Pandora’s Box: The ugliest of uglies, covered by the beauty of grace

I don’t think I have ever sat on a blog post as long as I have sat on this one. I have been putting off writing this for a year. A. Whole. Year. What even!? I normally sit down to write as soon as I am inspired to write something and smash it all out in one sitting, but this one is different. This one is messy, it hurts, it is not pretty. It is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful part of my story. It scares me SO much to be attaching my story to this post, because for a long while in the last 12 months I was going to write it hypothetically, not attaching anything personal to it, but that’s not me and that’s not how God called me to write. It was the one that inspired Pandora’s Box, and also started me on my journey of being passionate about authenticity and vulnerability. So here, welcome into the ugliness of me.

We often encourage one another in the church to extend grace to others, because all sin is equal in God’s eyes. Your little white lie that you told as a three year-old is equal to the person sitting in jail after committing murder. It is a hard pill to swallow, but also allows us to see all people with dignity and not think of ourselves too highly. We may not have committed murder, but we have still sinned and have no right to judge that person harshly for having made different mistakes than us. Had you lived their life, who knows what you would have done?

There is one group of sins however, that is still largely not included in this though: sexual sin. Yes, it is treated equal from the pulpit, preachers are very quick to remind people that God will forgive them and restore their righteousness after they have committed sexual sin. This is not often seen in the culture of our testimonies and conversations though. We really want to hear the testimonies about the drug addicts who came to know the Lord, or the teenager who went to college and started drinking and sleeping around before coming to Christ. We do not really ever hear about the devout Christian who is currently struggling with the same sin. We do not often sit down for coffee with our church friends and tell them about how we are struggling with lust, pornography, or crossing sexual boundaries in our relationships. Yikes, that doesn’t go down easy with a blueberry muffin or caramel slice.

That is precisely my pet peeve with Christian culture though. If we can be honest in confessing and praying for one another’s struggles with jealousy or lack of discipline in reading the Word, why can we not carry one another that much more in our purity? Striving for sexual purity is something that separates the Church from the secular world (Ephesians 5), so it is exactly where the Devil will want to target us. Sexual sin often occurs in the isolation and secrecy of our bedrooms, and that is exactly where the enemy wants it to stay. It is in this secret place that it holds its power over us, and festers into the ugly boil of guilt and shame on our hearts. We begin to think that because we are alone during our time of temptation, that we are alone in struggling with this sin.

That is exactly where I was my freshman year of college. Sitting in my dorm room, my hands pulling at my hair, feeling sick to my stomach. I was a leader in my community the year before and took such a strong stance for purity, yet here I was living a hypocritical life. I tried so hard to stop, but felt so incredibly lonely in that period of my life and this was something that let me escape that. I had not successfully made friends at college, was so far away from everyone who knew and understood me, and was not in the best place in my relationship with my family; I felt so disconnected and found a false sense of intimacy in pornography. I knew it was wrong, I knew I needed to find help, but I could not get myself to tell anyone. I remember many nights walking to church with this heavy burden, wishing someone would see right through me and talk to me. That did not happen though, and I remained stuck in this swirling dark abyss. Until one day.

(My story is so beautifully entertwined with so many others finding freedom, but their stories aren’t mine to tell, so this is not my complete story – just the parts that I am free to share.)

I was at my church small group, having  just encouraged other girls in their faith, putting on a perfect front of having it all together. We had finished for the night and were just chilling, when one of the girls started crying and said she needed to share something. She shared about being in the middle of a struggle with light pornography, and I wanted to throw up. I knew I had to open up, the time had come. Problem was, my sister was in my small group. It is so much easier to open up about the ugly things with people who do not know you well, that telling does not have great consequences. My sister, who I respected and thought was the most perfect woman ever? No way. Cue ugly crying. Wilma (my friend over here), came and knelt before me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I could not share because my sister was in the room. I expected her to politely ask my sister to leave, but that would be too easy. My sister came and sat right next to me and put her arm around me. All I could get myself to say, burning my throat like heartburn on the way out, was, “What she shared is true for me too.” When I expected shock, rebuke and condemnation, I got gentleness, love, and reassurance that I was not alone and would overcome this.

