Tell Me Your Secret | Pornography
To the courageous man behind these words,
to every man who finds his own voice through these words,
you are dearly loved.
This was written by a dear friend.
Tell me your secret: Pornography, I’m still learning to love.
The lonesome curse of the introverted recluse, the unbearable shaming weight of the extroverted socialite: pornography, at its core, is our broken generation’s poor excuse for human love.
Everything around us is different. We weren’t supposed to look like this. In as much as technology has advanced mankind, it has also receded our humanity to an impersonal, self-loathing collective of isolated individualism. We weren’t supposed to look like this. Love wasn’t supposed to look like this. God’s eyes see an unfulfilled generation of victims. Yet, as these victims, we have more reason than ever to hope, to depend on a power far beyond our capacity to fight. As victims of our own circumstance, we have the greatest capacity of all – to make His power manifest through every fragile weakness that composes our form – a fragmented form of a most precious, most lovable and most loved humanity. Being independently broken down as isolated men through our own weaknesses, we are united together by our collective pain for each other, for God we rise and rise, and rise yet again. I have hope. I’m still learning to love.
At the start of it all
There are times when it becomes clear to me that a deeper secret and a darker need, deeper and darker than my shackling habits, is in fact the strongest link in the chains holding me down. It is at the start of it all. Shunning aside every burning pre-pubescent lust, every teenage egoistic urge for admiration, every narrow-minded adult’s desire to express masculinity, there he sits, the small lonely child in my heart, repeatedly demoralized by every manifestation of the pain of his rejection. At times I cannot look into the mirror. I see his green eyes, desperate and teary, insecurely staring into mine. Swiftly, I look away. It isn’t the shame of his glare that I hide from, it’s the fear. Fear that every repressed negative belief about myself is in fact true. Fear that the small, lonesome child inside of me is unloved and well and truly unlovable. Ultimately rejected even by the fantasies that barely uphold themselves, the fragments of lies amount to a firm belief. At times, I avoid even sitting in silence, in prayerful meditation, because all I can hear is the child’s desperate voice, begging to be loved.
He hasn’t met my expectations as the presentable young man he should have become by now, the one he dresses like and acts to be. He’s simple, a feeble soul, with a thorough and shaken vulnerability like no other; broken, seemingly like no other. Broken, so very, very broken. He was only a child when he first saw that one explicit image, yet before he could resolve the anxiety of the trauma, he began to crave it more. It became his most intimate, valued treasure. He owned it. It became my porn. Over the years, at times, through the confusion and the turmoil, a balanced vision seeps through, and the single prayer of the child that lies at the core of my struggles repeats itself – the prayer I subconsciously prayed before I even knew what sex was, before I was even conceived. “Dearest God, please give me a kind, gentle hand to hold, that is all I ever desire.” As a growing man, nothing changed much since the start of it all. Rummaging through the endless pictures and clips, the child within me fantasises about that pure loving hand that now looks so vulgar and warped, yet as a man starving for love, not knowing how to love, I both reluctantly and desperately cling to.
The despair that I often find myself in does not stem from a mere frustration at my repeated failures and my feeble incapacity for self-restraint, because I’m already mature enough to be cognizant of my own shortcomings, of the confines of my strengths. I already know that as a human I cannot be defined as just a creation, or even as an end-product of evolutionary chance, but that I am defined as a true understanding of my desires, emotions and ambitions, restricted equally by both reality and self-control. But that’s not it, though. There’s more and I know it. Deep down, I know that there’s a difference. This shakes me at the core of my existence. Not only do I find my deepest and strongest intrinsic drive for expressing human affection, passion and love unexpressed, I find it compulsively expressed towards a lie. I knowingly break off fragments of my valuable heart and hand it over to a phantom, only to see it fall through the formless illusion and hit the ground, dying and unfixable. I rock to and fro between the two extremes of conviction – passionately embracing the pseudo-love because it numbs the emptiness, then retracting back to the true emptiness, woefully regretting my indulgence that left me emptier than before. Past my bold masculinity and the insensitive jesting, past the hoarse-voiced laughter and the aggressive ambition, there’s a fragility that goes untouched for deathly fear of being destroyed. There’s an overprotected intimacy, spoilt rotten by the ever-fulfilled delusional need to be silent, to be cocooned in a mind that is far too afraid to be revealed.
