Taking Steps to Wholeness
About the Guest
Pornography promises a feast for the eyes. But it soon becomes poison to those who consume it. Former pastor TC Ryan tells of his descent into the world of sexual addiction. Beginning with sexual exploration in early adolescence, his behavior quickly became compulsive and continued into marriage, much to his dismay. Ryan recalls warring against his faith, and praying to God for deliverance from his sin.
Tom RyanT. C. Ryan is a husband, father of four, speaker, writer and pursuer of genuine spiritual transformation. Born and raised in the Kansas City area, educated at the University of Missouri, Fuller Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, he later earned his D.Min from Fuller. Having served as a Young Life staffer, associate pastor and successful church planter, he currently lives in the Kansas City area with his wife Pam and their chocolate Labrador, Cashel. He tweets @tcryanone, bl...more
Former pastor Tom Ryan tells of his descent into the world of sexual addiction.
Taking Steps to Wholeness
Bob: Sexual sin has become more and more commonplace, certainly, in our culture; but Tom Ryan says, “It’s becoming more commonplace in our churches, as well.”
Tom: If you’ve got a compulsive problem—and a lot of guys do—a lot of guys in the Church do—you need to be cultivating those roads of extricating yourself, and developing a healthy lifestyle with your sexuality, and getting to a place of integrity that is really God-honoring, and Christ-centered, and Spirit-infused, and that you are getting somewhere—but the issue is willingness— “Am I willing to do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus, to take the next steps?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about what steps a man can take to be free from the bondage and the shame associated with sexual sin. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know I remember—and this was a long time ago—but I remember Promise Keepers® had a convention for pastors, back—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: —in the ‘90’s.
Bob: And I remember they had polled guys at one of their big Promise Keepers conventions. They polled them and asked them, “How many of you guys have looked at pornography in the last 30 days?”
Dennis: I think I was at one. The Georgia Dome had 40,000 guys at it—pastors and guys in the ministry.
Bob: Well, initially, they just asked guys who had come to a Promise Keepers event, “How many of you guys have looked at pornography?” It was six out of ten of the guys at a PK event who had viewed pornography in the last 30 days. Then, when they had this event in the Georgia Dome—that you are talking about—they asked pastors the same question. Do you remember what the number was?
Dennis: I don’t, but—
Bob: What would you guess the number was?
Dennis: Well, I’ve heard the number 50 percent.
Bob: Yes. I think the guys there said—I think it was 30 percent of them said, “In the last 30 days, I’ve looked at porn.” But how many of our listeners would imagine—think about your pastor—how many of you would think, “I bet my pastor, in the last 30 days, has looked at pornography.” I’m guessing most people would look at their pastor and go, “Maybe some other pastor, but not my guy.” Don’t you think?
Dennis: I think, for the most part, the Church is clueless about the battles that pastors—men and women in the ministry—face today. That’s what we’re going to talk about. And it’s not just what pastors face—but also what every man and a lot of women are facing today, as well.
To join us, on FamilyLife Today, to do that, is Tom Ryan, a former pastor for more than 20 years. Tom, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Tom: Thank you, Dennis. It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Tom is, unfortunately, a Royals fan from Kansas City. [Laughter]
Bob: This is where we start—I knew you’d start with this. [Laughter]
Dennis: And he and his wife Pam have been married since ’78. I’m sure she’s a Royals fan, as well. They have four children who, I’m sure, probably root for the Royals.
Tom: The Royals, absolutely. Go Royals!
Dennis: Yes; and he has written a book, Ashamed No More. Now, I’m not assuming—
Bob: Has nothing to do with the Royals.
Dennis: Yes, exactly. [Laughter]
Tom: Sex addiction is one thing; but being a Royals’ fan is something I don’t like to talk about.
Dennis: And I apologize to all of our friends on the BOTT Radio Network, in the Midwest, who are all Royals’ fans. Unfortunately, you listen daily to FamilyLife Today; and Bob Lepine and I are both Cardinal fans.
Bob: Well, of course, the BOTT Radio Network is on in St. Louis, too. So, they can kind of get happy—either way, it works.
