To lust is to choose to lust. If you do not live your life intentionally, it is easy to make this choice without even realizing it. Many men see no harm in lusting after someone he can’t and shouldn’t have – I have heard countless times from couples “You can look, just don’t touch!” I hear it in playful ways, as almost a game the couples play with each other. Is this an opportunity for the one to justify their own lustful behavior by catching the other in the act and condoning it? Is it a misunderstanding of the long-term effects that unbridled temptation often leads to? In this post, I want to share my opinions of this vice: how it can damage yourself and those around you, as well as tried and true methods to combat it.
In my college days, lust was just what you did. Always looking for the opportunity with the next girl. It was the norm, the accepted, the cool thing to do. I made no attempt to reign myself in, either – life is too short to live like a saint I would tell myself. I wouldn’t feel remorseful for my actions, because I didn’t have the moral compass to understand they were wrong. At least that’s what I tell myself. In truth, I believe that all men know somewhere deep down that the promiscuity and endless pursuit of women that embodies the partying lifestyle is wrong. We are just really good at convincing ourselves otherwise when we are in the middle of it.
As I met my wife and began my journey back to the Faith, my partying lifestyle definitely cooled off. But I was still no saint – I would often fall prey to the “wandering eyes.” But the more I began to know my fiancee and the more I learned of the faith, I started truly holding myself accountable for my actions. Once you gain the knowledge of the damage that can be caused by lust, you have to man up and battle it every day. What I began to understand is that lust is more than just a guilty pleasure, it causes damage to yourself, your spouse, and all those around you. Let’s take them one by one.
Lust Damages You
Guilty pleasure – right? Well, how much does that guilt really cost? I’ll tell you, it doesn’t come cheap for me. As now a married man, each time I fall, even for a moment, I can feel the guilt. I feel it because I know that even for a second, I have been unfaithful to my spouse. I broke the promise I made in front of God, my wife, my family, and my friends.
Now I bet you are thinking, “Whoa, slow down there, aren’t you being a little harsh?” Well, maybe, but I have seen how the smallest indulgences snowball into life-shattering consequences. I am not going to let that happen, and I am not going to take the minor lapses lightly to ensure it stays that way.
The more serious way that lust can damage yourself is when that guilt begins to be the norm. Humans are creatures of habit. We can learn to make just about anything second nature with enough practice. And if we are not careful, we will make a habit out of lust, adapt to the guilty feeling it creates in us, and grow to accept the addiction.
It is important to think of lust as an addiction. Like any other addict, those who lust habitually will tell you, “I can stop whenever I want,” or “I don’t have a problem.” But without the right tools and mentality, that person will fall of the wagon and be stuck in the same rut of lust.
As men striving to be successful leaders in our world, we must be able to control our temptations and maintain ourselves and our integrity. Addictions love more addictions, and lust is an easy gateway. As we accept the addiction, we cope with it by assuming no fault in it. We begin to warp our perception and lose our judgment. Once our judgement is lost, our effectiveness as leaders is sure to follow.
Lust Damages Your Marriage
“You can look, just don’t touch!” That is not a phrase you will hear in our household. Our lustful actions have extremely damaging consequences to our wives. The obvious one is when she catches our eyes wandering… the sheepish apology after, and the guilt that hangs around for a few hours. But what does that do to her?
Every time we fall, we chip away at the sense of self-worth of our most precious gift. She sees our wandering eyes as an attempt to satisfy something that she is not capable of. We create a sense of self-doubt in her, that she is not living up to our expectations. That is not what Christian men are called to do.
But lust doesn’t just go in one direction. Lust can be equally as damaging when we lust AFTER our wives. It took me a while to learn this one, but after learning about NFP, it began to make sense. It becomes easy to objectify your wife and skew the lines of love and lust in a relationship. Women often feel it is their duty to provide pleasure, but if we don’t stay intentional about it, we can quickly lose sight of the true meaning of the relationship and how to treat her with respect.
I had the good fortune of growing up in a very loving home. My father treated mom like a queen, and I did my best to learn from him. But I know so many people who did not have the same fortune. Year after year, affairs rank highly as leading causes of divorce. It all starts from the allowance of lustful behavior. As leaders of our families, we need to protect the souls of all those in our care. The damage that can be caused to our children can never be undone. It literally tears families apart. At a minimum, you will change the dynamic of the family, creating the mistrust between father and mother, which will certainly be seen by your kids as they are constantly watching you as their superman.
And the damages of lust are not limited to the home either! As effective leaders at work, we need to remain genuine. If our nature has adapted towards lustful behavior, we will either carry those tendencies into the office, or we will need to act unnaturally to maintain our decency. Either option can create mistrust with our coworkers. When I hear a coworker speak poorly of his wife, my opinion of him immediately plunges. How can I trust a man who cannot even maintain a strong relationship with his soul mate? Even further, if that relationship begins to go south, it will certainly impact his performance at work and hinder his opportunities. Do not be one of these men, and if possible, avoid their poison at all costs.
Pretty heavy stuff so far, right? Don’t worry, it gets easier from here. While lust may never be fully cured, the treatment is very simple. It is by no means easy, but with diligence, anyone can reverse their current direction and progress back to the man of love that you are called to be. To do this, you will need to uplift yourself, your community, and your relationships.
I find that I am the weakest when I allow myself to drift without intentionally charting my own path. When I let myself waste time and sloth around the house. And when I keep my sins to myself.
