If you struggle with pornography, beware a sneaky trap that may keep you going in circles.
What do you do when you experience temptation?
Most people with habitual patterns of unwanted sexual behaviors react to temptation in one of two ways: They lust or they look away. If I were to put it in a chart, it would look something like this:
|Run Towards Temptation||Run away from the Temptation|
|“That looks good”||“That looks dangerous”|
|“I can’t pass up this opportunity”||“I have to endure this trial”|
You probably have other things you’d add to each of those lists. Maybe under the “Look Away” side, you even have strategies you employ to help you get out of the situation. I’m all for that.
But do you notice what is the same in both lists? And do you notice what’s missing?
Neither list sees the person.
On the other side of every sexual temptation is a human being, but our most common reactions to temptation both overlook the man or woman in front of us. Instead, the Lust reaction sees only an object to use for my sexual pleasure, while the Look Away reaction sees only an obstacle that threatens my well-being in some way.
Given the option between the two, the Look Away option usually seems best to Christians—like the holiest response. But it’s not necessarily. This is the sneaky trap because it may seem like you’re making the best choice, when really you’re still not seeing a person.
To be clear, learning to look away instead of lusting is usually an important part of the process! For those of us who have developed a lust habit that is so deeply entrenched that we simply can’t be in certain situations without automatically lusting, looking away can be a part of detox, a way to begin retraining the brain. Just make sure to introduce into the process that the reason you’re looking away is not because you’re avoiding “a temptation” (as in, the person is a temptation), but rather because you’re experiencing temptation (see James 1:14) to misuse a person.
To put a point on this, I’ve heard from women who have felt shamed by a man’s lust—being looked at as little more than a piece of meat. I’ve also heard from women who have felt shamed by Christian men’s attempts not to lust—not being looked at, as though they were evil or temptresses somehow just for having a female body. In both situations one person is overlooked by the other, perceived as only a temptation, rather than being seen. This emphasizes just how important it is for us to grow in the virtue of love, rather than just avoid the sin of lust!
I think here of Jesus’ question to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:44, “Simon, do you see this woman?” Simon’s guilt in that moment was not looking with lust, but looking with disdain. Jesus saw a woman full of love and longing, so in need of God’s mercy.
I also think of the many other times in the Gospels when we read something like, “Jesus looked at him/her/them and felt compassion,” or in Acts when we read how the apostles “looked intently at him/her.” In all these, we catch a glimpse of one person’s eyes truly seeing someone else and then the seer being stirred to move/act/heal in love for that person.
(Contrast this with the person trained by lust: the eyes perceive an object and then the viewer is stirred to take advantage of that needy person or to turn away from that needy person.)
God, long have we used our eyes and failed to see other human beings. Perhaps our eyes are blurry or blind and need healing. Certainly our hearts need to burn with Your holy love. We confess both that we have lusted and that we have run away. We acknowledge You created our eyes that we might see and love. Jesus, we want to see! Holy Spirit, fill us and make our eyes clear, that we may see as You see.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What stands out to you in this article? Do you struggle more with “seeing” objects, obstacles, or both?