By Rick Chromey
How God helped me turn temptation, trouble, and trial into blessing and beauty.
Life is a carnival of temptations and troubles.
We all walk wounded with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We’re stuck in moments we can’t escape, desperately addicted to vices and voices we can no longer ignore, resist, or deny.
Life for most of us is tattooed by loss, tragedy, abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Maybe you’ve endured an affair or addiction. Maybe you suffered salacious ridicule, unjust criticism, and unfounded rumors. Perhaps you’ve been unexpectantly fired, forcibly retired, or unfairly incarcerated. Perhaps you’ve suffered poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness, or unemployment. We’ve all been hurt by people we loved, wounded by friends we trusted, and scarred by enemies we feared.
Consequently, most of us have camped in the Big D (and I don’t mean Dallas): Doubt. Death. Depression. Disillusionment. Divorce. Discouragement. Dryness. Disappointment. Dependence. Disaster. Disease. Desperation.
It’s certainly my story.
I didn’t get the best start in life. My absentee father wounded me with emotional neglect and verbal abuse. My alcoholic mom abandoned the family and disappeared. I grew up angry, cynical, and depressed. I struggled with relationships—at home, church, work, and school. I hoarded hate and trusted few. I masked pain with perfectionism, soothed angst with stuff, and even entertained suicide. I hurt others before they could hurt me; I rejected to avoid rejection.
I also believed several inner falsehoods: God doesn’t care about my life. I’m only his “cosmic joke.” I deserve my abuse, neglect, and rejection. People want to hurt me and will abandon me.
Most people never knew the struggle as I masked my pain for 40 years.
My life officially crashed in 2007. I lost my “dream” job and plummeted into unemployment and financial distress. My grandfather, mother, and stepdad died. My marriage crumbled. My depression deepened: I hated life, those who hurt me, and myself. I had no job, no purpose, no confidence, and no joy. I struggled to go to church and enjoyed little peace. I was completely alone.
My angst drove me to forbidden fruit: pornography.
I had struggled with a 40-year addiction to lust and sexual images—television, movies, and Internet.1 In seasons of difficulty, the desire to indulge proved impossible to resist. Pornography comforted my pain, but also produced horrendous guilt and shame. I was a hypocrite, proclaiming a gospel of liberty that I didn’t possess.
Four years ago I decided enough was enough.
I was weary of the deception, pain, and dark depression inside me. I desired freedom, wholeness, and life. I invested in professional counseling and sacrificed Friday nights to attend Celebrate Recovery.2 I wanted to save my marriage, reconcile relationships, and heal my soul. I devoured God’s Word, finding solace in the stories of Joseph, Job, David, and Paul.
In my 12-step recovery group, I unmasked my pain and learned why sexual addiction distorted reality and prevented authentic healing. I also discovered freedom and true sobriety for the first time in my life. Friday nights became havens of hope and help. Thankfully, my pornography use was mild and seasonal. It never led to more overt kinds of acting out.
Unfortunately, my recovery work didn’t save my marriage. I knew confession had a price but never expected my 30-year marriage to dissolve. My unwanted divorce produced new pain and problems. Through it all, I believed God was working something greater, and if I simply did the next right thing, no matter how dark and difficult, God would honor my faithfulness, integrity, and suffering.
I also learned happiness and sobriety are choices. I could choose freedom. I could enjoy victory. Like Paul, I learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11). The Greek word for “learned” is emathon. It’s a math word. Contentment is learned like algebra. It requires desire, determination, and discipline. Joseph learned in prison. Job learned in poverty. Paul learned in persecution.
I learned in pain.
I’m currently four years free from porn, and my life is unbelievably reimagined, good, and blessed. In Revelation 21:5, Jesus promises to make “everything new.” Today I enjoy a vibrant new marriage, reconciled relationships, and fulfilling life work.
So what was my secret? How did I bring JOY to my JOurneY?
Simple. I daily L-E-A-R-N the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)
This simple prayer fuels my joyful, peaceful, victorious Christian life.
