Yesterday, my brother-in-law, Nathan Williams, asked some questions on his blog about men and their thoughts on modesty. I tried to respond but for some reason his spam filter kept telling me my comment seemed spammy and wouldn’t let it be posted. So I sent it to him in e-mail to see if he could get it posted. He decided to post it as his blog entry today. Thanks, Nathan, for posting that. And I appreciate you striving to protect my rep by keeping it anonymous. However, I think one of the reasons we keep hearing from church after church about men falling, especially preachers and elders, is because we act like none of us ever have any real problems with lust.
I mean, sure, every man admits that he has lusted at some time or other. But it’s just those “sicko” people out there that have a problem. So we ignore and stuff our real problems, afraid to share until they become so powerfully overwhelming that we fall into a snare of the devil, into condemnation, and into disgrace.
Well, the fact is Jesus came into the world to save sickos like me. If I didn’t have any problems, I wouldn’t need Jesus. As I said in the chapter I was privileged to write for Behind the Preacher’s Door, lust is one of the four horsemen of my personal apocalypse (the others are gluttony, covetousness, and pride). I have turned to Jesus because these things have driven me there. I’m grateful because God is giving me progressive victory over these struggles. My struggles with lust aren’t what they used to be. However, I’m learning that I only continue to have victory when I remember that these are very present struggles. When I think of them as things I used to have problems with, then Satan jumps up and smacks me down. So, today, I have to rely completely on Jesus to fight the good fight of faith against the temptations to lust. Part of that fight is being completely honest and letting the light shine on the dark places in my soul. I hope no one simply dismisses me as a sicko pervert. But if they do, that will be between them and God, not me.
When Nathan told me he was going to post my comment today. I sent a note saying, “Wait, let me make it better.” But our notes passed in cyberspace. So, you can see the Cliff’s Notes version at the Mandeville Church’s blog or you can read the full version here. I also want to apologize for how long this is. I know that good bloggers say this post should only be about 1/6th of the size it is. But this is deep stuff that I can’t simply bullet-point down into a concise blog post.
Do I Notice Immodesty?
Yesterday, Nathan asked us men, “Do you notice immodesty around you?” Well, duh. I’m a man. God has created me to be visually stimulated. I think that is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-30 are directed at men. While women can also lust, we men are the ones more susceptible to it because we are more visual. That’s why we men need to think like Job who said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at the virgin?” (Job 31:1). Gazing is our problem.
Do I notice? Try as hard as I can not to, I notice.
What Triggers Lust?
Nathan asked, “What do you consider immodest on women?” Rather than stating what I consider immodest, as if I can establish the bounds and lines of modesty, let me rather share what I have found to trigger my lust.
Cleavage. Even the slightest hint of it. I can’t help but wonder why a woman wants to let me see part of her breasts. I mean, if I’m seeing cleavage, I’m also seeing the breasts that surround the cleavage.
Anything that draws attention to a woman’s breasts or buttocks. That includes form-fitting clothing but also includes clothing with writing that begs me to look at a woman in those triggering areas.
Thighs. Thighs definitely cause a problem.
If the belly is showing or if the pants are riding low and a woman’s underwear or the beginning of the roundness of her buttocks is peeking out. This is especially triggering if the woman has a tattoo peeking out of the top of her pants. Don’t ask me why, but if a woman has a tattoo showing out of her pants, it makes me think she is sexually easy. That is certainly an improper judgment on my part, but there it is. I guess I think if she would let some guy get his hands all over that part of her body to paint it, she must be willing to let anyone do that.
But the triggering issues are not just about dress. There is also behavior, stature, and deportment. Some women stand with breasts thrust forward. Some women sit with legs spread apart like a man. Some women walk with extra wiggle. All of these stimulate sexual thinking and lust.
Some women talk in suggestive ways, pushing the envelope on propriety. I think this may come from the idea that guys talk like that and some women just want to be one of the guys. First, guys shouldn’t talk like that. Second, when a woman does, I’m not thinking, “Oh, here’s a woman who is just one of the guys.” I’m thinking, “Oh, here’s a woman who is probably sexually easy.” I know some women recognize this. In a marriage counseling session, a wife who had cheated on her husband admitted to me that she could tell when she could seduce a man by talking in a certain way to him and seeing how he responded. It isn’t just dress, but speech that heightens sexual tension and tests the sexual waters gets those lust engines running.
