(I wrote this several years ago in response to an anonymous article in my graduate school newspaper. The article was written by a young woman struggling with her husband’s addiction to pornography).
I want to reply to this anonymous article by recounting two experiences. The first occurred recently when, here at graduate school, I talked with a group of new classmates about “prayer and fasting.” Some had tried it, some had not, though no one had anything significant to relate. As the discussion proceeded I became increasingly uncomfortable: I had tried it and had experienced something, something transformative and healing.
My point is not that God answers prayer or makes things “all better” if we pray (and perhaps fast) hard enough. No. My point is that I was embarrassed to speak because the environment precluded the very type of discussion that was sought—how could I be so vulnerable with people I hardly knew, share something so special with a 10 minute time-limit?
The second occurred years earlier when my wife and I grew increasingly anxious as her fourth pregnancy came to term. Her high blood pressure and other symptoms hinted that we might lose another baby. Looking for help, I turned to Ina May Gaskin’s classic, Spiritual Midwifery. Rifling through the book I was completely deflated: where was the help that I needed? Instead of re-assuring information it was simply filled with stories.
Yet as I read the book something strange started to happen. I found myself in the presence of women whose experiences of birth and birthing covered the map—wonderful or tragic, complicated or serenely simple. Yet among them all was the realization that they were involved in something more, something which they did not control, something which they longed for, something supremely real. Through reading their stories, I came to understand that I was not alone.
These two accounts go together.
On the one hand I not only understand but believe the biblical accounts of God healing people because I have experienced such healing in my life. Yet sadly it is also the case that our churches—like seminaries and Christian graduate schools—can often be the very places where discussing our best experiences of God (and sometimes our deepest needs for God) is hardest.
On the other hand, my experience is that God’s healing occurs partly as we tell our stories and hear those of others; as we realize that we are not alone nor without hope here and now: our lives and marriages aren’t designed to endure our brokenness until “eschatological” healing occurs.
Having been sexually abused I have some sense of the pain and recalcitrance of sexual brokenness. To complicate matters, I understand that addictions are but symptoms—surface-level outworkings of deeper hurts and ills. So more than stopping the symptoms we must know their causes, which means understanding oneself and one’s history. This process of “reading” ourselves is one of self-discovery, of meeting the alien (and often unpalatable) aspects of our upbringing, life choices, and beliefs.
Despite the mending that is possible, this side of God’s full presence I don’t believe that we get ‘all better’.
But, maybe, that’s the point.
What I mean is that the journey towards wholeness necessarily travels through honesty, with stops at disappointment, defeat, and loneliness. Yet it finishes via self-forgiveness and self-love. In other words, my experience is that in healing us God also makes us real. And this “realness” is not so much the product of being healed but comes through experiencing the core of God’s desire for our wholeness: God’s love.
Greater than my anger, deeper than my shame, nearer than my hurt, was a longing to be loved and to love, to be responded to as Job: where God spoke not of me (and my pain), but to me in my deepest and best personhood—where God was not simply divine or powerful but real, and God really loved me. “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When [he] loves you . . . REALLY loves you, then you become real.’ ” (The Velveteen Rabbit).
God sees the heart; we are not so lucky. Yet as I reflect on the pain in the hearts of that couple I’ll wager that they are not alone. The woman wrote anonymously—without a name. I suspect this is because much of their emotional currency went into living with this addiction: living on the margins of their Christian community and concealing a secret considered too ugly to share.
I am posting this with my name attached because I know how lonely the margins can be, so I hope that my story helps those who are there feel less alone. And also I publish this because the fear of our ugliness (and the difficulty our churches have in bearing it) is overcome in the same way—by being made real: “these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (Ibid.)
Such is the love I have known.