Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Best Of: Adventures in Accountability (AKA: Lust Problems are Heart Problems)

***Here's an oldie, but a goodie resurrected for my new followers (or a reminder for the faithful readers). Enjoy!

Money: Good for spending, good for saving, good for deterring sin.

Or so I thought...

As a broke, hormonal college student, I came up with a seemingly brilliant plan to kick my lustful habits after taking in a particularly fascinating lecture on the Psychology of Learning. We had been studying various theories of behavior modification, including the infamous concepts of punishment and reward, and it got the wheels in my mind a turnin' as to how I could implement greater self-control in my sex life (ahem, "sex life"...I don't feel as though I need to elaborate on that for you singles...).

Sheer willpower alone simply wasn't cutting it: When the frustration was high, I threw consequence to the wind and allowed lust to take over. "I could be strong if I wanted to...," I reasoned. Yet, I often wasn't...simply because I didn't want to be. In those moments, I wanted fun and feeling more than I wanted a particular fruit of the Spirit. So, without plain ole self-control, I decided to become my own psychological case study and test out some behavior mod plans. The first and most infamous involved a valuable and rare commodity on campus...cash.

Money, as we know, is a powerful motivator (ever get paid for doing your chores or getting good grades as a kid? Well, neither did I, but you see my point in principle...). By default, then, I assumed that lack of money would create an equally substantial push towards transformation. Especially for a college student (The saying is true: "There's broke...then there's college broke..."). In my ORU days, I could not conceive of anything more tragic than losing a precious $20 bill. And BOOM, in that instant, that dramatic possibility fused together with the concept of "negative punishment" just extrapolated upon by Dr. Feller.

"THAT is how I'm gonna kick this lust problem!" I shouted in victory (okay, maybe not shouted...) and ran to tell my brilliant little plan to my best friend down the hall.

"Okay, you have to be my accountability partner," I told her (busting out the requisite Christianese that my pricey Christian education taught me).

"Um...okay. For what?"

"You know what..." I glared at her, "but I have this AMAZING plan that's gonna help so much!"

I then proceeded to tell her the details of what has now become infamously known as the "Burn a $20 experiment." Yes, you read that right. Just like the name implied, every time I found myself indulging in a particular lustful habit, I would force myself to confess it to my friend, grab a lighter and painfully watch a $20 bill from my own wallet slowly disintegrate in flames. The very thought was disheartening. Surely, I would never give into lust again!

"Whoa, that's intense!" my friend said, "Are you sure?"

No price was too high to maintain my purity, I declared. Yes, THIS would be the elusive sin cure I had been looking for! (I had high hopes to market this wonderful little scheme to the rest of the college population soon...).

For weeks, I victoriously prevailed. Until one day...I didn't.

Uh oh. Here goes "the plan"...

Trouble was, I was broke. I didn't even have $20 in my bank account...much less my wallet! Hmmm...this unfortunate scenario had not been factored into my clever scheme...

I DID, however, confess my folly to my good ole AP. She told me not to feel bad...she had screwed up too and was in the same boat (lust runs rampant on the Christian college campus...).

"Just call this grace this time..." she told me.

Long story short, grace became the name of the game. It was so "convenient" that every time I fell into sin, I didn't have enough money to punish myself for my mistake (or I did, but I had a bill to pay or some other excuse why I couldn't part with my precious dinero). Eventually, the sin debt I racked up was far too high for me to pay back (much less keep track of). Thus, I dubbed the whole ritual ridiculous and abolished it. Never once did I bust out a lighter or a match. In theory, my plan was fool-proof. In practice, I just realized how much "brilliant plans" tend to suck. Especially when all they teach you to do is become a little Pharisee...

Years later, I look back at that stage and I laugh at myself. I really did think that behavior modification techniques would keep me out of trouble. Trouble is, they only dealt with my actions...not with my heart.

