[Written especially on 8178, 62511, 112311 as stemming from Living Sacrifices: Celibacy, pt. 1, and finishing additions on 224-2513]
*DISCLAIMER: The following essay is a completely honest look at how lust operates and how to overcome it, thus awkward, graphic, personal details are mentioned in exchange for helping people to break free. It is written with an audience of single men in mind. I guess I picked now to finish this essay because I happen to be going through a lust-free time of my life and I feel less hypocritical posting it.*
- Definition of lust: An extreme, excessive, indulgent desire for something.
- My definition of lust: desiring that which you should not, will not, or cannot have.
Why is lust wrong?
1st because it makes you to suffer, as you are in agony desiring something which you cannot, or will not, or should not have. Lust is similar to coveting and both are wrong for the same reasons.
2nd because it distracts you, divides your mind so that you can’t focus on God, life, etc. It divides/distracts your heart so that you don’t have as much passion to do the things you are supposed to do, because you have passion for something else besides your calling (what you’re supposed to be doing) also. Divided passions. So that when you do what you’re called to do, your heart isn’t completely in it to make the best product, your mind isn’t completely in it to make it the best product (through analyzing how to make it really best). You have 2 passions: one is fulfilled partially by completing a watered-down version of your calling; and the other one (the lust) isn’t fulfilled at all. So what’s the point?
3rd because it’s pointless. You desire something you cannot have so you never get it, you just waste your time and passion wanting it for the sake of wanting it. There’s no point in entertaining your desires for something if you will not or should not ever get it. Why not desire something you can have now and work to get it so that your desire is satisfied? Think about something that will produce something to benefit God and others.
4th because it cannot be satisfied. Lust is desiring something you cannot have. So if you desire the unattainable your desire will never be satisfied because it will never be attained. The more you think about it, the more you will want it and the more you will think about it. The more you entertain it, the more you think about it and want it, so that it’s all the harder to suppress, all the harder to break free from, all the harder to regain complete focus (possibly ever again) or any focus at all. All the harder to fulfill your calling as best you can, if at all.
5th because it makes you defenseless to temptation. Desiring evil makes you more likely to actually do the evil which you desire, and if you do ever get what you desire, then you screwed up and have sinned. Because the only reason what you’re doing is considered lust is because you are desiring something you should not (whether it is impossible, unprofitable, or abominable). No one desires something simply for desiring it and then leaves it alone. If I entertain fantasies of lust in my mind, that same state of mind exists in the real world so that my eyes look the same places they do in my mind, when given the opportunities to. And if my desires make me, in my thoughts, do things I shouldn’t, when Evil presents those opportunities in reality I will be all the more likely to give in to those same temptations I already gave into in my mind. I’m at least more likely than if I already resisted those temptations in my mind and have set my mind against entertaining those thoughts and the actions that follow. The more you give into lust, the more you want it, the more it controls you, and so the less you can resist it. You cannot logically reason with your desires when your mind isn’t sober (intoxicated from being under the influence of your physical desires). You cannot control your desires when they control you.
Lust: Desiring that which is impossible, unprofitable, or abominable.
Why is lust wrong?
or P.I.S.D.D. (perhaps in order of severity)
Abstaining from entertaining your body’s natural sex drive seems unfair at times, especially because it’s like you have an “intense euphoria button” on your body right next to where your hand naturally lies, but you’re not supposed to press it. It’s like taking someone whose favorite food is chocolate and putting a piece of it in their mouth and telling them not to eat it.
I used to think (as most men do) that living a lust-free life is not possible, it’s just part of a man’s daily life. And I freely confess that I still struggle against my day dreams and wandering eyes (sometimes giving in), but I also confess that I know what it’s like to be broken free from the bondage of lust, and it’s so much better than any temporary ecstasy that has such addictive baggage. I can only speak for myself, but in my own life, solely by God’s amazing grace, he chose at 3 different times to keep me from lust for over 6 months. By that I’m not saying that I didn’t have sex, make out, look at porn, or masturbate in those allotments of time, what I’m saying is I never even entertained a lustful temptation in my head nor was I sexually stimulated once. I could get into the specifics of this topic, but even in such a personal essay as this there are still some things too personal for the internet. I’m hesitant to even share that lest I be judged as being prideful. And actually it’s to my shame that I’m even astonished at those streaks, because I should be lust-free all the time, and also because it means I’m comparing myself to others. But I share this for the sake of telling you firsthand from experience that, in a society where Christians don’t think it’s possible not to lust, it IS possible to live a life where you don’t give into lust.
