If You Knew My Secret, Would You Even Like Me?

 

As I sat in church in 1997 reflecting on the events that brought me to this point in life, no one would have believed the pain I was feeling on the inside. I sat lost in my emotions. Many didn’t understand the cold feelings sent my way by my wife, even though we enjoyed fellowship with a few other couples in the congregation. I was experiencing success on the job, moving up in my organization with new and exciting opportunities coming in regular intervals. We lived in a beautiful house located in a recognizable community. Our children appeared to be flourishing. I was being groomed to be the next president of our congregation, while leading small groups of Christians who respected me. I enjoyed an active lifestyle in the local golfing community. We took family vacations to the beach each year. Growing up in a violent and addiction ridden home, I was often told that I beat the odds. I considered myself a survivor...All of this, because I kept secrets!

Everyone only knew the public me, not the “behind closed doors” person. That person was very insecure and afraid.

I met my wife during a period of time which I had been free from the demons in my closet. I thought I had beat them in 1995 when we married. Free for over a year, I was living a healthy and focused life. We met through a dating service, and hit it off from the start. Dating only 3 months before tying the knot, we both felt we knew what we were looking for, and found it. Thank God for his grace!

About a year into the marriage, things weren’t as rosy as I had hoped. My wife’s two daughters didn’t take to me as I had imagined they would, pressure at work had placed demands on our time, and I felt a distance from her that scared me. I turned to pornography as comfort, this was my secret. When she caught me, the pain was way more than I anticipated. I had deceived her, and hurt her more than I ever thought possible.

My wife was willing to stay with me, even though we were just existing. There was a cloud hanging over me that I couldn’t get relief from. I was addicted to pornography, and now she knew my secret.

Soon after, we moved to Tennessee and found a church. After taking the membership class, they suggested we get into a small group. This was the last thing I wanted to do! I had kept my secret for years, and had no intentions of bringing it out of the closet. We continued to struggle, just existing as husband and wife. I thought it would only be painful for us to bring it back up. Well…really, I didn’t want to cause ME any pain, because I was rebuilding my image in a new place. And, I couldn’t bear to see the hurt that I had caused in her eyes again. But, she wanted to join the group, so I agreed.

Though I kept my secret from this group, I met a mentor who would disciple me for the next 5 years. What a blessing! He had a heart for people like me—a Christian, who didn’t know how to have a relationship with God. Through his guidance, I was able to lead some church groups. Because of my service, I was asked to be part of a team that would bring recovery to our church. Our pastor asked if I could go with him to Dallas to meet the leadership team for re:generation.

I was in wonder from the moment I met the people from re:generation. Their freedom from the same addictions that bound me up was intoxicating. While there, I was asked twice “Why are you here?” or “Why are you passionate about helping others?”. I answered with very broad and unrevealing answers—still guarding my secret. But, I left knowing that God loves me in spite of what I had done, that sin would not define me if I chose to be honest and turn from it. For the first time, I felt that freedom was possible.

In 2014, we launched re:generation at our church. In a last-minute schedule change, I became the speaker on our first night. I was afraid as I prepared my testimony, but I wanted that freedom more than I wanted to guard my secrets. No one (including my mentor) knew all the sin that was about to come out. I wasn’t sure if the church would even want me around. The enemy had convinced me that if people really knew who I was, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. With about 100 people in the room, most of them leaders in our church, I shared my story authentically for the first time.

To my surprise, when I finished, I was met by the pastor with a big hug. For the first time, I was truly free, and still didn’t realize just how free for some time after.

It brings tears to my eyes when I look back on my journey since that night. I’ve continued to share my story weekly for the last three years with our newcomers to re:generation at our church. I’ve even shared it from the stage on Sunday in front of 1500 people. For me, it is still difficult, but each time I share is just as freeing as the first time. God has used my testimony to open so many doors to help others know that through Christ they can be fully known, loved, and free from the pain of the past. I can’t imagine keeping God’s work in my life a secret ever again. He uses my mess as His message of freedom.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”

I had a secret that kept me enslaved…now, I know true freedom in Christ.

