The War Within
"Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night. Just when we think we're safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there's no river in the world flows cold and strong enough to strike him down. Almighty God, why dost thou deck men out with such a loathsome toy?"
-Frederick Buechner, Godric
I am writing this anonymously because I am embarrassed. Embarrassed for my wife and children, yes, but embarrassed most for myself. I will tell of my personal battle with lust, and if I believed I were the only one who fought in that war, I would not waste emotional energy dredging up stained and painful memories.
But I believe my experience is not uncommon, is perhaps even typical of pastors, writers, and conference speakers. No one talks about it. No one writes about it. But it's there, like an unacknowledged cancer that metastasizes best when no one goes for X-rays or feels for lumps.
I know I am not alone, because the few times I have opened up and shared my struggles with Christian friends, they have replied with Doppelganger stories of exactly the same stages of awakening, obsession, possession. Years from now, when socio-historians sift through the documents describing our times, they will undoubtedly come up with elegant explanations of why men who grew up in church homes were oversexed and vulnerable to attacks of lust and obsession, and why women who grew up in those same environments emerged uptight and somewhat disinterested in sex. But I leave that to the future analysts.
I remember vividly the night I first experienced lust. Real lust -not the high school and college variety. Of course, as an adolescent I had drooled through Playboy, sneaked off to my uncle's room for a heart-thumping first look at hard-core pornography, and done my share of grappling and fumbling with my fiancée's clothes. I date my lust awakening, though, to the adult onslaught of mature, willful commitment to lust.
It hit on one of my first trips away from home. My job required me to travel at that time, and as I sat in a dingy motel room near the airport and flipped through the city guide of what to do in Rochester, New York, I kept coming back to one haunting photo of an exotic dancer, a former Miss Peach Bowl winner, the ad said. She looked fresh and inviting: the enchanting kind of Southern girl you see on TV commercials for fried chicken -only this one had no clothes on.
Somehow, I had survived the sixties sheltered from strippers and Woodstock-type nudity. And when I first saw the ad, I instinctively ruled her show out of bounds for me. But as I settled down to watch an inane TV show, her body kept looming before my mind with the simple question, "Why not?"
I began to think. Indeed, why not? To be an effective Christian, I had to experience all of life, right? Didn't Jesus himself hang around with prostitutes and sinners? I could go simply as an observer, in the world but not of the world. Rationalizations leaped up like flying buttresses to support my desires, and within ten minutes I was bundled in the back seat of a taxi headed toward the seamy side of Rochester.