Have you ever visited Amsterdam? I have. And I will never forget my first trip…
My band was booked to play there a few years back. I had heard dozens of stories prior to my visit. Most of them consisted of warnings about the red light district, especially the prostitutes (yup, in case you weren’t aware, it’s legal in Amsterdam).
Honestly, prior to my trip I had never understood why someone would visit a prostitute. In fact, I had even judged those who had engaged in such activities, classifying them as low-lifes and losers. I’m just being honest; at that point in my life I could not understand how any “normal” person could partake in such depravity.
So in my mind, when I imagined Amsterdam I thought of a foreign version of the “adult superstores” you pass on lonely highways in Nebraska. I pictured wart-nosed, gap-toothed, middle-aged streetwalkers who reeked of cheap wine and cigarettes. I imagined overweight Dutch truckers with huge beards and overalls hiding out in shady corners, devoid of conscience or moral conviction. I pictured Charlie Sheen on a European vacation. Suffice it to say that the picture I had in my mind of the red light district was just nasty to me. Unappealing. Not attractive in the least. Repulsive, even.
When we arrived in the city, we checked into our hotel (which was in the heart of town), and immediately set out on a walk to visit the canals (one of the best sights in the city). Note: My band and I intentionally charted our journey to avoid the red light district.
As we walked we did not anticipate any brushes with the seedy areas of town. Our visit to the canals went as planned, but on our way back to the hotel we decided to take a different route. Because we were unfamiliar with the layout of the city, we made some wrong turns, and found ourselves walking down a quiet, dark alley not far from our hotel.
I noticed immediately it was absolutely silent in this narrow corridor. It was as if the heavens were hushed. It was as if I had entered another realm of reality, so to speak. Then, I felt a spiritual heaviness that I have never experienced, before or since. As we traveled further down the alley we saw them: Two rows of human-sized windows bordered by dim red lights.
We looked at each other, wide-eyed, as we walked forward. I have to be honest…I was in awe. I felt like I was seven again, watching my first horror film. I was frozen, and I knew I should shut my eyes, but I had to look.
The first thing I noticed was that “normal” looking men were exiting these glass doorways all around. There was no Charlie Sheen, and no three-hundred pound Dutch truckers. In their place were at least a dozen men who looked like you or I leaving the lair of their prostitute of choice, then going about their lives as if they had just eaten lunch at McDonald’s or had a coffee at Starbuck’s. These men were average, young adult males, whom, if you saw them walking down the street, did not look the “type” to visit such a place.
Then, I looked into the windows as I passed.
What I saw was the most disturbing part of all. There were no middle-aged, scantily clad, weathered hags, but young women—young girls—who looked like they could have just as easily been servers at PF Chang’s or Urban Outfitters employees. I mean, they looked like anything but prostitutes. And their attitudes conveyed a lighthearted air about the situation. It was as if they were saying with their eyes, their body language, come on in. It’s legal. It’s no big deal. Absent was the harlot/john stereotype, and in its place was a casualness that was actually…frighteningly deceptive.
You have to understand that temptation was far from me in those moments; for all the “normalcy” and allure that this scene presented on the surface, I can honestly say I have never felt a more tangible sense of darkness in my life.
On the forefront of my mind was this question: What would drive someone to seek out a prostitute? I looked deep within myself to find an adequate explanation. Was it simple, physical longing? No, it couldn’t be that. Even as a single guy, in my greatest moment of weakness, I couldn’t even imagine going to such a place. Was it loneliness? I was getting warmer. But, surely these men knew that there was no real solace, or comfort to be found in their brief moments with those girls. Perhaps it was something deeper, something spiritual, and something desperate hidden inside the human soul. That was when a quote by G.K. Chesterton popped in my head:
“Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”
We all long to know and be known by another, to be loved and cherished unconditionally. And sex is the means through which we know and become known in the deepest possible sense as humans. It is far more than just a physical act; it is a spiritual union. Therefore, the physical act of engaging in sex is a soul’s desperate attempt to connect, to find completeness, acceptance, and comfort, even for just a few moments. It is an attempt to find things that can only be found in the Almighty. The scene in the alley really was, above all else, a powerful illustration of men’s yearning for their creator, even if those men were unaware of this longing.
This is the view of intimacy, of sex, we must adopt if we are going to be men of character. This is the truth we must embrace if we are to grow beyond the sexual dysfunction that has wreaked havoc on so many of our lives. The seemingly insatiable urge to act out sexually is, at its core, a longing to reconnect with Jesus. If we can understand where these desires come from when we are in their grips, we can confront our demons, take the proper action, and sprint toward Christ.
What kind of man enters a brothel? A desperate man. A man who is starving for unconditional love. A man who really is poor in spirit.
Jesus says this type of man is blessed in the Beatitudes.
Here, then, is the heart of the matter: If you are a man who has indulged in these things, or any other form of sexual sin, take heart. Your mistakes betray a deeper need, and you are not far from God. You need not fear that you have passed beyond the realm of forgiveness. You need not feel as if you are abnormal, because you are not. You are poor in spirit, and therefore, you will be blessed.
Just turn your longings heavenward.
The Tin Soldiers is both a small group curriculum an an essay/devotional book for men looking to find spiritual answers to issues such as addiction, sexual dysfunction, and low self-esteem. Grab a copy in print here and as an ebook here. Grab a copy at a discount for your small group here.