A friend called and told me that she struggled with online pornography. Isn’t that something only men struggle with? She told me she’d reached out to her small group the previous year, and very gingerly she’d begun the discussion by saying that perhaps women can wrestle with this temptation too. She took the first step, tried to invite others into her process of daily, present salvation. But the looks of disgust in the eyes of the other women in her group shut her down. That’s when it set in— one more year of lonely hell, shame, and bitter condemnation.
She took a risk calling me. I’m grateful for her courage. I told her that her struggle was no different from mine or the self- righteous women who shut her down. I think we fear what we don’t understand. We did some research together and found a group of women in her area who understand this dark wrestling match with pornography. Community is saving her. She’s not alone.
I have a girlfriend who’s an alcoholic. She’s in treatment for the second time. If she could move to a world where no alcohol existed, then perhaps she could stop being so afraid of failing again. Once she said these words to me on the phone: “I’m a failure. I’m a horrible person.” I understood why she felt that way. She’s a mom. Her children have seen her drunk, and her struggles have impacted her family. But though she fell and it wasn’t pretty, she didn’t stop there. Instead, she resolved to get back up, and she’s trying again. She’s wrestling with the beast that wants to steal her days by offering what she craves.
I wasn’t allowed to call her during her six weeks of inpatient treatment. I could write to her and pray for her. Daily I asked Jesus to be present with her through others who understand her struggle, through His Word, and through quiet prayer. She called me when she was on her way home to her family— shaky, vulnerable, but tasting hope. Her greatest fear, she said, would be to fall again after believing she was healed. I told her I believe it’s possible to be healed and to fall again and again. Grace doesn’t come with a sell- by date, I said.
I reminded her of Paul’s promise: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Phil. 1:6).
If we are still on this earth, then the work is not finished. God has committed to work with us in that journey until Christ returns. How I wish for a greater understanding of this in the body of Christ. Too often we judge, measure, condemn, and isolate. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to sit together in our rags under the wide-open sky of grace. Does that mean it doesn’t matter how we live? No. What I mean is that condemnation and isolation are the tools of the enemy. The Holy Spirit brings conviction, which draws us closer to Christ. Condemnation pushes us back into the darkness.
We all have struggles, though they look different— booze, anger, bitterness, pills, disconnection from our children or spouse, drugs, discontent with our career, conflict with our boss or neighbor, porn, homosexuality, depression, physical illness— it’s all the stuff of present brokenness. And though we, the church, have little grace for certain struggles, that is why Jesus came. He came to save us for eternity, yes, but He also came to save us today.
I remember the morning I picked up my local newspaper and read the headline that had my name in it. I’d had a nervous breakdown on national television, just weeks after the Rich Mullins interview. I was so ashamed. Lying on my bedroom carpet, curled up in a fetal position, I cried until I had no tears left. I prayed over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I’ve let You down.” Although I’ve never heard God’s audible voice, I perceived— in the deepest broken part of me— God saying, “My child, do you believe that I love you?”
That was the most important question of all, the one that’s redefined me. It has never been about me getting it right. You either. We’ve got it all upside down. We see from the earth up, but God sees from heaven down. We see ourselves from the perspective of the mud we’re sitting in, but God sees us through the blood of Christ that washes us clean, in the present, in the middle of our messes. And in His love, He wants to save us— in the present. He wants to give us strength for our broken, beautiful lives.
Sheila joins James and Betty this Tuesday on LIFE TODAY and continues her series “In the Middle of the Mess” every Wednesday. Taken from In the Middle of the Mess by Sheila Walsh. Copyright ©2017 by Nelson Books. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.