"Man, I just blew it again. I cannot seem to get a handle on my Internet time. I just keep drifting back to the old sites. I'm just so sick of this cycle. As difficult as this is to share, I know I needed to tell someone."
"I appreciate you spilling your guts to me. I'll be sure to pray for you. Gotta go."
This, unfortunately, reflects how many people attempt to establish "accountability" in hopes of being helped as they deal with sexual addiction or struggle with viewing pornography. One person musters the courage to share specific struggles, only to be met with a platitude of useless, overspirtualized clichés. The respondent feels good for their "good deed," while the struggler wanders off thinking, Well, that was a stupid waste of time.
This is not the picture God has of accountability. God invites us to build faithful friendships. That's it. Accountability is faithful friendship, doing life side by side with a comrade, a friend or a co-worker.
But accountability doesn't come naturally. We are prone to drift toward the darkness of sinfulness. Therefore, we must be intentional about engaging others on this quest for a life of purity. Here are five principles that are fundamental to establishing faithful friendships in your life:
Loving, wise Christians will likely not be beating down your door to help you just because you've confessed to having a sexual addiction. A handful of people may immediately offer help, but they are the exception. This is why you cannot sit around wishing that faithful friendships would develop.
Start with people you know, maybe a friend, close relative or pastor. Plug into a purity group at your church or in your community. Begin reaching out to people you trust and share with them your story and struggles. Ask if they would be willing to meet with you and pray for you. Start making some friends — real friends.
Time is a key aspect to establishing the type of relationship necessary for true accountability to grow. But years can pass in a relationship without any depth of intimacy, too. So there must be something active to this patience in building faithful friendships. There is no exact "formula" for the solution. Yet, this doesn't mean faithful friendships are impossible, only that they are each made uniquely — gradually.
To build a new life of purity requires practical application of biblical truth. God reminds us: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:3, NIV). Does that mean making sure I'm not in a car or elevator alone with a member of the opposite sex? What conversations have I been a part of that might trigger my lust or damage Christ's reputation? What clothes do I wear and what is my motivation for wearing them? Don't settle for platitudinous friendships. Sharpen each other by digging into God's Word and using what you learn to build each other up.
Too often accountability becomes another rules-based system of controlling behavior rather than building relationships. Pliability means dealing with each other in love and grace, and being flexible to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
You might recognize the damage your selfish behavior has caused others and then falsely assume that "correct" behaviors will produce thriving relationships. So you begin rigidly controlling behavior so as not to cross any immoral or unhealthy boundaries. But in the process you discover that such a rules-rigid system, while it might keep you from behaving in lustful ways (though not always), will inevitably result in a joyless, empty existence.
The Apostle Peter didn't exactly hit home runs every time he was at bat in Jesus' earthly ministry. But Jesus' approach to transformation in Peter's life was based on love — continually pouring into Peter's life all that he did not deserve. Such love has the power to demolish fear, shame, anger, selfishness and pride, melting the heart so that God can fashion it into whatever He chooses.
This is how you must engage others, not with agendas of control or legalistic ritual. True accountability is loving each other when all that is unlovable rises to the surface.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). For such a sharpening task to be accomplished, you would have to repeatedly press the two pieces of iron together and slide them against each another — hard! Only as a result of this persistent action would sharp edges appear. This is the picture of what building faithful friendships looks like.
Many people who begin rebuilding their broken lives have halted the process by not embracing the necessity of persistence. A man might enter a support group, enthusiastic about the possibility of purity and change, only to eventually hit a wall of disagreement or personal challenge that is really painful. Instead of working through it with relationship as the primary thought, he abandons the group to find another one.
Even though I am nearly 20 years into God's rebuilding project in my life, there is so much more work to be done. I have gained wonderful friends through the years, and I must continue to press into their lives in hopes of both giving and receiving in this sharpening experience.
Never give up. The project is too important, and the resulting peace and joy are too precious to quit.Jonathan Daugherty is the author of Secrets: A true story of addiction, infidelity, and second chances. This article is adapted from his book The 4 Pillars of Purity.
If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.