I couldn’t stop lusting. I stopped over and over, but I never really stopped. I stopped all the time, only to start again. I made more promises than I can possibly remember, but it never took. I saw counselors. I read a small library of books and listened to teachers and tapes. I tried a live-in community out in the sticks that promised complete spiritual victory. I had good strong well-rooted friends, but I could not stop acting out lustfully and get freedom at JPUSA or from God. I considered that I had a serious problem, but I reasoned that many others were worse off than me, and that someday I’d outgrow it. I knew it would never get worse. I was good at maintaining. I used my accountable relationships to maintain.
At this time I was trying to run the whole show. Accountability for me meant something so average, so normal that it was only an addendum to my life. I knew the spiritual basis of accountability. I loved Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s section on Confession from Life Together. As the first born son of the founding pastor of a Jesus Movement community I had experience and self-knowledge. I’d been maintaining this lust struggle since I was seven. I could preach holiness backwards and forwards. I knew only too well what God wanted. After awhile my inability to be holy became part of the story itself. My connection to this habitual sin made God’s grace seem all the more real. It was all a beautiful spiritual theory without any power to change me. I could never live like I saw others at JPUSA doing. I desperately wanted the kinds of relationships I saw others having, but I couldn’t really include anyone else in the show because I ran the whole thing.
Let me describe my temperament in relation to accountability at this time. When I first moved into the community as a married father-to-be, I was desperate for attention and yet scared to death of rubbing anyone wrong. I knew that I needed accountability in my life, but when I got called on anything I retreated into fear, shame, and self-loathing. After six months of misunderstandings my motto became: Stay Out of Everyone’s Hair. Bother no one and they won’t bother you. If folks didn’t like the show I was running I’d rework it until they did. I retreated full tilt into self-pity, severe depression, and feeding lust. I became, once again, one person on the outside and someone totally different on the inside. Shame and self-pity was the crippling form of pride that kept me disconnected from God and everyone around who could help me.
Because of this, accountability was the woodshed where I fessed up and felt better. When I went to pray with my buddy I ranged from lying, glossing over, dumping, raging, and on occasion admitting I needed help. I had a series of frustrated buddies who I could not let help me. My recurring dilemma was a lot of self knowledge with no power to change. Each time I got caught acting out or fell so hard that my head spun, I sought out greater accountability and a miracle fix. With each passing year it got worse.
Then I attended a Twelve Step program for sex drunks. I went there to throw up my hands and die spiritually. I went there because I couldn’t stop fantasizing about other women than my wife, because the images I was taking in scared me, because my marriage and life were essentially on the rocks. My problem had me licked and no amount of self-knowledge or miracle cures, or prayer or pleas were helping. I thought that I may as well be miserable with other hopeless cases. But then I wanted more lust so bad that I had no intention of stopping. My other option was running away and starting life over. But I was too chicken to leave. Man, was I pathetic. It was still all about me. After my first meeting I went home and thought to myself that I was not like them. I didn’t fit in and didn’t really need them, but then the seed they planted took root. They promised that if I was truly an addict then lust was just the surface of my problems and that I used lust spiritually to face life. After I fell hard again I knew that they were right.
What I found in the meetings was something completely unexpected. I found other people identifying with each other at their greatest place of need. The only requirement for coming was a desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober. This meant not starting again. There was a refreshing honesty in the room. A light heartedness. Real joy. I kept coming back. With each slip I took in more meetings not less. I began to feel more apart and not less. After two years I finally started seeing myself get sober long-term. Its hard to describe what God did for me when I gave my eight page first step to a room full of recovering addicts. For the first time in my life, I knew I was home. This was the community I’d wanted my whole life. Acceptance. Hope. I remember thinking after the loud, rapturous applause of appreciation that if I did nothing else but belong here I could die happy. If my sole purpose in life was to belong to this cause greater than myself, I would be fulfilled. The Christian life finally made sense. I could finally be myself inside and out without fear of failure.
Within the twelve steps I have found a way to connect with others here at JPUSA in a way that gives accountability real meaning. First off accountability is not a woodshed, but a life-source. I need connection with God. I get this by going to another believer and asking for prayer at the point of my need. Let’s say I’m overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, or anger. Connection means first that I reach out. There’s a problem with me. I must surrender it. These are the words I might use:
“Hey Joe, I need to surrender some fear of failure. Will you pray with me? I bring this to the light, and I’m giving it away.” Joe is only too eager to pray because he needs God too. I might pray the Serenity prayer or maybe just a simple prayer that says, “God you are the source of my life. You have not given me a spirit of fear, but power, love and a sound mind. Take this fear from me and fill me with your love.”
This is what I think of now when I talk about accountability at JPUSA. As an addict I have a compass that is broken. I immediately veer toward a misconnection. Christians call this sin. Accountability for me means connecting with the Source of Life instead of misconnecting the same old way I did for years. I must practice accountability to remain a Christian. Its that simple. If I don’t I will again become the center of my universe and I know only too well where that leads.