I remember those days well when I was so consumed with lust that my eyes would glaze over and I couldn’t even see straight (literally/physically-speaking) and I’d almost get in car-wrecks my thoughts were so distractingly powerful and vivid. But lust is an addiction, and just like any other addiction it needs to be fed more and more to get the same buzz until finally it’s so powerful that it rules you and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop. I’ve been there and I’ve found that after many failed attempts to get rid of the addiction the only thing I can do is fall to my knees and cry, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” That’s when God gives you just a spark of motivation to break free, and at that moment you have the choice of staying on that road of addiction (to whatever danger it leads) or turning around and starting on the road to freedom. However hard it is, it’s at least possible (whereas before it was impossible). In that moment your choice will determine your future. If you act on that little bit of motivation then more motivation will follow, which leads to more and more motivation, until finally you arrive at the place where resisting lust is natural and you don’t have to actively fight against it. Lust is something you will be tempted by and must fight against every single day of your whole life, but you can get to a place (by God’s grace) where you genuinely don’t want it and constantly rejecting it is just another part of life.
Lust reminds me of quicksand (though the analogy breaks down in many aspects). You’re caught off guard by it, and give in just a little thinking it’s not a big deal, and then you give in again (more so than the first time), and ever so slowly you start sinking, getting deeper and deeper in it. Where at first you have enough free will and control to choose to get out of it, eventually the fight to get out is too hard and exhausting. Maybe one day you’ll be motivated to fight against it, and you’ll start breaking free, but the next day you’re too tired and sink back where you were before. Then, realizing your dangerous situation, you’ll be motivated to fight it, but you can’t even make it a day now. Finally you get to the point where you realize you are too far gone to get out now and just give up. Still you are in greater pain now than you ever were before and want out, but realizing you can’t fight it any more, realizing your ultimate depravity, all you can do is cry out to God to save you. It’s then when you give up that you start to float to the top. God throws you down a rope that you can choose to grab on to, and while almost impossible at first (though not impossible), every small pull you take in the right direction is one easier step out, until it becomes easier and easier and finally, by the grace of God, you get to the top. However, on your way out if you stop climbing even once, you start to sink back down. Even when you are at the top, as soon as you stop fighting you start gradually, ever so slowly, sinking back down again. I don’t think you ever get out completely in your whole life, but you can be on top where you aren’t sinking, fighting it is easier, and it’s tug on you is less powerful.
This analogy is the same for any form of addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, food, sexuality, etc.
Getting Past The Breakers:
From personal experience I found that once I reach my depravity (when I become a slave to lust) and cry out to God from the bottom, I wake up the next morning with a strange feeling of stability and an active desire to fight against lust. While it is still at every corner, behind every thought, now I suddenly have the desire (and ability) to say “No!” and so begins the fight of not giving in to even one thought (lest I fall back to the bottom, as is the case with any addiction). The first day is the hardest, and then the second is a little easier, and the third easier still, until you’re ecstatic and begin to taste freedom. Approximately a month down that road is the second biggest challenge, for this is when you start to say to yourself, “I’ve got it nipped in the bud.” It’s then that your guard is down and that whole month’s worth of suppressed desires comes back in one last desperate attempt to reclaim you. And since you let your guard down you don’t have the motivation/barriers needed to fight against it and you inevitably give into it that one time and BAM! you’re back on the bottom, depraved and enslaved again.
There have been so many times when I made it to that one month mark and started to entertain some pride (as if I had anything to with it) and then out of nowhere got ambushed by a temptation I couldn’t resist, and had no defense against its offense.
