New goals

This might be premature, but I feel as if I am in a new phase of my journey. I seem to have broken the bad habits that triggered this persona and this blog in 2013. At least, I feel ready to aim at some new goals, and to orient this persona and this blog around them.

I have three largish goals I’d like to aim for. They are more like states of affairs than events.

  1. Be a good husband (and father)
  2. “Come out” as Christian
  3. Have sex with my wife

The first has to be achieved before the other two I think.

I’d like to achieve the first goal this year, and then aim to achieve the other two in 2018.

By being a good husband I mean being a source of stability and strength for my wife. Also a source of good vibes and happiness of course, and a source of feelings of calm and safety. I want to establish that before demanding special treatment or “recognition” (2) or special favours (3).

I don’t quite know what I mean by “coming out” as a Christian. It might mean “declaring myself” to my wife. It probably does mean going to a church semi-regularly, and meeting other Christians In Real Life.

Another Church

At my bedtime prayer last night I felt I’d had a good day and was thankful to the Lord. I couldn’t think why the day felt so blessed, so I traced back over what I’d done. A reasonable day: ups and downs, but nothing special. A couple of points to be ashamed of. In the end I did find something.

I was in town to do some errands. I arrived at the library five minutes before it opened. Usual practice would be to go to one of my usual cafes, get a coffee, write some diary and watch the world go by (actually just the babes and milfs). The weather was exactly right. However, I dithered, I wandered, undecided without knowing it, like Buridan’s ass.

I found myself at a church. It was open but quiet. I walked around for a bit enjoying the atmosphere. I found a pew and sat down and prayed. Not for anything special. Not my bedtime prayer or my morning quiet time prayer, an extra unscheduled prayer. Sat calmly for a while. Made a donation. Left and got on with my day.

Bad Habits After Lent

I was really stimulated to embrace Lent this year. Since reading about “turn away” I have been much more mindful of where I am casting my gaze. After reading Ugochi’s two posts on masturbation (Is it sinful?, How to stop) I decided I would cut out pornography and masturbation completely. As is my wont I have monitored everything closely.

  • “Turn away” has been very effective and has even affected my mood generally
  • Pornography I haven’t missed at all. Odd how sometimes a habit will just fall away without a murmur.
  • Keeping my hands off myself was harder, and by mid-March I was seething with lust and wondering if I could last till the end of the month, let alone Easter. However, I made it!

During Lent, the duration of 40 days seemed like a target. Now I am on the other side of it (especially perhaps as Easter had that special landmark), it feels more like a door I have walked through. I have no desire to watch pornography. I am quite horny most of the time but I don’t want to masturbate, and I feel in control of that.

I used to have pornographic sexual fantasies running in my head almost all the time. Now, they rarely pop up, and when they do they are so obviously weak echoes of habitual reflexes. My horniness and lust is undirected and kind of purely sensual.

What now?

The obvious thing would be to pounce on my wife, but I think I should take that slowly.

confirmation

I had a work meeting in County Town and I decided that while I was in town I would find time to go and pray in a church. This would be a first for me.

Aside:

I have been trying to establish a habit of daily prayer, with intermittent success. However, on 8th March I decided that I would say a special prayer daily for a friend. Among other things, this desire to pray specifically has reminded me to pray at all, and after saying my special prayer for the friend, I go on to say my “normal” prayer. So now I am safely praying every day (at bedtime, or at my morning quiet time when I arrive at work, or both).

The cathedral where I was planning to pray is a bit of a tourist trap and they have a greeter on the door doing triage. When I arrive the greeter asked brightly “Are you visiting?” and I said sheepishly that I was coming in to pray. Because the cathedral is such a tourist trap they have special areas set aside for private prayer (they do do normal services there too, it is a functioning church), and the greeter described the way to get to the chapel: in a corner, up a stone spiral staircase, …

(click for bigger pics!)

I realised I had no idea what to do. I lit a candle as a way of starting. I knelt on that little red cushion. I said my prayer out loud.

Praying like this — aloud, so I could hear my own voice; in public; in such a place; and of course for the first time in my life — was a powerful experience. I asked myself later why I didn’t pray my “normal” daily prayer or even a special prayer for myself. Perhaps I didn’t want to unleash too much emotion.

There was nobody else in the chapel while I was there. Mid-prayer I did hear footsteps come up the stair and into the room, shift about and then leave. Perhaps security or a stray tourist. I didn’t turn round to see and I kept praying. So — a complete unknown stranger saw and heard me praying!

A couple more pics of around the cathedral:

On the way out I thanked the greeter and we talked about what went on at the church. It became clear that I knew little about services, whether Easter Saturday was a special day, etc., and I found myself saying, “I’ve only recently got into all this”. I don’t know why I didn’t say something like, “I’ve only recently become a Christian”.

