And now for the sequel post, four years later, that nobody has been clamoring for (lately)!
Four years ago at the start of Lent, I declared I’d be giving up masturbation until Easter Sunday. I’m not sure if that’s how fasting or Lent actually “works” as a self-proclaimed ignorant yet innocent Protestant boy, but I decided to go for it nonetheless. I was having a rough go with masturbation and lust at the time, and I saw the Lenten season as an opportunity to pump the brakes and shift my focus.
Midway through Lent, a few people reached out to me:
“So, how’s that going? Still on the wagon?”
And then right after Easter, quite a few more reached out to me:
“So . . . ?”
I’m not sure the “vulnerability hangover” has ever hit me as strongly with a blog as it did that one. It’s been one thing to confess I’m attracted to men as a sort of “blanket confession” for all the world to see; it’s another to invite people into the specific workings of my sexuality.
Particularly with something as personal and hardly-talked-about as masturbation.
I had intended on following up with my masturbation post after Easter to share my mostly positive gleanings of that 40-day journey (I was “successful,” by the way). But then I felt all the awkwardness and shame about opening up again. I ignored most of those curious messages and inquiries, along with the impulse ever to conclude those thoughts.
And yet here I am, four Lents later, bringing it up again. I already feel woozy from the hangover hitting me again . . .
I’ve sorta felt “due” for a post like this. I haven’t talked about masturbation in a while. We did a podcast on masturbation a couple years ago. Around that time we had something of a community kerfuffle on Discord, debating the morality of masturbation.
Does the Bible even address masturbation? Does masturbation always include lust? Even if masturbation doesn’t include lust, does it remain a selfish sexual act? Is it ever okay to do??
I’m purposely not answering any of those questions in this post. Because, well.
Is it okay to say I (still) don’t know what I believe about masturbation? That I see both the pros and cons of it? A healthy alternative to cope with stress and the body’s natural rhythms? But also a sneaky if not sinister thing to be mindful of?
Maybe there are indeed more cons, more reasons to be against it than for it. I certainly see those arguments and wrote about them four years ago, including my unhealthy tendency with masturbation to retreat into fantasy worlds (lust-driven or not).
I’ll echo here what I said in that blog, sort of the crux of my ongoing angst with masturbation:
I hate being reliant on things more than Jesus. Seeking and valuing and idolizing things more than him. Dependence on anything other than Jesus . . . is the worst.
Similar to where I was four years ago during Lent, I’ve found myself dependent not just on masturbation but a slew of things other than Jesus: namely, a ravenous need for masculine inclusion, masculine approval. My inner fantasy world is great for finding that (i.e., not great). I also find myself clicking and clicking online, or trying out men’s groups like buffets only to feel the disconnect, the lack.
All these scourings for masculinity like stealing away that midnight snack, feeling gross for it in bed — and I’m still hungry.
We’re already halfway through Lent this year, and no, I’ve not been giving up masturbation for six weeks. I’m not fasting from anything this year. I thought about it. Maybe coffee or Instagram? Something that would hurt a little, at least.
Alas. Can I be honest? I just don’t feel strong enough right now.
Previous versions of myself have honestly loved fasting, treasured those hunger pangs and the constant returning of thoughts to healthier, holier places. To Jesus. But I can’t remember the last time I fasted from anything for any stretch of time.
40 days? I’d feel like such a failure giving up after hardly 40 hours.
But maybe that’s precisely the point? I appreciate my brother Joseph’s recent Lent post. How it’s okay to fail, and how this sacred season calls us to humility. To better recognize our fallenness and our veritable need for a Savior.
Failing a fast or failing anything hits me in my soul’s crosshairs, because I struggle mightily with all-or-nothing mindsets. If I’m not 95% sure I can succeed at something, if I don’t go all the way across the finish line, what even is the point in starting that journey? Why train for a race or competition not to finish it?
Beyond fasting, I also face all-or-nothing hangups in my relationships with other men. If it’s not guaranteed we’ll be BFFFLs (best friends forever for life), why bother sending that text or getting to know them? Why the small talk, why the extra exerted mental energy? Why do the work of relationship-building if our blueprint isn’t for a mansion?
When it comes to matters of lust, I’ve been there again and again, as I’m sure many of you reading have as well: if I feel the constant itch and I’m just going to give in anyway, why not cut to the chase and get it over with? If I can’t go one day or one night or one flipping hour without giving up my sin or idolatry or morning cup of coffee, why even try?
Even as I say that though, I know God still calls us to try. Calls us to follow him. I know there’s grace for those failures, always grace with our God, even when I feel I’ve used up all his reserves on me.
A righteous man gets up one more time than he falls (Proverbs 24:16), and I long for my life to be seen through this lens of integrity. That no matter how many times I masturbated or lusted or some combination of both, no matter how many times I took my eyes away from Jesus, I never stopped picking up my cross as he did his.
It doesn’t feel good enough, if I’m honest. I want my walk with Jesus to look and feel and sound a lot sexier than it does right now, like it’s felt in the past. But there I go all-or-nothing’ing again.
If you find yourself in a season of repetition and failure right now, I feel you. I see you. As does Jesus all the more.
Just remember, whether we agree with it or not, there’s grace. Amples of grace on this journey.
Do you also struggle with all-or-nothing mindsets, regardless the issue? Is it difficult for you to accept grace or perhaps show grace?