At a retreat my senior year of college, we had this awesone Australian nun named Sister Bernadette speak to us about our faith through the lens of psychology. She was a graduate student at the time at the Institute of the Psychological Sciences, and I can't think of her without smiling. She was the truest example of a woman living out the beauty of her vocation: unshakable cheerfulness, full of life, and on FIRE for the Lord. For the students who knew her at the Catholic Student Center, she was like the pied piper, except her pipe was her Australian accent and she was leading souls to Christ with her effortless joy like a big, dancing parade!
She covered a lot of ground in that retreat talk, and really challenged us to think about some tough topics. At one point in her talk, she brought up masturbation and discussed the psychological aspects of addiction, explaining the harm pornography and masturbation can do to your brain as well as your soul. I remember how powerful her words were, but what I really will never forget was a conversation I had with a female friend about that talk a few days after retreat.
We were discussing in a small group how amazing her talk had been, when this friend, we'll call her Hannah, disagreed. "I mean, it was really good," she said, "but she kind of ruined it for herself when she started talking about certain things." Wait, what things? we wanted to know. "Well, she just shouldn't have brought up masturbation. A bunch of people have been talking about it... it's like, as soon as people heard that word, it just threw them off and they weren't really going to listen or hear what she was trying to say. She kind of ruined it for herself by going there, I feel like it really hurt her impact." Who felt that way? we wanted to know. "It's not just me," Hannah said, "a bunch of the guys were saying that afterwards. I'm just telling you what people thought!"
I was astounded. Why is it, do you think, that people were so "thrown off" by Sister Bernadette bringing up masturbation? When you were reading this post, and you saw that word, were you uncomfortable about what might follow? Did you think, forget it, I don't need to read this.
What is that resistance that many people feel at the sound of the word, or the idea of someone discussing it with them?
Real talk: In our own youth group, within your own friends, within your own heart, perhaps, the struggle with masturbation and pornography addiction is very real. There are people right here in our own community of believers that are struggling with this. Let's put that right out there.
If this is something you can identify with, take a moment to think about how you feel about that aspect of your life.
Are you ashamed? You may be encouraged to think, no... people say it's completely natural for guys or girls my age to be experiencing this, so no, I'm not ashamed. Do you feel comfortable with the idea of sharing this opinion openly with your family, your friends, your significant other, your future spouse, your God in daily prayer or before the blessed sacrament?
My point is not to inspire shame in you, but to call you to be truthful with yourself.
The fact is, it isn't just the religious community who understands the true impact these addictions can have on our relationships and our state of being. The largest anti-masturbation movement online was founded by some non-religious guys who opened their eyes to the negative impact seeking sexual pleasure through pornography or masturbation had on human beings just based on biochemical and social science!
So now that we know this isn't just an issue because you believe in Christ and want to follow His will, let's talk about your faith life.
I want to ask you another question, and I ask you to be honest with yourself. How is your relationship with God? No really, how is it? Do you feel close to Him, or far away? Do you feel connected in prayer to him, or do you sometimes doubt He is listening or even there at all?
One of testimonies I read in my research for you guys really stuck with me, an account from someone who was at the time addicted to pornography, but trying to sort out in her mind the notion that it really wasn't a serious issue, because all in all, "life was good"...
"Yes, my relationship with God was a little rocky. I often felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. I just attributed that to my immature Christianity. I needed to practice praying harder. I needed to practice serving more. My faith was just out of practice."
Does that sound like you? I really believe any of us could identify with that in times of sin. But can we take a minute to process what the true cause of that distance is? If you can open your eyes to the devastating impact of these addictions, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, the fact that you are feeling this way makes perfect sense.
Shame is a powerful force.
More real talk: Stop making excuses for yourself today. Now. It's time to power through that shame and seek healing. Don't be cowards like the guys who shut out Sister Bernadette and then tried to cover up their shame with weak justification. These were guys I knew well, guys I worshiped our Lord with, men who were cowardly enough to hide in their sin rather than challenge themselves (and each other) to something better. Keep reading.
