When I was 11, my brother and I discovered our mom’s maternity books on the bookshelves in our room. We were equally horrified and intrigued. We kept peaking at them over about a month’s time until I felt super guilty and “confessed” to mom and dad. Mom seemed confused but dad was furious. He was too mad to talk at first and just sent us to our room. Later he came in and told us how grieved he was, and how grieved God was. He said he wasn’t sure if God could forgive us or allow us into heaven. The shame and horror I felt was awful. I didn’t feel worthy of life.
A few days later we got together with some other homeschool families, most of whom had cute daughters around our age (I was the oldest of four boys at the time, before our younger sister and baby brother were born, and we didn’t often get together with other families). I just remember feeling so ashamed and unworthy of living and being around these girls, and kept wondering what would happen if these families knew what we’d done. It seemed dad had forgotten about this after a while, because a year later…
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 excited since personal interactions with dad were infrequent and usually happened 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.
We headed out to an empty church parking lot to visit in the car. Dad began to be talking 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 had much value. 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 IBLP. He had just been to his second Institute in Basic Life Principles Seminar and was determined to become more intentional about parenting. The 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, that he (dad) would help me choose. It seemed like an overwhelming responsibility to promise to, but I really wanted to be a good husband and pleasing to 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 to help with that was have an accountability partner. He suggested that any time 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. Even with the incident with the maternity books the year before, I had only just begun to find women attractive and was curious what they looked like naked (other than giving birth), 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 limited friendships with 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. It turned out that 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 busy 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 alone times to confess. And it was 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 despondent 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, that I was already on a slippery slope to hell, 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 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, 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. It made me sad to not go, but at least the girls were safe from me. I would 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.
When I was 13 I began to discover the bodily function of 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 a 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. But after reading the Medical Bulletin from IBLP on circumcision he changed his mind and supported dad. I was so distraught that I actually decided I would talk to dad. Talking to dad was a scary thing because, according to Bill Gothard (the leader of our strict religious homeschool cult we had since joined), dad was God’s anointed leader in our family, and to question God’s anointed was rebellion. We know from I 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 of dollars 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 had 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 opposed the divine wisdom dad 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 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, I didn’t have a right to it, and that I would 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 into the operating room, finally fading into the anesthesia. When I awoke, there were more nurses inspecting the surgery site.
When we were released, we had instructions to soak in a bath tub to soften the yards of tight 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 sense his controlling presence as 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 accepting 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 had been growing 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 the 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 himself would have been fully aware of every aspect of the women around Him (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), aware of the attractiveness He made them with, and yet He was an example of selfless love and culturally unusual honoring of all the women in his life.
As I began to understand my ability to know my own motives and not just accept that my motives were what my dad said they were, 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 had also slowly grown to comprehend that it is okay for me to be fully masculine, and that me being masculine according to my design is actually a blessing, and not a curse, to the women around me. I ended the confessions because I came to be strong enough to know that our spiritual relationships are a personal thing. No man should ever ask you to confess your faults to him as a requirement for a perfect life with God.
Over the years since, I have grown close to some amazing women and they have been very instrumental in my healing and understanding of the beauty of my design and purpose. I have come to be grateful for my sexuality, and my own unique balance of masculine and feminine energy. Our individual design is so beautiful, something to be delighted in. No one should be ashamed of being who they are, or of being a sexual being. My dad was obsessed with making sure we avoided the pitfalls he fell into in his younger years and yet his constant obsessive micromanaging caused wounds and pain of a very different kind. No one can guarantee a perfect and harm-free life. 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.
It’s taken many years of very intentional healing, with many more chapters to this crazy tale. But it has also been a beautiful journey, connecting with scores wonderful and powerfully loving people. I have learned and grown so much, and I am so grateful for the healing relationships I’ve gained along the way. What a glorious thing to enjoy the freedom of friendship with so many amazing and brilliant women, to admire and support them in their journey, to have mutual honor and respect. I am a blessed man.
Refuse to be ashamed of your story. You are precious and worthy of love and respect, no matter what has happened to you. You are not defined by your past. You have inherent value and worth. Big hugs.
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“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.” ~ I Corinthians 13:1,2