I have an addiction.
I’ve struggled with it for a while and to be perfectly honest, I’m not currently fighting it. Not because I’ve conquered it or found freedom, but because I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s likely here to stay. I’m talking about my caffeine addiction, of course. Until a doctor tells me I need to cut back, I won’t. (And if I just never go to the doctor, then I’m in the clear! Right?)
Unlike most people in my stage of life – early 30s, parent of three, a pastor – I don’t like coffee. I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t even like the smell of it. This means my caffeine has to come in other forms. Regular caffeine intake started in college. I remember commuting to and from Cairn University and having to get a Mountain Dew in between classes. After a couple years of this, the sugar content became too much for my teeth and my gut, so I audibled to Coke Zero. The corrosive level of carbonation didn’t help my teeth much, but the lack of sugar made it a bit better. Flash forward a few years and I discovered the sweet, heavenly nectar called Monster Rehab Tea. At the peak of my addiction, I was drinking two a day. I’m back down to one, and as I said at the beginning, I’m fine living the rest of my life like this.
The reason I bring up my caffeine drinking habits is because they remind me of two things: Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:43-45 and porn.
First, Jesus’ words: ““When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”” – Matthew 12:43-45
Whenever I’ve tried to kick my caffeine habit – whether it be cold turkey, a weaning, or some other method – I’ve always just ended up replacing whatever I was leaving behind with something else that was sometimes something worse.
When this happens, and the state of my person was worse than the first.
Perhaps you can see where pornography fits into this analogy. But let me play it out just in case. Let’s say you are someone who tends toward lust. You’re tired of sexualizing friends and strangers in your mind and you convince yourself porn is a healthy release for this sexual tension you’ve been feeling. After living with porn for awhile, you may realize that instead of satisfying your lust you have only grown its appetite. The state of that person is now worse than the first. Perhaps in your struggles with pornography you’ve tried quitting and had periods of success only to see the addiction return and escalate. These are hardly the only porn-related examples one could give.
While consuming porn continues to be normalized in much of the mainstream, there is also a groundswell of voices naming the harmful effects of pornography use. These voices range from secular to religious and the effects they are speaking of range from personal to relational to societal.
As we close out “No Porn November,” my fear would be that after 30 days of no pornography that the unclean spirit would return to its house, find it clean and empty, and invite seven of its friends to move in. There are many ethical and practical reasons to cut down and eliminate porn consumption. The secular voices alluded to earlier give ample reasons. But for the Christian audience, the goal of avoiding porn isn’t simply to avoid porn. The goal, like in all things, should be to become more Christlike, and as we see in Jesus’ words about demons, getting rid of one practice and replacing it with nothing leaves you vulnerable to attack.
For so many, and myself included, overcoming pornography becomes a test of the will and resolve of the individual. The focus then is on two things: yourself and pornography. You focus on yourself and your desires and your focus is on pornography – specifically avoiding it. But in what other area of life is focusing on the thing you want to avoid ever lead to avoiding it? When you drive, you don’t focus on the trees and buildings on the side of the road. You focus on what is in front of you. When we focus on avoiding sin, we often end up heading right toward the sin we are seeking to avoid. But when we focus on Jesus we will become more like Jesus and the power of sin will lose its grip on us.
So, whether you are struggling with pornography yourself or you are seeking to help someone else overcome their addiction, I think it is important to not just to get rid of the habit, but to identify the root of the problem and plant something new.
In his book Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt highlights a helpful practice to identify sin and to replace it with gospel truths. [Graphic included to help you visualize the practice.]
He calls it “Fruit to Root.” Look at the fruit, or what your life and actions are producing, and trace that down to what it means you believe about God. Once you’ve identified the lies you are believing, you can go “Root to Fruit” with the truths of the gospel to the fruit of the spirit. In the abstract it may be a little confusing.
When it comes to pornography, we are normally seeking something. Perhaps you go to pornography because it gives you a sense of control, or perhaps you go to pornography out of a fear of rejection and a reliance upon the fact that it will never reject you. Maybe you go to pornography simply because it has a numbing effect on your anxiety and worry. Once you’ve identified the cause, that’s your “fruit.” Let’s say you go to pornography to avoid the rejection of another person. You then trace the fruit down to three core questions:
1. Who am I?
2. What has God done? and
3. Who is God?
The answers in this case may be that you believe:
1. I am not worthy of acceptance. I am undesirable.
2. God has rejected me. He has stopped loving me.
3. God is unloving. God is absent.
We can then redo the practice from the affirmative. Based on Gospel truths, who do we know God to be? He is loving and he is with me. What do we know God has done? God has called me his own. He has called me to be his son/daughter and made me an heir with Christ. Who does that mean I am? I am a child of God. I am beloved and accepted. These truths will help you to overcome the lies that were at the root of your struggle with pornography.
No Porn November is a great ambition, but let’s not leave ourselves vulnerable to Demon’s Back December…okay the name may need a little work. Do the work of getting to the root cause of your struggles, replace those lies with gospel truths. Then, fill your life with practices that will continually remind you of those truths – silence, meditation, scripture reading, prayer, and community. All this work can theoretically be done in solitude, but there truly is power in community, so don’t do it alone. Walk this path with a trusted family member, pastor, or counselor and start experiencing true freedom today.
Dave Hallahan is a husband, father of three girls, and assistant pastor at Hope Christian Fellowship in Woodbury, NJ. As a pastor, Dave focuses on intentional discipleship and connections. He is also the host of Thinking Out Loud, a podcast dedicated to broadening perspective and deepening empathy. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram.