Whenever someone discloses to me a struggle with addiction or any compulsive behavior—to pornography, over-eating, buying, or really any violation of their conscience—or when I simply reflect on my own struggles, I've learned to ask, “What’s the loneliness or sorrow beneath this behavior?” Finding the longing beneath our behavior is always the key to transforming it. Simply telling someone to “stop” is like telling them give a paint job to a car that needs a new alternator. You have to get under the hood! We must engage will power, too, of course, but in addition to behavior modification, we have to bring our hearts into the light of reality. If we are unwilling to confess either our behavior (the what) or what lies beneath it (the why), we aren’t coming into reality and, thus, we keep the Spirit at arm’s length. And confessing the what without addressing the why is like cutting the top half of a weed and thinking you've dealt with the problem.
Sometimes it is a great risk to name and label reality! If you carry shame because of what you’ve done or by what was done to you—if were abused or molested, for example—it can feel like death to name and label that reality and to allow another person to know it. You may have spent your life trying to hide or over-power your secret. And while you may hate your story or your secret, you might feel you need it to survive. You may love the power you get from being right about your story and who you are and how you deserve shame and punishment. You may feel you will cease to exist without your dysfunction as a reference point. So, it can take great courage to name and label the why. Indeed, it’s usually (always?) the Spirit of God who reveals to us the why. This, again, is why we can’t fully walk out confession and repentance without the grace of God. Only in the whispering of God’s Spirit are we led to label not only what we’ve done but what’s driving it, which is, to use another auto metaphor, the gas that’s running the engine.
Spiritual life, and certainly the abundant and eternal life of which Jesus spoke, always demands this kind of rigorous courage and humility, which is why we so often avoid it.