I was raised to respect the value of hard work. My dad was a maniac on the subject. He grew up on a farm, back in the days when harvesting equipment was still drawn by mules or horses, when a farmer and his family spent the summer loading loose hay into the barn by hand, when they got up in the dark every morning to milk the cows and clean the barn without machines. When my father left the farm, he took his work ethic with him. He labored for years as a bi-vocational pastor, always working at least two jobs to support his family and his ministry.
Dad did his best to instill a solid work ethic in his children. One of his favorite strategies was to send a dairyman from our congregation to Florida for a week’s vacation every winter so that my brothers and I could experience farm life. Dad loved being back in the barn, but I despised almost everything about it. I was not opposed to working, but this work was too uncomfortable. The barn was too cold, the cows were too uncooperative, the manure was too much. I promised myself that when I became a grownup, I would find a way to avoid uncomfortable work.
In university, I learned the value of working smart. The best way to meet any challenge, I learned, was to begin with mental mastery. Collect and analyze the relevant information, develop a deep understanding of all the issues, and then devise a simple strategy for addressing them. Voilà! Success! I would still need to work hard, of course, but I believed that by working smart, I would be able to overcome any obstacle and reach my goals faster than other people.
Much to my surprise, my simple formula of work hard + work smart = success didn’t work very well. Despite spending thousands of hours at work and constantly reading for self-improvement, I found myself, year after year, mired in mediocrity. I was willing to work hard and was always trying to work smart, but my commitment to avoiding uncomfortable work remained as strong as ever. I would gladly work an extra twelve hours, for example, to avoid an uncomfortable ten-minute conversation. I routinely put off unpleasant tasks, such as doing my taxes or cleaning my garage, for as long as possible. I kept myself busy, constantly checking items off my to-do list, but I seldom took the time to prioritize my goals or evaluate my progress, and I never engaged in serious self-examination.
I paid a high price for all of this avoidance. There were penalties to be paid for procrastination, including the hidden costs of escalating anxiety. Unwilling to take an honest look at myself, I operated more and more in denial and delusion. Afraid of being exposed, I distanced myself from others. My relationships became increasingly superficial. Still, I kept up a good front, feigning competence, pretending to be happy, hiding my fear and loneliness, and medicating the pain with porn.
Because I kept it carefully hidden, no one around me suspected that I was using porn. Porn is highly addictive, so naturally, I became an addict. I hated using porn and hated myself for using it, but no matter how hard I tried to overcome the addiction, my success formula would not work. No amount of willpower, effort or information could keep me away from porn for very long. Even after I had studied the issues thoroughly and worked to understand the roots of my behavior, I was trapped. Even when I earnestly devoted myself to prayer and Bible study, I could not find lasting freedom. My unwanted behavior would eventually return. Hard work + smart work ≠ success.
Today I am grateful for my porn addiction because it is the weakness God used to bring me to surrender. Failure gave me the gift of desperation. Only when faced with the disastrous consequences of my compulsive behavior and the utter futility of my formula for overcoming it, did I finally became willing to step into the light and ask for help.
My best friends these days, aside from my wife, are other Christian addicts in recovery. Men with experience in recovery have taught me that working hard and working smart are not enough. I must also be willing to do the uncomfortable work, things like rigorous self-examination and confession, making amends for damage I have done, and doing what is right regardless of the outcome. Because this work is uncomfortable, I need the encouragement and help of other men to tackle it. My brothers give me coaching and accountability, to be sure, but their greatest gift is their company. Even when all a brother has to offer is an honest admission of his own struggle, his courage and companionship encourage me to stay in the light and do my own work.
Whenever I finally tackle a task I’ve been dreading, I am invariably surprised to discover that it was not nearly as awful as I imagined it to be. Uncomfortable work is difficult, to be sure, but the rewards are enormous: Relief. Progress. A sense of accomplishment. Momentum. Whenever I am doing the uncomfortable work, I am moving toward freedom.