Pornography’s Pull: Michael O’Brien’s Journey toward Healing
- Deborah J. Thompson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2011 2 Aug
As lead singer of the popular contemporary Christian band NewSong, Michael O’Brien lived what appeared to be an ideal life. Performing night after night, he loved using his talent to bring others to Christ.
Back home, he had a wife and family he adored. But Michael was harboring a deceitful and destructive secret — one that threatened not only his job, but more importantly, his relationships with his family and with God.
On stage, Michael lost himself in the music, the message and the emotion of the crowds -- fulfilling what he considered to be God’s calling for his life. After all, he had been given a beautiful singing voice and the ability to play and write music. What better way to demonstrate his faith than by using his artistry to tell others about the Lord?
But after the stage lights were darkened and the crowds left the arenas, Michael would retire to his lonely hotel room and lose himself once again — in the seductive and shadowy world of pornography.
His attraction to pornography began when he first got a glimpse of a Playboy magazine at the age of six. Like most young men, this event triggered a strong reaction that for Michael resulted in addiction to hard-core pornography by the time he was twelve.
Getting married to his beloved wife Heidi didn’t end the addiction. On the contrary, now he had an even bigger problem. By hiding part of himself, Michael was prevented from achieving complete and honest intimacy with his wife. But secrets have a way of bubbling to the surface and Michael was finally forced to admit everything.
“I had a great hidden sin that I had never shared with my wife and had a dream that one of my sons found out. He was crying, and I was literally watching him weep over my sins. I was so freaked out that I began to wail in my dream, not realizing that I was wailing in real life. It was like God wouldn’t allow me to keep it a secret anymore. When Heidi heard me and tried to comfort me, I just broke down and immediately confessed everything.”
In confessing his sin, Michael had to come face-to-face with the damage he had done not just to himself but to his wife. "It was one of the most devastating things I had ever experienced — to tell her everything. I had to come to understand that adultery is adultery. If I look at a woman and lust after her, then I have committed adultery. And we are stealing something from our wives.”
The impact porn has on the family is sometimes tough for men to understand -- they can more easily compartmentalize. But for most women, pornography is a betrayal and one that shakes the very core of their own self-image and self-confidence.
Researcher Mark A. Yarhouse wrote, “Forty-two percent of surveyed adults indicated that their partner’s use of pornography made them feel insecure and less attractive.” (“Marriage Related Research,” Christian Counseling Today, 2004, Vol. 12 No. 1). Realizing just how much his behavior hurt his wife was Michael’s turning point.
Overcoming "Every Man's" Struggle
Michael is no different from many other men. Our society accepts lust as “guys being guys” — it’s considered normal. The Barna Research Group reports that 38% of adults believe it is “morally acceptable”to look at pictures of nudity or explicit sexual behavior. And according to Family Safe Media:
1. Every second of every day—28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography.
2. A new pornographic video is being created in the United States every 39 minutes.
3. There are 4.2 million pornographic website making up 12% of all total websites.
4. Every day, there are 68 million pornographic search engine requests, which represent one-quarter of all requests.
5. The pornographic industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.
Christians are susceptible as well -- 47% of Christians reported, “Pornography is a major problem in the home.”
Michael reflects, “There is so much secrecy and fear. I should have been kicked out of NewSong for the things I was doing. That would have done more good for me than bad and made me realize how serious things were. I was consumed with guilt, shame and all the things that happen when you hide sin. And God wants us to feel that — it’s a blessing so that we will run to someone we trust for help who is Christ-centered.”
Michael reminds us that his behavior “wasn’t normal for Christ and ultimately, He is our example.” But it takes work, a recommitment to God, a humbling of the spirit and a willingness to change. Michael takes the Every Man’s Battle approach from the controversial book of the same name.
“I realized that I was not alone — even Job talks about how ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look on a young woman with lust.’ Sexual immorality is not just an action with our bodies. It can be an action with our minds. But God says we don’t have to go there. And He has given us a tool to escape — it begins with the premise of ‘bouncing of the eyes’. If I see someone dressed provocatively, I can bounce my eyes and look away. That book helped me to see that I was not alone and gave me practical tools to be proactive in fighting this.”
Finding Your True Calling
God had other lessons in store for Michael during this journey. He taught him the difference between a “calling” and a “gifting” which changed his perspective of both his job and his marriage.
“I used to think that my job was wrapped up in my calling. If my music helped to bring people to Christ, I thought that was my calling. But I have come to understand that my calling -- when I said ‘I do’ is to love my wife like Christ loved the church and to raise my kids up in Jesus. My gifting is music and I know now that my gifting should never take precedence over calling.
With newfound clarity on his calling, Michael began to change as a husband. “The foundation of a marriage is the love of Christ. We can’t love each other as Christ loved the church without it. We can give one another a worldly love and there is a lot of that out there. But if you are truly submitted to Christ, He ultimately moves in your life to be able to resist the temptation to turn away or ‘pay back.’”
Becoming a “servant husband” allowed Michael to “die” to his old ways, his needs and wants, and helped him and Heidi heal the hurts. Their marriage went from the brink of divorce to the forefront of their walk with Christ. They both learned how to love one another the way God intended and in the process learned that love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.
“It took her some time, but she gracefully accepted me. At first, she wanted to punish me. But she realized that forgiveness is turning towards rather than turning away and that she would ultimately get everything she wanted from me if she turned towards me and not away.”
By turning towards God and towards one another, they continue to grow in love and service to Christ and to each another.
“Part of the beauty of building a relationship with someone and living the rest of your life with them is that you are always learning — that you have never ‘arrived’. Even though you are two different people with two different perspectives -- hopefully, Christ is the center of your marriage. If you have that, you are prepared.”
They now approach their marriage with honor and respect for one another and for the gifts and talents they both bring to the marriage. And they realize that their individual relationships with God are a foundation for the marriage itself. “In my world, the woman is the helper. I am spiritually the leader of the family, but she is very much together with me on a daily basis. Heidi is very gifted with understanding and interpreting scripture. We have ‘coffee time’ together whenever I am home. We go on dates. We have quality and quantity — it’s about both. We spend a lot of time separately with the Lord because ultimately that is where we get our fuel to be able to love.”
As a solo performer and one of the praise and worship music leaders for the Extraordinary Women’s Conferences and Jennifer Rothchild’s Fresh Grounded Faith Conferences, Michael now has the opportunity to share his story and the lessons he holds dear with people all over the country.
“I haven’t always been that leader where Heidi was looking at me and saying, ‘good job’, because I have had a lot of work to do. Women often ask me at conferences how to get their husbands to love them the way we are called as husbands to love our wives — as Christ loves the church.
"I tell them to pick out one thing their husbands are doing well and affirm it, just pour into it. It may seem to be insignificant to you, but your words of encouragement will be a source of strength to him and he will want to lead. If he has submitted to Christ -- ultimately, that is a huge thing.”
You can learn more about Michael and Heidi at: www.michaelo.org
Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, speaker, artist, Stephen Minister and Stephen Leader. Her articles are published by Crosswalk.com and "The Fish" family of Christian radio station websites around the country. She shares "Reflections" on Life, Relationships and Family on her website, www.inspiredreflections.info. And she is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice--5 steps to Peace. Join her on Twitter/InspireReflect and Facebook/DailyInspiredReflections.