A young church leader’s journey through sexuality and lust
Aloysius Tan // July 19, 2018, 4:39 pm
Aloysius* serves as a leader in a large church where he has mentored hundreds of youths and young adults for over more than a decade. But beyond the public persona, few others know about his troubled past with lust and sexuality. This is his story.
If you’re in my circle of friends, this is something I would have probably shared about before: The biggest struggle in my life is lust.
It goes back all the way to primary school, I think it was in Primary 5. That was when there was a bit of, you could say, self-discovery, when I discovered masturbation.
I didn’t know what was it about. It was only in Primary 6 when one of my friends asked me during recess, “Do you masturbate?” I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about, so I was like,
“What? Masturbate room?”
My friend replied, “No, no – it’s this.” He was making a certain motion with his hand. Knowing then what he was referring to, I replied sheepishly, “Yeah, I do lah … This whatever thing that you call it.”
And with that, they pulled me into their “group session”.
The four of us would do it together at a secluded staircase in a building near my school. It was in this group masturbation setting where I was first touched by another guy. Even the porn they introduced me to was deviant in nature: It never had two people in it – there was always a whole bunch of them.
That was the start of my addiction. And it got pretty bad because I would masturbate at least three times a day. I would stay up late at night just so I could surf the web in secret. My computer was plagued with all kinds of viruses – and so was my mind.
The consequence of having such a sexual experience in my childhood was scarring, to say the least.
What my friend did to me at that staircase really messed me up quite a bit. It meant that my first sexual experience was homosexual in nature and done in a group – something that was reinforced by the forms of pornography I was introduced to.
It made for very unnatural attractions. Though a year later our little group had gone our separate ways, I found myself trying to form a new covert group of friends to do the same thing in secondary school.
I almost succeeded in my attempts several times – but thankfully I never followed through. My conscience kept me from doing so.
I had my first girlfriend around this time. I was attracted to her emotionally, but I was sexually attracted to guys. I felt like I was living two lives: In school, I was the teacher’s pet, I had good grades, I was a great student. But on the other hand, I had this deep and dark side buried inside of me.
At this point, between my compulsive desires, the frequency at which I watched porn, and the increasing deviancy of the porn I was watching – I felt screwed up.
I felt so screwed up and filthy.
But this was also the period I first came to church, where I eventually accepted Christ.
Becoming a Christian gave me the first impetus to begin fighting against lust and acting on my unnatural desires. But my struggles were still something I was not yet ready to share about.
In the mean time, I continued to grow rapidly in church. My leaders liked how excitable and energetic I was and gave me more opportunities to serve, raising me into leadership positions. Just nine months in, I began serving as a mentor. So I shepherded and taught, and watched as those under me grew as well.
But for all my “growth” and service, things still got to a point where I just couldn’t take my double life anymore.
How could I be singing hallelujah in church while failing this badly in private?
A day came when I was walking with my mentor and suddenly blurted out: “Is masturbation a sin?” In reply, he asked me why I had asked him that question. We talked a bit more until he asked me the really pertinent question: What had triggered this for me?
That meant I had to finally share about what had been going on all these years. But it took me 45 minutes before I could even say a word to him.
Eventually I told my mentor about those guys, what had happened with them in primary school, and my sexual attraction to the same gender.
When I was done, it felt like a stone had been lifted off my heart. My mentor listened, but didn’t present me with any solutions. I appreciated that. He only told me I wasn’t alone, and that there were others in church who had shared with him about similar experiences.
By God’s grace and wisdom, I picked up a few valuable principles to hold on to in the fight for an authentic faith. Having Christian community and mentorship helped, but it wasn’t like the church gave me a crash course or intensive guidance on how to cope with this area of sexual struggle in my life.
The first thing I came to realise was that there is a difference between love and sexuality. Because we live in a world where love is very much sexualised, a lot of young people have this thinking: “I love you because I’m sexually attracted to you.” But that’s the wrong starting point.
Sexual attraction is not love. I can vouch that this kind of confusion exists as someone who was sexually attracted to guys because I was first stimulated by one. It made for a struggle with same-sex lust that was started and continually fed by the type of pornography I locked myself into.
My recurrent sin reinforced my wrong thinking.
Against the lust that I had known, I began to see what love really was about. God’s love is different. His love beats lust a hundred billion times to one because real love is infinitely better and so much more than lust.
Love is about sacrifice. It’s about discipline. It’s about all kinds of good things that lust isn’t. And for all I saw of God’s love, I saw that this loving God is, to the utmost, holy. I knew I had to change.
I told myself that if I keep saying, “I can’t control myself” and just caved every time temptation came – I would stay like a child for the rest of my life. And that life of self-pity would be my lot.
I didn’t want that, so I started to be accountable. Accountability was huge for me. No matter how good or bad my walk was, I would keep my mentor in the loop. Even if all I had to send were long messages about my stumbling – I kept myself honest to him.
I tried my best to set high standards. And when I fell, I would reassess what caused the fall so I knew what kinds of triggers to avoid. I’d say I learnt 4 main handles in this fight against sexual sin.