It felt like the biggest burden had been flopped off my back, but was now lying messily at my feet. My secret was out, but not completely – there was still a big phone call home lying in front of me. I am of the weird kind that tells my parents everything, and I knew they needed to know this. So late that night, sitting back in my dorm room I picked up my phone. I dialed my Dad, and said to him, “Dad I have something I need to tell you, but please please please don’t be mad at me.” In between sobs and periods of hyperventilating, because I did not have the cop out of being able to use my friend’s story, I told my Dad everything. I, again, expected shock and the wrath of telling your parent that you let them down and have been living a double life for a while. Instead I got a few moments silence, followed by a teary Dad telling me, “Pets, I need you to know that I have never loved you more than I do in this moment. Thank you for loving me enough to tell me.” To say I was taken aback would be an understatement, I felt so much relief and love in that moment, unlike I have ever felt in my life. Mother Bear had a similar, tearful response, feeling bad that she had not been able to prevent this part of my story.

I was so shocked at my family and friends’ reaction, overwhelmed by the lightness that comes from having confessed sin and opening the door to walk out of guilt and shame. More over, I realised that if that was the reaction of my earthly father, the man who raised me to a certain standard, but was himself imperfect, how much more grace and love would my Heavenly Father extend to me? I saw myself, a young toddler waddling up to Abba and being lifted onto His knee. Sobbing, I told Him everything and begged for His forgiveness and help. The grace and gentleness in His response was overwhelming. He did not put me down in disappointment, but instead cradled me close to His chest assuring me that it would all turn out for good.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13

That was by no means the end of my story. It was just the beginning of a walk of overcoming temptation, stumbling time and time again, wrestling with accepting forgiveness and having to daily hand over the guilt and shame that I was trying so hard to hold onto. The beauty of my story lies in the grace of the Father, be power of the gospel and death of Jesus Christ, the gentleness of community, and the fact that I was not alone. The more I reached out to people, the more I found others (guys and girls) who had or were struggling with pornography. Opening up about my story brought so much freedom, and started conversations where other people were able to lay down guilt and shame and choose grace and freedom.

So what was the point of my rant and sharing of my story? The point was to start a conversation, to help people realise that no matter what you are struggling with – you are by no means alone. There is no way that you are the only one of the people you know that is struggling with your secret burden. That ugly black stain on your story is not unique to you, and even if it was, it is not the ugliest, darkest stain on peoples’ stories. If the only reason for me sharing the part of my testimony that I have only shared with a select few online, was for one person to be able to share their burden then I will be happy. Sexual sin is not singularly a pre-Jesus sin, and pornography is not a male-only issue. To the preachers that address the reality of pornography as not being a pre-salvation sin, please I beg of you, do not exclude women from this conversation. It increases the shame and guilt of the many women in your congregations that are stuck under the weight of this sin. Yes, it is prevalent for me, because it has always been talked about in male circles, secular and not. It has not really ever been spoken about as a thing that women do, or struggle with, for women – secular or not.

Dear friend who may be where I was freshman year, or even walking the walk to freedom, you are not alone nor will you be stuck here forever. Our Jesus overcame death so that you can overcome this. The battle has already been won, and there is nothing that you can do that God is not willing and able to forgive. Have the conversation with someone that you trust to carry your burden with gentleness and mercy, but also have the strength to keep you accountable, have the hand on your shoulder as a reminder to keep your eyes forward and help you up when you fall down.

James 4:6 But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

To everyone else who made it this far in reading this, thank you for extending grace to me in reading this. I sincerely hope that after reading this, that your view of me will not diminish, but if it does that’s okay – Jesus has graciously taken me on a journey of putting my worth and identity solidly in Him, so I will not fight you on your view of me. I am still me, I am still the girl proudly wears her purity ring and stands for everything that I stood for before. I just have a few more wounds that have become scars and have realised that I am only able to stand for that which I do by the grace of God and His great mercy.

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