The overwhelmingly standard evangelical response to sexual brokenness has been to address it through the lens of “lust management,” even declaring war against it. This approach has oversimplified and trivialized a far more complex issue within human sexuality. Efforts to eliminate lust will set us up to manage our sexual lives with a tourniquet. We spend the best years of our lives attempting to stop the flow of lust through darting our eyes from beautiful people, slapping rubber bands around our wrists when we have sexual thoughts, and asking accountability partners, in an attempt to stay vulnerable in community, to keep account of what erotic websites we’ve visited. I think we can all agree this cannot be what God had in mind for sex and community. The reality that more than half our faith leaders and the great majority of Christians view pornography should indicate that our strategies have proven ineffective.
Our inability to succeed in purity only compounds our pain. And then, in our pain, we default to the same ineffective treatment plan. We spend time in prayer, fast, pursue accountability, and hope that God might change us. The complexity is that the underlying issues that drive our sexual lust and anger do not get examined.
How many of us have ever asked God to help us understand our lust? [
] is an invitation to heal, but to do so, your current framework for understanding and treating your problems will likely need to be abandoned.
Fantasies Are Road Maps
Despite the overwhelming grip of shame and guilt, I do not believe that sexual fantasies are something to condemn. Sexual arousal is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and we do not need to spend a lifetime annihilating it. And although some sexual behavior is abhorrent and should be discontinued, addressing sexual struggles through the lens of abhorrent behavior intensifies shame, and shames drives us deeper into the very behavior we wish to stop.
There is another approach. It begins by listening to our lust.
Sexual failures, Internet searches, and browser histories expose our sin, but far more, they are road maps. Sexual brokenness pinpoints the location of our past harm and highlights the current roadblocks that keep us from the freedom we desire. If we are willing to listen, our sexual struggles will have so much to teach us.
You may not like the “map” you’ve been given, but to navigate your way out of unwanted sexual behavior, you will need to pay closer attention to what it desires to show you. One evening of deliberate curiosity for your sexual fantasies will take you further into transformation than a thousand nights of prayerful despair.
Sexual Brokenness: The Geography of God’s Arrival
Scripture is clear that God moves into human struggle, rather than teleporting us out of it. At the beginning of the Gospel of John, God moves so much into human struggle that he takes on our sarx—the New Testament word for the vulnerable, proneto-sin form of flesh—and “move[s] into the neighborhood” (1:14, msg). Our sexual brokenness is the geography of God’s arrival.
It is my conviction that the God of the universe is neither surprised by nor ashamed of the sexual behavior we participate in. Instead, he understands it to be the very stage through which the work of redemption will be played out in our lives. Present sin is the doorway to the wider work of the gospel to bring healing to the wounds of the past and comfort, even power, to the difficulties of the present. Therefore, the sooner we assume a posture of curiosity for our sexual brokenness, the more we will prepare our hearts for the redemptive work ahead.
God approaches us for our joy, not due to his disappointment in us. His heart is to exchange beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and praise for despair (see Isaiah 61:3). There is no depth of shame that the love of God cannot reach. There is no story he cannot redeem. The paradox of the gospel is that our failures do not condemn us; they connect us.
God’s Curious Pursuit
There is a story in Genesis 16 about an Egyptian teenager by the name of Hagar. She is brought in as a concubine because Abram and Sarai have been struggling with infertility issues for more than ten years. Hagar, whose name means “stranger” or “sojourner,” successfully conceives a child for Abram and Sarai. But Sarai, the barren wife, turns on Hagar and unleashes mistreatment. Commentators of this story have remarked that this mistreatment has a particularly cruel bent to it, some even suggesting it to be as severe as sexual assault.10
In the next scene, Hagar is on the run, heading into the desert, where by all accounts she will die. It is here in the wilderness, the geography of trauma and death, that a miraculous thing happens. The presence of God finds this pregnant teenager and asks her the two best questions any one of us can be asked when we are in distress: “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” (verse 8).
What I want to underscore is that the voice of the Lord is never filled with accusation or frustration. God’s presence invites us to greater reflection as to how our unwanted lives became the way they are today.
Far more than trying to diagnose you as a sinner or addict, I will ask you questions. Our sexual brokenness, if we pay attention, is revealing our way to healing. As we begin this journey, ask yourself, Where is it that I come from? And where is it that I am going? May your heart be curious as you study the great tragedy and beauty that your story reveals.
Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing
is a ground-breaking resource that explores the “why” behind self-destructive sexual choices. The book is based on research from over 3,800 men and women seeking freedom from unwanted sexual behavior, be that the use of pornography, an affair, or buying sex.
Jay Stringer’s (M.Div, MA, LMHC) original research found that unwanted sexual behavior can be both shaped by and predicted based on the parts of our story—past and present—that remain unaddressed. When we pay attention to our unwanted sexual desires and identify the unique reasons that trigger them, the path of healing is revealed.
Although many of us feel ashamed and unwanted after years of sexual brokenness, the book invites the reader to see that behavior as the very location God can most powerfully work in their lives. Counselors, pastors, and accountability partners of those who experience sexual shame will also find in this book the deep spiritual and psychological guidance they need to effectively minister to the sexually broken around them.