Jesus said the heart is what counts. He condemned the Pharisees for being "white-washed tombs," striving to look all holy on the outside (doing all the "right" things), while inside they were rotting away with the sin of pride. In the case of King David, the Bible tells us very clearly that "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Creating our own little rules for minimizing sin gets us nowhere. It might work for a season (or in the case of "Burn a $20," not at all), but in the end, it will never get us what we want. Behavior modification will never lead to heart transformation...which is ultimately what we are so deeply craving...

Don't fool yourself: A lust problem (as with any sin problem) is always a heart problem. As much as we try to sugarcoat it, chalk it up to "just feeling horny" or rationalize that it affects no one else but us (ahem, lie), it is very much connected to the deepest emotional/spiritual needs within us.

I dare you to be honest with God the next time you want to give into lust. Tell Him what you're feeling...honestly ("I really wanna ______ right now!"). He knows your sex drive...He created it! Trust me, He can handle anything you have to confess to Him. So, in that moment of decision (where you always have a window to escape from the intensity of the temptation...1 Corinthians 10:13), I dare you to ASK God: "Why do I want this so much?" I can guarantee that if your heart is not calloused and you still actually DO desire purity, the answer will relate to your heart, not your hormones...

We give into lust for a lot of reasons...we're bored, depressed, stressed...but primarily, we go there for one very significant (and deeply painful) reason...we're lonely. We long for a love that is deep, transcendent and real. When we are honest, we want more than just an orgasm. We want to be close to someone. We want to be embraced. We want to share that moment with someone who knows us deeply...someone who we trust.

Blame it on the romantic in me, but THESE are the desires reflected back at me every time I ask God to reveal my heart in moments of lust. Lust is so painfully counterfeit...and always leaves us empty. That's because deep down, our hearts know we were made for more...

For years, I thought I had "overcome" sexual sin through behavior modification. Living by a series of pop-psychological (Pharisaical?) techniques, I learned to carefully control my actions whist carefully neglecting my heart (it hurt too much to deal with...). I even taught those willpower methods to my discipleship students (lol...and "Burn a $20" didn't make the list, fyi). And although I do think those techniques were wise discipleship methods, without deep soul surgery, they only bandage a wound. I know that because for all those years I abstained, old habits returned shockingly quickly and became just as ritual as they once were when I abandoned my self-control. Simply because I failed to keep my heart pure.

My life as a white-washed tomb...

Yet, my friend was right...we can always call it grace. Or call on grace, to be precise. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they thought they could count on their clever rules to fix their lives. They thought they could forget the internal stuff. They thought they didn't really need God...or His amazing gift of grace.

But nothing else...and no one else...can heal a heart. And if you struggle with lust, odds are, you need less "rule making" and behavior modification...and much, much more of the Heavenly Father's life-transforming love invading your heart.

Got idle hands? Take hold of THAT...

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17-19

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Getting Naked Later": A Must-Read for Single Ladies

Learning to accept "imperfect me."
Challenged to toss aside "the list" and rethink my expectations.
Shunning legalistic, "if/then" formulas for finding a spouse.
Experiencing that pang of hurt over married friends "and their Facebook pictures of their beautiful children."
Giving myself permission to grieve the spouse and babies I've never even had.
Busting out the occasional rant and pity party over my singleness, yet ultimately holding onto hope in Jesus.

I feel like Kate Hurley, author of Getting Naked Later: A Guide for The Fully Clothed, swiped my diary and tied up all my thoughts into a book complete with adorable graphics and gorgeous song lyrics. But surprisingly, she didn't...this is her own story: One so quirky and fun, you can't wait to hear what ode to 90's childhood (teen years?) analogy she'll bust out next, yet one so honest and genuine that you can only wonder why you never heard someone else honestly verbalize those feelings before now.

Getting Naked Later is a hilarious, godly and authentic heart cry about living the single life...at an age when you never expected to (still) be in such a state. Like beautiful and accomplished Kate (worship leader, missionary and noted blogger), I'm confident that many a single gal reading this can relate to the questions/pressure Kate gets from others (and herself) regarding her/our "(seemingly) forever bridesmaid" status.

