It started when I was nine.
A few days before, some friends were giggling about this thing called sex. Curiosity had been stirring within me, and I finally did it: I searched for it on Google. Up came countless links to pornographic websites. I clicked on many of them, and the screen was soon covered with explicit pop-ups. A flood of intense shame came over me. But I wanted to see more.
I almost got caught soon afterwards, and I resolved to never do it again. I came too close to being exposed, and the shame was too much. I soon learned that you hide to survive.
Five years later, I found myself in a long-distance relationship with a guy who had just graduated from my high school. Conversations soon turned sexual, and before long, we were discussing sexual fantasies via text and instant messenger. I went back to pornography, and I began to masturbate frequently. For a year and a half, I was his girl on the side, and I knew it. It felt great to be wanted, but it felt miserable not to be wanted enough to be the one he chose.
When things between us ended, that was the deepest rejection. My heart ached, but I wouldn’t allow myself to feel the pain for long. Pornography and masturbation became addictions. It was an intimacy that I could control. No one could hurt me. I could call the shots. Every morning and evening—sometimes even in the afternoons—I would engage in those things. On the outside I was a straight-A student, a leader in my high school’s chapel band, a core member of my youth group, a social butterfly, and a talented athlete. On the inside I was slowly wasting away, chained to my addictions and the woundedness that I was trying to avoid. For four years I led a double life, and I was good at it.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. I was weak, exhausted, and desperate. The summer after my first year of college, I told my two best friends everything—all about the boy and the addictions. One of them responded with Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I remember her saying, “Rachel, if you are in Christ, God sees you as clean, even now.” I burst into tears. I had never heard that before. I had heard about forgiveness, but never that God could see disgusting sinners like me as clean and pure in the midst of it all.
The fact that Romans 8 follows the tension and failure described in Chapter 7 is absolutely glorious. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “How can Paul say that there’s no condemnation in the midst of struggling with sin?” I had thought that there would be no condemnation once I had gotten my sin under control and cleaned myself up. But Paul says that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. How is that possible? He goes on to explain how: all of our sin, including our present, indwelling sin, has already been condemned in Christ, and in Him, we are seen as though we have met the requirements of the law. That kind of love changes sinners. It changed me. And it’s still changing me.
The struggle didn’t end when the gospel clicked. In some ways, that’s when it truly started. But the battle is more one of belief than anything else—of believing that the Father runs toward me with open arms to embrace me in all my filth, offering me a far greater intimacy than I could imagine. That is the only Story that was powerful enough to cause me to leave the pigsty. And it’s the only Story that will keep any of us coming Home, no matter how far we run.