The keys to freedom are:
1. Recognize that it is merely by God’s grace that you have the motivation to fight against lust (as if you could choose when to be motivated).
2. Resist every single lustful thought, and even thoughts that are associated with/could become lustful thoughts. Thinking about sex isn’t lust, desiring it is. But thinking about sex can easily present you with the thought of desiring it. I’ve boiled it down as far as I can and realized that the road to sexual bondage begins the very first time you’re presented with a mental temptation, and you think “Yes” instead of “No.” Basically, it’s the first time you desire it, saying, “I want it,” instead of “I don’t want it.”
3. Curiosity = Lust. Kill your curiosity and you kill lust. “I’m not going to check her out, but I’m just curious to see what she is wearing.” Or you think, “Is she really wearing that in church?” and your eyes go over and then the image is in your head. You need to get to the point where you don’t even look to see if that image in the corner of your eye (whether that be a real person or an internet ad) is an attractive female or not.
Yes, this means you might have to be a jerk at times. I personally don’t even look at attractive women if I don’t have to, even if that means walking by one on the sidewalk and rudely checking my phone or looking the other way. But better to be a jerk than a pervert, as I always say. I personally try to stay away from women in general as much as I can, unfortunately that isn’t an option for many men, and you have to be around temptation in your life. So your struggle is probably greater than my own. But I do still have to go to church once a week, and I wish I could say that church is a safe haven from temptation, but unfortunately it’s the opposite. I find that that’s the time I’m most tempted all week (and often results in me stumbling later). One thing’s for sure: there’s more cleavage in my church than in my office. What are these girls thinking? Who tries to be sexy at church? How can they not realize they are causing other Christians to sin in the one place that should be a refuge from sin.
Not to compare myself with others, but I assume I struggle with lust less than the majority of Christian males. This is probably because my interaction with females is only a few times a week, if at all, and I don’t watch tv, movies, play video games, surf the web, watch random youtube videos or engage in other situations usually designed to stimulate one’s sexuality. And as ridiculous as it may sound, I think things like wearing boxers (as opposed to boxer-briefs) make it more likely for stimulation to occur.
I don’t know the science behind it, but I’d imagine that certain foods make your sex drive more active. As well, I know from personal experience that if you are sleep deprived, your mind isn’t as alert and you are less likely to be on guard and remember how to combat temptations.
“Go to the Praying Mantis thou whoremonger and consider her ways!”
One more analogy from nature. Consider the praying mantis. After the male and female copulate it is customary for the female to… bite off the male’s head. Hmmmmm. What’s up with that, Darwin? I wonder why the males go in for it, knowing that it will cost their lives. Is it really worth it? A few minutes of ecstasy for an eternity of not living anymore? It seems so foolish and outrageous…until you consider that human males aren’t much different. Consider the people involved in sexual promiscuity and homosexuality, even though they know it’s likely they’ll contract AIDS (which is arguably worse than getting your head bitten off).
If someone came up to you and said, “Come over here and be still while I stab you with this butcher knife,” no one would obey. But if a supermodel came up to you and said, “Come over here and have sex with me… and then I’m going to stab you with a butcher knife,” you might at least think it over. Why is that? What is so powerful about this non-material thing that people would risk pain for it? “Hmmmmm,” some might say. “Is it just one stab?” And honestly, as outlandish as it sounds, I wonder if some men are so lost in lust that they would actually do it. Maybe they’d say, “I’ll get away before I get caught,” or maybe even, “I’ll heal.” Still there are some sad souls who wouldn’t even think at all saying, “Oh well. Whatever.” Wake up! You’re getting stabbed with a flippin’ butcher knife! Look at the reality of the situation!
Likewise, though on a less extreme level, are the few exciting minutes of giving in to lust or porn or masturbation worth the ensuing misery of slavery that follows?
