In 2010 my external life looked ideal. I was a young pastor of a thriving church. I had three beautiful children and a wonderful wife, Michelle. I had a nice home, good friends and a bright future. What more could I possibly need?
But on the inside, my life was a constant torment because a 15-year battle with lust and pornography was taking its toll. As I would stand to preach each weekend, a voice of accusation would ring loudly in my ears, You're a phony. If these people knew the kind of thoughts you had and the lust you struggle with, they would leave the church immediately. Feelings of worthlessness and shame were my regular companions. I was stuck in a binge-purge relationship with pornography that left me trapped in darkness, isolation and self-loathing.
Confession and prayer
For a decade and a half, I had done everything my faith-filled upbringing had taught me to do to deal with problems. I prayed. I read every verse on lust, temptation, freedom and victory; I could quote most of them by heart. I had confessed on every opportunity where it seemed appropriate — to my pastor at summer youth camp, to my college student dean, to my first senior pastor, to my elder board, and on multiple occasions, to my wife. It was these confessions — without being equipped for any real change — that had brought our marriage to a breaking point, and along with that, everything else I held dear.
I needed God's help, assistance and encouragement. I prayed for deliverance. I believed, and expected, that God could come in a moment and erase my desires, setting me free from this battle. Instead He surprised me.
An offer of grace
In April 2010 I attended a conference for pastors in my district. At this event, Ted Roberts, founder of Pure Desire Ministries, spoke about God's reckless, amazing love for us, as displayed in the story of Hosea and Gomer. He encouraged us as pastors to see that we were Gomer in the story, abandoning God's love for the false promises of sexual sin and pornography.
At the conclusion of Dr. Roberts' talk, our district leaders spoke of a plan to help pastors who were struggling specifically in this area. So long as our behavior was not illegal and hadn't crossed lines with other people, they wanted to help us break free from pornography and keep our jobs. This was an amazing, grace-filled offer which provided a thoroughly structured and redemptive opportunity for transformation.
This offer was ready-made for me. Yet the shame in my life had created such great lies of rationalization and minimization that I convinced myself I didn't need this much help. But by God's sovereignty, my wife was sitting next to me at this conference. The pain in her life over my addiction was so great that she understood how desperately we needed help. As I looked at her, I saw something in her eyes that I hadn't observed in several years: hope. While I found excuses to avoid the offer of help, Michelle saw a doorway to real transformation.
A happy ending and beyond
Because of Michelle's courageous honesty with me, we began pursuing health and freedom through Pure Desire. The plan included weekly group work and a yearlong counseling process. My life was changed as I learned to walk in rigorous honesty, constructed meaningful guardrails around behavior and discovered the wounds and false core-beliefs that were driving my behavior. We were shown how brain science complemented a foundation of biblical truth to create lasting change in my thoughts and actions. I was set free from pornography addiction, and our marriage was placed on new, solid footing.
This could have been the happy end of the story. I had found freedom. My wife had been able to forgive and move forward. But this was only the beginning of our story. As 2 Corinthians 1 makes plain, whatever God does in us, He also longs to do through us. As He comforts us, the purpose of this comfort is that we might pass the help along to others.
Almost a year after we had begun our own journey, I stood up to preach on yet another Sunday morning. At the tail end of a sermon on Romans 7, I confessed my struggle with pornography to the church. I asked their forgiveness for failing them as a leader. But more important, I asked for their help in starting a ministry for men and women who struggled in a similar way. We saw a ministry launch for men and women who wanted to discover true sexual integrity and freedom.
Some friends had warned me that people would leave when I went to this level of honesty with my church. My experience was the exact opposite. When the pastor was able to stand up in a redemptive way and say, "I have sinned, but God has brought truth, transformation and freedom," the revelation gave people in the congregation permission to face their own struggles. Rather than allowing sexually compulsive behavior to stay hidden as the great taboo of the church, we brought it to the surface and began to deal honestly with its effect on people's lives and marriages.
Michelle and I had the great joy of watching our church community transform over the next five years. Couples who had been struggling in silent pain were able to find grace and hope through safe groups. Men who had been sidelined by their fear of exposure or shame were stepping into roles of significant leadership. Women who felt as if they were in bondage because of a husband's issues found their voice and grew in emotional maturity. Our church came alive like never before.
During this time, I wrote Setting Us Free, a book about our story. That led to speaking at some Pure Desire weekend conferences. In late 2015, the leadership team at Pure Desire approached me about possibly coming on staff to be the next executive director. Ted Roberts was in his 70s, and it was time to transition the ministry for the future. As Michelle and I prayed about this possibility, it was clear that God was leading us to take this next step. Our story of healing and comfort was changing lives, and we felt this call expanding.
Promoting recovery from sexual brokenness is now my life calling and passion. I've seen God lead many people caught in pornography's trap through a healing journey that involves honesty, community and the hard work of addressing wounds, growing new relational skills and renewing the mind.Nick Stumbo is the executive director of Pure Desire Ministries.
A variety of issues can fuel habitual pornography use. Understanding the deeper needs of individuals affected by this common problem is important. Reach out to well-trained counselors, and if you are a married couple do so together. Deeper transformation and healing that leads to change are possible! We can guide you as you seek help. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.