Live like I’m dying—Joy emerges when we learn to enjoy “one moment at a time.” It’s living hakuna matata. In African tradition, hakuna matata happens when we purely and powerfully embrace the present; when we forgive and forget the past and no longer worry about tomorrow.
Paul stated his “one thing” was “forgetting what is behind” and straining ahead (Philippians 3:13). He confessed “to live is Christ” and death is “gain” (1:21). Paul learned to live only in the present. Country singer Tim McGraw put it differently: we must live like we’re dying. Essentially, live every day like it’s the last because one day it will be your last day.
Embrace grace—Grace is hard to live, but it’s necessary to accept “this sinful world as it is.”
A life consumed by grace can never be shackled by fear, worry, regret, or hate. Grace forgets. Grace forgives. Grace frees. Grace lives outside karma, religiosity, and legalism. Grace is messy, nonsensical, and even counterintuitive. You can’t steal, buy, or earn it. Grace is a free gift, wholly divine, and unbelievably beautiful.
Grace salves what failure slashes. We’re all addicted to something, and grace is our deepest spiritual need. Grace allows us to forgive others and ourselves.
Accept trial—Nobody wants trouble. Nobody expects crisis, conflict, or dire circumstance. But trials come (and go), and peace emerges when we “accept hardship.” Pain happens. Stuff breaks. Life changes. People leave (and die).
James wrote to “consider it pure joy” when trials come, for trouble tests and matures faith (James 1:2-4). Suffering solidifies core beliefs, strengthens patience, and supplies wisdom. Difficulties either make us bitter or better.
The good news is God never allows more than we can handle. I sometimes wish he didn’t think so much of me though!
Reconcile relationships—A major part of recovery work is the amends. It’s granting forgiveness to those who’ve hurt you and those you’ve hurt. It’s faith that God will “make all things right.” It’s admitting wrongs to persons we’ve wounded with our words, attitudes, or behaviors.
Reconciliation also means forgiving others. The easy part is saying, “I forgive you.” Full forgiveness adds blessing. It’s a willingness to erase sin and shower the wrongdoer with encouragement, service, dreams, and opportunity.
Of course, some people won’t accept, desire, or appreciate our contrition. Some people prefer to stay stuck, wallow in regret, and never forgive. But once we forgive, the weight is no longer ours.
Jesus commands his followers to reconcile with each other (Matthew 5:23, 24). It’s neither an option nor suggestion.
Nurture joy—Finally, to be “reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy” with God forever, we need to plant, nurture, and harvest joy. In Christian recovery this means continual self-inventory of our words, attitudes, and behaviors. It’s immediate confession of wrong. It’s daily immersion in Scripture, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. Finally, it’s carrying this message to others (as I’m doing now).
In joy there is strength (Psalm 28:7), and often joy comes in the mourning. You can’t spell JOurneY without J-O-Y. Just as dawn eventually breaks across a cold, dark land, so also joy showers peace, beauty, goodness, and hope upon the broken, bruised, and battered soul.
One final thought: humility is key. Not everyone will understand, appreciate, or be impressed by your journey toward joy. Some will criticize. Some will ridicule. Some will ignore. Some will walk away.
Trust that God will grant the serenity to accept what can’t be changed and the courage to correct what can, then watch how wisdom bubbles.
I’m grateful for my addiction, troubles, and depression because they led me to deeper grace. God is working and winning.
My healing is proof.
¹According to a 2013 study, 66 percent of men look at pornography weekly (www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/). A study from 2015 revealed one in three women view porn every week (http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/10/22/study-finds-that-1-out-of-3-women-watch-porn-at-least-once-a-week/).
²Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program to heal “hurts, hang ups and habits.” More information is available at www.celebraterecovery.com.
Rick Chromey is the director of leadership and online training programs for KidZ At Heart, International, Mesa, Arizona. He has empowered children’s ministry leaders to lead, teachers to teach, and trainers to train for more than three decades (www.rickchromey.com).