Okay, I’m probably going too far and letting too many of my cats out of the bag here. I’m sure the sisters will think, “That guy’s got a problem,” and they’re right. But there it is.
What Triggered Solomon’s Desire OR I’m Not the Only One
However, I know I’m not the only one with triggers like this. In Song of Solomon 4:1-11; 6:5-7:9, the man talks about what triggers him sexually about his bride. In marriage, this is beautiful. God has given these gifts to woman so she can stimulate and please her husband. However, I believe women need to recognize that these things can trigger men outside of marriage and, therefore, be careful how they present themselves when they are in the public eye. Notice what Solomon claimed was sexually triggering. By the way, I’m not saying a woman has to keep all of these things completely covered. I’m simply saying it would be helpful to think about how these things are presented to men because they can be triggering.
Breasts: Song of Solomon 4:5; 7:3, 7
Eyes: Song of Solomon 4:1, 9; 6:5; 7:4
Hair: Song of Solomon 4:1; 6:5; 7:5
Teeth: Song of Solomon 4:2; 6:6
Lips, mouth: Song of Solomon 4:3; 7:8-9
Cheeks: Song of Solomon 4:3; 6:7
Neck: Song of Solomon 4:4; 7:4
Jewelry: Song of Solomon 4:9
Perfume: Song of Solomon 4:6, 11
Feet: Song of Solomon 7:1
Thighs: Song of Solomon 7:1
Navel and belly: Song of Solomon 7:2
Stature: Song of Solomon 7:7
Words: Okay this one isn’t in Song of Solomon. But you can find it in Proverbs 5:3; 6:24.
How Does It Affect Me?
Yesterday, Nathan asked, “How does it affect you?” That is an interesting question. I’m sure it affects each man differently. But then again, maybe I’m a good example of what immodesty and lust do to every man.
First, it affects my judgment of the person who is triggering my lust. This is very self-centered and wrong; I shouldn’t think this, but I often do. The judgment that often jumps into my mind about the person dressing in a way that excites my lust is that the person must be interested in inciting my lust. I can very quickly think that person intends to be sexual. If she is willing to be sexual at the level of dress, she is probably willing to be sexual at deeper levels. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true. Some women dress and act this way out of ignorance. Some do so because of their own past hurts and insecurities. Some do so because our culture has trained them that they are only worthwhile when they are sexy. No doubt, some do so because they are “easy.” But no matter the reason the woman is dressing that way, it is that final reason that often jumps into my mind.
Second, it increases my desire. One problem with lust is that it is addictive. Just like any addiction, you gain tolerance. When a person is addicted to alcohol they have to drink more and more to get the same buzz they used to get. Lust is the exact same way. So, when I see an immodestly dressed woman who triggers my lust, it makes me want to see more. I want to see more immodestly dressed women and I want to see women who are less dressed. Sadly, Satan has provided an all too easy way in our modern technological world for me to see more women and less dress. Seeing more is always only a click away. No matter what commitments I have made to myself, to others, to God, to my wife… no matter how good I’ve been and how much victory I’ve had, when an immodest woman comes into view, Satan smacks me with the urge to see more.
Third, lust distracts me from reality. I remember watching a show or a movie in which a man was staring at a woman and she said, “Take a picture; it will last longer.” That just goes to show that women don’t understand the mind of a man. Pictures fade. Pictures can be destroyed. Pictures can be lost. But the image in my mind can be there until I die. And it usually is just waiting for a moment when reality isn’t enough for me. It usually sits there under cover until I hit a moment in the day that is stressful, boring, or otherwise troublesome. Then it jumps out at me, taking over my mind, inviting me to escape from the hard reality into the easy world of fantasy. My evil thoughts, sinful passions, and self-centered judgments all coalesce to keep me from living in the real world.
Fourth, it destroys my relationship with my wife. I love my wife. I don’t want to be with anyone but my wife. But being married is about living in reality and that just isn’t always easy. It is completely unfair to my wife for me to come home all raging to be sexual with her because I saw someone else that turned me on and have now been fantasizing all day (even if the fantasies were about my wife). Lust causes me to place unreasonable and unfair sexual expectations on her, expectations she can’t possibly fulfill. Then I have resentment and get mad at her, which causes her to have resentment and get mad at me, which causes me to have resentment and get mad at her, which causes her…you get the picture. These fantasies are dangerous because my wife cannot possibly be the “sex-kitten” I’ve been envisioning in my fantasies. After all, men, in our fantasies, our wives are just sitting around waiting for us to get home so we can have sex. They aren’t cleaning house, caring for kids, cooking meals, doing laundry, and getting exhausted. NEWSFLASH! Reality sets in and what suffers for all this is my marriage and my relationship with my wife.
