It started with Miss Piggy and her pretty pink curves at age three.
Then our baby sitter, then Debbie Gibson, a girl in my 4th grade class. I’ve got a list of crushes into the hundreds. From my earliest memories I was strongly attracted to many different women.
I was not born a "one woman man."
Maybe its genetic, I'm not sure, I just know my attractions, should I follow through on them, is not God's plan for me.
I was born in "original sin."
In high school I wrote poems about women. In college, I took philosophy of art, beauty, and aesthetics courses and a figure drawing class where I'd sit for hours drawing naked women three years in a row.
I waxed poetic about the lusts of my flesh as justified, natural, productive, a celebration of God's penultimate creation.
Despite my parents stern warnings against sex before marriage, the allure of women was too much, my roots in the gospel too weak, and I not only succumbed to a life of sexual sin, I dove in proudly.
My world got ugly fast.
Deception in relationships, broken hearts, barely dodging pregnancy and disease, embarrassment and walks of shame, all as I slid into a pattern of companionship that left me ever lonelier.
I often self medicated to enable myself to do what, in the depths of my heart, I knew was wrong. It was a raucous and wicked downward spiral.
I had no idea that with each woman I slept with an imprint was being left on my soul that would not easily be washed away.
By society's standards I was a stud, playboy, lady killer, the character many men aspire to be. I fed on the attention.
My sin was about to be exposed.
Then I found a Godly woman.
The high of meeting a good woman, one who seemed to emanate light and goodness, was quickly followed by dread. As I learned of her strong faith and remembered what I knew about the tenants of my own, I felt like a stained rag.
"What was I thinking?!?" I lamented. The gravity of it all hit me at once.
A long road of pulling myself out of the pit of doing sex my own way instead of God's way was before me.
Hard conversations. Shock by her at how calloused I had become. The effects of so many tangled relationships constantly popping up in photos, old social media posts, phone calls and texts I didn't want to get.
It was a terribly painful process.
I had trouble not resorting to deception or half truths. It was hard to discern what to reveal and when. I subconsciously wondered how I could let the depths of my depravity be known.
We worked through it--this Godly woman and I--as she showed me unending grace.
Marriage = doing sex God's way! (or so I thought)
Once I entered into the freedom of the marriage covenant with a woman I was wildly attracted to, I finally had sexual freedom! But the twisted tentacles of sexual sin began to pull at my new marriage in unexpected ways.
As I drove home from work one day, knowing my wife would want to be intimate, I dreaded that I would not respond appropriately.
How could this happen? Never in a million years! This is a curse!
I gripped the steering wheel and pleaded to God, "Lord, please reinvent my sexuality!" Right away I heard God whisper, "Ryan, be selfless and make this about her, not you."
I was learning how to love in a very different way, my very sexuality being reprogrammed from that of a predator on an unending hunt to someone willing to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
Paying for my past.
My old life reared its head with certain triggers, like staying in hotel rooms while traveling, staying up late drinking, seeing old flames around town or online.
They were all major challenges that I've had to attack in repentance, prayer, talking with Whitney and other men who hold me accountable.
A thousand times I've asked God to wipe clean my memory, to delete the images that are stored in the depths where I no longer want them. Over time, he seems to be hearing my plea.
I've also found myself incredibly sad for the woman I was with. Many probably have deep wounds I can never fix. Even as I know I'm forgiven, it grieves me to know what I did to these young women who are made in God's image.
Further, I've come to realize that in my sin my whole way of thinking about sex had become warped, self-centered, and in need of a complete overhaul.
An awful nightmare woke me up.
The good news is that, as I battle to do sex God's way, the trajectory of my sex life has moved closer and closer to His plan. There was one instance, however, that resulted in a giant leap forward.
I had dabbled in sin, I can't remember what it was, probably looking at porn online.
One night I had an awful dream. I was being seduced by a woman and as I eagerly pursued her I was also aware of my wife calling out in search of me nearby.
I awoke terrified at what I was doing and in that moment God exposed my patterns of deceit, bitterness when I don't get what I want, bartering and manipulation for sex, game playing, all the effects of separation of sex from God's plan.
I had a wave of fear hit me--fear of the coming wrath of God. So much so that confessing to my wife seemed like the easy thing to do!
The next day, while at work I texted my wife that we needed to talk so I couldn’t chicken out later.
I repented and asked for her forgiveness, and it led to a several week long conversation that was uncomfortable, and yet freeing.
Something changed in our marriage, I couldn't put my finger on it, something spiritual and good and necessary. This ugly sin that was confronted and lifted before God had somehow drawn us closer.