The book is not so much an advice guide as it is a memoir. Maybe that's why I feel like she just typed out my own journal. It's an inside look into the mind of single, thirysomething Christian woman (helpful insights for moms, dads, siblings, boyfriends and brothers/sisters in Christ of such single ladies too!). As an author, Kate has (wisely) chosen not just to restrict herself just to the topic of singleness, though. Getting Naked is a journey expressing valuable lessons on trust, thankfulness, grief and transitions. Good thing...as my life (as a reader) is far more complex than my (lack of) relationship status. Yours too, no doubt.

As for style, smart and saavy Kate seamlessly weaves quotes from Henri Nouwen, Jesus Culture and When Harry Met Sally into quirky little, well-timed concoctions of insight. Couple that with her hilarious humor, and it's clear that right from the start, Getting Naked Later is going to be worth the read. Chapter titles like "Thirty, Flirty and Fertile," and "The Rant Chapter," reveal that Kate doesn't take herself too seriously to think she has all the answers (although her personal revelations can certainly get you thinking about some key questions you've never thought of before). Personally, I totally dig her little tongue-in -cheek humor poking fun at Christian culture too ("I should get a Dove award or something"). Hilarious! Don't for a minute think Getting Naked is just fluff and comedy, though. Kate brings the Word with reflection on the story of Hannah (singleness being the new barrenness) and ways we give in to the Older Brother syndrome (a la the story of the Prodigal Son) thinking we should/could somehow earn our blessings from our "righteous" living, just to name a few. This biblical wisdom, penned from a fellow thirtysomething single, is deeply refreshing and inspiring. She's speaking Truth, and backing it up with life experiences we both understand. Love it!

Yet I wonder if Kate knows just how much her honest thoughts resonate with others. She has courage to write things  in this book that so many wouldn't even dream to admit...yet think every day. It's ironic that this book is titled Getting Naked Later, because in a very real sense, Kate is bearing all here. This boldness pays off in her ability to relate with her readers, as she lets us in on intimate God moments and challenging accountability conversations with counselors and trusted friends. Her vulnerability pays off though, as through her disclosure, both Kate and her readers feel known by the end of the book. "I think we all need to feel understood," Kate says, '"even if just for a little while."

Because of this rare and raw depth of honesty, from the first chapter, I quickly decide that Kate and I would be friends if we met in real life. I'm convinced that she and I would have some great coffee shop chats, and that she'd be a much-loved addition to girls night...especially when she says things like "I'm the Martha Stewart of pity parties" (she even includes her pity party check-list in the book!) and "I am the queen of giving advice about things that I don't have much experience with." Hahaha. Yes...we would definitely be friends.

So, if you're friends with ME, allow me to introduce you to Kate Hurley, her book and her blog. She'll be your new fav in no time...trust me!

Before you jet off to Amazon, though, allow me to offer up three quotes I absolutely love from this book that only other single, thirtysomething ladies can understand....

"We singles hate it when marrieds tell us that we should do everything we can while we are single because we have loads of extra time. We often think that we've had enough adventures and just want to have babies."

"Maybe it's that I often feel like I have been perpetually living the life of a college student, roommates and all, for the last fifteen years. I don't even want to think about how many times I've moved during that time."

"I often struggle with feeling like my life means less because I have no children and no family to invest in."

Sigh. I can soooo relate! I'm betting you can too...

So, what are you waiting for? Read it. As Kate says: "We are really not that different at all." Believe me, it's such a relief to know that someone else "gets" this singleness thing...and isn't afraid to share the real story.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Missionary Dating...For Real!

Look what I just found!!


I can't believe it...a matchmaking site for missionaries...

First reactions?

1. They stole my idea!
2. It's about time
3. Sign me up :)

To be continued....

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sinful Sarah Receives Redemption

Sarah (as in Abraham and Sarah, noted power couple of Scripture) gets a bad rap.

