I should have ordered a small. The baggy t-shirt, with the brazen acronym PMS: PORN MUST STOP printed in boldfaced font, drowned me. Nevertheless, I was proud of it. I designed it online and ordered one for myself and the rest of the “men” in our high school youth group. Later that week, we brazen boys from Nowhere, Minnesota flaunted the shirts at a national Christian conference. We were famous. People pointed, asked for pictures, and wondered where they could get one. At their applauding, the t-shirts became WAR PROPAGANDA.
There was one aspect about the design that went unseen. Printed beneath the unabashed slogan was 2 Timothy 2:22. The reference was the same baby blue as the shirt. It should have been the crowning jewel, but remained invisible. We altogether forgot it was there:
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
I don’t wear the t-shirt anymore. I saw it a few days ago, scowled at it, and tossed it. It’s not that I no longer support its message — it’s that I’ve struggled to follow it.
I was twelve years old when I first sought out video pornography. My father never had a cache of magazines. My older brother never stored secret folders on the computer. I was conniving enough to know where to look, mature enough to know it was wrong, and boyish enough to fall in love with it. By the time my friends were drooling over dames, I had been-there-done-that. I figured that becoming an outspoken anti-porn activist would diminish my desire for it.
I remember watching television with a group of middle school friends. We were scattered in the basement, lounging on plush couches, and fulfilling the reason why the furniture company named itself “Lazyboy.” One of them was a pastor’s kid like me. Clicking through channels, he landed on a lingerie expo. He slobbered like one of Pavlov’s dogs — the others joined him. I jumped off of the couch, hot with anger. “TURN IT OFF!” I screamed. The screen flickered black. They shot astonished glances at me. I swiveled around and stormed up the steps.
When I picked up the landline phone to call my parents, my friend was on the other end talking with his crush.
“And Matt like freaked out. Seriously, I don’t know what his problem is.”
“Yeah, I’m a freak,” I blasted into the mouthpiece.
I slammed the phone back onto the receiver. I was rarely invited to sleepovers or birthday parties after that. We remained friends, but there was always an unspoken chasm between my convictions and theirs. Truthfully, I was just as perverted, but disguised it under a churchy reputation.
I never had sex. Never had a girlfriend in high school. Still haven’t dated in college. To this day, I have never romantically held a girl’s hand. I prided my patience and sealed it with a purity ring. Hand-painted on it was “A MAN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART,” in Hebrew. It has since faded — maybe the image is appropriate.
While I saved myself for marriage, I glued my sexuality to film stars and magazine models. Overtime, I found it easier and easier to look past their humanity. “They are made in God’s image,” I wept. “They are made for our pleasure,” my actions whispered. All the while I raised a megaphone and screamed at my friends to follow me into battle. But no matter how loud my confessions or calls to war, I kept ditching the trenches after every filter and accountability system failed. Frustrated, afraid, and alone, I would defect to enemy lines. God would find me and carry me back home. “I will be perfect this time,” I kept promising him because I was ashamed to be a VETERAN DESERTER.
I thought the battlefields would be more glamorous. For seven years I relived the cycle of sin – confess – sin – confess – sin – confess. I wanted freedom. I wanted to prove to God that I was good enough for him. I wanted to prove to my family that I could fix this. I wanted to prove to the world that the Gospel breaks addiction.
When I failed…
…I cursed my parents:
“You ask vague questions.”
“You never pushed me towards professional counseling.”
“You don’t know what I go through.”
…I justified sin:
“YouTube isn’t a porn site.”
“At least I recognize it’s a problem.”
“It’s everywhere; I can’t help it.”
…I created temptation:
“I’ll only masturbate on Saturdays.”
“I’ll be fine browsing the Internet alone.”
“It’s okay to use the computer this late.”
I was already in college before I realized those lies were shrouding a more insidious one: Pride will set you free. Personal achievement is not a sufficient nor satisfactory reason to fight a war. I tried so hard to quit. But by my own power, even cessation of sin left me empty. If I could go a week, a month, or maybe six without watching pornography, it was easier to ignore the fact I had built a totem pole with myself at the head and God beneath my feet. I despised the simplest command of Jesus: Love God above all else, and love others as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:30-31).
When love for God triumphs, the Internet filters, the accountability groups, and my personal resolve (such as only using Internet in public spaces) all please God.My long history of mistakes has revealed that discipline is an ally — not an answer. Without love, it enslaves. It is humbling to see this now, because I believed through perfect discipline that I could become perfect.
Truthfully, my foxhole is an uncomfortable and complex place. War is filled with shrapnel, scars, and suffering. Supermarket magazine racks still grab for my desire like a soldier’s agony to scratch his limbs after amputation. My choices are marked by past, present, and future consequences. Yet in the midst of my daily battle to choose what is good over what is evil, God’s Word carries peace into the trenches. His promises are true and he has not failed even once.
FREEDOM IS FOUND IN LOVE.
For the love of his creation and his law, Jesus Christ was crucified.
(John 3:16, Luke 16:17, Matt. 5:17-20)
The perfect Son of God bowed to death in order that no sin would be counted against us.
(Luke 22:40-44, Luke 23:44-49, Matt. 27:45-54, Rom. 5:6-8)
He rose again to steal the keys of Death and banish Satan to Earth.
(Rev. 1:18, Rev. 12:7-12, Luke 24:36-49, Matt 28:16-20)
All who believe in the resurrection of Jesus are set free from sin and the second death.
(Luke 12:8-10, Romans 8:1-5)
Christ will come again to destroy Satan and establish a new heaven and new earth.
(Luke 21:25-28, Romans 16:19-20, Rev. 20:7-10)
God’s eternal reign will be free of death, mourning, weeping, and pain.
Eternal life belongs to those who persevere in their love for God.
(Rev. 3:11-13, Psalm 15:1-5, Luke 12:32-34, Matt. 10:16-22, Matt. 24:9-14)
The Spirit of God lives in us and spurs us on to endure temptation and persecution.
(Romans 7:5-6, John 14:26)
Obedience out of love for God, even unto death, glorifies him.
(Rev. 12:11-12, Rev. 20:4-6, Rev. 14:12-13, 1 Thess. 1:2-5, Romans 6:1-4, Romans 6:17-18)
Believers rejoice in freedom amidst suffering for Christ’s sake.
(Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:26-29, 1 Peter 4:12-13)
Originally, I was going to title this article PMS: PORN MUST STOP, because I knew it would likely draw more readers. But as I reflected on this, I realized that the title was calling attention to the wrong focus. I changed it to FREEDOM IN THE FOXHOLE because I’d rather turn heads towards God’s promise to meet his children in the heart of suffering. He meets me at my bedside when nightmares replay my past. He stands beside me when I pray for discernment the moment my computer boots up. He forgives when my thoughts dishonor him. And he champions each moment I avert magazine racks and click-bait to choose what is better: Love of God.