Seeing people, not objects

I’d like to address something that I once used as an excuse for indulging in my addiction.  It’s an important topic to me, and I have formed very strong opinions on it.  Because I feel so strongly about it, I’m concerned that I’ll come off as “preachy.”  I hope I don’t.  I only mean to convey the truths I’ve learned in a clear, unmistakable manner.

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (the Apostle John, 1 John 2:16).

There was a time in my addiction recovery when I got frustrated and angry with women who dress immodestly.  I thought, “My recovery would be a lot easier if women would cover themselves more.”  Perhaps others have had or heard similar thoughts.  Here are a few that I’ve heard:

“Women (men) should dress modestly because it helps men (women) keep their thoughts clean.”

“It’s not a man’s fault that he has so many sexual urges.  Women are just more virtuous than men.”

“Men naturally think about sex more than women do.  They can’t help it.”

“I couldn’t help looking at her (him) because of what she (he) was wearing.”

“If women (men) would dress more modestly then I wouldn’t have such a hard time controlling my eyes.”

And the list goes on…

Here’s what I’ve learned: These statements are all lies.

Women are not responsible for a man’s thoughts or behaviors.  Men are not responsible for a woman’s thoughts or behaviors.  Women are not inherently more virtuous than or superior to men (and vice versa).  Men are not inherently less virtuous or inferior to women (and vice versa).

I am responsible for my own thoughts and behavior.

I came to learn this after much thought, struggle, prayer, and study.  I think it took me a while to reach these conclusions because their opposites (see the list of lies above) are much easier to believe.  They encouraged and enabled my addictive behavior and thoughts.  Subscribing to them made me a victim.  “It’s not my fault that some women choose to dress that way.  And because I’m a male, it’s so much harder for me to control my thoughts.”

Yes, being in public can sometimes be extremely difficult for me.  Heck, living in this world can be difficult for anyone striving not to be of the world.  Billboards, TV and radio commercials, Internet advertisements, music, movies… one doesn’t have to search long before finding inappropriate sexual material.  In fact, in today’s world, one doesn’t even have to search for it in order to be exposed to it.

Nevertheless, God doesn’t excuse me from seeking to rid my life, mind, and heart of it:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:28).

I also believe that feelings of attraction are not evil.  They’re normal, even good, divinely-designed elements of being human.  But there’s a distinct line between acknowledging attraction towards a person and coveting a person, between observing beauty and entertaining thoughts.

Instead of looking at other people as objects to satisfy one’s lust, I believe that God wants us to look at each other as His children—beings of infinite worth and potential.  There’s a reason lusting after another person isn’t a praiseworthy or shameless thing to do.  There’s a reason one feels uncomfortable or guilty doing it, and even tries to hide it.  Like any other sin, it’s wrong not because God says it’s wrong; it’s wrong because it’s wrong.

Learning to deal with addiction in the moment of temptation has been very difficult for me.  I can’t count the number of times when faced with temptation that my choices have required repentance and re-commitment, only to be almost immediately followed by another choice that requires repentance and re-commitment.  My powerlessness over my addiction can become maddening and disheartening if I’m not in the correct frame of mind.  But I have learned that God doesn’t expect me to face the difficulties of life on my own, and He certainly doesn’t want or require that I face my addiction on my own.  In fact, He wants me to reach out to Him for help.  He wants me to independently choose to depend on Him.  So when I face temptation, I ask Heavenly Father to give me strength against it.  Then I ask Him to take my addiction and give it to His Son to bear, because I am powerless over it.  That’s a part of the definition of addiction: the actual loss of ability to abstain.  (I’d like to write more about that in a separate post, but I felt I needed to include those nuggets of precious truth here.)

One of my sisters shared with me a very well-written article on this topic of seeing a person for who they really are instead of an object of lust.  Some of my thoughts in this post echo those contained in the article, but I think he articulates the principles much better than I do.  I highly recommend reading it.  You can find it here: http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/

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