This past week, I've been thinking a lot about Sarah and how many Christian (women) need to revisit her story and learn what her life...messiness, mistakes and all...can teach us.

Up until now, I never thought very highly of Sarah. When I recall her story, I general only remember the following (unflattering) tidbits...

1. She and her hubby wanted a baby and couldn't have one. God made Abraham a promise that they WOULD have children, yet, even after that, years passed with no baby in sight. So, in stereotypical female fashion, Sarah "took matters into her own hands" and told Abraham to sleep with her servant so they could have children. (The original baby mama drama right here...).

2. That one decision ended up stirring up some major jealously in Sarah (um, duh! You told your husband to sleep with another woman, who then had the child you couldn't have!) and eventually led her to sending away her servant and her husband's son into the desert to die. No bueno...

3. Eventually, Sarah DID have a child...at the ripe ole' age of 90!! And it was brought about only by God's miraculous intervention...not her own schemes.

Immortalized in women's Bible studies on the topics of jealousy and control, Sarah tends to live in infamy as the bad guy in the Abraham/Sarah union. Abraham doesn't typically get his dirty laundry put on display in sermons. But most of what we hear of Sarah was that she was the one who lacked faith, took control, walked in jealousy and had some pretty messed up ideas about sexual boundaries in marriage.

The Old Testament is pretty harsh when it comes to Sarah's biography, yet we see some shocking redemption when we flip further in the Book. Try Hebrews 11...the great hall of fame of faith. Lots of men in there--notable heroes who did epic things for God. Noah, Moses, David, just to name a few. Yet tucked away in that chapter is our good friend Sarah...the one we so often hold up as our "what NOT to do" model...as a prime example of faith in the promises of God. What???

It's true. Check out verse 11 (emphasis mine)...

"And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise."

No, it wasn't ONLY the great faith of Father Abraham that brought a miraculous bundle of joy to this elderly, infertile couple. Clearly God saw some praiseworthy faith in Sarah to make sure she was noted forever in Scripture for her belief.

Cool side note: Mary (mother of Jesus) is praised for having this same kind of faith when the Lord tells her that SHE will miraculously have a baby: "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45). I like that parallel and am forever encouraged by that verse. But I digress. Back to Sarah...

Humanity always shines through in Scripture. Flaws and failings are on parade for all to see...right alongside all the victories and heroic faith. This is, of course, to show us that people are people and that the real hero of our stories is always God. Sarah too is a wonderful example of this...God's grace at work DESPITE our epic fails.

Sarah, like many of us, felt like she heard a promise from God...she would not live without a legacy! Even when it was way, WAY too late and didn't make any earthly sense, God promised that He would indeed provide her with the desire of her heart. And yes, He would do this even after she screwed up...big time. She did things her way and made lots of unwise, worldly decisions. But somewhere along the way, Sarah had a change of heart. I can speculate that the untold part of her story involved repentance...and a supernatural growth of trust in the Lord. Because although the Bible clearly recounts her sin, it very highly commends her faith.

And thus we are left in the New Testament with a legacy of Sarah that holds her up as a woman of faith. Someone, who despite screw ups and seasons of seriously lacking faith, somewhere along the way decided to truly trust. She believed that God would bless her and give her her heart's desire...even after each passing decade gave her more and more reasons to doubt.

This simple thought about Sarah's faith encourages me. Because I am a modern-day Sarah. A woman who struggles with jealously when she sees other women having babies and receiving blessings at such a young age  and without the struggle. A woman who takes matters into her own hands to do all the "logical" things to make God's dreams for her life come true (without Him). A woman who has failed to believe, yet has gotten back on track (by His grace) to sincerely hold fast to His promises. Despite MY sin and screw ups, I really do believe God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

I, like Sarah, certainly don't deserve for Him to bless me. Sarah's story reminds me of the powerful reality of grace. Not only does our God never give up on us, He chooses to honor the little faith we put in Him.

