Discovering Sexual Wholeness: An Interview with T.C. Ryan

What would you say to someone who feels helpless in the face of compulsive sexual behavior? What would you say to someone who wants to help that person?

To the person who feels overwhelmed by their compulsive sexual behavior and is feeling helpless to effect change, I want them to hear that they are not alone, they are not damaged goods, and God has not forgotten them nor turned his back on them. They are loved by a Father in Heaven who is never surprised nor put off by their failings. I also want them to hear that they were never meant to bear this burden alone and, indeed, they cannot overcome it alone. They need to find safe, trustworthy, and competent companions to help them. They will probably need professional help at some point along the way. Don't be afraid of that or put off by that and do not use that or limited finances as an excuse to do nothing.

They will need to practice rigorous honesty, do hard work, really want it, keep at it. But they were never meant to die in the wilderness of compulsive sexual behavior and Jesus will help them if they will work with him. It's not easy. And . . . it gets better. It won't always seem the way it seems now. They are worth recovering.

To the one who wants to help the sexually compulsive person, study addiction. Learn everything you can about it. If you're not compulsive yourself, then know you will not be able actually to understand the thinking patterns of the addict. Be grateful your mind doesn't work like that! But you can learn a lot about how it works.

Don't judge; Jesus warns us explicitly about judging others. Realize that sexual brokenness isn't any worse than other areas of human struggle and failing. Pray for them. Be supportive and accepting.

Realize it is not your job to save someone from their compulsive behaviors. Your job is to know, love, care, and encourage them. So you need to keep healthy boundaries. Avoid getting pulled into the emotional maelstrom of compulsive craziness. Practice generous love, but maintain your own emotional well-being. You have your own journey of learning to live in the light.

You have identified the power that shame has to keep people from seeking the help they need. How can churches help people on this journey? What limitations do churches have?

Churches have great power and opportunity to change the landscape of shame-empowered sexual addiction. Teach the real gospel, that we are worse sinners than we'd like to admit we are, and at the same time we are each one of us more wildly and extravagantly loved by our Father in Heaven than we can possibly imagine.

Churches can help to change the way people think and the climate in both the Church and in society by teaching a healthy sexuality, recovering a sexual ethic that is open and gracious and truthful, dropping fear and silence and repression. Give people the right information about how sexuality and sexual brokenness work. Teach them how shame works, how it is contrary to the gospel, how it is actively, if inadvertently, handed down through families and churches.

Churches can't make people recover, and they can't make sexual brokenness disappear. But they have the power to equip people with the freeing truth that genuine spirituality is about the recovery of relationship (with God, self, and others) that is done in the heart and works outward, rather than fear-based and shame-based behavioral performance.

What has been the most surprising aspect of your journey toward sexual wholeness over the last couple of years?

I think I continue to be most surprised that the relentless hold sexual compulsivity had on my daily existence has been broken. I had lost hope, after so many years of struggle, that I could live the kind of life I now enjoy.

10/3/2012 4:00:00 AM
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