Finally, I appreciate what I learned from a friend of mine who is in 12-step recovery for alcohol. He has a saying that reminds him why he needs to maintain the fight against his drinking and why he needs to continue to rely on God every day. He claims to have three options in his life: 1) locked up, 2) covered up, or 3) sobered up. That is, he can either remain sober or his drinking will get him arrested or killed. I’ve heard enough stories to recognize that lust is the same way. I know men who are in jail because their lusts led them to do illegal things. I also know of men whose lusts have killed them, either because their lust led them to act out sexually and get a disease or because it put them in dangerous circumstances and got them killed by a pimp, prostitute, an irate husband, or even an angered mistress. Anybody remember what happened to Steve McNair a few years ago? I also know of some men whose lust became so overpowering they thought the only way out was suicide. I’m very thankful that my lusts haven’t taken me where some have gone…yet. And I add that “yet” purposefully. Because none of the men I’ve talked to whose lusts have ruined their lives thought they would do some of the things they did. I’ve learned that I can’t control and enjoy a little lust. If I give into it at all, it will take me places I didn’t think I would ever go. In fact, it has already done that. How does lust affect me? It gives me only three choices: Locked up, covered up, or sobered up. So today, I want to rely on God instead of hanging out in lust.
What Do I Do About It?
I’ve thought about gouging out my eyes. But I was afraid that would seriously hinder every other aspect of my life. So, I’ve pursued some other options.
First, I’ve decided to quit thinking that it’s the immodest women’s fault (though, I sure wish they would cut me some slack). In other words, women need to be modest because it is the right thing to do, not simply because it causes me problems. I’m sure some women are thinking, “Man, that guy has a problem.” And they are right. I do have a problem. Immodest women also have a problem, but I can’t do anything about their problem. I can only work on me. Lust is my problem and through Jesus, I need to overcome it. As long as I blame immodest women, I’m going to continue in my problem. That would be a lot like blaming Chinese buffets for my gluttony. So, some time ago, I decided the person I needed to work on was me. I need to clean up my side of the immodesty/lust street. While there are passages on immodesty for women (e.g. I Timothy 2:9-10; I Peter 3:3-4), Matthew 5:28 is not one of them. That passage is about me. I’m not supposed to lust no matter how women dress. That is what I have to work on today.
Second, I’ve decided I can’t overcome on my own. As Paul said in Romans 7:24-25, I can’t deliver me from my body of death. Only God can do that through Jesus Christ. So, I do everything I can to consciously connect with God, recognizing that only He provides the victory.
So, I pray. I start my day praying that God will protect me from my own lust. Psalm 141:3-5 is a guide for this prayer. I ask God to do whatever it takes to keep me from lust today, even if it means letting the righteous smite me. I also love to pray Psalm 139:23-24. I ask God to search in every nook and cranny of my heart to find every grievous way there is and cleanse them from me so I can walk in His everlasting way.
I pray through the day, practicing what I call, walking in God’s presence. That is, I talk to God as if He is walking along with me. I tell Him what I’m thinking, what choices I’m making, what choices I just made, asking Him permission to do what I’m thinking about. I’ve found it is really hard to look down a woman’s blouse if I’m asking God for permission. I wish I used this tool more consistently. It really helps when I walk in God’s presence.
In the moment of temptation, when I catch myself looking and lusting, I pray a prayer I read some time ago, “Lord, let me find in You whatever it is I’m looking for in _____________________.” I know there is some hole I’m trying to fill in my life by escaping into the fantasy world of lust. I’ve also learned that going into that world never fills the hole. Only God can. So I ask Him to help me figure out what the hole behind the lust really is and ask His strength to help me let Him fill it. As Psalm 18:1-3 says, God needs to be my refuge, not lust and fantasy.