For me personally, the only unavoidable situation for lust (also where it’s most contagious) is the beach where I go for a week annually. Often it has been my goal to go a whole week there lust-free, but it has yet to happen. And many times the beach week has marked the end of one of my lust-free streaks. I recall one year where I was passionately motivated to remain free from lust, but after the first day of being in the sun with bikini girls all around (and remaining pure), all I could do was just lay in bed at night fighting the thoughts and I eventually just got tired and threw all conviction to the wind letting my eyes and mind go crazy that week. However, that initial motivation for purity was bred out of recently breaking free from a cycle of lust, and unfortunately I wasn’t far along enough in my purity. The barriers hadn’t had time to be fortified enough, and so my defenses were easier to break down. Whereas if I’d gone a month or 2 without lusting, it would have been harder for me to go back to that lustful mindset, and taken more time to break down my defenses.
However, even when I wasn’t struggling with wandering eyes at the beach, I found that one of the biggest stumbling blocks is boredom. After a day or 2 of swimming in the ocean and being in awe by it, it just gets boring. When you have to choose between being pure and sitting around bored, or easily giving in to the orgasmic world all around you which is instantly exciting and euphoric, now that’s a tough one.
I’m pretty sure every time my lust-free-streak was broken it had nothing to do with media, but was a time when I was presented with a temptation in real life and thought to myself, “This is just too go to pass up.” If you ever catch yourself thinking that then your are doomed. Good bye freedom, hello months of miserable bondage. Once you give in to look one time, your sex drive sparks and everything in you wants to grow that euphoria as much as it will go (if nothing else for curiosity’s sake), and once the image is in your head it doesn’t matter if she’s not even around anymore, she’s still there in your head tempting you. And once the sex drive gets going, there’s no way to righteously satisfy that.
This usually entails me going about my daily, pure life and then suddenly seeing a random, gorgeous girl with a revealing top bend over right in front of me so I can see everything. Then I have to force my eyes away, and then keep them away. That’s tough. That very situation is was what ended my streak on a mission trip I was on, and then another time at a bowling alley. And the months that followed were months of slavery.
Fighting the thought before it’s in your head:
As soon as you start to think “What if…” you must recognize what’s coming and rebuke that thought. This is very hard to do when lust is something your mind and heart are used to, but if you go several weeks or so of cutting out lust from your system, you’ll be amazed at how much control over your mind you suddenly have. It’s amazing to find that you can actually tell when a lustful thought is coming before it even pops in your head. It’s like your body detects some foreign feeling stirring that it’s not used to. You can just feel it, and you have to fight it right then, before you visualize it/think about it, while it’s still just a feeling. It’s like you can feel a thought forming, or leading to another thought, or you can feel your tendencies kicking in. Sometimes you feel a tendency towards lust in a primal, physical desire form, or sometimes a tendency towards rebellion/breaking the rules/doing whatever you want/being wild. Sometimes you can feel a tendency towards thinking about something you’re not supposed to and then your mind races to think of something you consider taboo (once it realizes it’s trying to think of something considered forbidden it’s very hard to stop it from finding something forbidden, as your brain is designed to automatically connect the dots). I find what helps is when I feel a sinful thought coming (before it’s even visualized) I close my eyes and focus on God, like I’m focusing my attention on another person, and dwell on the holy thought of him or ask him to rebuke this coming evil. And still other times you can feel a tendency towards apathy (not being willing to fight whatever thought pops into your mind). It’s those times of apathy when you are in trouble and you have to recognize your potential danger, and even though you aren’t feeling it with your heart (which is what makes it apathy), cry out for help to God with your mind (though there’s no heart behind your prayer).
I can’t speak for other addictions, but I assume the addiction of sexual lust sums up addiction/lust as a whole. It’s easy to become indignant toward people who smoke/do drugs/drink/fornicate, etc. But the truth is when you’re addicted you do not have the choice of “Am I going to do this or not?” You just do it. There’s no reasoning behind it, no logic. You’ll have spurts of motivation and conviction that make you realize what you’re doing is wrong and then you try to fight it. You’re convinced by all the logic against it and say, “I refuse to do that again. Now I’m going to start fighting it.” Until 5 minutes later when the temptation inevitably pops into your head and you have no way to fight against it, so you give into it yet again. It’s become a part of your life like eating or even breathing. Even when you’re not actually engaged in the activity you’re addicted to you’re thinking about it. All the day. All the time. It is pure misery. Torture.