And the cycles begin, the painful patterns that I draw in my mind. Like rivers flowing through the valleys collapsing into the ocean to their demise, the variety of reasons pave their way through the valleys of my thoughts eventually gravitating to the single pool of demise – a pornographic ocean. A vast, vast solution to every rejection, every worry, every anger, every hunger and every isolation of experience. Too thirsty to even believe in freshwater reserves – in a holy, fulfilling and fulfilled sexuality – I’m allured by the ocean that provides its illusive worth of an unquenching mass of water, it leaves me even drier and thirstier that before. And I hate it, I hate myself for allowing it to make me what it made me.
I hear the people sing, ‘no man is an island’, yet in maturing I became the dictator of the island of my mind, I drove out the interpersonal society that began to flourish inside of me and I pushed away the edifying exterior influences that should have thrived within. Soon, I became that very island that no man can survive as. I became a man on my own terms, I became a man on my own, nothing more than an aged, shielded iteration of that terrified child inside. The child that is far too terrified to risk the pain of rejection that comes in its infinite forms and retracted deep inside your heart since the start of it all. “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19). If it doesn’t even make sense to myself, how can I expect it to make sense to anyone else if I was to ever tell them? So I hide it. What kind of a Christian, deacon, fiancé, husband, lover and father can look like I do? So I hide it from my family, from my friends, from my relationships, but I cannot hide it from God, so I hide myself from God entirely…
Recycling the cycles of guilt and pain
The first stage of dealing with my guilt, is embracing my problem for what it truly is. For that reason, I have referred to pornography as my porn. It is mine. As I child I owned it as my dark, vile treasure, now I own it as the very key to my liberation. My porn is both the chains holding me down, and the means through which my chains will be broken through the loving grace of God. He says that the truth will set me free. My ownership is that truth. His unfailing acceptance is that truth. My liberation from guilt is that truth. My honesty is that truth that will set me free. Henri Nouwen says,
“Self-realization…is the growing ability to allow the dark side of our personality to enter into our awareness and thus prevent a one sided life in which only that which is presentable to the outside world is considered as a real part of ourselves. To come to an inner unity, totality and wholeness, every part of our self should be accepted and integrated. Christ represents the light in us. But Christ was crucified between two murderers and we cannot deny them, and certainly not the murderers who live in us.”
As with most painful experiences in our lives, once we learn to look past the suffering, an opportunity for compassion arises. God leverages our suffering, even that which is self-inflicted, to open up our hearts to a greater absolute truth – that humanity shares an overpowering need to be loved. I have always wondered why we need to be loved, why we need to give love and to make it. God’s image, our very selves, reflect His same passion in giving and receiving back from us, that which is given to us of Himself. That is God within us. That is God in others, which is in so much need for expression. The hours of suffering that follow the hours spent with my porn are incredibly dark, but they are a dark window opening my heart to the sleepless night of pain of those around me. I hear the words of the Psalmist, “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth…The ploughers ploughed on my back; they made their furrows long” (Ps 129:2-3). Oh, how they’ve made their furrows in me so very, very long.
In the same way that porn is the lustful sugar-coating to my deep need for love, those around me that seek to fulfil their own need for intimacy and love colour their own hunger in a rainbow of expression. As my brother who I love, I invite you to take that silent heaviness as a moment of heartfelt, powerful prayer lifted up out of your own pain for the widespread suffering of the world. Lift up a prayer. For the girl you once loved, who out of a desperate, frantic need for validation, preferred to be lusted over and fantasised about than to subdue to the terrifying risk of her commitment to you. For your friend who it pains you to see dressing and acting provocatively to entice men through her seemingly immoral desire for sex, who deep beneath her wanting, lustrous eyes, an aching sadness and a begging for acceptance is buried. For your closest friend, who amidst the heavy bitterness and the disheartening complications of his soul, couldn’t find it in himself to even smile at your success. For your aggressive friend, who rages and furiously seeks out his own, yet only rages for and furiously seeks out a deeper conviction that he is worth loving. For your father who couldn’t love you, who, because of his misunderstanding of your adolescent pseudo-resentment towards him, lost the capacity to love himself and lost faith in the very value of his own fatherhood. For your bitter and discontented grandfather, who through the years, lost little-by-little the very love he spent his life building his heart upon. Feel their pain and forgive, “for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). They do not know how much hurt their pain has caused. Feel their pain my brother, that is the same pain that you hide behind your smile. Only in our darkest hours, can we see that we’re so very broken too and our hearts become ever kinder by the searing pain. ‘When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become,’ Henri Nouwen.
Pray for the deceptively seductive rainbow of pain arching over the world, for you are no more than a fragment of the brokenness of this earth and our porn is the explicit visual realisation of that same reality.
This is the glorious blessing that your porn can bring once you embrace it as a warped definition of your humanity, as your deep and great capacity for love, as misdirected as it may be. It hurts only because you are so loving, so affectionate, and so caring – it hurts because it makes you see how truly isolated and closed off you are.
