Dear Church Leader,
I’ve been thinking a lot about trials and weaknesses lately. Your meeting with my husband and I yesterday has had one thing repeating in my head, “That hard things aren’t bad things.” I even spent the whole weekend reflecting on the trials in my life and their benefits. Now, I’m still a little too close to [an unrelated trial with my children] to be seeing all the blessings, but I believe I will find them. But, with the my husband’s pornography addiction and recovery, my heart has been full all weekend, for the blessings of this trial.
For you, as an ecclesiastical leader working with others, I just wanted to express a few things that are going through my mind about the topic. This trial, the uphill battle of my husband’s sobriety has been one of the great blessings in both of our lives. For years we had Church leaders and his parents encourage more prayer, more fasting, more faith, so God could take away the trial. We had faith, we had prayer, and we fasted -- and my husband wanted to have God take away the trial, the temptation. But nothing changed. Because he hadn’t been ready to GIVE away the sin. To do the backbreaking work of rewiring his brain, his life, uncovering what this addiction was hiding -- what he was medicating, his beliefs about himself and others that were painful or ugly. It has been the long path -- the hours and hours in group therapy, talking with others in 12 step meetings, the studying and reading and journaling, that have truly changed his life, while God has been working all things for his good and changing his heart. It is just as much a miracle in my eyes as if my husband had woken up one day with this sin removed, his heart made clean and had no desire to sin again -- but in fighting for it, he has had the opportunity to learn about himself, about his relationships with his earthly parents and his Heavenly Father. He has learned SO much compassion, love and trust of others. He’s released years of shame and isolation and lack of self-worth and has been healed by Christ as he has opened up and reached out and learned to comfort those who stand in need of comfort and mourn with those who mourn. I believe God can miraculously heal us without therapy and 12 step groups, obviously -- but I believe He also has them here for our good. And I believe that without reaching out and making connections for support or as support for others, that we are missing part of the equation of healing, of an opportunity to learn Christlike love, of mourning and comforting as commanded.
I’m afraid we inadvertently tell people that if they seek outside help (therapy, 12 step groups, group therapy), that they just don’t have enough faith. That they’re not trusting God, that they don’t truly believe in the power of their Redeemer. But we have found the power of grace and the atonement manifested to us in group therapy and 12 step groups -- and the healing of being with and sharing with people. To having people love and accept you, warts and all. To feel the shame that we’ve held on to slip away and be replaced with love and acceptance. I’ve never felt my Savior so close as I have through these experiences. I have felt Christlike love -- from my Savior and through others who are seeking Him on this same path.
I believe Christ’s atonement works in a myriad of ways, and I think we sell ourselves short if we believe or, without meaning to, teach others that the miracles are only in the dramatic, or the ‘poof’ experiences. (For years I wished God would just wave a magic wand and ‘poof’, my husband would be healed and whole and this trial would be over.) I also had many leaders encourage this line of thinking, that if we had enough faith, the sin and the desire to sin would just disappear. Which, I believe it can -- I believe it works this way for some people. I also believe that for many people, probably the majority, the healing comes through work and practice and learning about negative patterns and replacing them with healthier outlets, examining habits and patterns and replacing them with healthier ones which effectively rewires the brain, and in connecting with people and letting go of the shame that’s made them feel unloved or unconnected for so long. That through that work, the miracle comes. The desire to sin leaves, as the desire and understanding of good things and healthy outlets grows. It’s a more grueling process in some ways, but very worth it. And the Savior is leading it every step of the way.
The great miracle we’ve learned through all of this is God’s hand in our lives, the truthfulness of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ's sacrifice for us, and the immense power in reaching out and being with others. This would not have been the same experience if it had been only handled silently in prayer, quietly alone in worship and secretly in fasting. Those things have been amazing and we wouldn’t be here without them, but without the struggle, the therapy, the group meetings, the reaching out to others, neither of us would be the people we are now. And as much as I just wanted the porn problem to just ‘disappear’ the first 8 years of my marriage, I am so grateful for the struggle it’s been -- we are both better, richer people for it. I know that living longer with sin affecting our life wasn’t a good thing, but God makes all things work out for our good. And the things he (and I) have learned about ourselves and what drives our bad behaviors and our hurt feelings, has brought us closer to each other, to God, and to healing.
I just want to share this, because as much as I believe Christ is the one true path to healing, I believe that sometimes we inadvertently make people feel like there is only one way the path to wholeness should look -- and that that one path is much more instantaneous and miraculous that it often is for most people. If it hadn’t had been this hard (if praying and fasting alone had been enough), what would we have missed out on? We wouldn’t be who we are now, and I wouldn’t trade the testimony of the atonement that I’ve gained for an easier or quicker path. I am grateful to know that God is there, has always been there, but that He is also willing to let us struggle, hurt and live in pain for awhile, so that when we find Him, when we find peace and healing and our Savior, that it is that much sweeter and full. That we have learned so much more on this long road, that we have been refined in the process, so that we are stronger going into the next trial. I think there were times we were almost ready to give up hope, because we hadn’t gotten our ‘miracle’ yet. Our praying and fasting and Church attendance must somehow be lacking, we feared. Maybe we weren’t good enough, didn’t have enough faith, for God to take away this trial. But I will forever be grateful to my Heavenly Father for not making this path shorter or easier -- that He made us reach and work and struggle, and because of that we got desperate and started to work like never before. That this struggle opened up a whole new world to us, and through it we’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known, and we’ve been able to be those people in the lives of others. We’ve become emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually healthier people. I just wanted to share this, because I know the path to healing and wholeness, in any number of trials, looks so different for each person. And I just wanted to share that at times, if we preach only the ‘ideal’ of what repentance and forsaking of sins ‘should’ look like, we miss out on the variety of winding paths that God uses to bring us back to Him.
Thank you for all you do, and your unfailing support as we are walking this path back to our Heavenly Father’s arms.