If you aren't personally experiencing these addictions, I urge you to keep reading too. What Hannah told me the guys were saying may have astounded me, but another thing I couldn't shake was a disappointment in Hannah. What I think happened was that she was uncomfortable too, whether she had a personal struggle with the issue or not, it's easier to avoid the awkwardness of realizing that people close to you are experiencing this. She had a chance to be real with them, to challenge them, even just by not validating their justifications. Even just by expecting more.
I spent the morning gathering resources, and although what I've got here is just the tip of the iceberg, i'm hoping it will be a tipping point for you.
It's obvious I am not a youth minister because the pay is great, so what is it then? It's because I care about you guys, and not just about your comfort and your happiness, but about your eternal happiness, about your fulfillment. I cannot erase your shame or heal your hurts, but I can refer you to someone who can.
The gospel reading this Sunday is about Jesus beginning his ministry:
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
What does that mean, "Repent"? It means turn away from sin, but it goes a step further. It is a call to do a complete 180, to turn away from sin and move FORWARD in the opposite direction, towards Christ and his loving mercy.
It isn't enough guys to resolve not to sin anymore, facing away from the darkness will not remove you from it. You have to move forward, to walk toward the light. If you were trying to do this alone, especially with an addiction, like masturbation or pornography, I'd say this is going to take every bit of will that you've got...and then you will still most likely fail.
But the beauty of God and his infinite love for you is that you aren't alone.
"Confession is the bridge that connects the hurt with the healing. It is how brokenness becomes whole" - Jessica Harris
That's an incredible gift. A way out of the messes we've made for ourselves. We aren't alone. With every step towards Him your will gets stronger. He will gladly send you the graces you need, as well as the people and the resources you need to truly do a 180, to repent. But you have to seek that help. Get to confession as soon as you can, but don't wait until confession to start seeking God's healing power. Do that today, right here, right now.
I ask for your mercy and your guidance. I am a sinner, and I am ashamed of my sins and the way they have pulled me away from my relationship with you. I pray for healing of my soul and the courage to stand up against this addiction. Give me the graces I need to be strong, and send me the resources and the people who can help me truly repent and grow closer to you. I pray for all those I have affected by this addiction, including the people I may have objectified, the people whose relationships with me I have harmed, and my future spouse. Cleanse my soul and restore in me the respect of my sexuality and the purity of myself and others. Glory to you Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.
What I've written here is just the beginning, just a challenge to you to do a little leg work and find the strength to challenge yourself.
I strongly urge you to click on these links and read more about how masturbation and pornography hurt, and how to heal. DO NOT LET MY WORDS BE THE LAST THING YOU READ.... don't let your shame paralyze you. Freedom starts here:
Get the BRUTAL TRUTH about the impact Masturbation and Porn has on your life, and the people it affects:
Q&A: You're Most Likely Wondering... (also click on video, audio, resource, etc. tabs above to discover more from the section on Masturbation/Porn)
10 Shocking Porn Stats
4 Ways Porn Kills Great Sex in Marriage (biochemical evidence!)
5 Myths about Porn
Your Brain on Porn
Okay, so now what? Check these links out for some solid advice on how to move forward.
What to do in the Heat of Temptation
How to Cleanse Your Mind of Pornographic Images
What if You Can't Stop??
Your Sin and God's Mercy
Accountability - This is where it really gets tough, but don't back down now. At least read this first article!
Secrets and Shame: Why Confess to Others
Finding an Accountability Partner
MEN - These men will inspire you and remind you what it means to be a Man of God, each of them touching on personal struggles with Masturbation/Pornography
Jason Evert Men's Talk *VIDEO*
Matt Fradd Men's Talk *VIDEO* (Bonus: another Australian accent!)
WOMEN - This issue does NOT just affect men! Don't let the stereotype make you feel like you are alone in this struggle.
Testimony of Jessica Harris
Beggar's Daughter: Jessica's Blog and Support Community
Our Staff blog gives you an insider peek at our ministry, and gives you some bonus material for your own formation!