Additionally, I start praying for the person that triggered my lust. I pray for her blessing, I pray for her husband or potential husband, her kids, her hopes, her dreams, her forgiveness. If her immodesty is an obvious you-can’t-miss-it plea to be noticed sexually, I pray for whatever it is that makes her think she is only worthwhile if she dresses like that. I realize she must be a hurting person and pray for those hurts to be healed. I pray that I can be a blessing in her life, a giver rather than a taker. I pray for anything I can about her to remind me that she is a person and not a piece of candy for my eyes or a piece of meat for my fantasies later.
In addition to praying, I spend time connecting to God through helpful literature. Obviously, that begins with the Bible. But I no longer read the Bible with the mindset of thinking, “Maybe if I read my Bible more, I’ll be strong enough.” I’ve learned I won’t ever be strong enough. I’ll only be strong when I know how weak I am, because that will cause me to rely on God’s strength instead of my own (II Corinthians 12:7-10). I spend time in God’s Word to connect to His strength. Since every part of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:14-17 is connected to God’s Word, it stands to reason that immersing myself in God’s words of life will help.
One thing that has really been helping me lately is scripture memorization. Certainly, that helps because as I hide God’s word in my heart, I won’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). But also because I’ve started working on scripture memorization during those boring times, like when I’m driving or walking. Now my mind has something to focus on that is true, lovely, of good report instead of drifting into fantasy. I’ve learned that if I have problems with obsessing about things when I’m distracted or bored, at least I can direct that obsessive thinking to something constructive.
In addition to the Bible, I also read literature that is specifically designed to help me grow. I read literature that challenges me to rely on God, that challenges me to grow, that gives me good advice for growth. I especially read literature that deals specifically with lust and sexual sins. There are plenty of books out there written to give men insight into why lust is a problem and how to overcome. Even though these books aren’t inspired, I view them as God placing good counselors in my path to help me overcome by His strength (Proverbs 11:14).
Finally, I connect to God by connecting to other people. I have friends that I have been completely and 100% honest with about all my struggles. I’m glad to say that Nathan is one of those people. I especially have friends that I call when I’m tempted and triggered. I have friends I can call to lay out on the table exactly what I saw and what it made me think. I’ve found if I try to stuff it inside and deal with it myself, I just end up obsessing about it. However, if I go ahead and shed the light on it by sharing it with someone else, the darkness usually goes away. Of course, there have been some times that I’ve had to make multiple calls before it went away.
I’ve also learned that the issue is not simply lust. I’ve learned that lust is usually a reaction to other issues. Sometimes things have been going great in the battle against lust and I begin to think that I am not ever going to have a problem again and then bang, out of nowhere I’ve crumbled on the battlefield. Then I start doing a debrief and realize that the real problem wasn’t lust. In some cases lust was just the reaction to a resentment I had over something with my wife. Or it was a reaction to a frustration I was feeling with a brother in Christ. Or it was a reaction to stress and pressure in my work. I’ve learned there is a better way to deal with all of those things. Phone a friend, it really is a lifeline.
So, my first line of defense is to quit blaming others. My second is to connect to God. My third line of defense is to cut off my hand and pluck out my eye (cf. Matthew 5:29-30). Not literally; but I’ve learned there are some shows (CSI: Miami), some songs (Nickelback’s “Rockstar”), some places (magazine aisles) that tend to have people or things that trigger my lust. As much as I can, I cut them out. I’m not saying you have to cut them out, they may not trigger your lust. But they do mine. So I’ve had to cut them out. However, I do have a request. I can’t cut out the church’s assembly. So, sisters, while it is my problem and I have to clean up my side of the street, I sure could use some help. Please dress modestly when you are getting together with the church. I tend to think that ought to be a place where I can safely go and find help, not find more of the battle.
Okay, I could write a book on this stuff. In fact, if you’ve read all of this, you probably are thinking, “He did write a book.” But that’s how sick I’ve been in my life. The great thing is I know that God is giving me progressive victory over all of this. My troubles aren’t what they used to be. At the same time, I’ll only keep having victory as I keep relying on God instead of me. If I quit relying on Him, I’ll just go back to being dominated by lust. So there you have it. Hope I haven’t said too much. And I hope I still have a job this Sunday. We’ll see.
What are your thoughts on modesty and lust? What do you do to overcome? Add your input by clicking the following link: Comments
And now it is time to work up the courage to hit “Publish.” Here goes.