Our Journey through Pornography and How to Help Someone through this Struggle

If you are a student in our ministry today you will hear the words “pornography” and “masturbation” used in a message.  Likely you will hear multiple students testimonies regarding their walk to sexual freedom and you will definitely be invited more than once to join a group to help you find freedom from sexual sin and brokenness. 
Although I would say my collegiate Navs experience was one of the best of the best and I faithfully attended just about every Nav Night, Bible Study and Retreat our local ministry had to offer, the word “pornography” was Greek to me. It wasn’t something we were talking about in mixed gender events and women weren’t sharing addictions to pornography (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some were secretly struggling).   I didn’t truly grasp what it was, nor did I know why it was so appealing.  For all I knew, it was simply something that popped up on your screen like an ad, and so people who considered themselves strugglers were the people who struggled to close the pop up window (I’m not complaining or upset with my Nav staff, I know I was more naive than most.  Regardless of our backgrounds, it is difficult for any staff to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of sexual sin in our culture).
So you can imagine my surprise when my soon to be husband sat me down and talked about his past and confessed… a lot of things.  I was totally unprepared, I was totally in love, and I was totally naive.  He told me he was doing “well”. 
He was saying he was doing well aka better than he had in his very icky past.
And I was hearing he was doing well aka “all is well!”
So I did what every young and in love woman who is eager for engagement and marriage does—forgave him to end this very awkward conversation and moved on….
…Moved on until a few years into our marriage in the middle of our staff in training when it became evident that what he (and I) thought was a dissipating past issue was actually a current and pervasive sin pattern in his life.
He finally did something so bad that he felt the need to confess it to his mentor, who shared with his wife, who pulled the trigger and said he needed to confess this all to me, and get help.
Here began a season in our life which I refer to as “H –E – L – L “ on Earth that I would wish upon NO ONE.  Never ever ever do I want you to have to walk this road.  But if you don’t have total confidence that you or your husband are walking in total purity and freedom from sexual sin (not just a white knuckled holding on and hope you can hold on a little longer than last time) I want to share two things with you. 
  1. Come Into the Light.  The fear of the unknown is great and so is the pain you will face.  You will have to expose or be exposed to so much darkness it can be totally daunting. But as you cast light on every bit of darkness you will open up every dark corner to the light.  And there is nothing better than living totally in the light where you and your spouse can live with no secrets between you. 
  2. There is hope. When my husband was overwhelmed at the road ahead and at times very hopeless ,  Jack Deal encouraged him, “If you don’t have any hope, you can hold on to my hope.” You may not be able to see the way forward and you may have no hope for the future.  If you are the one entrenched in sin, it can seem so hopeless to break free.  And if you are the one who is faced with forgiving the one you love most for the sins you despise most it can seem very hopeless.  But let my story assure you that there is hope. 

 I imagine you can relate to this issue in one of the following ways:
  • You are unsure if your husband is walking in complete purity or have just discovered that he is not.
  • You know someone who is traveling down this road – supporting a  spouse whose sexual sin is now exposed.
  • You minister to students and want to help them avoid this scenario in their future marriage.

I have a few thoughts for each scenario.

A) If you are walking through this right now with your husband, let me share some advice that I found tremendously helpful. I’m writing from the perspective that it is your husband’s sin that has been uncovered as that’s where I was, please adapt if it’s a different scenario.

Comfort your husband, don’t cushion his pain.  As a wife, we are wired to take care of our husbands.  My husband is more of a thinker, I’m a feeler.  Often it seems like I’m helping him recognize what he is feeling.  In this painful time he was feeling far more pain that he ever experienced, and my tendency was to cushion him, helping alleviate some of this pain and carrying it for him.  That is not helpful. He NEEDS to walk through this painful time.  I can’t cushion the blow as the pain wasn’t my fault and my response couldn’t be the solution.  It affected me and our marriage tremendously, and my husband needed my comfort- my assurance that I loved him and was working through forgiveness. But I had to resist the temptation to cushion his pain.  His pain had to be brought fully before the Lord and only the Lord could rescue him for his terribly hard reality.
As you comfort him, you give him the courage to face up to his terribly hard reality. He needs to stop the behavior, as continuing is not an option. BUT he needs courage and help to face the reality and work on total life transformation, not just behavior management methods.
Right now it’s a wound, someday it will be a scar.  When my husband’s sin first became exposed we were at the lowest of the low. And then as the days unfolded, my husband would spend time with the Lord, or his counselor or our staff trainer and he’d be reminded of other prior sins that he had repressed and needed to repent of to me. I can’t tell you how incredibly painful it was to be at our low and then have more to confess and get even lower. The wound was so raw and tender.  I couldn’t even handle anyone looking at the wound it hurt too badly.  So to be honest, it was mostly a secret part of my life. Not in a sinful way but just in a real way. 
In ministry I had to separate myself from my painful current reality. I couldn’t listen to the lie that “I had nothing to offer students right now.” I had to give myself permission to share wisdom from my life even if I wasn’t able to share about the deep pain I was walking in right then.  I could share a lot about what the Lord was teaching me even if I didn’t specifically explain what was going on.
 I had one friend who knew about it as well as my staff trainer’s wife, and a counselor. Other than that, it was not something we talked about or shared with other family, friends or students. It was a wound that we were doing our best to care for- cleaning the wound, covering the wound with bandages, and continuing to take steps for the wound to heal. For us this looked like professional counseling, my husband receiving help from Jack Deal, and both my husband and I receiving loving care from our staff trainers. At times it felt unbearable as living with an open wound is a real challenge! But I was told this advice, “Right now it’s a wound, someday it will be a scar” and that was so so helpful to me. It gave me hope to know that it wouldn’t always be this painful, this raw, this sensitive. In fact, years later as I write this it IS a scar. It’s still a tangible reality that we walked through a very painful time, but it’s not an open wound. It’s a scar, a part of my life that I can share about as it is healed. It still can be a place of pain, but it’s safe for me to share with a wider audience, it’s no longer an open wound.
Over time, we have shared our story with all of our immediate family and our close friends.  It didn’t happen all at once, and it wasn’t disclosed in the same manner for each person.  But it is known by those who love us most, and the thing I feared MOST (telling people, especially my family) ended up being a blessing.  We were able to share a story of HOPE and a story of HEALING with those who love us most. We were able to share of how the Lord cared for us, strengthened us, and empowered us to help others in this area.
Get Help!  There is help in the Navs. If you don’t know who to talk to, email Sherry (sherrygraf@gmail.com) and she will put me in touch with you.  Open up to your campus trainer.  Talk with Jack and Marcia Deal (mtdeal716@gmail.com).  Reach out to PRT by contacting Curt Wolf (curt.wolf@navigators.org) for men and Cynthia Hagen (Cynthia.hagen@navigators.org) for women. It may be a painful process, but they won’t abandon you, they have tremendous resources and will walk you through this process if you are willing to do what it takes to get help.