It gets to the point where it doesn’t even bring you any buzz or relief, but you just have to do it to get it out of your system, so you can get back to living life with at least some normalcy and being able to focus on things other than the addiction for a while. While I can’t speak for other addictions, I have experienced the addiction-to-freedom cycle of lust, and I assume that the same steps involved in breaking free from the addiction of lust are similar to breaking free from any other addiction (even anxiety, romance, etc.).
“Lust neutralizes your spiritual potential.”
Some advice, as was advised to me by one of my spiritual accountability partners: “Don’t set goals in being lust-free. Focus on right now.” Someone told me once he heard if you can go 21 days without giving into your addiction you’ll be broken free, and yet he could never make it to that. But even if you make it past the breakers (as I mentioned previously about the first month of breaking free), all it takes is one day and you’re back to the very bottom. Sometimes it’s more gradual than that, but all it takes is that one thought you subconsciously give in to because your defense was let down/worn down, and then from there on it’s harder to resist each thought after that. Don’t say, “Oh, if I can only make it past the breakers of a month,” or “Let’s see how long this lust-free-streak can go.” It’s not about going a long time without lust; it’s about fighting it moment by moment, day to day, so that it becomes just another daily discipline.
I find that whenever I start counting/trying to figure out how many days/months I’ve gone without it that I start to lose my endurance and motivation to fight anymore. And of course I give in again, sometimes after months of being free. Maybe embracing pride causes you to rest (letting your guard down) and psychologically relaxes your defenses to make you more apathetic, or maybe it’s just a rule God holds you to, “Pride comes before a fall. God hates pride, so if you have pride, he will bring you down.”
The story that often comes to my mind, whenever I number “my” achievements, is when King David numbered the people in his kingdom (Israel). Though he wasn’t doing anything that was obviously wrong or breaking some clear command, he was acting in pride, taking credit for something God did. And God surprisingly took a great offense to it (and proceeded to slaughter thousands of random Israelites until he repented). Then again pride is commonly regarded as the worst of all sins (because it puts us in God’s place), as was Lucifer’s sin that got him kicked out of Heaven and made him the prince of darkness, the personal symbol of Pride.
My Current Status:
As of right now, by God’s grace (and I say this cautiously lest I get smacked back down to addiction in order to humble my pride, as has happened before), I am not ruled by addiction. Whenever I get to these times I think back to when I was living a life of bondage and some of the things I thought and did, and I’m appalled and can’t fathom how I could ever come to that place where I’m numbed to the point of justifying doing those things. And I can’t imagine ever doing them again. And yet inevitably I always fall back into it, and gradually as the addiction takes over more and more of me and becomes a regular part of my life for an extended period of time, then in those times of bondage I’ll think back to when I was free and it doesn’t seem real to me (just like when I was in freedom looking back on bondage that didn’t seem real), because I can’t imagine life being like that, being any other way than this. And in both of those scenarios (freedom and bondage) I think to myself, this is the norm and accept it.
My current strategy for avoiding lust is to simply not think about sex or lust or how long my lust streak has been, etc. Don’t even entertain anything that could be associated with lust, or give it the time of day. When I drive down the road or check emails and see what looks like it could be a sexual ad I don’t even find out, but distract myself from it, scroll past it, squint my eyes and cover that part of the screen. Some of you might think this post is excessive or over-hyped, but say what you want, one thing’s for sure: I’m living the sweet life of freedom from bondage. And while this advice may be extreme (and not as applicable to men in a steady relationship), I think extreme measures need to be taken to break an addiction (though those same measures may not have to remain as extreme to maintain freedom after the addiction is initially broken). But if taking ridiculous steps is what I need to do to remain free I’m more than happy to do it. At least until the beach. 😉