January 17, 2015

When Life Presses Restart

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The other day I was reflecting on the first week of the new semester.  For over ten years I have taught music and I am no stranger in having to say goodbye to students and begin new relationships with new students.  It has not always been an easy thing for me to do.  Especially when I had two semesters back-to-back of classes filled with students who were just amazing.  

Several times I have also had to say goodbye to tearful private students and their parents.  Some of those goodbyes were very special to me.  Some of those goodbyes have made me a better teacher.

But even though I have some practice in goodbyes, letting go of what I have can be so difficult.  Just the thought of having to restart all over again can be overwhelming.  It can even be heartbreaking.  

And life is full of restarts, isn't it?  Dating relationships, friendships, schools, universities, jobs, moving, a new pet, a new season of life... all these things require letting go and starting over. 

For me, what has been the most difficult thing in these situations is not knowing how the future of a student or students will be.  I want to know that they will be okay and I wish to witness their accomplishments and see them become their own persons.  

But then I realize that whenever we are willing to teach or encourage someone else we help form their future.  When we show someone that their life matters to us we are witnessing them become their own person.

And heaven knows that in this day and age we all need people in our lives who are willing to press restart and try a new relationship with us.

In my darker moments of ruminating I have focused on the pain experienced at the end of things.  How intolerable at times the pain of goodbye can be.  And I wondered, how many disappointments can a person suffer before running the risk of becoming embittered or hopeless?  

And then I wondered why God allows so many restarts in a person's life?  It isn't that they are all sad and melancholy but it seems that as we age there tend to be more goodbyes then not.

Some things have never changed from the beginning of time and saying goodbye is one of them.  I mean, have you ever wondered what the rest of the story was for Adam and Eve, or Esther, or Joseph, or Priscilla and Aquila? 

I find comfort in knowing that for all the endings we can experience in life God is always willing and eager to restart with us wherever we are in time.  He doesn't get bored or anxious or frustrated or sad.  He yearns for us to take all of our cares to Him so that He can take on the heaviness of life's goodbyes off our shoulders. 

The Bible states that every morning is a restart.  We have another opportunity to bond with God and experience new hellos.  Perhaps this is one of the greatest lessons I have learned from all my students over the years.  Goodbyes are simply making way for new beginnings, new hopes, new dreams, new futures.

We don't always know what happens next in someone's life, and if we're honest we don't even know what will happen next in our own. But maybe that's because we really don't need to know.  Maybe what is most important is appreciating the moments we have a part in telling today. Appreciating the now rather than worrying about tomorrow or lamenting yesterday.

The Bible gives glimpses of an eternity that is a future of hope and love and peace. As a Christian I believe that one day I will sit with many I have met and learn all about the rest of their stories and how God never fails.  It would certainly be a wonderful way to spend a sliver of eternity. 

" The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
' The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I will hope in Him.'"
~ Lamentations 3:22-24

January 08, 2015

She Said The M Word

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Caution Please

Because I wish to honor the Lord in what I write anywhere online I will begin by stating that the topic in this post contains sensitive material.  Please exercise wisdom in your particular situation. May the Lord be honored and may those seeking His grace be brought closer to Him.

The What and Why

This post has been a long time in the making.  I have wrestled with whether-or-not to place it on this blog.  This is partly because I have been fearful to share my personal experiences and partly because Christian women just don't talk about this topic.  I know now that it actually does more harm than good to keep certain struggles a secret.

What on earth am I talking about?  The M word.  The word that for so many women brings feelings of shame, loneliness, and bitterness.  I am talking about masturbation.

There is a belief in society today that men struggle in this area but that women do not. This belief couldn't be further from the truth.  It either puts women on an impossible pedestal or completely undermines their innate sexuality.  Women can and often do struggle just as much as men do.

So many women feel as if they are the only one struggling.  They don't realize that there are many, many women who are afraid to say anything because they believe the same lie.

I personally never truly realized how "taboo" this topic tends to be until a friend broached the subject with me one day.

One Afternoon

I will never forget that afternoon.  We were sitting in her kitchen visiting when all of a sudden she became very quiet and her body language screamed discomfort.  I asked her if she was alright and she looked at me with tears in her eyes. A moment later she shared with me one of the most painful secrets of her life:  She wrestled with masturbation and has tried to stop repeatedly and failed.

