Sexual failure needn't rule out God's grace
LAKELAND, Fla. (BP) -- "You are not alone."
That expression of hope is often spoken by people like Allen and Bonnie Hicks, a couple now rebuilding their marriage after the brokenness caused, in large part, by Allen's long-term sexual addiction. With the help of their church, a recovery ministry, professional counseling, the support of friends and each other and, certainly, God's grace, Bonnie and Allen can say with authority, "You are not alone."
The Hickses are members of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., where the senior pastor, Jay Dennis, is leading a movement challenging Christian men to commit to a pornography-free life.
Dennis told Baptist Press, "Sexual sin, although no worse a sin in the eyes of God, is worse for people because of the destructive consequences. Sexual addiction affects every area of a person's life spiritually, emotionally and physically. It closes their mouth to worship and praise, prayer and sharing the faith. It brings shame to the person and distances them from the things of God. Guilt like a chain is carried everywhere they go."
The campaign Dennis is leading -- "Join 1 Million Men," on the Web at www.join1millionmen.org) -- will be given a national spotlight during the Southern Baptist Convention's June 11-12 annual meeting in Houston.
Allen Hicks attended First Baptist Church at the Mall for the first time while separated from Bonnie after his sexual addiction had been exposed. "The first time I came, the pastor talked about this issue and breaking free. He talked about addiction and pornography. I knew he had a heart for what I was going through."
Bonnie said she is grateful "for a pastor who was instrumental in the hands of the Lord to speak truth in a loving way. When I arrived at this church two years ago, my life was in ashes. But along with support groups, my church became a hospital."
To help churches become hospitals for their members trapped in sexual addictions, Dennis developed a number of resources "to educate leadership on how to forthrightly, but compassionately, address the issues of pornography" in their churches. For more information, visit www.join1millionmen.org.
A second source of support that played a part in Bonnie and Allen's healing was L.I.F.E. Recovery International, a Christ-centered support group ministry for those struggling with issues related to sexual addiction. L.I.F.E. is an acronym for Living in Freedom Everyday.
When her marriage illusion was shattered, Bonnie started attending a L.I.F.E. support group for grieving spouses. "I thought sex addiction was hogwash. But I was willing to go be with a group of women who knew about it," she said. "There was so much healing from being in a community of women who had walked my path. God's grace was in these women."
L.I.F.E. sexual addiction recovery support groups operate in most states throughout the U.S. and have a worldwide reach through conference call support group meetings. Visit www.freedomeveryday.org for more information.
The couple also sought help from a professional marriage and sexual addiction counselor. Emphasizing the value of groups and of counseling, Allen explained, "When trapped in this sin cycle, most guys try what I call 'goal-based sobriety.' In other words, all they want to do is stop acting out. Then, when they fall short and DO act out, there is even more shame attached to it. The key is, go back and find the source or the wound that creates the atmosphere for the acting out. That's where the support groups and counseling come in."
Additionally, some faithful friends held Bonnie and Allen's arms up when they were weak.
Bonnie developed a special friendship with Margaret, who was with her from the day she found out about Allen's infidelity. Margaret was by Bonnie's side during much of the drama and prayed for her every time she called. When Bonnie was about to finalize her divorce from Allen, Margaret asked some hard questions: "What is the rush? You have your information, what is the rush? What does God want you to do here?"
Questions like that from friends like Margaret slowed her down so God could work.
Dave is a L.I.F.E. group member in recovery who has walked with Allen through his recovery. "I am so proud of both him and Bonnie and the steps they are taking in their marriage, and also to help others," Dave said. "It is so crucial that husband and wife work this out together.
"Maybe spouses don't have the same addiction issues," Dave said, "but they have things to work on too. God doesn't call one without calling the other. When my wife came on board, it made it so much easier."
And Bonnie points to God's grace. "God still saves marriages. He still performs miracles," she said. "The most beautiful part of pain is reaching the point of believing that God can use pain to bring transformation in the heart of the offended and the offender. No one, not a pastor, not a deacon, not a layperson is too far gone for God's grace."
Kay Adkins is a writer in Mountainview, Ark. Allen and Bonnie Hicks reside in Lakeland, Fla., where he is a sales manager for a car dealership. The couple, parents of two sons and a daughter, are committed to ministering to others struggling with issues related to sexual addiction. Allen helps facilitate a L.I.F.E. support group for men struggling with sexual addictions. Bonnie has written a devotional guide for women titled "Where Can Broken Hearts Go? A 31-Day Journey Towards Healing" (https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002695/Where-Can-Broken-Hearts-Go.html0), available at Amazon.com and other online retailers. Her blog is at http://hope4brokenhearts.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp)