Written from the point of view of Justin, my boyfriend!
I first “met” Hope right after I got home from the World Race in June 2013. I came down to Georgia for an event at Adventures where she was the emcee. I don’t remember much but I do remember she made a couple of inappropriate jokes on stage. Our first interaction happened four months later as we were on a team together, training a squad to launch on the World Race. I thought she was funny, attractive and down to earth. She probably thought I was quiet, reserved and Asian. I chalked it just hormones and attraction since I was preparing to leave the country for five months.
Fast forward 8 months later: June 2014. I had returned from my five month stint on the field and was back down in Georgia for a wedding. Later that night, I stopped by a friend’s house to drop off a few things. Her house happened to be Hope’s house. There Hope was, squeezing shampoo into travel sized bottles and gathering ziplock bags to put her miscellaneous items in. We ended up talking for over an hour – Pride and Prejudice, her gingivitis, squad leading, travel. Something jittery had grown inside of me.
I left the next day for North Carolina and a month later I was back in Georgia to once again, train another World Race squad. This time I was heading out for 11 months (I know right?) Hope had somehow managed to secure herself in my thoughts over the last month and I couldn’t shake her out of my head. We had texted here and there, me telling her of my Pride and Prejudice progress, her about her gingivitis (hubba hubba) but in my opinion, it hadn’t amount to much of anything.
That week in Georgia, my coleader said matter of factly, You should ask her out on a date. And that Thursday, I called her up and did exactly that. Much to my surprise (and nerves), she said yes and on a cloudy Saturday morning, we were off to lunch. I was nervous and spoke too little. She (apparently) had food falling out of her mouth and (definitely) talked a lot. It didn’t matter. I was swooning.
I went back to North Carolina; a month passed before I was back in Georgia. It was a Tuesday, our fourth date. We had finished a walk around the park. The warm summer air kept us outside, sitting on her front porch (I think looking up videos of streakers – her idea), when she suddenly turned to me and asked, “When was the last time you looked at pornography?” Talk about rainbows and butterflies.
“Sooo we’re going there. Uhhhhh – I don’t remember exactly but it’s been in the last couple of months.”
We went back to watching streaker videos.
I slept soundly that night, my conscience soothed by my openness and vulnerability. The next day, I found out the wheels had been turning in her head all night. Hope explained her standard – she wouldn’t date anyone who had looked at pornography within the last year.
This was a serious setback in our otherwise whimsical and romantic relationship. Up until this point, we had stayed in touch when we were apart and went on dates when I was in Georgia. We were still in the ‘get to know you’ phase (aka you’re cute but I don’t know anything about you). Our conversations suddenly turned more serious about this checkered past I had. I assured her that I hadn’t yet found victory but I believed there would be a time I found freedom. It just wasn’t here yet.
Three days before I flew out for that 11 month trip, she ended things. Yes, it was the length of time but it was also because of the pornography. I left on a plane, teary eyed and with a hurting heart.
The first couple of months on the field were difficult to say the least. Leading my squad was a welcomed distraction. A year porn free wasn’t impossible but it definitely seemed daunting. There were few to no men in my life that had successfully overcome such a hurdle in their own walk for any significant period of time, let alone indefinitely. What if I’ll always struggle with this? constantly surfaced my thoughts.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand. Or rather I couldn’t bring myself to understand Hope’s rationale. It’s not like I wanted to look at pornography or that I was embracing it or giving up and resigning to it. Pornography was a shameful thing I had worked hard to overcome. I just hadn’t… yet. And a year was a freaking long time. Wouldn’t 6 or 8 months be enough? Wasn’t there grace? Instead it felt judgmental and I felt slighted, unheard, unhelped and left to figure out things in my own turmoil. If she liked me enough wouldn’t she walk alongside of me?
All these thoughts poured through my mind.
It wasn’t a huge struggle on the field, just here and there. But every ‘here’ and every ‘there’ was a reset – back to square one. It’s a difficult thing to find yourself in the same position a dozen, fifty, a hundred times. Starting over can be viewed as a blank slate but in this case, starting over perpetuated the uncertainty of ever moving beyond.
