In my previous essay I said lack of discipline is an addict’s biggest obstacle to permanent recovery so I figure it’s worth exploring further. Bear in mind the dilemma isn’t limited to porn, alcohol or drug addicts. It affects everyone somewhat, whether in their spiritual life, their work ethic or their relationships. Discipline deserves our focus. I’ve gleaned a lot of sage advice and guidance from many gifted Christian writers over the years and I’ll be quoting from a few of them in this piece.
In order for discipline to work one must understand why developing discipline is crucial. First it takes digging. In other words, just admitting I had a porn addiction was one thing, uncovering the roots of that obsession quite another. Whether that oftentimes disturbing excavation project is accomplished with the help of a trained therapist, psychiatric treatment or through the intense step study course offered by Celebrate Recovery, it’s integral to the healing process. Dr. Larry Crabb wrote in Inside Out, “But how far should we go with this? Are we to spend hours, maybe years, pondering how badly we’ve been sinned against until we run out of painful memories? Must we look for new insights about ourself in every dream, every slip of the tongue, every emotion? Should we scrutinize every word we say to see if perhaps a speck of self-protection remains? This business of an inside look could become ridiculous – and damaging. Yet an inside look is necessary. Risky, but necessary if we’re to move beyond superficial change to change from the inside out.” Obviously, it’s not to be undertaken on a whim. Courage is mandatory when confronting long-closeted skeletons but we must remain cognizant we pretty much brought our spirit-crippling affliction upon ourselves and this is the price we pay for doing so. I could go on and on but safe to say it’s difficult to know where you’re headed to if you don’t know where you’re coming from. However, the Christian addict has a huge advantage over the unbeliever in that they have their omnipotent, compassionate and merciful Savior walking by their side throughout their journey to wellness.
That thorough house-cleaning job is a one-time deal whereas maintaining a disciplined lifestyle is ongoing. It’s the “walk the walk” part of recovery. Despite this series of blogs being mainly directed towards Christians who struggle with addiction, my emphasis on strong reliance upon faith isn’t intended to exclude those who don’t share my adoration for Jesus. Yet I can’t explain the importance of discipline without bringing unwavering trust in our higher power into the discourse. My hope is that Christ will use my story to cause some readers to consider asking Him for assistance. (He never says no.) There are many good books that directly or indirectly address the need for discipline in the life of a believer. Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace is one. He wrote, “The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ – God’s goal for every Christian.” Is the bar set incredibly high? You betcha. But what wouldn’t a grateful man or woman do for an innocent person who willingly took a bullet for them? And for their spouse and children? That’s what Jesus did on the cross for all humankind. If that’s not enough incentive to become disciplined then I don’t know what is.
Of course, no guide beats God’s Holy Word. It contains all the answers but we do have to read it. For instance, therein Paul warns that believers, free as we are, must exercise discipline. “’All things are lawful for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’ – but I will not be controlled by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Regarding this passage Bridges opined, “Though we’re continually dependent on the enabling work of the Holy Spirit, we must fulfill our responsibilities. God doesn’t do that for us.” Another fine book is Charles Swindoll’s So You Want to be Like Christ? In it he paraphrases Proverbs 25:28 utilizing modern lingo: “When we fail to control our desires – when we allow our natural inclinations to control us – we’re like a bank vault with a screen door.” Fact is, being a born-again follower of Jesus has never rendered anyone immune from the temptations of the flesh. Self-control is precisely what it implies and it can’t be accomplished without striving to become more disciplined every day. Swindoll wrote, “The exercise of this discipline called self-control prevents desire from becoming dictator. For the person without Christ, desires dictate and he or she obeys. Those in Christ, living under the authority of His Spirit and ruled by Him, are able to defy this once-powerful dictator. As a result, we experience a transforming change that others notice.”
My porn addiction was a brutal dictator for decades. It was always in the immediate vicinity of my awareness, ordering me to constantly seek opportunities to slip out of my “nice guy” costume and dutifully indulge my fantasy factory – as long as I took precautions to keep my addiction covert. When I finally let Christ shine His marvelous light into its darkness, exposing it for the destructive illness it is, the dictator high-tailed it. But it didn’t take being overthrown well. It didn’t surrender, it simply waited. Sure enough, about two years into my recovery it snuck in, aiming to reclaim the throne of my heart. That’s when discipline was most vital. Up till then I’d been riding the wave of exhilaration due to being released from the slavery of addiction. Alas, I briefly relapsed. But I had my encouraging gang of non-judgmental brothers and sisters in Christ who urged me to use the tools I’d acquired through CR. None proved to be more effective than discipline.