“Danae?” knock knock on the bathroom door.
“Can you come out? I need to tell you something.”
I opened the door to see my brother, his face so expressive like all of us Allens and today it showed the emotion of a broken, sad, and hurting man. My baby brother, who filled the space between us with these words,
“I need to tell you that I’ve been addicted to pornography and masturbation for the past ten years and I’ve finally decided to get healing from it. I’ve told Mom and Dad, I’m going to tell Kaeli, and I’m getting a sozo and attending an accountability group.”
I could only wrap him up in my arms and feel love for him, tell him how I loved him in that moment.
This week, this same man, my brother Ches, five and a half years older and freer than he was that summer of his confession, stood in a room of 50 high schoolers with strength, dignity, humility, and compassion, and shared his story. The details of the deep, hidden struggle that had begun so early in his life, the first time he had looked at porn, the agony he felt for a decade being bound to this addiction, to the dopamine hits that indulged his brain but left him feeling desperate and ashamed.
He was the son of church elders, the brother of worship team members, a leader in his school, on the soccer field, in his youth group, yet was believing lies that he wasn’t enough, he wouldn’t amount to anything, he was a failure, he wasn’t brave and these insecurities and pain drove him to feed the addiction more and more. Upon leaving for ministry school in California, he thought he could get over the problem since he would have little to no privacy with a roommate present, but that too was a lie. He shared the biggest lie he had bought into: that this problem was ultimately shameful and he needed to get over it on his own. It was something that was accomplished if only he could muster up enough willpower to resist the temptation that surrounded him on every side.
But he couldn’t.
It took ten years of failed attempts and then, finally, the Holy Spirit’s presence and a podcast where a pastor blatantly stated, “You cannot get over this addiction on your own.” were the motivation he needed to do something.
So Ches told someone. And then he told a few others. And finally, he told his family and began to lean into the healing he desperately desired.
He shared of the moment when he told our dad about the addiction. Our dad – the son of an army colonel and one who raised us in a strict, God-honoring home, taught us that our actions have consequences and that we were accountable for them. Where rewards and recognition (and sometimes love and grace) were earned for good behavior and obedience not out of unconditional love. Our dad – whom Ches was sure would stand back, arms crossed over his chest with a harsh look of disapproval on his face – instead put his arms on his son’s shoulders and prayed peace, love, and acceptance over him, banishing with the powerful name of Jesus the demons of shame and condemnation that were plaguing him. He loved Ches in his weak and pain-filled state and showered him with grace and mercy.
Later, in an inner healing prayer meeting, Ches remembered and pictured the first time he had looked at porn. When prompted to look for Jesus in that memory, Ches was surprised to realize that He was standing behind him.
He expected Jesus to have His arms crossed, shaking his head to express His disapproval fully and with fury and condemnation.
Instead, his loving Savior was near, present, and devastated with sadness and compassion. Ches realized that what Jesus was feeling in that moment was not disgust or anger.
It was pain.
Jesus was pained by what He could see the next ten years of Ches’ life would be tainted by, what Ches would be in bondage to. The agony, the shame, the secrets that would burden him and keep him from deeper relationship with Him.
That encounter with a loving God instead of a judgmental one was another massive moment that catalyzed my brother’s healing. Jesus spoke the truth to refute the lies that Ches had believed most of his life:
You are enough.
You will succeed.
You are brave.
Our perceptions of God will always affect the lies we believe and the ability we have or don’t have to find freedom from our demons and sins. Always.
Ches left the youth with four steps to start the journey of finding their own freedom:
- Acknowledge that you can’t do this alone
- Get your root issues dealt with through inner healing
- Get in serious accountability
- Encounter the accepting love of God
As I introduced my brother to the youth group this week, I wanted to make it clear that his vulnerability and humility to myself and our family only moved me to a place of deep respect for his courage. Ches had feared judgement, accusation, disappointment from us because of the expectations of righteousness and purity in our family. But instead he was surprised by the grace of the Holy Spirit which is available to all of us.
How much shame in our culture could be dispelled if more lovers of God listened for His heart, His posture of acceptance, His deep desire to restore to wholeness and modeled that to those deep in the struggle? How many more men and women in our churches could find healing if first, we actually talked about it more publicly, understanding that the porn-addicts statistics in the church are equal to that in the world and second, they were met with love, truth, and support to get the root issues taken care of? Accountability alone will not be effective enough. Your heart must change.
Our “broken” oozes out of us; it was never meant to stay inside. It looks like different things on each of us and who is to say that one person’s brokenness expressed is more private, more secret, more shameful than another’s?
With such pride and love and respect for my brother, I share his powerful story with you. He closed his testimony with these words, effectively casting the net of hope for those listening:
“Today, I am able to look my wife and my baby girl in the eyes knowing that I have nothing to hide from them, and that is the best feeling.”