4 POINTS TO BEAT PORN
1. Acknowledge there is sin
Not only do we need to acknowledge how far we’ve fallen – we also need to see how much grace God has for us. When our hearts are broken and contrite about the state of our flesh, we’ll be interested in God’s own heart about the issue we’re bringing to Him.
Know what God says about the sexual sin you are involved in, the theology behind why you fight, the verses to lean on in hard times. When you know God’s heartbeat on the issue you’re facing, then you won’t be fighting for no reason.
2. Recognise it is a habit
For instance, though I know in my mind that my compulsive masturbation is a bad habit I no longer want, my body doesn’t. I’m a creature of habit, so though I’ve made up my mind to do something different — my body often does something else entirely.
I might not even trigger myself by watching a suggestive show on TV, but there are times my body just goes off – like a microwave on a timer – without any apparent stimulation. That means it’s a habit and an urge you can curb.
So to inculcate habits you do want instead, there must be very practical measures put in place, right down to your environment, the people you associate with and the media you consume.
3. Forgive yourself
Forgiveness is so frequently overlooked. I used to have a lot of flashbacks to what happened at the staircase in primary school with those other boys. I thought to be past that, all I had to do was forgive them and move on.
But it’s about more than just forgiving the ones who abused you. We need to take the step in the spiritual realm to declare in Jesus’ Name that our chains of bondage are broken. We need to proclaim His truth over our lives, that we are redeemed.
Often we find it easy to forgive others, but we forget to do so for ourselves. We must receive God’s forgiveness and forgive ourselves for true inner healing to take place.
4. Lose the fear
Early on, every time I faced temptation I would get afraid. I would think to myself, “Oh no! It’s happening again!”
I was so afraid I often forgot I actually have authority in Christ! Because of Jesus, I can say to the spirit of temptation, “I cast you out in Jesus’ Name.” The spirits should cower in fear — not us. We are children of God!
Whenever I fled from temptation courageously, I held one particular verse dear to heart. It’s from the latter part of 2 Corinthians 10:5 which says, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
But even as I was learning principles like these, I had to reconcile all this failing and inner healing with being a church leader, because I was still concurrently involved in hundreds of lives.
If you asked me how I made it through those years, my answer would be God’s grace. There were so many weekends I’d be so happy for the growth of my ministries, yet devastated within at my own personal failings when it came to purity in the middle of the week.
As much as I fell, I anchored my struggle on the knowledge that God is not expecting perfection right now from me. It is a journey of transformation by the power of His Spirit; He is looking for a broken and contrite heart. He wants me to be blameless, and I don’t mean sinless – I mean above reproach.
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.“ (Titus 1:7-8)
That has meant a continued fight for my life against sexual sin. A fight to keep sharing, keep accounting, keep changing and growing. To that end, whenever self-condemnation or self-pity knocks on my door in times of failure, I remind myself that there is now no more condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).
I let my struggles remind me that my authority and victory come solely from Christ – not me. While we consecrate ourselves before the Lord, there is one defining thing to remember: Jesus is our Redeemer and Saviour, and it’s only because of Him that when God looks at us – He sees not the filthiness of our sins, but the image of Christ because we are in Christ.
I know this is the generation of authentic people. But while we are authentic, we should also be principled. We should never be any less zealous or enthusiastic for God. So even as we young people are spontaneous and all-out for Christ, let’s continue to be real in showing others who we are.
My dark childhood and sexual struggles have become a source of blessing and encouragement to my mentees, who in turn are stirred to be as honest and vulnerable as I am with them. God used these experiences to help me lead a National Service (NS) group in my church for many years — a ministry that finds sharing difficult because guys tend to be more private in their struggles.
As I look across my ministries, I see that God has created in them a culture where there is vulnerability, openness and a willingness to share deeply. We’re fighting together, and finding freedom. We’re no longer finding our identity in our lives’ repeated failures but in who God says we really are — His children!
If I didn’t have the childhood I had, and the struggles I still deal with right now, I think my ministry would look very different.
Years later when I began to consider companionship in the opposite sex, God revealed certain truths to me.
I realised that sexual attraction is just one aspect of the gift of intimacy. Beyond physical intimacy, there are also emotional and spiritual aspects of intimacy I hadn’t considered. I was looking for whole and total intimacy, but mistakenly thought that it was found in sex.
Though I still face same-sex attraction on occasion, I’ve come to see that these attractions don’t mean they are my identity. I know now that who I am is not defined by what I experienced in the past, and it is better to love a person the way God does.
If I could talk to my 11-year-old self, this is what I would say.
There’s more freedom than you can imagine that is coming your way. But it will only happen when you finally let the light in. You are going to trade your shame for Christ. You are going to exchange your guilt for healing.
God is going to help you through this. You are going to become a blessing to fellow brothers and sisters and He is going to use your testimony.
God will turn your ashes into beauty.
*The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality. Photos are for illustration purposes only.