Samuel

Walking around the cathedral afterwards, I came across two pleasant surprises from Samuel. Firstly this mural of 2 Samuel 18:33

Then the gift shop had a copy of Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel by Phil Moore (I’ve linked the Amazon page as it has a “look inside”; there’s also the author’s home page).

I bought the book obvs, and I am enjoying reading it.

Confirmation

Also in the gift shop I bought this Confirmation card:

I don’t know what “Confirmation” is in the Church of England, but coming here and praying felt like a confirmation (with a small ‘c’) and another step towards a real confirmation.

I know that real confirmation will involve “coming out of the closet” to my wife about being a Christian, and finding a local group to join.

Four Bad Habits: progress review

Lent might be a good time to review progress against my bad habits.

It’s four bad habits now. I haven’t gained a bad habit. After reading Is It Sinful to Masturbate? recently, I decided to change my attitude to masturbation (the physical act itself) and think of it as a sin and a bad habit. It obviously “goes with” the other bad habits on the list.

wearing ladies lingerie

I threw out all my clothes and things last August and I haven’t shopped or browsed since. I have turned down perfect “opportunities” to return to the indulgence. So I think this habit is behind me for the time being.

I still like the idea of it, all the things I wrote in my review of Wearing God, but I don’t want to go down that road again.

Also I should say that the “new crowd” that has emerged in the last decade — the highly politicised “trans” activists — are inadvertently helping me keep away from dressing up. I don’t like them at all: politically, psychologically or aesthetically. Part of my not wanting to get back into dressing up must be not wanting to be associated with them.

using pornography

From say the late 80s until very recently I would look at some porn almost every day. First magazines, then pictures on the internet and latterly internet video (very rarely bought videos or DVDs). Last August, as well as throwing out all the clothes, I deleted all my porn. From then till Christmas I didn’t look at anything, but this year it has been making a comeback.

I have these slumps where I am drenched in porn for a few days at a time. It can be there all the time on my phone or iPad. Sitting in the same room or even lieing in bed with my wife while she reads I might be watching porn. I created a special twitter account for it, in case I RT’d or faved some porn using my work account.

These binges last two or three days and happen two or three times a month.

The porn binges tend to happen after I haven’t masturbated for 4 or 5 days (yes I am keeping a log).

masturbating

Because of the way I watch porn, my masturbating is almost completely disjoint from my watching. I go without for as long as I can. Then when I can’t any more, I grab whatever safe quick opportunities I can — in the loo or shower at home or at work.

The way I’m working at the moment, I’m not having business trips away to visit clients, so no scope for long all-evening sessions (which in the past would incorporate watching pornography and/or wearing lingerie).

ogling women

After discovering “turn away” I feel good about making progress on this one, and this is my main focus during Lent.

Lent: Repent, “Turn Away”

Repent

Until yesterday I had always thought of repentance as contrition, in the sense of feeling bad about my sins, bemoaning all the bad things I had done. I had thought of it as entirely oriented on the past.

Reading about Lent I learnt that repentance had another, future-oriented, sense.

In the Wikipedia entry on repentance:

Generally in the Old Testament the term repentance comes from the Hebrew word group that means “turn away from.”[3]:1007 Sometimes this word group is employed to request a turning from sinful activity (Jeremiah 8:6). In the New Testament the μετανοέω/metanoeo word group can mean remorse but is generally translated as a turning away from sin (Matthew 3:2).[3]:1007

[3] T.C. Mitchell, ‘Repentance’ New Bible Dictionary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996): 1007–8.

And in my Oxford Companion to the Bible:

The phrase “turn away from” really hit me.

For one thing, it means the Bad Thing is already in front of me. It doesn’t mean, “don’t do X” or “you used to do X, in future you mustn’t”. It means something more like, “you are doing X now — stop it!” or “you are about to do X — take a detour!” It seems very immediate. It also seems to say, “it’s not too late.” It seems perfect for when temptation comes and finds me.

The physicality of the phrase also — almost shocked me. Physically turn away from what I am doing, from what I am looking at.

Me

I read the Wikipedia entry on my phone on the bus into town and was quite disturbed by the phrase “turn away from” and everything it was stirring up inside me.

The bus stopped and a babe in leggings walked past me to get off. Without thinking my eyes went to her behind. The phrase was there, “turn away”. Again without thinking I found myself looking out the window.

In town my bad habit of eyeing up women was confronted again and again with this phrase. If my gaze had latched on to some woman in front of me it would lift my gaze away. It even seemed to work pre-emptively: if I sensed a temptation in the corner of my visual field, this phrase would find me something to look at in the other direction. Writing in the cafe I would sit and write. Walking along the street I would look where I was going and think about what I was doing.

I was in town today again. Both days the phrase was with me, helping me.

So “Turn Away” is my Word For Lent. I am going to hold on to it tightly, and it is going to help me “give up” eyeing up women.

Why do I want to write about all this cringe-worthy stuff here?