I pray He finds me faithful...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Letter To My 28 Year Old Self

Today I watched this hilarious little comedy sketch* where a peppy little late 20's girl sings a song about her (love) life whilst sitting alongside her future early 30's self--a now bitter soul. The video was a perfect example of what a difference two years makes--especially when you're a single woman straddling strategic decades.

Younger version sings about feeling so happy about her life--how she's finally come into her own, feeling like a confident, beautiful, grownup with "plenty of time" left to find true love. Late 20's grins with much hope as she strums her innocent little ukulele and dreams about the bright future ahead.

Twenty seconds later, the scene shifts...

Slightly older version ditches the cute ukelele, instead opting for angry screamo. She proclaims obnoxiously, through a myriad of expletives: "THERE'S NOBODY LEFT! I'M ALL ALONE!!" Depressed and jaded, "31" resents her younger self for being so "naive" and optimistic, whilst she sadly counts each day that passes with no prospects in sight.

Art imitates life? Yes, indeed. I've been here: At the crazy crossroads of hope and bitterness, trying hard not to succumb to the sarcastic temptations of the "older version" of the beautiful girl.

The truth is, there was and is wisdom in both seasons. Over the last two years, I've forgotten some very important lessons (or decided they were somehow untrue of me now that I crossed the threshold into my 30's) I once knew, but I've also learned some valuable truths my more "innocent" 28 year old self had yet to discover.

If my former and present selves were to sit down next to the other and offer some timely life-stage wisdom to the other, it just might come out like this...

What my 28 year old self should have been told by older, wiser, present-day me:

-Don't judge those who are older than you and still single. Don't think you could never be one of them...

-Consider your guy friends--young, single guys are a dime a dozen in environments like YWAM, but the numbers decrease drastically outside "the bubble" of Christian colleges, camps and missions orgs. Years down the road, you start to question why exactly you passed by those great options in favor of something more shiny and new.

-Don't get too focused on one guy, assuming that one day he'll "come around" and realize how amazing you are. Don't compare everyone else to him and thus ignore any other prospects. Remember that if he hasn't pursued you, he's just not that into you. This is okay! You're young and you still have time (note: late 20's is not old!!). Move on and keep your eyes open!

-Go out more and get to know more people. Have fun and make the most out of being young and single. Don't be passive about your "waiting."

-It's okay to flirt. Try it... ;)

-Someday soon, people will start calling you "Ma'am." Sorry sweetie, this is inevitable. Try not to be offended, as it is not a personal reflection on you, merely that store clerks and Starbucks baristas are getting younger and younger and they've been (mistakenly) taught that this is a term of respect to anyone older than 24. But don't worry, this unfortunate occurrence is made up for by the fact that you will still often get carded and catch the eye of younger men when you go out. Because of your fun and youthful personality, revealing your real age will continue to shock people time and time again :)

-Be open to new possibilities when it comes to your "type." As much as it may shock you now, in the next few years, you'll suddenly find yourself interested in men in the military, guys with blond hair (or no hair!), dudes with beards...and (gasp!) even a few hipsters. It's okay; go with it. Enjoy the variety while you're still single...before you need to settle down with just one :)

-Don't commit too quickly. Take your time getting to know guys (especially online). Are there any red flags? Like, legitimate deal breakers that you won't even tell your family or girlfriends about because you know they will tell you to break it off. Hmmmm. Yeah. About that... Kill it now, girl. Don't even go there. Seriously. Regret sucks...

-Lastly, remember how sexy you feel right now. In two years, you will look nearly the same. Turning 30 doesn't somehow age you more drastically than normal. You will still be attractive 2 years from now. Don't let age define how you feel about yourself.

What my 30 year old self needs to learn from the younger, innocent dreamer me:

-Be hopeful and trust that God is working...especially when you feel the worst and don't see any glimpse of change. Remember that God has always been faithful to you. He's always provided...

-It's true what people say: You get better with time. Just two years ago, you loved who you were and how you looked. You were thankful to have found your own style, to be living out of your strengths and to be confident enough to enjoy your youth. You are getting better, not worse. Believe it...

