I’ve been purging a bit for the past year or so, getting a lot of junk out of my life that doesn’t need to be there. Christians do this all the time, but most of the time, we think of it in terms of sin; we purge our lives of sin and bad habits that lead us to sin. But I’ve been cleaning out stuff that I didn’t think was sin and, even now, I wouldn’t say is necessarily wrong. It just has to go.
I argue with God about much of it, and I say, “God, this is totally fine! Why do you want me to get rid of it? What harm is it doing?” And then he looks at me and says my name with that tone in his voice, and I know I’ve already lost.
I started looking at porn when I was about thirteen so that I could learn what sex was and what men looked like naked — what I would look like one day. I tumbled through that dark abyss for ten years before finding any serious levels of freedom. After coming out of it, I wanted to reset my mind.
I wanted to stop seeing men as sexual objects or idols and start seeing them as my brothers.
So, what did I do?
The Lord led me to join the YMCA where I had loads of healthy, in-person experiences changing in the locker rooms and taking showers with other guys. Even though I hardly ever talked to anyone there, it was affirming for me to be naked with other naked men and for it not to be a problem, for it truly to be normal.
I was a normal man there.
But I wanted more. And after I moved out of the city and then out of the country, I had fewer opportunities to be naked with other men, or to be with other men much at all as time continued to pass and circumstances changed.
I found I could get my fix by looking at naked men online.
I justified this by believing that I was only interested in non-erotic imagery. And that was mostly true. I love art, and I don’t consider pornography of any sort to be artistic. I really did want to see nonsexual images of nudity.
I truly wanted to reset my mind to stop viewing all nudity as erotic.
I wanted to expose myself to as much non-erotic nude art as it took to change the way I thought of other men and of myself. I wanted to appreciate the beauty of men without sexualizing them, and I figured that would come with practice and exposure.
So, I exposed myself to those images as much as I could. I believed my motives were pure. I collected a ton of pictures of naked men on Pinterest, I joined groups on Facebook and other social media sites that were aimed at appreciating the nude male body, as well as ones that focused more on male friendships, camaraderie, and intimacy.
Some of it helped. Some of it was genuine and true and good, at least for the time. But I found myself never being satisfied, and in fact, longing for something more than just what I saw.
Nudity is good. It can strengthen bonds and break down barriers between people, and I can’t deny the positive impact that overcoming the fear of nudity by God’s gracious supervision has had on my life.
But looking at something we want but don’t have or can’t get can open a door in our hearts to envy, and that envy leads to resentment and anger.
“God, you took me to the YMCA!” I cried. “You made it okay for me to see naked men! I’m not gay and I know this and I don’t want to do anything sexual with a man! Why then won’t you give me the kind of intimacy with men that I long for? Why are you withholding this good thing from me?”
I held onto these questions that went unanswered for so long as I grew more and more resentful toward the Lord.
Finally, the Lord did show me the truth.
The problem with my looking at pictures of naked men and obsessing over male intimacy and friendship was not that I was sexualizing anything or lusting as we consider that word to mean these days. The problem was idolatry.
The problem was that I was not happy with God’s way for me, and I wanted to try to fix the situation myself. The problem was that I was taking my emptiness, my longing, my desperation to men — nameless, unknown, beautiful, muscular, bold, shirtless, and naked men — to be filled. And I was never satisfied.
The more I wanted, the more resentful I became toward God for not fulfilling me.
Looking at naked men is fine. Being naked with other men is fine. Valuing friendship, intimacy, and camaraderie is great.
But envy is wrong. Idolatry brings death. Being angry at God all the time for not doing what we want him to do when we want him to do it is no way to live.
So, I’ve been purging my life of these images and these social media groups. They’re not necessarily wrong or bad, I’d say, but I can’t deal with them right now in a healthy way. They have to go.
And that’s not to say that I can’t be naked with other men. I live in Japan and I enjoy going to the public bathhouses here from time to time and hanging out naked with a dozen or so other naked guys. There’s no problem for me there. But sitting at a computer screen and ogling men’s butts and reading about other guys’ great friendships and how much they love each other as brothers does me no good.
I enjoy it (who doesn’t like to see a nice butt?), but the Lord knows what’s best for me. I may argue with him sometimes, but I really have to trust that he has my best interests in mind when he tells me to stop looking at certain pictures or to delete my membership to certain groups. Sometimes I join new groups in the hope that this one or that one will be different and I can stay in it, and sometimes that is the case, depending on the kind of group that it is.
But usually, as has been the case lately, God has led me to give them up.
So, onward purging ho.
Have you ever felt God leading you to purge something or someone from your life? Have you ever tried to look at naked men to “redeem” any lustful views of men?
* Photo courtesy felipegeek, Creative Commons.