It’s time to share. But first, learn to forgive yourself. It isn’t your fault that your heart became so enslaved in these sexual perversions. Your fluctuating cravings and indulgences don’t change the truth about yourself. You’re still that pure child your mother raised you to be, the one who she taught absolute and unconditional respect for women. You’re still the protective brother who loves and respects every inch of his sister’s femininity and virtue. You are not your struggle. You are loved by God so incredibly deeply, not on the condition of an unfaltering purity, but by nature of your existence and for your persistent desire to return to Him, your Father, clothed in rags, smelling of swine, yet still the most valued, most precious, most beloved little child. ‘God said “Love Your Enemy,” and I obeyed Him and loved myself’ (Khalil Gibran). He says, “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion” (Ps 2:6). On Christ you are established, “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mat 5:14). Your light cannot be hidden. Though the hilltop lamp may flicker and be put out by the wind, “a smoking flax He will not quench” (Mat 12:20). There is still hope in you. There is always hope in you. Forgive yourself and learn to love yourself as deeply as you are loved. You deserve far more than the self-loathing that only you impose on yourself. Listen to his voice “for the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:27).
“But if you are a poor creature…- straddled, by no choice of your own, by some loathsome sexual perversion – nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex…do not despair. He knows about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap heap and give you a new one.”
C. S. Lewis
Sharing is caring
“But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head” (Psalms 3:3). My glory is in God’s acceptance and protection, not in my own capacity to keep myself pure. There is no shame, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). On your journey learning to love a wholesome, perfect love, begin by letting go of your fears to let that love inside and to allow it to flourish through its ever-transparent and honest vulnerability. “It’s not easy. Fear will tell us all the many reasons not to share, all the reasons why we should hide. It is a scary thing to take your darkness and expose it, because what if no one accepts our dark? I’ve learned not to be afraid, not to be afraid firstly of my own dark, and not to be afraid of other people’s. Never forget the truth that you are more. You are more than your worst mistake. You are more than your shame. These words of your weakness don’t define you.” (Makrina)
By learning to be vulnerable, I’m learning to love. I’m learning to hand over to my fellow man, the depths of my fear and the dark reason for my inability to truly love.
Usually, it isn’t our own flaws that we present to others that repel them away, it’s the flaws that we desperately try to hide from them which creep out during our interactions with them that repulse them. It’s the masks we put on that we try to deceive them with that drive them further away from us. Unravelling the truth of our own weakness is never as abhorrent as unravelling the lie that hid it away.
Let him out
Once I came to the conclusion that my porn is my own, that it does not define me, that it’s a desperate expression to fill the love-less, isolated void in my heart and that sharing is the key to filling my void, and ultimately, my freedom, then came the time for inner resolution.
Call him out. Call out the terrified green-eyed child inside your heart and let him heal in Sun of Righteousness. Call him out and comfort him. With a gentle, newly-found understanding teach him little-by-little that love is not in the shadows, it is not his shameful, dirty secret, it is not a wasted fantasy, but a loud and sacrificial truth. Teach him to speak of his own pain and struggle, teach him that his vulnerability empowers his loved ones to feel liberated in their own struggles, to allow them to feel the pain that we all share as a broken humanity without fear of shame. When he’s hurting, teach him to hear His Father’s words,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer 31:3). Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isa 1:18). I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Luke 5:32). I have come for you, my broken, hurting child. I have come so that you do not have to live as an island – isolated, ever-retracting and self-loathing.”
And the healing child inside you can reply,
“I am dark, but lovely (Songs 1:5). Why should I be as one who veils herself? (Songs 1:7) The king has brought me into his chambers (Songs 1:4). I’m healing by my shedding. I’m becoming vulnerable to become intimate. For God, I will rise, and rise, and rise yet again. Pornography, my chains and the key to unleashing my chains, I’m still learning to love.”
As for me, you may ask who I am. I am your dark past and your hopeful future. I am your father and you mother, who did not know how to teach you to love when you recoiled to the safety of your porn. I am your friend who you waited long for to hear my secret so that you can tell me yours, and that we can both grow in love and be free from our pain. I am your brother who was too anxious to give to you the gift of your own liberation. I am your future self – the loving husband who can be as honest about his weakness as he is about his strengths. I am your future self – the vulnerable and caring father telling his children about his struggles with porn, helping them learn themselves to love, to open up and to share their pain. In our shared pain, I am an embodiment of your hope.
I am a fragmented form of a most precious, most lovable and most loved humanity.
Pornography, I’m still learning to love.