It was my 12th birthday. I was excited because I knew my dad would be taking me out to visit for a little bit before we celebrated with my family. I was the oldest of four boys at the time, before our younger sister and baby brother where born. I was excited because personal interactions with Dad were infrequent and usually because we had angered him somehow. I knew since it was my birthday he would likely be in a good mood and our visit would be special.
Soon it was time and we headed out to an empty church parking lot to park and visit. Dad began to talk to me about my future marriage, and how special my wife was going to be. It was a bit of a shocker because Dad never spoke about our futures, or talked to me like I was a person. I was usually an annoyance. The rarity of this situation made me determined to embrace anything that he might want to talk about. Pretty soon he pulled out a Courtship booklet from the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). He had just been to his second Basic Seminar and was determined to become more intentional about parenting. The Basic Seminar’s instructor, Bill Gothard, taught that parents are responsible to God for their children. And rather than simply being good stewards, many parents, including my dad, took that to mean that they were responsible to God for every thought, action, and attitude their children had up until the moment they married and started their own family.
Dad went over the Courtship Booklet with me, showing me that being the best husband in the future would mean that I would never look with lust on another woman and that I would save my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self for the woman that God would have for me and that he would help me choose. It seemed like an overwhelming responsibility to promise to, but I really wanted to be a good husband and a pleasing child of God. Plus, Dad had never talked to me like an adult before and the idea of partnering with him on something so grand and purposeful seemed like a wonderful way to earn his ongoing respect.
Dad gave me a promise ring that night, and the next day the two of us signed a Courtship Covenant with our pastor. One more important thing happened that night in the car at the empty church parking lot. Dad said that it would be hard for me to keep all that I was committing to for all those years, and that the best thing I could do to help with that was have an accountability partner. He suggested that anytime I had a wrong thought, or wrong action (I didn’t yet know what he meant by that), that I could confess that to him, and I would be forgiven by God. That way I could stay “clean” and true to my promises. I was nervous about this as well, but it sounded like it might work.
So, to start things off, Dad wanted to know if I had ever had wrong thoughts about women. In truth, I had only just begun to find women attractive and was curious what they looked like naked, but it was a passing thought that I spent no time on. I had no idea what masturbation was, or that something like that was possible. I had been home-schooled and had had some friends of both genders, but sexuality had nothing to do with life at that point. I guiltily confessed to Dad that I had had some thoughts about girls without their clothes on. Dad seemed very concerned and wanted to know what I had pictured. I was extremely embarrassed to have to describe what I had pictured a woman’s body looking like, so I lied and said it was really blurry because I couldn’t picture it very well. He seemed relieved and then led me through a prayer to ask God to forgive me for thinking thoughts like that. I wasn’t sure if I felt better or not after the prayer, but I was very determined I would never think of a woman’s body again because I didn’t want to have to confess that to dad.
Before we left, we had decided that I would be responsible to come to Dad every day to clear my conscience. Dad would not be the one to track me down because I needed to learn to be a man and to responsibly own up to my wrong doings. But he also said that any day that I didn’t come and confess to him, or didn’t confess everything to him, I would be out from under his spiritual umbrella of protection and that Satan would be free to begin destroying my life. This was quite overwhelming. But I was determined, if unsure, that I would have what it takes to be a real man.
It soon became a nightmare. I was much more of a monster that I had ever imagined. There were beautiful and less-than-completely-covered women on the boxes of exercise equipment at the store that I kept finding my mind thinking about. In fact, the female form was everywhere, sometimes actual people and sometimes pictures of people. Dad was busier at the time, so I didn’t feel completely guilty on the days that we never had a moment for me to confess to him. But the list kept growing and I began to dread moments that I had with him because it meant I had to take advantage of those rare moments of alone time to confess. And it meant utter humiliation. Dad was always shocked and horrified at what I was seeing and thinking about. He said the magazine racks at the store were practically pornography. I had never seen pornography, but I was horrified that my mind would remember such vile images. The longer the year went on the more hopeless and despicable I felt. Dad said I was listening to Satan and was playing right into his traps. He said that before I got married, I was going to have to confess to my future wife’s dad that I had had all these evil thoughts about women other than his daughter and that I would need to ask his forgiveness. He said I was going to have to do the same with my future wife. She probably would never want to marry me with such a perverse track record.
My fear and horror grew. No matter what I tried and how much I prayed and confessed, girls continued to catch my eye. I was alarmed that I had a longing for that beauty. I was ashamed that I was so powerfully drawn to wonder in amazement at beautiful hair, lashes and curves. What was I going to say to my future wife? I couldn’t say I had saved my eyes for her. I had seen beautiful girls. Good thing I wasn’t allowed to go to the youth group at church. There were lots of beautiful girls there. I was sure I would be in major sin if I was close to them. Dad said it was much better that I never went, and that the idea of letting boys and girls hang out together was really sick. Children should be with their parents so they can learn wisdom. Putting fools (children) together only made greater fools.
When I was 13, I began to discover masturbation. It was alarming that something so pleasurable and so out-of-control could happen within my own body. I confessed to Dad what was going on, and he wanted to know all the details. He told me to keep him informed of what was happening because it was easy to fall away from God in that process. He was concerned and I was fearful.
When I was 14, I remember making a resolute decision that I could never get married. There was no way, I, as man who desired the best for the women in his life, could ever subject any poor girl to the perversion that I was. It might even be better for everyone in the world if I didn’t exist.