You might refrain from sexual activity for a period of time.  This is something that was suggested to us and we found helpful. Walking through something as painful as this was messy enough, trying to engage sexually was just too much for us.  We found it helpful to refrain for awhile and instead spend that time praying together for this area of our life.  It was such a draining season- with counseling, hard conversations with our staff trainers and a lot to work through between my husband and I, stepping away from intimacy was a real blessing and help to us. Each story is different and you have to choose what is best for you.

B) If you have a friend who is walking through this, you probably feel like you care but you just don’t know what to say.  Here are a few thoughts.
Remember you may be the only person who knows about this area of your friend’s life.  There were only 3 people who knew what was really going on in my life, and so you can imagine how much it hurt if I got together with one of these three people and they didn’t ask how I was doing in this area.  I know it feels nerve-wracking as you don’t know what to say, but to just say something at all is a real blessing. If nothing else just ask, “I know things are really hard with you and your husband how are you doing this week?” Or ask, “How has the Lord been present in your pain?”  You don’t have to say much, likely they just need you to listen.  BUT you do have to open that door for them.  They are in such a painful place and feeling like they are “faking it” as so few people know how much they are hurting, so please just take the risk and ask a question. They need to know regularly that you care. And if they don’t want to talk, they won’t. If it feels like you are invading their privacy, ask for permission to bring it up the next time you talk.
Give a gift card for a date or offer to watch their kids.  Investing in your marriage when your marriage is really a place of pain is hard!!!!!!! Any way you can help them keep making their marriage a priority is a blessing.  Satan wants them to give up on their marriage, but the Lord wants to help them find a place of real healing.  Be an encourager.
C) As we minister to students who are experiencing an increasing amount of sexual brokenness it is easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed to help them. They need our wisdom, encouragement and counsel more than ever.
Ask regularly about how they are doing walking in purity.  They need regular accountability, the world is talking about sex ALL OF THE TIME.  If we aren’t asking about their sexual struggles, they are receiving far more counsel from the world than they are from the church, we don’t want that to be the case.
The rule of 97%. Often our students tell us 97% of the truth but they are keeping 3% back, often the worst 3% for fear of how we will respond.  We can’t assume they are telling us everything right away.  Things unfold over time.  As they watch us respond to their struggles, they will be more willing to share the more hidden stuff.  Expect them to have more to share. If they shared openly one week, the next week take a minute to ask, “You shared a lot last week, as you thought about what we talked about did anything else come to mind that you would like to share with me?” Make it safe for them to share honestly with you. If they aren’t sharing honestly, they probably aren’t walking in total freedom and they need your help.
Be willing to share parts of your story.  For my husband and I we have never sat down and shared our whole story in one sitting.  But there are many opportunities to share a piece of wisdom or a nugget from your experience as you’re helping students work through purity issues.  As purity issues unfold with your students, you will be amazed how your story will bless and encourage your students if you are willing to share pieces of it.  For example, one thing I like to share OFTEN with our students is the lie that “Purity issues will be easier or fixed when you are married” as that simply isn’t the case.
Lead Purity Groups on Campus.   A majority of our students come into college with sexual baggage past or present.  Give them a place to receive help (Into the Light Bible Study from SHAW is a great resource to start with). Help them to take their pain to Jesus.  We are not a sexual help ministry, we are a disciple-making ministry.  But we can’t be making disciples if we avoid addressing sexual purity.  As for many this is an area that isn’t yet surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.
Celebrate sex in marriage.  Throw bridal showers for your students who are going to get married.  Share how beautiful it is when sex is in the place that God created it to be in.  Help them to have a vision for God’s design.
As a Mommy Missionary we have a unique and complex role- to walk in purity, to support and pray for our husbands as they work on a sex-crazed campus, to give a vision of purity to our students and to shape our children’s hearts and lives in a sexually perverse culture.  You might be able to relate to my story or maybe yours is different. Perhaps you are the one who struggles with porn and you have yet to share this with your husband. Let me encourage you whatever your situation, we can’t do anything in our own strength. We all must seek the Lord as we strive to live Ephesians 5:3 lives. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

From a fellow Mommy Missionary
(If you would like to get in touch with the author of this post please email Sherry at sherrygraf@gmail.com and she will connect you)

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