Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed exploration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the servant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the beginning, it begins with the post How Looking at a Caravaggio Painting Can Change Your Life and then continues chronologically.
After loss of identity, the most potent modern terror, is loss of sexuality. Jeanette Winterson
I had my own experience in which I had lived a servant too long. Ironically, just as my move from believer to servant began in a car ride, in a way, so did my transformation to becoming a friend to Jesus. As I have said before, for about ten years I lived in Chicago. It is a city I deeply love with my Chicago Cubs (yes, I am a glutton for punishment), the lakeshore, its unique architecture, and deep-dish pizza. While living there a couple of years after college, I was now a couple years in my first “official” job. I worked for a large catalog company as a print and paper buyer and loved my job with all of its perks. I often ate at some of the best restaurants, got to see Michael Jordan play on many occasions, and because of my position, I was schmoozed on a regular basis by the other companies that I worked with on the different projects I oversaw.
However, a couple of negative things were also happening, especially in my relationship with God and in my personal life. First, I was becoming callous in my faith and jaded. I had been a Christian for some years, had moved into various places of leadership and was beginning to like that spotlight. In my early years as a Christian I threw myself into many endeavors and slowly but surely was getting burned out and basically, becoming tired of being a Christian. I was leading Bible studies; mentoring a couple of rambunctious seventh graders through Big Brothers; trying to get off the ground a college ministry at the school I graduated from; attending not one, but three different churches. You name it, I was doing it. The problem was…I also trying to keep up appearances, because what once seemingly was a thriving faith had deteriorated. And here was the big problem—the problem was that if you knew me then you would have never known that by looking at all that I was doing. You would have thought I was this great guy who had it all together, serving God and serving others. How do I know this? Because at that time so many around me told me this in not so many words. I had become a very gifted actor and was fit to be the next Robert De Niro.
And underneath all of this, issues from my past had surfaced and secret sins began to pile up. On the surface everything looked like it was in working order, but inside I was hollow and there were so many problems in my life that I wasn’t recognizing. First, I was beginning to grow an anger within myself that seemingly just showed up one day. I was hard to please. I was putting high expectations on others, but rarely myself. While up to that point in my life, anger had never really been a struggle or problem, however, now inside I was seething. I often would walk around just a bundle of annoyance and chagrin. I almost never showed this to others, but inside anger had taken a foothold in my life. Second, I had become very arrogant and prideful. I would go to church and not listen to the sermon for self-reflection, but to critique what was being spoken. With others, when someone would have an opinion on some given issue, I often had to disagree. Being a Christian had turned into for me an intellectual exercise and not a spiritual one. That’s not how you interpret that passage! Boy, was that sermon boring! That’s not what Jesus meant when he said “Love your enemies!” Because I had been a Christian for some years, I was slowly becoming a know-it-all and if someone disagreed with me, I could almost in every occasion convince them otherwise. At that time, I learned this—sadly, rarely do people ask tough questions of their leaders.
To top this off, while I had lots of friends, I was distancing myself from them—I carefully hid who I was becoming and where I was struggling. In particular, there was one part of my life which was unraveling and was revealing my brokenness at its deepest levels—its roots, which were nearly twenty years old. Through various experiences in my childhood that had happened to me, some which we would now name as sexual abuse, my sexuality had become an intricate and acute wounded part of me. Like so many that I have met in my practice and in my role as a pastor, my sexuality had been opened up way before it should have been, and with this, the damage that was done was coming to bear. Over the years, in particular starting in my late teenage years, but especially in my early twenties, I was slowly developing a dependency on unhealthy relationships, specifically those that turned sexual.
This brokenness originated at some of my first memories. I became promiscuous at an early age, in part because of these childhood experiences that I mentioned earlier. Likewise, while in middle school, the door had been abruptly slammed open with some incidents with a high school girl who lived down the street and who was a couple of years my senior. We would sneak away to secret places during the summer nights of my eighth grade year and she opened up a world to me that was intoxicating and dangerously mysterious. As I have told many, pornography for the most part has never been a strong urge for me, primarily because of these early experiences. I did not yearn for virtual experiences; I wanted the ones that had flesh and warmth associated with them. These sexual cravings took hold of me at a very early age and would follow for me years to come.
Toward the end of my high school years, this solidified in an even more damaging way—in my freshman year in college, a woman in her twenties who was very “experienced,” entirely opened up that part of my life introducing me to a world which I had not quite imagined. Up to that point, for all intents and purposes, I had been dabbling with sex and in this relationship I gave in full blown to my desires. And of course, by no means was I an innocent bystander in all of this—I was enthralled with this lifestyle and at that same time, could not see its dangers.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, in my early twenties, I was out of control and did not have the capacity, knowledge or courage to stop what I was doing. I had recently become a Christian, but this transformation had yet to invade my relationships with women. While I might have been having lots of sex, in truth, I was beginning to lose my sexuality and in some way, was losing my capacity to love a woman. I wouldn’t of course understand this for years to come, but the ground work had been laid. In these years, I was in many relationships with women, most were just based on having both of our sexual needs met. There were a handful of Saturday mornings that I would awaken next to a woman at my side and I would lay there in a tremendous amount of guilt and shame because of this dual life I was living. The wounds from my sexual past had finally caught up with me, but I did not know what to do.
At about age twenty three, I realized I had to somehow try to get things in respectable order. The problem was—I did all this on my own, trying to piece together something that would bring some semblance of well-being. For the next couple of years, I managed to keep things together, but only barely. It was at this point where I re-committed my life to God which I detailed in a previous post. I seriously dated a couple of women and was trying to take my faith more seriously as well. With the couple of committed relationships that I did have in those years, on the surface they seemed like they were healthy relationships, but in reality, we were two people who had not wrestled with the demons of our past and present. Often in these relationships, I was the overly dependent one and in reality these relationships were becoming a substitute for my relationship with God. I knew I had a serious problem when one Sunday I was standing next to my girlfriend at church and in seeing her in worship; I became jealous of her love toward God. Can you imagine that? I was jealous of God! I remember feeling that emotion and thinking he was going to strike me dead at that very instance. At that point, I knew things were really bad and that what I was trying to do was bringing very little healing to my life.
It all culminated one night at my girlfriend’s apartment, in which, in too many words, we had another great argument about our relationship. That evening, we both decided to mutually break things off and that was the beginning for me in pursuing my own healing and relinquishing my craving for women to make me happy and whole. Relieved and devastated at the same time, that evening as I was driving home in my car, I heard a whisper of a voice, which to paraphrase, basically said, Dude, you need to get some help. Jesus was crying out for me to pursue healing instead of relationships, and soon I was about to finally relent. Remarkably, Jesus was going to begin to heal me in a way that was about as strange as when he used mud and spit to make a blind man see.
Next time, I will tell you how he did that…