There was a pause and I realized that she was holding her breath waiting to see how I would react.  I remembered thinking, " Why is she telling me this?  What could I possibly say that would be an encouragement to her?"  And then God gave me the words she needed to hear.

" You are not alone."  And it was as if a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders.  And I felt the same way.  She told me that confessing her secret sin was something God had been encouraging her to do but she didn't know who to tell.  And then I came to visit and she felt I was the right person.

We spent several hours sharing our struggles and exploring theories behind past failures and how that in turn affected our relationship with the Lord.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  Chances are that if you are still reading this it is because you also have felt alone in this struggle and have been discouraged by repeated failure and grieved by the associated distance from the Lord.

My Journey

The reasons behind why people struggle with any habitual sin can be complicated. I am not a psychologist or a saint.  My word is not the final word on any matter. Please study the Bible and pray to the Lord for guidance on this topic and how He wishes to lead you.

For me the struggle began when I was eleven years old.  I didn't know it at the time but that day would mark the end of my innocence.  I was at the home of a trusted family friend.  I remember playing dolls upstairs with the eldest teenage daughter.

She stepped out of the room for several minutes during which time her teenage brother entered and sexually assaulted me.  Up until that moment in time no man or boy had ever wronged me.  My mind couldn't even imagine anything of a sexual nature.  It was a complete and terrifying shock.

What happened to me was wrong.  What happened to me was not my fault.  But I was told in no uncertain terms to never speak of what happened to anyone.  Instead I was encouraged to believe that what happened was, " No big deal."  And so I chose to believe the lie and keep the whole ordeal a secret.  I never prayed about it, I never wrote it down in a journal, I never shared it with a friend or my parents.

My pain remained a secret for over eighteen years.

As time went by I literally forgot about the assault and focused on other things. But my choice to forget only made my suffering worse. I won't go into all the details about my suffering during those difficult years, perhaps something to share on another post.  But I will say that one of the symptoms of my pain manifested in the form of masturbation.

This was not unusual, as I later discovered through research and counseling.  I can say that God has done miraculous work in my life.  After I confronted the truth about my assault I finally was able to begin healing. I saw God reviving the pure, trusting, hopeful little girl I once was so long ago.  For the first time in so many years I felt like there was hope.

God still loved me!  He didn't reject me or judge me for the wrong choices I had made.  He wanted to help me heal and become the woman He created me to be. But even though I suffered a terrible thing and even when it wasn't my fault I still had a responsibility to live in a manner that honored the Lord.  I didn't know it at the time but the battle for supremacy over my secret sin was just beginning.

Strategies for Battle

One of the first things God helped me realize was that sexual urges and consequent actions begin in the mind.  More to the point, my mind forms thoughts based on what type of information I feed it.  So I began studying myself.  What were my habits?  What were my feelings before, during, and after behaving in a habitual manner?  In my mind I saw the act of sinning like the part of a plant you readily see above the surface of the soil.  There is more hiding underneath.  The roots.

I soon learned that there were certain things that either encouraged or discouraged my sin.  Triggers, if you will.  For instance, whenever I saw a scene in a movie or TV show that had sexual implications, I struggled with impure fantasies.  

But I struggled the most when I gave in to temptations that I had a habit of turning towards like a security blanket.  For me my "trigger" of choice came in the form of erotic fantasies I read in fanfiction. I did not realize it was a trap.  I didn't know how addicting it would become for me.

God helped me find the "root system" to my sin by encouraging me to uncover why I turned to sin in the first place.  Then began the hard work of pulling it out.  And that brought me to the real ugliness hidden inside my heart.  

Most of the time masturbation is accompanied by fantasy.  Either a woman fantasizes about a real person or a fictional person.  But regardless of whom the fantasy features, the subject is generally not one's spouse.  It is the subject of fantasy that has a person's full attention and affection and this is a form of worship.  Worshipping anyone or anything other than God is idolatry.  And that truth spurred me to dig deeper until I understood that even my fantasies were a symptom. 

 Just how deep did the rabbit hole go?  How far did the root system extend?

I had not one but two idols and they were: comfort and attention.  I soon recognized that often whenever I felt bored or lonely I turned to fanfiction and that fueled my fantasies.  I was not turning to the Lord for the encouragement and support my spirit, heart, and mind so desperately needed.  It was wrong on so many levels.