  • Wrestling with these issues is the whole point of the blog and of this online persona.
  • Taking the time and care to write up these experiences and decisions (hopes), makes them firmer in my mind.
  • If any “fellow sufferers” pass by and read, it might help them.
  • Words of support and encouragement are always welcome of course :) anytime :)
  • Words of admonition and correction are also always welcome. I want to learn, I can take criticism and new ideas, and if necessary, I can disagree in a respectful and friendly way.

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

I used to know this sonnet off by heart. A useful poem for me to have in mind.

Sonnet 129

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

(source)

Making and Breaking Habits in 2017

This year I want to be more organised. That’s partly because of my “work” – my work is the impetus – but I’d like to be more organised in my “life” too. That is part carrot and part stick: I’m starting to feel the benefit of regular praying, and other kinds of self-management; on the other hand I fall back occasionally and it is horrible to feel out of control.

** Some habits I’d like to cultivate in 2017:

*** pray every morning and every evening

I enjoy praying, and I do pray often, but I’d like my praying to be more regular. I want to pray morning and evening as a matter of course.

I am also thinking of my mental idle times. In those times I want prayer to suggest itself to me. As well as prayer, Psalms and other Scripture, ideas or even images I’ve read in Christian social media. This will help with the habits I want to break.

*** write something every day

I am thinking of writing longhand here, although I am trying to teach myself touch-typing. I have just written a report for a client and I was shocked at how difficult I found it to write. This daily writing could be a prayer or diary, or anything really – just to practice writing coherent narrative.

I want to learn touch-typing for work, but I much prefer writing longhand (I spend most of my working day at the keyboard).

** Some habits I want to stop:

*** looking at porn

I thought I was out of that but it crept back in (or rather I crept back to it) over Christmas. It was a very nice relaxing Christmas but it did have its longeurs. The shock was how quickly it returns to being a habit. I am out of it again (now) but I want to ensure I have other resources (or “expectations”) for when I hit the same kind of boredom.

*** ogling women

I realise that with long years of looking at porn I have effectively trained myself to look at women in a certain way. Even the sound of heels tapping, a woman’s voice can put me on the alert. Again an expectation of an opportunity to see/think in a certain way.

*** mindlessly surfing twitter

I like my Christian twitter account, and I have a work-related project with twitter, but it is too easy to waste time. I want to be more purposeful when I go to twitter.

2016: a felix culpa of a year

In January I set myself the target to read the twelve minor prophets: twelve books, twelve months — easy. I didn’t read any.

Fail!

My Word of the Year for 2016 was “Pivot”. It took me till February to think of it, and I don’t remember thinking of the word again until I saw Lisa Notes’ post on her Word of the Year.

Fail!

In March I opened a Facebook account for the first time so I could join Beth Steffaniak’s reading group on 1 Samuel. Now the group is a fair way into 2 Samuel. Reading as part of a group, I am learning much more than I would be reading alone, I am being challenged and put on the spot in surprising ways, and it is just nicer.

In August, I went on a shopping spree which plunged me into a fortnight of restless anxiety and almost despair, until at the end of the month I methodically and systematically threw everything out.

In October, I prayed my way through Psalm 145, verse by verse. I have learnt the Psalm by heart and now I pray it at least once every day. “Every day I will bless you”.

I have enjoyed this year. I am looking forward to next year.

Praying Psalm 145

Well I enjoyed that!

Thank you to Beth for the idea of praying by writing.
Thank you to Lisa for the “31 Days” idea.

The Psalm

Here are my prayers, verse-by-verse:

  1. I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever.
  2. Every day I will bless you and praise your name for ever and ever.
  3. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
  4. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
  5. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
  6. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
  7. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
  8. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
  9. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
  10. All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
  11. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,
  12. to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  13. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
  14. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
  15. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
  16. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
  17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.
  18. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
  19. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
  20. The Lord preserves all who love him, but the wicked he will destroy.
  21. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Comments

I loved praying by writing. It meant I prayed consciously and with focus. I meditated on the verse and let it inspire me. I loved adoring God and Jesus.

The days I couldn’t manage to write, I felt it. I felt itchy and unhappy, like missing a new lover.

I wouldn’t like this to be a “habit”, but I would love to do it every day. Keep a little notebook with me I can pray in.

I love my silent praying too. Perhaps I am developing a repertoire of different kinds of praying: adoration (writing); meditation (my morning quiet times); reflection (my bedtime prayer). [in case I sound like a nun I should say I don’t always manage or remember to pray every day!]

I think a longer form of written praying might be powerful too, for supplication or for confession of sins (not for posting here of course!). I have kept a diary on-and-off since I was a kid and I have always found that helpful (my wife too, often tells me I am calmer when I write regularly). Writing to God instead of to myself would be interesting.

Next steps

  • Make sure I have the Psalm safely learnt. The first dozen or so verses are safe I think.
  • Keep writing to my new penpal.
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