If you haven't purchased Surfing for God, I highly recommend it. It's more than a book on porn, it is a book on living a life of authentic masculinity.
In chapter 1 (Getting Your Feathers Back), Michael Cusick shares his story. Michael was my professor when I was a graduate counseling student and a faculty mentor during my graduate assistant days. I have tremendous respect for him and am thrilled for where his journey is taking him.
He begins this chapter with a quote from Sheila Walsh. Sheila is the former hostess of The 700 Club who woke up one day and crashed into depression and identity crisis. She said, "Sometimes God brings gifts into our lives that make our hands bleed when we open the package. But inside we discover what we've been looking for all our lives."
MIchael shares about the FBI raiding an escort service. Michael was a client of the service and feared his co-workers at the church would soon find out about his 'secret immoral life.' A life that included, 'My porn addiction and frequent trips to adult bookstore video booths. My promiscuity, including the club hopping that none of my friends or ministry colleagues had any idea about. The alcohol abuse that became increasingly necessary to numb my shame, depression, and self-hatred. The massage parlors. The strip clubs. The endless cruising for sex-for-pay on darkened streets. And finally, the escort services--an innocent sounding euphemism for high-priced prostitution services that I couldn't afford but also couldn't stop myself from using.'
About now you may be connecting with Michael's story. And you are curious to read more about his journey. Or you may not connect with it and may be dismissing him because you're screwed up, but you aren't that screwed up. To dismiss Michael at this point would be a huge mistake. What he shares in this book gets underneath the particulars of the struggle of pornography to the soul struggles of every man on the planet.
Michael called his sister. They met and he told her everything. She responded with grace and also gave him the number of a Christian counselor. Mike met with the counselor and used his full bag of relational tricks to win people over. He spoke for forty-five minutes with 'an air of bravado and repartee that I had long mastered for situations such as this.'
The counselor told Mike two things, a comment and a question. "You strike me as a very lonely man," and "are you ever at a loss for words?" Michael was undone. His 'bruised and stubborn heart had been exposed.'
It's a beautiful thing when someone cracks through our denial to our deeper brokenness.
Listen to the subtle ways we can begin to craft a false self, a mask under the guise of Christian maturity.
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I wrote a phrase attributed to Charles Spurgeon on the inside cover of my Bible: "A Bible that's falling apart is usually owned by someone who isn't." Right there, in large print and all caps, I established the cardinal rule for my fledgling faith. No falling apart. No weakness. Hold it together whatever the cost. Spurgeon's message was clear to to my mind. A broken life--a life that's falling apart--and a life of intimacy with Christ were incompatible. So I set out to read my Bible until it was dog-eared and falling apart with the hidden hope that my very broken life would hold together. But then I lost my feathers and discovered I could no longer fly.
Later on he talks about C.S. Lewis. Lewis had written about the damage of sexual fantasy. Michael said, "Lewis calls on us to remember what a man is made for: our deepest longing is to know God in the center of our being, and out of that place to offer ourselves for the sake of others."
There is something in us that is created for something bigger than ourselves. When we live only to find relief from our pain or shame it is a very small life.
I love the closing story in the chapter. I love it because the gospel leaks and seeps in transformation in most cases. It may look like an instantaneous turnaround, but usually it's a slow progression over time. In this story Michael dared to hope.
Discovering a Deeper Desire
On a cold winter night in 1994, my addiction to porn and illicit sex still held me firmly in its grip. That night, obsessed with my next fix, I began my typical ritual of acting out sexually. I sat in a familiar parking lot of XXX bookstore, troubled by the routine I was about to perform even though I had carried it out too many times to count. I had a beautiful wife at home, but she was the last thing on my mind.
Less than a block from the porn store sat the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a spectacular edifice that hosted Pope John Paul II earlier that year. Without warning, an impulse to set foot in that house of worship overwhelmed me. I walked toward the cathedral, hiked the tall steps, and opened the monolithic oak door. The cathedral was empty except for a custodian mopping the floor near the altar.
In the cathedral I sat in the back row of pews. The space and silence were terrifying. I couldn't remember the last time I had been alone and given any thought to the world within me. After a few minutes of struggling to pray, I stood and walked to the back corner, where dozens of votive candles were perched on a table. Mustering what little faith I had, I struck a match and lit a candle. I felt no magic and certainly no expectation that my simple action would make my struggles suddenly disappear. But I reconnected with something I had lost--my better self, my true self. As I raised the flame toward its mark, I voiced a prayer that came straight from my true heart: "God, I want more. I want more. I want more."
Then I returned to the pew and scribbled some thoughts in my journal. The building at that moment represented a metaphor for my soul--something empty, dimly lit, disconnected from others. At the same time the structure was glorious. Its buttresses and stained-glass windows pointed upward to something bigger, something beyond. Maybe I was like the cathedral--broken and glorious all at the same time. Maybe it wasn't too late for me to hope.