Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dear Addi, Should I Confess?

Dear Addi,

Thank you for your posts. It has helped me a little with what I've been struggling with.

I really need help right now. My heart is broken right now. I just got back from a successful mission and it's been almost three years since the last time I've viewed pornography. I was addicted to porn in my teenage years but was able to resist it a few months before my mission. However, I didn't confess until I arrived in the mission. I had told my mission president that I had a pornography and a masturbation problem. And he asked me to surrender my temple recommend and all that. I have gone through the repentance process with him for months and I have been able to complete a successful mission without viewing pornography.

Back when I was confessing to my mission president, I had thought that I had completed everything that I needed to tell him of. In fact, I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. However, just recently as I read and pondered your posts, I remembered something that I may have missed something. Back when I was 14, I had written and submitted this fictional story to an online site with sexual stories. I am not sure if it was ever published and I really don't want to go to check it out with the fear that I might trigger myself to reading pornographic materials again.

My question is this: Do I need to confess that to my bishop now? And if I did, would I be excommunicated or disfellowshipped?

I really hope you can help me go through this.


Dear James,

Thank you so much for writing and sharing your questions with me. I am a bit of a ‘read between the lines’ kinda guy, so forgive me for honing in on certain words or phrases you used in your letter.

The first thing you said is my favorite; “My heart is broken right now.” Oh how I love this statement! This should be the mantra and theme of each of our lives. I think that you intended this to mean you are hurt or saddened or disappointed by your own actions. Which is also good. But when I think of being Broken, I am reminded that this is exactly how our Savior wants us… with a “broken heart,” humbled and ready to receive his help and comfort. So three cheers to you for being broken. That is awesome and no matter how you got there… it's exactly how He needs you! The real trick is staying that way. Our broken hearts have a tendency to heal in ways the Lord did not intend. Sometimes they heal the heal the wrong way. For example,  when I was 10 years old I accidentally put my hand through a small window shattering the glass and slicing a 2 inch cut in my arm. We rushed off to the emergency room where I received stitches. The Dr. told me to leave it alone and covered with the bandage. I followed his counsel at first, but over time, the bandage came off, and then I picked at it, and played with it, the way a 10 year old will do. The stitches began to spread a little. It healed with the stitches spread apart. The result is, that instead of a nice clean scar that is unnoticeable. I have an ugly wide scar... that is obvious and even numb in parts of my arm… all  because I chose not to leave it alone and allow it to heal properly.

Our broken hearts sometimes are not protected and allowed to heal the way the  Savior wants them to. Sometimes we ignore Drs orders and uncover them exposing them to the pollutants in the air. Sometimes we pick at it. Sometimes we pull at the stitches… and sometimes… we're left with some pretty nasty scar tissue. And, as was my case, we even can become numb to feeling the pain any more.
I am not suggesting that the Lord doesn't want us to heal.  I am saying that if we don't follow the exact instructions given us by the master physician, we are likely to heal improperly. And in the case of us porn addicts, that means relapsing, or even worse. Keeping our humble hearts broken provides us one more layer of protection and shows our Heavenly Father that we truly need his continuous healing to keep us safe and strong. But only if we are exact in the way we allow it to heal.

Let me jump ahead to what I believe is the crux of your questions.

1. Do I need to confess? And 2. Will I receive church discipline if I do?

Let me start with 1. As we all know… repentance without confession is not real repentance.  But it sounds to me like you did confess. You shared with your Mission president about your addiction. I realize you did not tell your mission president every nitty gritty detail. I personally am not sure that this one more detail, as you have described it, is far beyond the confession you have made. When I was 10 (a lot happened in my life at 10 years of age apparently) there is a chance I may have borrowed 2 or 3 dollars from my mother’s purse without her knowledge. Now, years later I did confess that I had an issue with “Borrowing” money from time to time, but I did not go back and detail every time and event.  This is because they were all small parts of the whole… the real issue was that I was being dishonest and I needed to repent. The same principle applies when I consider my pornography addiction. I did not walk into the Bishop and detail out every single instance in which I looked at, read, or wrote something inappropriate, I confessed to the problem as a whole and then detailed the most egregious sins. The rest, were just parts of the whole. So do you need to confess this to your Bishop? I don't know, I will leave that to you. If you feel that you have truly put this behind you and have not acted out since long ago, then I think you may be able to consider the matter has been dealt with.   HOWEVER…. Since I know from personal experience that confession is by far the most freeing experience one can go through and is in my estimation, the most important part of the repentance process, if sharing this with your Bishop helps to relieve you of the weight.. then you should absolutely go see him and get this off your chest.