 

- Rich Riesz, Director of Care and Recovery, Grace Fellowship Church, Johnson City, TN

Powerless to Control My Eating Disorder

 
POWERLESS

I am a firm believer that the Lord turns our ‘mess into a message,’ magnifying His power to bring Him glory. I witnessed this firsthand back in 2014 when a woman named Lindsey boldly shared her story [at church]. Placing her identity and worth in a previous relationship left her broken and lost once it ended. Her deep-rooted joy was evident as she spoke, and I longed for the freedom she expressed. Christ brought her out of a dark season of depression and hopelessness, and her life was forever changed. Her story reached my heart because it was similar to mine, except I was still in bondage to my relationship. I had placed my identity in everything other than Jesus Christ.

 

FEAR AND CONTROL

My struggle with fear and control began at a young age when my parents divorced. I realized this drastic change of lifestyle was completely out of my control. In an attempt to find my worth, happiness, and satisfaction, I sought the approval of men, resulting in ‘on again, off again’ relationships. My life was driven by fear and self-doubt. I was constantly perfecting my appearance and performance to win the approval of others.

At the cost of my relationship with Jesus, I would go to any length to gain approval of others, sacrificing what I knew was true. I eventually turned to body image and managing food intake as a means of taking control of some aspect of my life. What started out as making minor changes in diet and exercise quickly spiraled into self-obsession and starvation. I was dissatisfied, even as the weight rapidly dropped off. The condition of my health continued to decline, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t controlling anything. Anorexia was controlling me.

I viewed my eating disorder as a way of life, failing to recognize it as evidence that I needed God’s presence. There didn’t seem to be enough room in my heart for both my eating disorder and my Heavenly Father. Lost and ridden by guilt and shame, I was powerless over my addictions. I could only overcome this battle by His strength. My true need was not gaining control but relinquishing it. I didn’t need therapy, recovery steps from a doctor, or a three-month long rehab program. I needed a Savior to save me for eternity. That is exactly what Jesus did for me. (Psalm 116:6)

 

CHRIST HAS WON THE BATTLE

When I visited The Porch (Watermark's young adult ministry) in Fort Worth, I was in a miserable relationship that I knew needed to end, but I was fearful of what life would be like without him. The words I heard Lindsey speak that night let me know that I was not alone. It took me six months, but I finally ended the relationship and reached out to Lindsey for help. I needed truth and that is exactly what she pointed me to. When I think of all God has done in my life since we had that first cup of coffee, I am in awe of the Lord’s sovereignty, faithfulness, and the truth behind Him using others to reach and transform hearts.

I didn’t know anything about biblical community before coming to Watermark. Today Lindsey and I are in the same community group with five girls who continually point each other to truth. The Lord never intended for us to go through life alone. Every time we meet I am reminded that I am not alone in my weaknesses and that confession and accountability aren’t meant to flaunt our sin but to magnify God’s grace. Community is the sweetest gift, and life truly is better together.

I’ve also taken part in re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry – first as a participant and now as a leader. The first year I spent in re:gen was such a healing time for me as I shared my story and processed my life with others. God used it to reflect His goodness and power and put new desires in my heart, allowing me to see myself more like He sees me. Because of Christ, my past no longer defines me. My identity isn’t found in my relationships, body image, or what others think of me. It is found in Christ alone.

I used to fear what I would lose if I repented and left my old ways behind. God changed my life, and I went from being far from Him and enjoying sin to hating it. The Lord wanted so much more for my life than what I was choosing. Life is found in pursuing righteousness. Christ has taught my heart to delight in Him, which is the only place that freedom and joy are found. My life has been transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

“The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.” (Psalm 116:6)

 

- Natalie G.

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recovery in Christ when life is broken.