Once You've Opened a Can of Worms
Today's post is a follow-up to yesterday's post, A Can of Worms. These two posts, written by Ashley Chesnut, address the bondage of sexual addiction. For those of you who are struggling, we are praying for you, and we hope that this post offers you some counsel on the next steps to take towards freedom.
If you’re a Hamilton fan, then you know there’s a moment in the show when George Washington is discussing the war with Alexander Hamilton, making the statement: “Dying is easy; living is harder.”
I feel like there’s a correlation between that statement and what happens when you finally open the can of worms I mentioned in a previous blog post (a.k.a. confessing your sexual sin – or really any sin).
When you’re stuck in sin, confession seems like a looming lion you’re facing off with in battle. Pride, fear, insecurity, guilt, shame – these are your companions, and these are the very things that keep you from confessing. When you – by God’s grace – are finally moved to tell someone about your sin, what’s been weighing you down alleviates a little. You feel lighter because you’ve finally let a little bit of light into the darkness.
But to be brutally honest with you (and to riff off Hamilton), confession is easy; changing is harder. However, the same God who gave you the strength to confess will empower you to change, and He is with you every step of the way.
Here’s the thing, when you finally open the can of worms and admit you sin, you can either:
- Just talk about your sin and that be all there is – talk.
- Or you can take action and actually fight against your sin.
As I write this, I’m coming off a hard, emotional week, and one of the events included being there for a friend who relapsed. She struggles with sex addiction and is attempting recovery for the first time in her life. And after 75 days of sobriety, she relapsed, giving into sexual sin and descending into a scary dark place.
This past March was the first time she had confessed her sexual sin – after more than a decade of addiction, and this summer has been a season of going through withdrawals as she pursues sobriety, learning how to cope without turning to her addiction, identifying lies she has believed, and believing and living like she believes God’s truth. Her sobriety journey and her recent relapse also demonstrate just how hard sanctification is. On one hand, we want God to change us and to make us more like Him, but on the other, our flesh is weak. We deeply feel the tension that Paul expresses in Romans 7:18-19:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
So knowing that changing is harder, how can you wage warfare on your sin after you’ve confessed?
- Enlist a few trusted believers of the same gender to be your support system. You can’t do battle by yourself and be very effective. You need encouragement, prayer, accountability, listening ears, shoulders to cry on, and people to serve.
- Daily read the Bible. You’re not going to feel like it, but don’t wait for feeling like it to start doing it. You need to immerse yourself in truth because you’ve believed all kinds of lies – about God, yourself, others, how the world works, etc.
- Be part of a local church. Commit to a local church and attend it faithfully. And don’t just be a consumer. Consider how you can serve this faith family, even in a small way.
- Get professional help, if needed. A counselor will help you identify your blind spots, address the root issues of your sin, and learn new ways of living. As you stop dealing with life in unhealthy ways, you will recognize that you do not know how to cope with life healthily. You just know what not to do, and a counselor can assist with the relearning that needs to happen here. Also, if there is trauma, family dysfunction, codependency, or addiction in your background, I urge you to seek help. However, pursue biblical counsel if it’s available, for while secular therapists can help in some areas, they’re not going to call sin “sin” or point you to God and the gospel.
- Journal. You may not be a writer, but find a way to record what you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing. It’s helpful for identifying triggers and patterns in behavior, for externalizing what’s happening inside in a safe way, and for remembering both God’s grace as well as actions you don’t want to repeat. I have found that many people who have coped with negative emotion using porn, masturbation, and sex are stunted emotionally and have trouble identifying how they feel. Journaling can allow you a place to process and to grow in your ability in expressing what you are thinking and feeling.
- Memorize Scripture. You need to replace the internal mixtape of lies that you’ve played and believed over the years. My sweet friend who is battling her sexual sin is currently memorizing a Bible verse a week. You see, part of her addiction ritual involved reading explicit sex scenes in books or replaying such scenes in her mind in order to arouse herself. Because this is what filled her mind, she recognized the need to replace those scenes with God’s Word. If you have memories of things you’ve done, read, or watched, create a plan for Scripture memory, and let this be one of your go-to’s when you’re tempted and when your mind wants to replay one of its unhealthy greatest hits. You need to knock off what’s at the top of the charts in your mind, and the only way you do that is by replacing it with something else.
Fighting sin is hard, and one of the things that you’re doing as you fight is retraining your brain. With your sin, you created a road in your brain that was well traveled, for every time you sinned, you wore down that path just a little bit more.
My family moved houses when I was in high school, and because my mom lived in that house for about eighteen years and had to drive by it to get to our new house, it was not uncommon for her to begin pulling into the driveway of our old house before she remembered she no longer lived there.
That’s you with your sin. You no longer live there if you’re trying to change, but because that road is well traveled, it takes time to get used to taking a new road. But good news – one way that God has graciously designed our brains is to allow new neurological pathways to develop. So the more we take the new road, the more well worn it will be while the other will soon look like the go-cart path my brother and I no longer take at the old house – grown over and hardly resembling a path anymore. God gives us this grace, but it means that we have to be persistent in pursuing the new path.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to dealing with our sin. Because the evil is in us, we’ll be battling it on some level throughout our time on this earth. However, it is true and real that God has delivered His people from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. If you are a Christian, then you are no longer a slave to sin, and as one of God’s children, we have this hope – the same Jesus that rose from the grave and defeated sin and death lives in us and empowers us to follow Him. So while changing is harder than confession, Christ is always with you, and if you turn to Him, He will equip and enable you to change.
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Singles 20s/30s Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School. While Ashley has a passion for discipling young women, she also loves her city and authored a child’s guide to Birmingham called Down in the Ham, which was released this summer. When she's not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer's market or trying some new local restaurant.