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