Dennis: They can. Tom, you, as I mentioned, were a pastor for 20 years. Did you ever have anyone come up to you and ask you, “Hey, do you struggle with something or with anything—with an addiction or with pornography?” Did anybody ever broach that subject with you, as a pastor?
Tom: No, nobody ever asked that. Now, the thing was—in my preaching, I would be open enough about my own sense of brokenness. The people—my people knew I was struggling with stuff. A lot of them knew I was in therapy and all of that kind of thing; but nobody asked specifically, “Hey, is porn your problem?” or, “Is sexual brokenness something that’s a part of your story?”
Bob: Did you have guys come up to you and say: “Hey, I’m struggling with this. What do I do?”
Tom: I did. I did have that happen.
Bob: And when that happened, as a pastor, what did you do?
Tom: Oh, it was horrible for me because I felt so guilty and ashamed. Here I was, struggling in secrecy with this issue. Then, they’re asking for help. “What do I tell them?” Well, I knew enough about recovery, once I started dealing with this—that I would send them in the right direction and send them for help—but it left me feeling very empty, and very hypocritical, and very ashamed.
Bob: Let’s go back to where this all got started for you because it got started long before you felt any call to ministry; right?
Tom: Right; absolutely.
Dennis: Yes, in fact, the average age, today—not back when you were a boy—but the average age is somewhere between ages 8 and 11, for our children to be exposed to pornography.
Dennis: Was that the case for you? Was it that early?
Tom: No, it was a little bit later than that. And it wasn’t pornography. It was more mundane. But it was sexual arousal as I grew into early adolescence, and noticed girls, and stumbled into, as most boys do—a lot of children do—self-exploration, self-gratification. It was that ability to fantasize and create a world—a fantasy where I was in charge—that tripped a wire. I didn’t know that was happening, of course.
Looking back, what I’ve learned is—that in a landscape, that was, emotionally, pretty bleak—I learned how to elevate my moods or bring them down, how to regulate my emotions, how to make myself feel better—make life work for me—by using the brain chemicals, the stimulation—a natural God-given gifts of sexuality in an ungodly kind of way.
Bob: It was a mood-altering drug for you, basically.
Tom: Absolutely. Of course, back then, we didn’t know that language. We’re learning that now about the biochemistry, neurochemistry—of how sex arousal and how sex addiction works. So, it was mood-altering. Yes, exactly.
Dennis: Had either your father or mother had a healthy discussion or an on-going discussion around “the birds and the bees” and what happens to a boy as he grows into adolescence?
Tom: No. That wasn’t something we talked about.
Tom: Zero; zilch.
Bob: So, I have to ask, “Where did your understanding of sexuality come from—if it wasn’t from Mom and Dad?”
Tom: It came very clumsily. It came from friends and, then, what I started to pick up. I’m grateful I did not grow up in the Internet Age because—heaven help me—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Tom: —I don’t know what would have happened with somebody, like me, back in those days; but a lot of our children are growing up with that, right now.
Dennis: And I just have to put in a good word, here, for our resource, Passport2Purity®, which is a weekend getaway for fathers/sons, mothers/daughters around 10, 11, 12, years of age, where a father and his son get away on a Friday night/Saturday. This kit actually explains to you how you can go through and experience some CD’s that explain it all to your child, in your presence, and gives you the opportunity, as a parent, to interact with your child and begin—I want to underline that word—and begin a conversation with your son or with your daughter that you can have all the way through adolescence and on into adulthood.
The reason I mention that is we have a number of listeners, right now, who are hearing the beginning of your story—they haven’t heard, really, the dark side of it yet. We can be on the offense. We don’t have to play defense with our children or leave them to play defense and to sort through all the messaging that’s coming their way. I mean, I did some research, before we came in the studio: 12 percent of all websites are pornographic—12 percent. Over $56 billion spent on this industry—more than NBC, CBS, and ABC combined. More than the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NBA all combined. I mean, this is a major industry that is out to create an addiction with our sons and our daughters—I might add.
Tom: Oh, it’s both; absolutely! You’re exactly right, Dennis.
Dennis: And we, as parents—we can’t always keep our children from being exposed—but we can give them some tools so they can begin to sort through what they see and how they process it.