2. Will I receive church Discipline if I go and confess this sin.

Based on your description of this sin alone…. I can with complete confidence say that you will definitely NOT receive any formal discipline.

I think somewhere down the line we, (I include myself in this) as leaders in the church, may have done ourselves and the youth of the church a disservice. In our completely righteous effort to steer the youth away from making critical mistakes, we may have gone too far by demonizing them and the punishment that follows such forms of sin. We spent years teaching the youth to run from the evils of pornograghy or else ‘you will become a slave’ to it, to avoid word of wisdom issues and law of chastity issues because  your soul and your very membership will be at risk. While I agree that we need to avoid these things and  YES, we can become slaves to them… we failed to spend the same amount of time discussing the fact that you will most likely mess up somewhere along the line and you will need to use the atonement and here is the process. Perhaps it was taught to the youth in the proper way, but the youth in their fear only heard… Bad Bad Bad… No No No.. Hell fire… damnation… excommunication…. Is it any wonder that we are afraid to go in and confess? Somehow we missed the most critical element of the atonement …. Love!   Confession takes a broken heart.  If you walk in with a heart broken and a willingness to repent, then no matter what the leader asks of you, it won't matter… you will want to follow through.  That is how we heal our broken hearts the Savior’s way.

Let me put your mind at ease though by sharing a quick story from when I was a Bishop. I had a very good and active brother come in to me after church one day. (I promise this is a true story, your situation reminded me of it). This good brother had been off his mission for over 4 years. He was married with 2 adorable little children. He was serving as ward mission leader and asked to speak with me one day after church. When he came in, I could see he was beyond nervous and obviously uncomfortable. He sat before me and began to share with me that prior to his mission, he had fallen into the trap of (You guessed it) Pornography. He said he had stopped before his mission but had never confessed it. He felt like he had served a successful mission, he felt he had repented, but he had never confessed and so felt like he hadn't finished the process. He was certain that he would lose his recommend or be disfellowshipped.

I asked him, “When was the last time you sought out to view pornography?”. “ Not since before my mission,” came his answer.  “Brother Smith,”  I said, “Your confession process is complete. Please don't let this past sin burden you any longer.” We then talked for a few minutes about how he could avoid falling back into transgression and the importance of not delaying the confession process. Then I excused him back to his beautiful family.

You see, what good would extra discipline have done him at that point? He had already beat himself up for years. He had been chastened and humbled. He had carried the weight of unrepented sins because he simply skipped one step of the process. And now that it was complete… he could move past it.

I believe, if the unconfessed sin is as you described, that a good Bishop will see you with love and recognise the weight from sins past. I can not promise you that he won't ask you to stay away from the sacrament, or to surrender your recommend (though I think it unlikely), but I can tell you with certainty, that you should not even hear the words excommunication or disfellowship mentioned.

I will state again, nothing feels better than confession.  When in doubt, confess. The Lord will always bless you for seeking his forgiveness through the proper channels.

Finally, I want to offer one more reason that you may want to see your Bishop. As you stated above in your letter to me, You have ’Just completed a mission’ so I am guessing you have been home any where from a few weeks to a few months. You also stated that you were able to “resist pornography for a few months” prior to your mission. I see a few red flags here that I think we should try not to over look.

After spending months and even years seeking, hungering and craving after pornography, a few short months of abstinence does not make one a recovered addict. I understand that you did well on your mission and as you put it,  “Even felt the spirit.” However, the mission field is a highly charged spiritual experience and in that atmosphere finding strength to win each day to win is far less daunting. But you are home now and the glow of the mission will eventually begin to fade, and with it, your determination will be tried and tested. The adversary already knows your weaknesses and as you stepped off that plane, he immediately sized you up as ‘Fresh Meat’. I implore you to not be naive enough to think that you have beaten this. We addicts know that it will try to creep back into our lives over and over. It is with this in mind that I suggest that you DO go to your Bishop. Share with him everything from your teen years in Pornography to your repentance process with the Mission President, to your desire to be clean now. Make him an advocate and ask him to check on you regularly to see how you are doing. Let him and the Lord help you to stay clean.   How is it done? By being humble enough to recognize that this is a real life long struggle… and that requires...wait for it… a Broken heart. It all comes back to that doesn't it? . Break your heart wide open and hide nothing. You will find strength in exposing the wound.

I will pray for you my brother. May the Lord bless you as continue to battle the adversary in this life long battle. Win the Day!