i-Lust and Other Confessions in a Millennial World | Sojourners

i-Lust and Other Confessions in a Millennial World

I lust. The words almost seem like they could be a tagline for a new Apple product — an appropriate image perhaps for a generation that is glued to our smart phones. Or perhaps the words are better suited in a kind of Descartes revolution for the 21st century, “I lust, therefore I am.” In either scenario, the words are an accurate reflection of the inescapable truth that lust is consuming all of our lives.

In the church, the word lust has strong sexual connotations. It is a word we are ashamed of and work hard to ignore. When we do talk about lust, it is mostly in the context of uncomfortable sermons or youth group sessions about dressing modestly, not looking at porn, and not gazing at one another with desire. We also often think of lust as a sin that plagues only men — particularly young men with “raging hormones” and that it is something they need to “break free” from.

Essentially the message has become, “If you do lust, don’t; if you don’t lust, good.” But such assumptions do not accurately represent the complex and diverse ways that lust manifests itself in our lives. That being said, I sometimes think that if the seven deadly sins included a clause for a sin that was more deadly, feared, and misunderstood than all of the rest, this would be it.

There are several reasons why the church doesn’t like to talk about lust:

  1. Sexuality is deeply personal and invokes a complicated emotional response because sex itself is the most intimate and vulnerable way we engage with another person.
  2. There is a lot of fear and shame surrounding the desire for this intimacy as a result of years of church-led repression of sexuality.
  3. Differing views on whether or not LGBTQ individuals can enter into sanctified marital relationships with one another have caused a lot of anger, alienation, and fear of condoning what some view as sinful behaviors.
  4. Finally, lust is simply misunderstood.

For one thing, reducing lust to simply “sexuality gone wild” doesn’t truly reflect how lust reveals itself in our lives. Sexuality is certainly a part of it, but lust happens when we allow ourselves to be consumed by the overwhelming desire for anything outside of oneness with God. In other words, lust happens when my love for things trumps my love for others or when I reduce a person to a thing — most commonly by lusting after his or her body.

Lust is so closely associated with sexuality because that is how it most often divulges itself. We long for oneness with God and with one another. Lust is a distortion of the sacred longing for God that we are born with.

Without oneness, there is a void in our lives that we frantically seek to fill with whatever we can grab onto: sex, money, codependent relationships, technology — we have become masters at our own deception. Sex is a particularly effective tool because entering into a sexual relationship gives one a feeling of connection with that other person, even if such a connection is only an illusion.

In the case of sex (although money, familial relationships, and technology can be just as potent), lust causes it to be reduced to little more than a drug that numbs the desperate loneliness inevitable without true connection. Somehow, sadly, we have become slaves to the beat of more, More, MORE, a suffocating, consuming death of our own addiction to things that can never fill us.

Desire and longing are not bad things in and of themselves. In fact desire and longing are what drive us to pursue healthy relationships within the beloved community and to pursue a relationship with the divine. Lust emerges, fully formed and dangerous, when desire and longing are misconstrued into a destructive campaign for anything other than our natural need for oneness.

Lust is not something to be ashamed of because it is something that almost everyone struggles with. Part of being the beloved community is struggling together. We need to learn to say to each other, “I see you, and I will support you on your journey, wherever that may take you.” We as a church need to open up the conversation to include not only those struggling with sexual addiction or promiscuity, but to all those whose longing has become lust in some area of their lives.

Kara Lofton is the Editorial and Online Assistant for Sojourners.

Image: Nude art photogaph,  Viktoriiapdb / Shutterstock.com

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