When I was 15, Dad decided that all four of us boys needed to be circumcised, not only for spiritual, but also for physical/sanitary reasons. I was horrified and scared. We had check-up/planning visits to the doctor who would be performing the surgery. Dad was intent on being present for every aspect of the visit. My grandpa was angry when he heard that we were all going to be circumcised, and I thought my prayers might be answered. After reading the Medical Care Bulletin from IBLP on Circumcision, my grandpa changed his mind and supported my dad.
As the time of surgery grew closer, I became so distraught that I actually decided I would talk to Dad. Talking to my father was a scary thing because, according to Bill Gothard (I had been to three Basic Seminars and an Advanced Seminar already), Dad was God’s Anointed leader in our family, and to question God’s Anointed was rebellion. We had been taught from First Samuel that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft which means you are listening to Satan. So, with all the respect I could pointedly communicate, I asked Dad if we had to do the surgery. I explained that we were in the New Testament times so we didn’t have to keep the law. I was also certain of my ability to be responsible in maintaining sanitation in that area, so that wouldn’t be an issue. I also told Dad he could save the thousands it would cost. Dad smiled and explained that God had blessed us with the financial resources to be able to do it at this time and we would be foolish to miss this opportunity when we didn’t know if we could do it later. He also said that my future wife would be grateful to me and to him for my circumcision. It was never even a thought for either of us that this was my body and I should be able to decide what happens to it. We both “knew” that Dad was completely responsible to God for me and that he has wisdom as the leader of the home that I didn’t have, so I could only provoke the wrath of God and work of Satan in my life if I ever openly crossed the divine wisdom my father had received directly from God.
I felt trapped in the horror of God’s best for my life.
I have a hard time concentrating when I recall the events of the surgery. A few days before the surgery we had a tour around the hospital to see where we would be prepped and where we would go for surgery. It felt more like we were being paraded around before the nurses who were smiling and red faced, wondering at this family who was having four sons circumcised at the same time. On the day of the surgery I decided I wasn’t going to be apprehensive at all. I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about my body, that I didn’t have a right to it, and that I was going to completely trust that everything that was going to happen was supposed to happen. I went numb. I was numb to the fact that I was naked under a gown, that I had preparatory IVs stuck in my arm, that beautiful nurses kept pulling my gown up to handle, inspect and prep my penis, that I was being wheeled in to the operating room and succumbed to the power of anesthesia. When I awoke, there were more nurses inspecting the site. We had instructions to soak in a bath tub when we were released to soften the yards of bandaging before we slowly unwrapped it. At home, Dad assumed the role of resident nurse and insisted on being present when we each in our turn soaked and unwrapped our mutilated member. I no longer felt valuable enough to feel his controlling presence was a violation of privacy and personhood. I didn’t have a right to privacy and personhood. I was the property of my God-given authority and getting used to that was much more pleasant. It was many more years before I felt all the pain of that season. The cumulative events of the years felt as though my masculinity was raped repeatedly.
The daily confessing continued until I was 20. I finally came to be strong enough to claim that there is but one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). No man should ever ask you to confess your faults to him as a requirement for a perfect walk with God. I had grown more and more frustrated and confused. How could I be such a perverted person with strong attraction to women if I so desired God’s best in my life? I was memorizing scripture, reading the Bible for at least 30 minutes daily, and praying continuously. Through my increasing knowledge of the Bible, I began to wonder if there was a different design. Over several years I realized that the opposite of lust was not not-lusting, but love. That Christ would have been fully aware of every aspect (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) of the women around Him, aware of the attractiveness He made them with, and yet He never lusted.
As I began to understand my right to know my own motives and not just accept the motives my dad said I had, I realized that I had nothing but the best desires for the women around me. In no way did I ever want to abuse or selfishly use the women that I was so blessed to know. It took even more time to understand that my attraction to women didn’t mean I had been lusting at all for all those years. I have also slowly grown to comprehend that it is okay for me to be fully masculine the way God made me, and that me being masculine according to my design is actually a blessing, and not a curse, to the women around me. I have grown close to some amazing girls I call my sisters and they have been very instrumental in my healing and understanding of the beauty of my design and purpose. I have finally come to be grateful for my sexuality, masculinity and for the unique and beautiful design of women and femininity. God’s true design is so beautiful, something to be delighted in. No one should be ashamed of being a man, or of being a woman. And no one can guarantee a perfect and harm-free life. My dad was obsessed with us avoiding the pitfalls he fell into in his younger years and yet his constant vigilance caused wounds and pain of a very different kind. Life cannot be controlled, only responded to. Respond to yourself with graciousness and forgiveness. Be gracious and forgiving of those around you. Pursue love as the ultimate goal in life. Everything else is pointless without a heart of love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
ADDITIONAL PERSONAL NOTE: The ultra-heavy emphasis on modesty (clothing that was loose fitting and covered the body) in the IBLP/ATI (Advanced Training Institute) circles simply compounded the feelings of worthlessness and condemnation. I felt horrible that women had to be so careful to cover up their bodies just to “help out” their perverted brothers who couldn’t stop lusting. It made me mad that there seemed to be no solution, and that women were left to feel like there was something so horribly wrong with their bodies that it must be kept hidden way. But as I grew older, I observed and understood that lust is a heart issue–never a clothing issue. A man who is given over to lust will not be helped by women buried in layers of cloth. But a man of pure heart will not indulge in selfish and abusive visions of scantily clad maidens. Observation, appreciation, and attraction are not the same as lust. Jesus was able to observe, appreciate, and know every one of His creations, and never had a selfish or abusive thought. I would love Christians to think less about modesty and more about how the motives of the heart have been wonderfully transformed by Christ.