-Don't be jealous of your friends getting married; be happy for them...keeping in mind that you will be that girl one day! :) Trust that God is preparing a love story for you that is equally (if not more) amazing.

-Don't settle. Don't let another birthday compel you to cross a deal-breaker off the list.

-It's okay to flirt. Seriously. Pure and sexy CAN by synonymous.

-Don't long for a 21 year old body (remember what it felt like to be 21...your view of yourself was far more paranoid than pretty. Don't let the photos deceive you...). A 30 year old body (with it's accompanying 30 year old mind) will have more grace on itself and learn to see itself as more gorgeous with each passing year.

-Look in the mirror. You have a wonderful smile, gorgeous eyes and nice...ahem..."feminine features." Believe it. You are a gift.

In short, if present and past me were to convene, the consensus would seem to be "Prepare to be surprised." As 30 would say, Be open to what the Lord will do...and as 28 would remind, trust that God is at work.

It's never too late when God is involved.

*I have to give credit where credit is due. The video I'm referring to is called "29/31" and is by a band called Garfunkel and Oates. You can look it up if you'd want, although I couldn't bring myself to put a link here (handful of F bombs and the C-word. Yikes!). Funny and idea inspiring, nonetheless! So, there...you've been given proper citation...and warning! Do as you will.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Singleness Strain: An International Phenomenon

Did you know that in the past few years, the Chinese actually created a specific word to describe highly educated, professional single woman over the ages of 27?

It's called Sheng Nu...literally translated "leftover women."

But WHY? Why in a country where men significantly outnumber women?

It breaks my heart that this pattern of unwanted singleness for women is not just an American "epidemic"....

From what I've read, these women (enough in China to warrant an entire new word to describe their existence!) are NOT uber-controlling feminists. In fact, quite the opposite...they are very traditional. They are NOT shunning marriage. They desire marriage and even traditional gender roles (the man being the primary provider) but are not finding quality men who are making it happen.

I have some theories...most having to do with the passive nature of men and the fear/intimidation of said males to pursue educated and successful women (much longer post needed to digress on this particular point). But my other theory is that these girls are still (like many of us) are "in the waiting," patiently hoping for their princes and not taking matters into their own hands. Thus they watch the years pass by and the single season lengthen...

Again, it just breaks my heart. Especially since these girls live in a shame-based culture that puts the blame on THEM for not being married already. How awful to be made to feel guilty for not already "achieving" a deep heart's desire that you so desperately hope for? As I've said before here on VV, it's not like women have 100% control in this area. There is only so much we can do to "make it happen."

In putting the blame and guilt back on these single women, articles have surfaced with titles like "Don't Pity China's 'Leftover Women'" and "How China's 'Leftover Women' Are to Blame" in order to pressure "sheng nu" into lowering their standards and just "getting married already."

And statements like this (quoted in a BBC article) feel like a punch in the gut...

"'These girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don't realise that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls.'"

(p.s. I am shocked that that was even put in print!)

This whole thing hearkens back to the timeless dilemma of whether or not a smart woman should "dumb herself down" in order to catch a guy's eye.

Ugh. Are we STILL doing that? Really?

It is not feminism to say that a woman should be herself and express her "girl power" (infamous 90's references again...). In fact, this is BIBLICAL. From a Christian perspective, women need to have their identities founded in Christ (not what men or society think of them) and also be good stewards of the gifts, talents and brains God gave them. To not do so is to "bury our talents" and miss out on the "Well done!" from our Master. Single women...we must make the most of what we've been given!

So, allow me to say, Rock on Chinese single girls! You are NOT leftovers. Don't give in to the pressure. Jesus will provide what you need (even when society tells you to settle)!

After all, wasn't the Proverbs 31 gal a classy, generous, hard-working business woman? She is the very picture of Biblical womanhood.