Uplift yourself by keeping yourself active and healthy. Get enough sleep. Go for a run. It all clears your mind and just prepares you for any challenges ahead. The combination of the devil on your shoulder and a weak body and mind is a recipe for disaster.
Especially when the temptation begins to emerge, distract yourself through physical exercise. There is nothing wrong with going for maximum push-ups when you are feeling spiritually weak. The physical nature of the work pulls away the itching of the temptation, and focuses your thoughts on the task. When exhausted, you will feel accomplished. Not only because of the physical work that you just completed, but because you conquered a demon in the process.
But when we fail, we men need the rite of reconciliation. Nothing feels quite as freeing as offloading that sin to God, asking for and receiving forgiveness. Every time I confess my sins, I return with a drive to truly sin no more. Schedule it in your calendars every month, make the time for it. And don’t do what I see so often – guys will time it when the “easy priest” is going to be hearing confession… come on! Be a man, have courage, and go to the priest that you know is going to tell you what you need to hear, no matter how uncomfortable it is going to be.
Sometimes we need barriers to keep us on track. Think of a toddler bowling for the first time. Do you take him to the adult lane and hand him a ball? Of course not! He is going to fail every single time. He may get lucky and start going down the right path, but just the slightest spin on the ball will send him right into the gutter. So what do you do? You take him to the lane where the gutters are covered up with barriers. It really doesn’t matter how he throws the ball, because when it begins to drift off course, it will bounce of the barrier and return to the right path.
Living with temptation is the same way. If we have are continuing to “throw gutter balls,” in this department, we need to install barriers. These are actionable commitments you make to yourself to prevent you from getting in trouble. Some of my barriers are:
I will not go 24 hours without contacting my wife. When away on travel, I always make a point to call my wife and tell her I love her. Even when I know my wife is on a retreat without access to her phone, I will send her a text or leave a voicemail so she has it when she gets back to it. It keeps your commitment fresh and explicit every day.
When I am alone, I pick up a book (yes, a real book). The internet is a dangerous place when unsupervised. It is just as true for kids as it is for married men. When you are in a situation that you know may lead to temptation, just take away the opportunity. Pick up a book, pray, do something that gets you off your screen.
I will not flirt with other women. This sounds obvious, but in work environments can be difficult to adhere to. If you are in a position of authority, it is natural for others to flirt in order to gain your favor. And if the reverse, you may catch yourself in the same situation. At all times, remain professional, and make it clear that you are there to work and support your family. Nothing more. If a female coworker asks you out to a lunch 1:1, just don’t do it. And if there is a chronic flirter at your office, just talk often and lovingly about your wife and family. As Michael Hyatt puts it, it is “affair repellent.” Thanks for that tip, Michael!
One of the reasons for contributing to this blog is for me to help other men who struggle with similar vices eventually overcome and master them. It is one of my methods of truly learning something enough to be able to teach another. In general, for you to master your lustful temptations, you cannot do it alone. Invest in others.
I have found an accountability group to be one of the most powerful supports that I have in this effort. Every month I meet with 3 other men where we discuss the Faith, our struggles, and literature that helps set us on the right path. This can be a very uncomfortable setting for most guys who grow up keeping their emotions and weaknesses bottled up. But if you find the right gentlemen who have aligned their goals with yours, you will have some extremely enlightened conversations, and will springboard you into the next month to live faithfully. Additionally, our group has adopted the victory app to keep us accountable to each other and open when we fail.
If this feels awkward to you, don’t worry. It will for a while. But stick with it. If you have found the right men to surround yourself with, you will all open up to the concept and you will prop each other up and form a stronger bond with each other than you thought possible.
Uplift Your Relationship
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I feel that it needs some explaining. Michael Hyatt just did an incredible interview where walked through some of the ways he further invests in his marriage, and he’s got it right.
I remember courting Suzi when we first started dating. I would think long and hard of what would be the perfect date for us to take after work. We would walk and talk for hours around one of the theme parks (we worked at Disney World for a short time), getting to really know each other, and just enjoying time together.
And after marriage, the dynamic began to shift. The date nights slid from weekly, to monthly, to every now and then. We would still talk, but it shifted more towards work and finances. We found our groove. But that groove was commoditizing our marriage!
As I reflected on these changes, I made a few points to ensure I actively prevented the neglect from creeping in.
- Tell your wife she is beautiful, and mean it (especially during her second pregnancy)
- Be frugal most of the time, but splurge to make her feel special
- Ask her about her day, every day
- Join a couple-based ministry together
- Find relationship role models
- Learn her love language
Most of these are self explanatory, but I want to expand on a couple. There is a special feeling when you and your wife are serving together on a team. It reminds me when we were back in school together intently working on a project. We have always been nerds and have loved solving problems together. We have a few ministries we are a part of through our church that now allow us to go out in the community and continue solving problems for others. This brings a special intimacy in our relationship that further deepens our love.
It has been critical to our success to have role model couples to look up to. Admittedly, it was pretty simple for us, coming from wonderful families and upbringings. But if you do not have a couple that you look up to for their mutual love, I encourage you to find one. Invite them out to dinner, and absorb their wisdom. A successful marriage of 40+ years does not just happen by chance or luck. It requires an intentional effort and plan to see it through, and if done properly, it will just get better with age, as they say.
So the key things to remember are:
- Lust is not harmless
- Lust is not invincible
- Lust cannot be beat if you go it alone
So sit back and think about your life, your current struggle with this vice, and ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to overcome it. If you have any other tips to help us men grow in our faith and conquer this vice, I’d love to hear your comments below!