Bob: Well, and having something proactive like the Passport2Purity weekend is not a guarantee that your son or your daughter is not going to wander off; right?
Dennis: Oh, no. In fact, they may have already seen something by the time you take them through.
Bob: But the point is you can begin a dialogue. You can open conversation and maybe head off some things before they take a dark turn. Tom, in your case, the dark turn for you started to happen—was it high school for you?
Tom: Oh, it was before that. Yes, absolutely. It was when I stumbled upon the whole idea of sexual arousal and how to harness that—without thinking in those terms—but how that made me feel and how that created an inner world in which I could be in charge. I could be safe, and I could feel the way I wanted to feel. And that started very early-on.
Bob: And where did that lead you? Tell us about the path that took you on.
Tom: Looking back, the path it took me on was compulsive behavior—a compulsive use of something that, in many ways, is pretty normal. You know—exploration, and trying to think through these things, and figuring out whom we are—separating from our parents—all of these are a part of growth and development. But with those of us who become compulsive, as adolescents, we stumble into a repetitive behavior that, then, becomes more life-giving than it’s supposed to be. It becomes the primary attachment.
I mean, at the end of the day, I think sexual addiction is about a mal-attachment to our own sexuality. So, I stumbled into a relationship with my own sexuality, if you will—a God-given gift, a great gift. It’s good to be masculine. It’s good to be feminine; but I stumbled into a misuse of it—a mal-attachment to it that became compulsive. I became dependent upon that method of handling life.
Bob: How did that affect relationships with girls, as you started to date in high school and beyond?
Tom: Well, Bob, this will shock you; but I was a total nerd. So, I didn’t have good relationships with girls. So, I was—
Dennis: So, the fantasy world was where you lived?
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Dennis: Didn’t have real relationships—
Dennis: —with real girls.
Tom: Right. I didn’t have the type of personality and skill set that I was good at that, confident at that. So, this was even more enticing to me; or I was more set up for it, perhaps.
Bob: Well, you did eventually date because you got married and had four kids.
Tom: Yes, I did. [Laughter]
Bob: So, when you did start to engage with girls, did this mal-attachment have any impact on that relationship?
Tom: Well, one of the unusual things in my story—because it isn’t often the case with people that become compulsive, sexually—is that I married a healthy person. We had a healthy relationship of intimacy. And I did confide in my wife, when we first married, about some of my struggles. She was terribly understanding. She was great! When I continued to struggle—much to my own chagrin—and I shared that with her, it was really, really hard.
Of course, being as highly-sensitive as I was—in reading the room, reading other people—and I saw her pain, I was all about avoiding my pain. I didn’t want to encourage her pain anymore. So, that forced me, or I chose, to go even more hidden—more inward. So, my thing was, “God and I have got to solve this.”
Bob: So, did you think—as I think a lot of young men do, who are involved in compulsive sexual behavior, prior to marriage—did you think, “Marriage will cure this”?
Tom: Well, I knew it would. You’re absolutely right. That’s what we all thought, in those days. I was part of the post-Jesus movement and all of that. We didn’t talk about sexuality, really. We all kind of understood that everybody kind of had something going on—but we didn’t talk about it, which is a problem, looking back.
But then, there was that idea that, “When you meet the right person, you get married, you start to have intimacy, then, that will take care of it.” It did for a couple of months. So, when it came back, it was just so discouraging.
Bob: Why do you think—looking back, why did it come back? Why didn’t marital intimacy cure the issue for you?
Tom: Because marital intimacy took a place where it belonged in my soul, but it could not replace and undo the tracks that I’d already laid.
Dennis: It couldn’t compete with the fantasy.
Tom: No, it couldn’t compete with the fantasy. I had already developed—and this is what happens to all of us who have a regular usage of porn or some other sexual activity—where we’re creating a regular stimulus and response in our souls. It creates a set of tracks.
I’ll have guys say to me now: “Am I ever going to get free of this? Can I ever live without this?” “Yes, you can.” It’s a matter of developing new tracks and a new relationship with your sexuality—putting up barriers to the old tracks and letting those atrophy. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes a regular work. You can, eventually, get to that place where you become free of the old tracks; but when I first married Pam, I didn’t even realize what I had already set in motion, for several years.