But one day, I stopped starting over and continued moving forward. There wasn’t a black and white ‘aha’ moment, even though I wished and tried for one many times. One of the biggest transitions happened when I began to reassess my mindset. The idea of a perpetual struggle with pornography had burrowed its way into my thoughts. I began to reason it out: If I believe I will always struggle with pornography, that means what Jesus did on the cross is null – that Jesus is less than pornography. And I know Jesus isn’t less than.
Yes, my freedom was a stroke of grace. It was also a choice. That choice turned itself into an everyday decision that soon became 5 months of freedom under my belt by the time I came off the field.
Along the way a lot of people asked me if I was doing this for Hope or if I was doing it for God. I know now the answer was ‘both’ and even more than that – it was for myself. But during those questions, I had to wade through thoughts of ‘impure motives’. Was my fight for freedom from pornography actually… selfish? In the end, I accepted that the answer is multilayered and put the nagging thoughts to rest. On this side of things, it’s quite easy to see the answers and reasons are never ‘either or’ but really are ‘both and more’.
The remaining seven months were messy with Hope – me still wanting a relationship, her still saying no, both of us being hurt. But in March 2016, on that 12 month mark, hanging on to just a thread of hope, I asked her out.
She said yes and we’ve been dating for the last 10 months.
Let me say something. Pornography is slow poison and a deceitful beast. It promises all the pleasures and in return, gives you emptiness. It’s by all rights and definitions, addictive. It creates a false and degrading reality of women, sex and relationships. It sets you up for failure. It gives you a jaded lens to look through. It’s one dimensional as you miss out on the joys of emotional, spiritual and intellectual connection within a true relationship.
These are thoughts and conclusions from my own process and experience. But there are hundreds of articles that back these ideas up (and they’re not Buzzfeed articles either). Here’s one explaining how it literally rewires pathways in your brain, reducing decision making and giving way to more compulsivity and impulsivity. Scientifically, your brain looks no different if you’re engaging with porn or doing drugs.
A lot of people disagreed with Hope’s conviction for a year of freedom from someone she’s dating. I’m included in that group of people. Regardless of what I thought was ‘fair,’ I wanted Hope and I wanted to be free in my own right, so I fought. Only along the journey, even before we started dating, did more understanding come. It’s true that sin affects more than just yourself, even when sin looks like yourself alone in a dark room. What stains in the dark is still evident in the light.
The Lord slowly unraveled my knot of ignorance and allowed me a glimpse of how much this grieved Lord’s heart and Hope’s heart, how pornography had shaped my field of vision and my thinking, how it distorted my perception with women. I remember sitting at my parents’ dining room table weeping because I could feel the sorrow weighing on my heart.
I believe the best thing for both of us was her standard. Yes it is my struggle but it definitely affects the person I’m dating, especially as our hearts grow closer together. For me personally, I didn’t need more grace – I needed a higher and holier calling. Hope didn’t welcome that kind of baggage in a relationship because she was protecting her heart.
Here’s some food for thought: If we agree the effects of pornography are similar to drugs, then we must also agree the consequences of pornography are similar to drugs. Would you date a current alcoholic? Or gambler? Or drug addict?
It’s been almost two years since I’ve engaged with pornography. Let me tell you it hasn’t exactly been easy street either. The devil still prowls around like roaring lion looking for a time to devour me. Temptation dangles in front of me. Truthfully, I’ve come close more than once. But it’s like night and day from years ago to now. Rolland Baker says, ‘Doesn’t it feel great to wake up with a clean conscience?’ It’s true – there’s such an ease and lightness to life I almost forgot was there.
Vulnerability and openness are key. They not only limit shame’s ability to thrive and grow but they also create more accountability and give you more power over your life. The light will snuff out the darkness. There IS freedom from pornography.
Because Jesus isn’t less than.