It's a lesson I haven't forgotten.
Stopping sexual sin in my family.
I take this sin seriously now, especially since as a society we openly invite sexual sin into our eyes and hearts, and we drift further from God's plan for sex and marriage.
King David, a man after God's own heart, saw his sexual sin wreak havoc in his family. So I pray over my boys weekly, "Lord, please don't let my sins in this area affect them, please protect them."
I'm much more open about this issue now than ever before (this blog as a case in point). I talk regularly to other guys about this, a community that has bolstered my defenses.
My wife and I actively work to guard my heart, for example, we don't watch racy movies, and she thumbs through magazine's I get and tears out the soft porn that now comes in health, technology, even cooking publications.
Regular immersion in God's word and in prayer is a hedge of protection. I also avoid the circumstances where I know I am weak and tempted, such as drinking too much, exhaustion, or mindless web surfing late at night.
Victory is possible.
I wish I could tell you God wiped away my whole past, but He hasn't. The pictures in my mind and perversions in my thinking have regularly eaten away at our intimacy.
I have a daily battle to take captive every thought and hold it up against God's plan for my life. Often after months of victory the ugly sin of lust will rear up from out of the darkness to try to devour me. I've had to learn to be vigilant and ready to do battle at any moment.
And yet, I feel increasingly that I'm no longer a slave to my physical urges. I've become mostly rewired to recognize that sex, even in marriage, is not about me, but is as is described in 1 Corinthians 7, where we learn that our bodies are not our own, but are given to each other.
I yearn for the day when I have complete victory, when the thought of sex outside of God's plan repulses me, and when I see women not as objects for my own pleasure but as wonderfully made daughters worthy of love and respect.
Even the fact that I can write that last sentence as a goal for myself, and not be so blind to the err of my ways, is a testament to what God has done in my life, and what he can do in yours too.
And wildly, as God is apt to do, he's taken this weakness of mine and redeemed it as men now seek me out for counsel for sexual sin. Sadly there are so many who are lost.
A quick guide + a sermon packed with truth.
After talking to lots of men about this very issue I created this short guide on what's worked for me to overcome sexual sin.
If you want a biblically sound eloquent dive into this topic, watch this sermon by my pastor, Paul Anderson, of Grace Valley Fellowship, framed by his conversations with a gay Texas millionaire.
When I first started to get serious about my faith, I remember hearing that some of the guys at church didn’t even masturbate, and I remember thinking, “I don’t think that’s even healthy!”
I never imagined that one day I would earnestly seek to save all sexual energy for my wife alone. And if someone had told me I needed to do that to be a Christian, I might have turned and run.
The point is, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Start by reading the Bible, and pray and ask God to reshape your thinking. Ask him to put people in your life you can talk to about this, someone with a Godly perspective. He answers when we knock.
Over time, through Christ alone, victory over sexual sin is possible.
Other posts on sex...
When I was first coming into my faith, a guy told me to look up Francis Chan's YouTube videos. The first one I found (just below) had me watching his videos late into the night, very impacted by what he was saying, his emphasis on the profound meaning of Scripture often overlooked, and his sense of urgency.
When I moved to California, I learned that Francis lived in San Francisco, and it wasn't too long before I had a chance to hear him preach in person at a youth event. I realized then that what strikes me most about Francis is his urgency, the man does not want to waste a minute on this Earth. That, and a fear of the Lord, has driven this man deep into his faith, and his teachings have literally changed me as a person.
In November 2013, at the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend, Francis was set to speak again. I was eager to hear what he was going to say to a few hundred business guys packed into the opulent Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Francis looked to be under duress during his talk, he gazed to Heaven, at one point he knelt on the ground in prayer before the men. Here is what he said.
After this talk, I was struck silent. I walked back to my hotel room, not wanting to listen to another speaker or talk to anyone, I just wanted to get on the ground before God in prayer. I wanted to repent that I just keep doing things on my own terms, not surrendering to God the way I know he is calling me to do. As I walked to my room, coming from the other direction was my roommate, Charlie.
Charlie and I entered the room one after the other, and I don't recall that we spoke a single word to each other. We put our things down, he in his separate room, me in mine. We soon realized we were both about to be on the floor in prayer, and so we joined each other. We called out to God and our prayers sounded similar. We prayed for maybe forty five minutes or so.
As we got up, we recognized there was a reason we were connected through this group, that we were sharing a room, that we both came back to pray. We offered to each other that while we are friends, we really only know about 70% of each other, at best. We agreed that we didn't want to leave this conference, and make nominal changes for a few weeks or months, to return to the same old way of doing things.