Dennis: Tom, I want to go back to a statement you made, just a few moments ago, about you telling Pam about your use of pornography. Did that occur while you were dating and engaged, about to be married, or did you wait until after you were married to tell her?
Tom: I told her before we were married.
Dennis: You said that you told her some—some of your problem—but not all?
Tom: Not all; no.
Dennis: And the reason was?
Tom: Nobody ever wants to tell all.
Dennis: You weren’t sure the love that she had for you could sustain knowing what you might share with her, at that point?
Tom: Dennis—that might have been it. It might have been self-preservation. I’ll say this—I’ll say this word—I said most of what was going on. I’d have to really go back and think about what I was hiding; but I think there is that, within most of us—we want ourselves to look good—“Here I am, being honest.”
Bob: Level of shame involved, yes. Sure.
Tom: Oh, it was horrific. And she met me with great grace and understanding. That’s what made me telling her later, “I’m still struggling with this,” so crippling—so hard. It just crushed her.
Dennis: So, there are two groups of guys listening to us right now—single guys, who may be in a dating relationship. They’re going, “I don’t know about this;” —and there is a second group of guys, who are already married—
Dennis: —but haven’t disclosed.
Dennis: Speak to both groups of men and give them your very best counsel—godly counsel from the Scriptures.
Tom: Well, to the fellows that are dating someone—it depends on where you are in the trajectory of that relationship as to how much you should divulge—but whether you are dating or whether you’re married—your partner or your potential partner isn’t going to be your ultimate accountability person and isn’t going to be, normally, the avenue through which the Savior is going to bring you out of this problem.
You need to be busy working and cultivating an honest relationship with several other close brothers and working your way through this problem. If you’ve got a compulsive problem—and a lot of guys do—a lot of guys in the Church do—you need to be cultivating those roads of extricating yourself, and developing a healthy lifestyle with your sexuality, and getting to a place of integrity—that you really feel good about—which is really God-honoring, and Christ-centered, and Spirit-infused, and that you’re getting somewhere.
You can share with your person that you are dating when it’s appropriate, depending on the level of the commitment—the level of the relationship. Yes, that should come out.
Bob: If this is headed toward marriage, you would say, “You’d better have that talk.”
Tom: I think so. I admit I think that’s just fair. I have two daughters. I would want them to know before they got into a relationship—permanent relationship with somebody—what they were getting into.
Bob: And if you haven’t shared before marriage, and it’s still an issue, do you have that talk with your wife, knowing what it’s going to do to her?
Tom: Oh, that’s a tough question; but yes, at some point, you do. Now, here’s the great thing. I’ve been a pastor for a long time. I still do spiritual direction and counseling. You really have to take the Lord’s leading because the Lord really will lead in this area. The issue is willingness. “Am I willing to do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus to take the next steps?” Because with some relationships, it might be earlier—with others, it might be later. There are other variables involved.
Bob: There’s no formula here?
Tom: There isn’t a step or a formula. Every journey is a little bit different. The Lord loves story. He loves diversity. So, you’ve got to have the people around you that you are working with—whether it’s a counselor, accountability group, brothers, et cetera——and you’re taking your steps toward wholeness. That’s the essential piece. Then, in the appropriate place, the disclosure to the spouse comes in.
Bob: You had become a Christian during this time. How did your walk with Jesus impact your addiction—your compulsion?
Tom: Well, I write about this, Bob, in Ashamed No More. It’s a great question. Because I had always had—I grew up, going to church. I had a God-consciousness—but in the second grade, I remember watching a Billy Graham broadcast and praying the prayer—several times being at youth camp, in the summers, having profound interactions with God. I really believed in God and got involved with a very evangelical youth ministry at a church that I would later be on the staff of. That was a very real, important part of my life—deep encounters with the Holy Spirit.
They didn’t quite run on parallel tracks; but everybody who becomes compulsive develops a skillset of compartmentalizing. Now, as I’ve said that, I think every human being has the capacity for compartmentalizing; and that’s part of what healthy, spiritual transformation is. It’s integrating every facet of our lives into the life of Christ—life with Christ, life done following Christ—life infused by the Spirit of Christ.
