Taquitos and Why can’t I pray away pornography?
I get it.
I used to do it.
You pray, earnestly, fervently, begging, pleading, hoping, feeling, pouring out your soul asking God to please just take this pornography problem off my plate.
I thought I was broken by pornography. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. It wasn’t who I thought I was inside.
I thought pornography was destroying my life.
I thought my pornography use was destroying my wife’s life.
When she found out that I was lying about using pornography she threw my company laptop down the stairs.
She was mad.
Then she got sad.
She was incredibly hurt by it. She would tell you to this day it was the start of negative body image issues that she continues to carry. She would tell you that it is still the greatest source of distrust in our lives. She would love to talk to your wife about all the ways that pornography wrecked her. Because it did.
She prayed for it to go away.
I prayed for it to go away.
For years, that was my deepest desire. I asked with as much faith as I could. I cited scripture to God in my prayers, thinking that maybe if He knew that I knew that He knew that I knew I would have some leg up and get brought to the front of the line and the Lord would have to grant my righteous desire.
I wanted the atonement to make this problem end.
I thought that is what the atonement is for.
I thought, because Jesus had suffered on the cross for every sin I had ever committed then God would want me to stop committing sin at all cost. I thought, if I just ask God, He would make it so I would be able to stop suffering temptations and sin and consequences so His Son would not have to suffer more than necessary. I thought I could just ask for this sin to be removed from me.
I thought I could ask God to make it so I never sought out pornography, never felt lust, never took the first step down the path.
I was asking God to change my choices.
I was looking for God to step in at the moment of my need and simply make the problem disappear. Flip a switch and now I “choose” to look for cat videos instead.
God isn’t in the business of changing our choices for us. In fact, I don’t believe asking God to take away my pornography problem was a righteous desire.
I’ve learned through my own hard won experience that the Lord’s atonement is about forgiveness and forgetting our sins.
Whereas, agency is about the process of overcoming our weakness.
The LDS bible dictionary puts it this way, “…the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin.”
Nowhere have I been able to find in the scriptures the idea that the atonement makes us stop choosing our sins and weakness. Rather, it bridges the gap in our ability to pay for our own consequences when we do sin and when we have not exercised our agency in ways that are in concert with God’s law.
The bible dictionary doesn’t say the atonement will remove the sin from our lives. It doesn’t say it will make it so we not choose to sin.
It overcomes the consequences of sin.
What are the consequences of sin?
The bible dictionary provides the answer: “By transgression man loses control over his own will and becomes the slave of sin and so incurs the penalty of spiritual death, which is alienation from God.
In other words, it overcomes and corrects the consequences of being a slave to sin, spiritual death and alienation from God.
That provides incentive to change, allows us to know we are not lost forever because of our actions, but does not change our behavior directly.
Imagine you are on a boat called Life, traveling from the place of your birth to the place of your death. Anytime you get off the boat to dip in the waters around it you are disobeying God’s law. You can stay in the water as long as you want. You can get out of the water whenever you want. That is your agency. When you get out of the water you are still wet.
The effects of your actions remain with you. You can dry yourself as best you can with towels, but you never come completely dry until the sun warms your clothes and removes the last of the water from you.
That part is the atonement. The part you can’t get to. The part that you can’t complete without something outside of you.
The atonement won’t keep you out of the water. It won’t make you use a towel to dry off. The atonement gets you dry but can’t keep you dry if you exercise your agency to get in the water again after you get dry.
Each thing is enticing, the warmth of the sun, the cool of the water and in this example, there is no wrong choice.
The scriptures, however, make it clear, in the battle for your eternal happiness, there is a bitter and a sweet, a right and a wrong, bondage and freedom.
They also make it clear that you must choose. 2 Ne 2:15-16
“15 And to bring about his eternal a purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.”
So, when you say to Heavenly Father, like I did and I’m sure so many others have as well, “please take this sin away from me, make it so I never have to deal with it again.” you are missing the point.
The point is getting out of the water and drying off as best you can. The point is choosing to stay in the boat. The point is having faith enough to keep trying even when you aren’t sure how to move forward. The point is to stop worrying about whether you can be forgiven and just start working on the things you have control over.
The atonement has you covered. It is all encompassing. But don’t mistake what it does, because you will end up like I did, frustrated and wondering why God wasn’t answering your prayers.
God wants you to stop or start or whatever it is that will bring you into harmony with His laws and bring you the great blessings He wants to give you, but that are predicated on you living within those laws.
In that frame of mind, we have to look at our choices and decide how we would like to move forward.
Think of the way you run your household.
