Stepping out of the Shadow of Shame–Humble Accountability

I want to share a story Joel told me after he had been in prison for about two years. It is a gut-wrenchingly honest confession; one that was hard for me to read (and frankly still is). But I share it now, because in this letter, Joel’s vulnerability and willingness to seek God’s help is powerful and convicting–and one specific example of what “looking to Him for help” is like.

This is the story he told me:

“I walked into my cubical the other day (two other inmates share this¬† living-space), and on my cellmate’s bottom bunk was a magazine. It is fairly common to share magazines, so I grabbed it and opened it up. While the cover was fairly benign, as I opened it I saw graphic nude images. I flipped a couple pages, and then it hit me, What am I doing? I put the magazine down and went to cook myself a snack in the common area, about 20 yards from my room. But I could see the doorway to our cubical. I could see that my cellmate had not come back. I kept feeling a pull like gravity toward that room, to go see that magazine.

I looked up and prayed, ‘God I don’ t want to go back there. I don’t want to look at that again.’

And God said to me, ‘Yes, you do.’

I answered, ‘You’re right, I do. Now what.’

And God answered, ‘Go find Campos’ [the inmate pastor and Joel’s mentor.] So I went down the stairs, out the door, over to his side of the building. I searched for nearly 30 minutes in all the common areas, the weight room, yard, track, TV rooms, everywhere I could think of. Finally I found him waiting in line for the phone. I went up to him told him I needed to talk. Graciously Campos gave up his spot in line and went with me to a private area where we could talk. I confessed my temptation, and my powerlessness in the face of it. I asked him to pray for me. And I asked him to find me tomorrow and question whether I had gone back and looked at the magazine again. He stopped and prayed right there with me. Although the temptation was still there, and I knew I could not go back and be alone in my room with that magazine lying there, I also felt a huge weight was lifted from me. I went and found another friend to spend some time with and by the time it was lock-down for bed, the magazine was gone. The next day Campos was faithful to his word and sought me out asking me the tough question. The victory of God in my life in that experience, showed me how important accountability is. I no longer view this struggle as something I can handle, as my own problem. It is only by God’s grace and through his people, that I am going to have victory.”

Looking to Him for help clearly included humbly inviting other believers into a relationship of accountability. It also required honesty with me. In this instance, Joel took a step away from the shadow of shame, and walked in the light of His joyous presence.

It’s easy to be grossed out by particularly “evil behavior” and dismiss our own “little misdeeds.” But what if instead, we saw the need for humble accountability in all areas of our walk with Jesus. What if we were as honest and desperate before God about our desire to over-eat, or our laziness about a task we don’t enjoy, as Joel is here about his temptation toward pornography? How might we step out of the shadow of those shameful habits and into the joy of his presence?¬† What about you? Have you asked a spiritual, godly friend to hold you accountable? Have you invited community? God’s design is to provide His help, through His people.

Next week I’ll share a practical example from my journey.

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