Here's to all the single girls living that out around the world. Without shame...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food, Sex and Stuff (What I've Learned about Lust)

*Note: This is an article I had published earlier this year. I changed the title for you VV readers to what I originally hoped it would be, but alas, wasn't gonna fly in the original publication (oh, censorship!). Hope you enjoy it!

“And I'll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’"' (Luke12:19, NLT).

The Bible is the great revealer of human nature—it pegs me every time. Although I’d never proclaim that as my life verse, I can’t deny that this is the way I think. I justify my lack of self-control with cliché’s: “Life is short. Don’t deny yourself anything you want. Go ahead, do what makes you happy. Have another [fill in the blank]. You deserve it...”

After all, life’s about being happy, right?

Here’s the thing—I’m not happy. When I’m pouring my time, money and thoughts into fueling my cravings at all costs, I’m completely miserable. Depressed. Yet, I keep believing that lie—thinking that this time it might actually be true. That lie that tells me that THIS is the thing that will satisfy me. This piece of chocolate. This little “innocent” fantasy of what it might be like if I was married to that guy who sits across the aisle from me at church. This new pair of shoes.

Material things, food and men—I crave for them all in interchangeable measures, hoping they are the solution to the happiness that seems to elude me.

When I was 18 years old, I admitted to a room full of near strangers that I struggled with sexual lust. That moment of confession was the first step towards healing, in a process that would take years to work through. Yet while the sexual nature of that struggle has been tamed to a very large degree (and I can claim freedom from old habits), I must honestly admit that my battle with lust is far from over.

For several years, I had the wonderful, humbling privilege of leading intensive discipleship programs for young adults. Mentoring young women through an intentional process of finding healing from their struggles, I noticed an interesting pattern in those I was discipling (one eerily similar to myself just a few years prior). Just when one would seem to be experiencing real victory from sexual struggles, suddenly, a new struggle reared its ugly head. Men were no longer the primary thought on their minds—now it was food.

It’s no coincidence that a sexual struggle can quickly turn into a food struggle. They’re both about lust. Wanting, desiring, craving something so intensely. Once we realize that one thing doesn’t have the ability to satisfy us like we hoped it would, we turn to something else. The object of our affection might have changed, but the hunger is still there—a hunger that drives us to overindulge, throw away self-control completely (“I’ll work on that later…”) and ultimately, seek to find a savior for our pain in something other than Jesus.

I’m certainly not proud of this, but I choose to so openly share it because I believe vulnerability begets vulnerability. If I confess my struggle to you, it may just give you greater courage to bring your struggle into the light. Scripture tells us that “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8, NLT). When we are honest with ourselves (stop living in denial of our issues) and others, however, God blesses us with a unique grace that can’t quite be articulated—you have to experience it for yourself to know just how much this vulnerability thing will change your life. In a moment of repentant confession, the hold that shame had on us is suddenly and dramatically broken. Although it certainly doesn’t sound pleasant (ripping our proverbial skeletons from the closet and exposing them is not exactly a prospect most of us get excited about), I can assure you that the end result is. It is the very thing the enemy fears. He knows we gain a stronger relationship with both God and others when we step into the light (1 John 1:6-7).

So, in my attempts to distance myself from darkness, I have already admitted to you that the darkness is not always far from me. In fact, sometimes I choose it. I know the Sunday School answer, yet, I am led away by the lust of my eyes—stuff, guys and sweets. I believe the lie that the glorious taste of that glazed cruller will ease my anxiety of the day. I succumb to the deception that that ultra-cute purse will magically pep up my mood. I am convinced that finding Mr. Right will silence the deeper longing in my heart for unconditional love. Yet all of these are lies. Total deception.

Just this last one, lust whispers coolly, THIS will fix it. The truth is that lust never satisfies. It never makes good on its claims—it always wants more.

I write this because I –former missionary and full-time church staff member—need to be reminded of it daily. I need to constantly set the Truth before my eyes; the Truth that sets me free. And THAT—the boundless freedom of being ruled by nothing other than Christ—is truly what I crave.