I was nine. My friend and I were playing at his house. We went to a part we knew was off limits. There in front of us were piles of pornographic magazines. We didn’t go there looking for them, but we were curious about why we weren’t allowed in the room. It didn’t take long to find out. I was hesitant at first, but I chose to pick one up and browse through its pages. To this day, simply mentioning the topic of pornography will retrieve a few of those images to my mind. Some parts are still very clear, unless I purposefully block them. I’ve found I am not alone.
Over the last few years, it has been my privilege to be at important crossroads for a lot of people. I have interviewed candidates who are excited to serve a full-time mission for our church. I have met with a large number of young couples who are planning to get married. Some of those marriages I have performed. I have also done a fair share of marriage counseling to help couples who have been together for a long time. Many of these moments have been beautiful.
In a large number of my interviews, I have become aware how similar my childhood experience was to other men and women. They, at a young age, were exposed to explicit images that have had a powerful affect on them. Quite often they were exposed repeatedly. Frequently, this repetition was accompanied with some form of abuse or some other violation of personal comfort. It is not uncommon for a single act taught to a child to be repeated again in their own life. It is heartbreaking to discover this kind of pain at a crossroads-moment that should be beautiful, especially if this discovery creates a speed bump or an obstacle that delays an anticipated goal such as marriage.
Considering what I know now, I feel lucky to have escaped more painful incidents at a young age – very lucky. My encounters with explicit images did not result in a habit-forming addiction to pornography, but I wasn’t immune. It is still a temptation. My early experiences awakened feelings that are both powerful and personal. Desires were aroused that made it difficult to control my thoughts and actions. Though I repented of my sins and feel forgiven, I still feel a degree of shame for my actions.
Had my exposure to images and desire been more frequent, I don’t know that I would have escaped the more malignant sins that are becoming increasingly common. I believe I would be caught in much greater torment like so many friends I know who have been affected their whole lives. Though my personal circumstances were less disastrous, I tasted enough of desire and shame to relate to someone who is struggling. I know the power of an addiction. I also understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and it is beautiful. It is real.
Jesus Christ is the only perfect being to live in mortality on this earth. Not only was He born into the same conditions that we all experience, He took upon Himself our sins and transgressions. He felt the weight of our sins as He paid the price of our shame and guilt. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities … and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Before I “esteem him naught,” thinking that He can’t help me, or any of us, out of a difficult mistake, I have to remind myself that Jesus has already taken upon Himself our sins. The ransom has already been paid. The work has been done, at least the part that would otherwise seem impossible. What is left is an opportunity to have faith in Him, believing that He is mighty to save. He is waiting for me to trust Him and turn to Him in my struggles so He can help.
Knowing there are many who battle with desires, addictions, and sins that they are uncomfortable talking about – who consequently feel alone, ashamed, and afraid – I wish I could reach out and place my hand on their shoulder to say, “It’s okay. Struggle is synonymous with being human. There is hope. We can change.”
While sin is not acceptable to God, it is a condition of life we must all overcome. The size of the sin matters less than what we individually do with what we have been given. It is unfair to compare our sins with anyone else’s. As long as our conditions are not identical, and we are not the same, any comparison may be very misleading. It is always best to compare yourself with yourself, and the Savior. He can show us what we can do through faith. We will show ourselves where we have been so that we can learn from our own experience.
I want others who are struggling to not feel alone. There is hope. You shouldn’t feel shame because you think your challenges are uncommon. They likely are not. You should feel shame when you choose to do something wrong. When stimulating images affect you, you shouldn’t feel guilty for the natural desires you have. Remember, the desires are a gift from God. You should feel guilty if you give up your agency for pleasure. Being tempted is not wrong. Giving in to temptation, or choosing to put yourself in a place where you are more likely to give in to temptation, is sin.
I believe our struggles become easier with a little help. It helps to know we all have needs, and we all struggle to learn from them. We are not so alone. It helps to know that we don’t have to feel guilt for having desires, as long as we work to control them. It’s beautiful to know that God will provide us with help as often as we are willing to turn to Him. The difficulty may not go away, but He will help. If we exercise faith, He will prove that we are not alone. He wants to be invited at our important crossroads and struggles.
What I Believe…
This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.