We made a commitment right then and there that we would work hard to get to know each other. And, more importantly, we would call each other every day or two to hold each other accountable to reading Scripture and to getting before God in prayer.
Over a year later, Charlie and I still talk a couple times a week at the minimum, pray together, reveal our struggles as much as anything, and encourage each other through life. There are times when we'd rather not reach out for all kinds of reasons, sometimes we are even annoyed at each other, but we both know that our relationship serves a higher purpose, that investing in the other isn't just about us, its about drawing closer to God, and glorifying Him. I think its fairly rare to have these kinds of real relationships among men, but I think when the Holy Spirit moves men get connected in a very strong way in relationships that bear great fruits.
I digressed there a bit into my personal story, rather than about Francis Chan and why he is "Getting It Done." Most recently, I had a chance to have dinner with Francis with about a dozen other guys. We were eager to hear what he's been up to with his "Crazy Love" project in the Bayview section of San Francisco. In a nutshell, Francis decided to start living church with a core group of brothers and sisters that are known by their love and their unity first, and then multiply from there.
He shared over dinner how they had multiplied a couple of times already, he told stories about how Christ's love is being expressed, and the way that everyday men and women are being raised up to teach and make disciples. In fact, Francis says he seldom preaches, since everyone is willing and able to preach and share together.
The question that came to my mind, which I asked Francis, is this, "Are the people who are coming into the church poor?" Francis said that they are. And then the follow-up question, "Can it work among the rich?" This is the million dollar question (ok, pun intended). So many of the disciple making movements that I hear about that have the characteristics of the early church we read about in Acts, people loving and caring for each other and being united, well, it mostly seems to happen among the poor.
This lead to Francis talking about a project he feels led to, a partnership with a larger church in Silicon Valley called Abundant Life. The elders at Abundant approached him about going "all in" for the kind of love and unity Francis is seeking with Crazy Love. And so, Francis has an opportunity to try "it" on a larger scale, he's come on as an elder and is preaching there periodically. Needless to say, I'm going to be praying for his effort and keeping an eye on the progress for sure. Here is a sermon Francis gave at Abundant Life called "Giving God Our Best."
In closing, I just heard Francis talk, again at the New Canaan Society Conference in San Francisco. And while a good deal of his talk was directed at the men and movement of NCS, his boldness in speaking the truth, in only desiring to please God was evident. And, his message about defining the God we serve from Revelation Chapter 4 has already vastly changed the way I pray. As soon as the video is available, I'll post it here online.
Don't stop Francis, fly far as on the wings of eagles brother!
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
This is a really hard post to write.
But I realize that I'm not the only thief in town, and that maybe some good will come out of writing this. The truth is that about a year ago, while in prayer, God showed me a number of people I had wronged. In some cases, I had flat out stolen from a few people.
An old employer, the boyfriend of a friends roommate in college, a neighbor, a random person in school.
In most of my past I would have justified it our sugar coated that fact in some way. I would have told you that I was wronged and this was taking restitution. Or that I was drunk and didn't know what I was doing. Or that I didn't actually take it, that it was a friend who did it and I was just there.
Well, God laid it on me heavy, and I started to squirm right there in prayer.
"Oh God, what can I do?"
It was clear right away what I had to do, I had to confess and ask forgiveness. And I had to pay for what I had done.
I listed the people God had brought to mind on a post-it note. I hid the note, it was such a shameful piece of paper. I didn't have the money to cough up so I did nothing. It stewed in my conscious. Eventually, I relented, there would never be a good time, I would pay the cost no matter what.
I had to research to find the people I had offended, the victims. It wasn't easy, but once I did, I prayed again, "Lord, let their hearts be tender to receive my sincere apology. Please." I offered to repay whatever was due, let me know the cost. I wrote to a couple on the list, then I anxiously awaited for days. What would happen?
As it turns out, so far, nothing. I literally have not received a single response. One person seems just about impossible to track down short of hiring an investigator. I have resolved that I cannot become stalkerish over something that happened 10 and 20 years ago. And if I get a response or anything else I can act on, any claim of restitution, I will gladly pay it as much as is required, because even though its hard its what I was called to do.
The God of the Bible calls us to repent of our sins. Zacchaeus-like repentance doesn't mean just saying I'm sorry to God. Or even to your mentor. It means making every effort to pay for the wrongs you have made, and to set up systems to ensure you never do it again.
In my case, I had long ago abandoned the lifestyle that led to these actions and just addressing them head-on again after all this time gave a sense of healing. Though, I do hold out hope that I will be able to pay out to each person that which is due, because I know God works in repentance.