I have eight kids. If you have kids or were once a kid, you know that it is pretty rare for my kids do exactly what I want, when I want them to do it.
My kids have come to me and said, “can you tell him to stop?” Yes, I can. That doesn’t mean he will.
My kids have also come to me and asked, “can you make her stop?” No, I can’t. That doesn’t mean she won’t.
Sure, I could get in and physically intervene with a child that is behaving badly. But that won’t end that behavior forever. It would be a momentary fix that doesn’t solve the issue of the child’s desire to act in a way that is contrary to household harmony.
Any parent will tell you that when a child chooses to do something that is contrary to the rules of the household, it is exasperating and often leads to a conversation about how we can get them to follow the rules.
We have a rule that we eat in the kitchen. Lots of families do. We also have a son that chooses to eat out of the kitchen on a regular basis. So much so, that when we find that there are not enough dishes for everyone to eat dinner, we make a quick trip to his room and usually find the required plates, forks, glasses and bowls.
I have long forgiven him for this and no longer lose my cool over it. He knows the rules. He pays the consequences.
If he came to me and said, “dad, can you make it so I no longer take food out of the kitchen?” I suppose I could stand guard and watch him every moment of the day, blocking all opportunity for him to carry a snack to his room.
That would stink. Neither he nor I would be served by that and it would not create in him the love that we want to foster in our home. It would set up a daily battle ground where, in the end either I would give up or he would outsmart me.
Heavenly Father does not want to police your internet browsing sessions. He did not give us agency in order for us to say, “can you please take it back on this one subject?”
What He did do, and what I am grateful for, is give us the Son to dry us off when we are ready to choose to stay in the boat. Even if we get back in the water occasionally the Son will still shine down on us, ready to warm us with forgiveness no matter how long we stay in the water, no matter how wet we feel.
What He won’t do, is chain us up on the deck of the boat and keep us dry if we want to get wet. No more than I can or should stand guard in my kitchen all day to keep my son from taking his taquitos to his room.
Sometimes we try to do this with our spouses or others by asking them to monitor our computer use, lock down our phones and generally try to gate keep our access to pornographic material.
Don’t get me wrong, I think every household should have an accountability system with checks and blocks on full access to the internet because this helps prevent accidental exposure and distances us from easy access.
But it is an error to believe that someone else can make you safe when you choose to seek out pornography.
They can’t make you stop.
God won’t make you stop.
You have to exercise your agency, take back your ability to choose and count on the Lord’s forgiveness as you stumble through it.
That is why you can’t pray it away. Because God wants you to choose Him and His ways.
This goes for all of our favorite sins. The ones we choose and the ones that we feel we are born into.
It wasn’t until I understood this that I was able to change my approach to my thoughts about what needed to be done to stop looking at pornography.
First, I saw clearly that my relationship with the atonement was about recognizing that I was enough, just as I was.
That didn’t mean that I was where I wanted to be. It means that my sins and misdeeds have been paid for through the atonement and I don’t need to beat myself up about them.
Meaning I don’t have to feel shame on top of guilt. I can meet my sins frankly, ask for forgiveness knowing it will be given and focus my energy on changing my thoughts and actions through repentance.
Second, my relationship with my agency was about accepting responsibility for my choices, bringing them into my higher brain and putting in place plans to exercise my ability to choose at a conscious level.
I needed to observe my thoughts as well as my actions.
I needed to feel my feelings and recognize my urges, permitting their existence while choosing to withhold action.
I needed to stop saying “I don’t know, it just happened” when confronted with questions of “why?” from myself and my spouse.
I needed to create new paths for my brain to travel when confronted with my every day challenges.
Only then I was able to make lasting change.
Agency and the atonement are extraordinary gifts from our Heavenly Father. Our ability to change who we are into who we want to be is rooted in understanding them clearly and leaning on each one separately.
We must remember that our individual interaction with our Heavenly Father stands powerfully solitary to our activity in His Church.
The atonement that God has given us through the work performed by His Son, Jesus Christ, is much like the ability to see. We choose to receive the world around us through our eyes when we open them.
When we open ourselves to the atonement, we receive it. It is grace given.
Agency is the vehicle through which we make our decision to open our eyes.
Without agency we would not be able to open our eyes.
As an addictive behaviors coach, these principles root me in the gospel and provide the basis for my efforts to help men and women stop struggling with pornography use.
Many of my clients have difficulty believing that the atonement is for them. That creates a cycle of shame that they believe is insurmountable.
The thoughts they have around this often keep them from progressing to where they want to be.
I help them get there.
Enroll in a free mini session and let me help you begin the process of overcoming your addiction to pornography or any other addictive behavior you are struggling with.