But I was afraid to let go.  Whatever would I do without my sinful security blanket?  Pleasure equalled comfort.  Fantasy equalled personal attention.  This was a clarity about myself I could only learn from God.  And I was disgusted by my own self.  How could God stand to be anywhere near me?

Victory in Truth

And that's when the Bible came alive with new meaning.  For the first time I saw what Jesus did on the cross for me clearly.  I was trapped in a cycle of sin and shame and Jesus took them off my shoulders and placed them upon his own.  He died in order to take the penalty God would have dealt me otherwise.  Jesus Christ saved me from myself.  And because of His love I am a new creation.  

That doesn't mean I am free from temptations.  It doesn't mean that I am no longer wrestling with my fleshly longings.  It doesn't even mean that I have victory every time I'm tempted.  Complete, regenerative healing of the spirit and soul can only happen once we die.

But Christ's death in my place secures for me, and anyone who puts their trust in Him, power to fight back for today. I have His strength to resist if I want to do so. It means that I am not condemned or unworthy of God's love because His love is not conditional to anything I do or don't do. That was already decided at the cross. It is finished.

My friend also struggles with feelings of loneliness and a need for comfort.  She too sees triggers that make resistance difficult.  But we both realized that through God's strength we are more than conquerors.

Here are a few practical things we came up with that have helped:

1.  Know your personal triggers.  Study yourself and be honest.

2.  Avoid your triggers.  Not an easy thing I know.  Practice.  Habits can be undone.

3.  Follow your train of thought.  Why are you doing x,y,z?  Why are you feeling x,y,z?  

4.  Repeat step three until God reveals the root cause(s). Remember you must dig deep.

5.  Repent and claim God's promises.

6.  Remember the victory of the cross.

7.  Share with others what God is doing in your life.

8.  Study the Bible and pray every day.  The more time you spend with God the easier it will be to 
     recognize His will in any situation.

9.  Ask God to grant you strength to resist temptation and added protection when you are most 
     vulnerable such as:  when you go to bed at night.
      
10.  When tempted recite a few verses that are meaningful to you and sing or hum worship songs.

Be Renewed

The Bible says that we must renew our minds.  Romans 12:2

God does not see us as unworthy of His love.  We are not judged by anyone in heaven because of Jesus and His sacrifice. Romans 8:1

But this is not an excuse to continue in habitual sin.  I Corinthians 6:12

Our physical bodies are now the temple where the Holy Spirit lives.  I Corinthians 3:19-20

The only way to please God is to obey Him.  Fight against your lusts.  The Bible goes further and says we must kill our fleshly desires.  That is the battle.  Colossians 3:5

Living each day in this way is God's will for our lives.  Obeying Him in this, no matter how painful it may seem in the moment, brings victory.  I Thessalonians 4:3

Resist temptation with God's strength and Satan and his demonic forces will flee from you. James 4:7 

Remember that Jesus came to heal the sick.  If you struggle with habitual sin you are in good company and Jesus is willing and able not only to forgive you but to free you from all shame.  

"When Jesus heard this he told them, ' Healthy people don't need a doctor--
sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous,
but those who know they are sinners.'"
~ Mark 2:17

Links

Below are a few ministries and blogs that have been an encouragement to me.  Feel free to visit and share.  And if there is anything in this post that you would like me to expound upon in future posts please let me know in the comments.

May God bless you in your desire to live a life that honors Him.  In Christ you have the victory.

~~~

hornychristiansinglegirl.wordpress.com: A great blog filled with honest and encouraging insight and testimonies.

dirtygirlsministries.com:  A ministry that focuses on the sexual temptations Christian single women face.  A wonderful place to be encouraged and to find resources. It also has opportunities for women retreats that focus on this area of Christian single life.

Christian Singles: Celebrate Your Sexuality:  A webpage that is part of a very in-depth look at singles and the struggles of sexual sin and masturbation.  Fantastic resource.

Stephanie: An Open Book: A wonderful and honest testimony that is worth the read.

A Balanced View on Singleness: Fantastic post on boundless.org, a website specifically geared to helping and encouraging Christians singles in our modern times.

Getting to the Root of Female Masturbation: An insightful and sympathetic post about issues that affect women.