But I often say, “Addicts are just like everybody else, just a little more so.” Well, you know, as all of us can compartmentalize, addicts really specialize. I, actually, lettered in compartmentalization. So, I had my spiritual life over here and my sexual life over here. Now, the fact is that I always struggle with this. I wasn’t able to shut it off. The guilt and the shamed stalked me, all the time. So, your question was, “How did it impact my faith—impact this life of compulsive thinking and compulsive behaving?” —it warred against it.
Bob: Did you just think, “This is just one of those things Jesus can’t help me with”?
Tom: No, no. I always thought: “This is wrong, and I’ve got to fix this. This is wrong, and I’ve got to stop this.” What I didn’t know is that every time I would stumble and, then, I would feel so guilty and ashamed—I would sincerely pray, “God, I promise You”—now, this is a young man, you understand—“I promise You I will never do that again!” Bob, I meant that! What I didn’t realize is that even though I was totally sincere—I was kind of setting myself up for failure because I didn’t have the tools to break that habit yet.
Tom: So, the next time I engaged, the shame was just a little more intense.
Bob: So, ten years later, I’m guessing you’re not still praying that prayer. You’re still feeling ashamed; but you’ve given up on saying, “I promise I’ll never do that again.” Haven’t you?
Tom: Yes. Ten years later, I’d given up on that particular prayer; but it morphed into something like: “I have to change! I’ve got to stop this. God, help me stop this. God, please help me stop this. Would You, please, help me stop this?”
Bob: Didn’t there come a point where you just thought, “I guess this is going to be how I am forever”?
Tom: No, and I think—I attribute that to faith. For me, personally—and other brothers will have different stories—and sisters will have different stories and approaches because we’re all different—but for me, no, it was never okay. It was, “Somehow, this has to stop.” That brought me, as I write in the book, to that final point of crisis. I hope it’s the final point of crisis—in 2008.
Dennis: The Scriptures had to inform your faith—
Tom: Oh, absolutely.
Dennis: —that there is hope even for the most broken, most addicted, most dark person.
Tom: Yes; yes.
Dennis: I listened to your answer. Your faith caused hope to be alive, but your faith had to have an object. The Scripture is all about redemption. It’s all about broken people experiencing forgiveness, grace, wholeness, healing, and being restored in relationships. And all of those occurred in your relationship with Pam.
That’s what I want our listeners to hear, whether they’re struggling with pornography—whether their spouse is, whether they are raising a son or a daughter who has been exposed—it’s why Christ came. It’s why He died. It’s why the Tomb is empty. He’s alive today. He can touch lives. He can bring that healing in individual lives today. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to struggle. It does mean you are going to have the hope that He can make things new.
Dennis: And He can replace—a smile—where there is now doubt, and shame, and an addiction to darkness.
Bob: The name of the book, Ashamed No More. I thought to myself, the first time I saw the book, of Romans 8:1, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t mean that we can’t commit heinous sin. It means that there is forgiveness, and restoration, and hope available to us, in Christ, as we walk in brokenness, repentance, and obedience.
And Tom shares his story in the book, Ashamed No More. We’ve got copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book. There are other resources available there, as well, including resources for wives who may be married to men who have struggled with sexual compulsion or addictive behaviors. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about all of these resources; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
We had a conversation, a while back, with our friend, Dr. Ed Welch, who is with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, about compulsive, addictive behaviors. He wrote a workbook, called At the Crossroads of Addiction, that helps people understand that, ultimately, what we’re dealing with is what he says is a worship disorder. And this week, we are making that conversation available to our listeners. If you can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we’d be happy to send you the CD of that conversation with Dr. Ed Welch. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “I CARE”, so you can make an online donation.
We are listener-supported. Those donations are what make this program possible. So, if you can help us out, we’d appreciate it. We’d love to send you a copy of this CD; or if it’s easier for you to call to make a donation, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. Ask for the CD on addictions, and we’ll send that out to you. Again, let me just say, “Thanks for your part in supporting the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate all that you do to make this program possible.”
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow when we’ll hear more from Tom Ryan about his struggling with sexual sin and about his ultimate liberation from that struggle. That comes up tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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