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Clean Hands, Pure Heart, by Philip A. Harrison. Hyrum, Utah: Hearthaven Publishing (formerly Windhaven), 2004. 312 pages. Reviewed by B. Kent Harrison.

The problem of pornography and sexual addiction is a major challenge in our current society. The author of this book (who is also the reviewer’s brother) has struggled with pornography addiction since his youth. With the support of his first wife Kathy, and his second wife, Colleen, and most importantly, the healing power of the Savior Jesus Christ, he has been able to find peace and recovery from the addiction. This book details the process he went through and the principles that helped him. I chose to review the book for SquareTwo because it has the potential to help others with similar problems.

Phil tried to deal with his sexual addiction on his own for many years with no lasting success. At one time, Kathy was attending a Twelve Step group called Overeaters Anonymous, which helped her with an overeating addiction, but Phil did not see the program as something that could help him with his sexual challenge. However, later they heard about another program called Heart t’ Heart, organized by Colleen Bernhard, which showed that the principles in the Twelve Steps were abundantly supported by the teachings of the Book of Mormon. Colleen had written a book entitled He Did Deliver Me From Bondage, explaining this correlation and how it had helped her to access the atoning power of the Savior. Soon after Kathy began attending Heart t’ Heart meetings and studying Colleen’s book. Phil joined her and began to find help with his addiction. Unfortunately, only a few months later, Kathy died suddenly. Phil then married Colleen; thus later editions of her book identify her by her current name, Colleen C. Harrison. Subsequently Phil wrote the book reviewed here. Later, the two of them wrote a book together, entitled From Heartache to Healing, which provides help for partners of sexual addicts.

There is a group called "Sexaholics Anonymous" (SA), which has published a book known as the “White Book,” which is similar to but shorter than the original text of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was written to help people find recovery from addictions through the Twelve Step process. There is also another useful book on the subject of addiction recovery called He Restoreth My Soul by LDS author Donald L. Hilton Jr., M. D.

The most recent (2015) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V-TR) does not list sexual addiction as a distinct disorder. In fact, some professionals discourage the use of the term “sexual addiction.” They often advocate drug treatments. Certainly, psychological therapy and drugs may help many sufferers. But in contrast to the psychological model, many define an addiction as any behavior which a person cannot quit and which is causing detrimental effects in his or her personal, family and/or professional life, whether behaviors or substances are involved. Many persons suffering from sexual addictions would relate to this definition.

Subsequent to the publication of their three books, Phil and Colleen traveled throughout the western United States giving presentations designed to help people and their loved ones deal with the effects of addiction in their lives. I know, from personal testimonies I have heard, of the great help these have been to such persons.

Clean Hands, Pure Heart is divided into four sections: a beginning chapter giving Phil’s history; two chapters about undoing the lies that we tell ourselves about God and ourselves; the major section discussing the twelve steps and how Phil applied them in dealing with his own addiction; and a section with helpful appendices on methods and resources.

The thesis of the book is simple: you can overcome addictions by turning yourself over to the Savior and allowing His grace and mercy to remove each temptation as you surrender it to Him. Do not take credit for your recovery; that is pride. Recognize that continual prayer, scripture study, and daily worship are essential in maintaining your relationship with the Savior and keeping you close enough to Him to receive His help. Always be grateful for it, as suggested in Doctrine and Covenants 59:21: “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things…”

The Addiction Recovery Program for the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RCJC), found at http://addressingpornography.lds.org, is modeled after the Twelve Steps. It uses scriptures and statements by Church leaders and is similar to the Twelve Steps discussed in Phil and Colleen’s books.


1. Phil’s Story

As Phil entered puberty, he experienced the typical insecurities and anxieties of adolescence and discovered masturbation and pornography. However, he had a deep faith in the gospel and wanted to serve a mission. So it was that he worked to repent and had no doubt that he would be able to stay clear of the problem. He also met Kathy and wanted to marry her after his mission. These two factors were strong forces impelling him to stay clean.

Unfortunately, once on his mission and later, even after he had married Kathy, the masturbation problem returned, despite repeated confession and repentance. Furthermore, pornography was easier to obtain than before. Video stores opened; the Internet provided access. Thus he began a downward slide, convincing himself that viewing pornography wasn’t that bad.

After reading Mosiah 5:2, “And they all cried with one voice, saying, Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us, and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually,” Phil had a longing to feel the change of heart that King Benjamin’s people experienced. He went to the Lord and pled for a removal of the desire and, to his surprise, it was taken away. But he didn’t realize the need for continual exercise of faith in Christ in order to retain the remission of sin, and--to his increased shame and discouragement--eventually the problem returned. He hadn’t understood that his problem was an actual addiction. Addiction is a spiritual bondage, but is often not recognized as such. The devil gradually drags us down, as with the horrifying depiction in 2 Nephi 28:21-22, which reads “And others he will pacify, and lull them into carnal security…until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.”

It is important to realize that what one is experiencing is indeed an addiction. It is good that in our current society addictions are openly discussed, so that one is more likely to realize that he or she has one. (This realization is obscured, however, by the failure of some professionals to use the term “addiction”, as noted in the paragraph above about the DSM.)

Phil managed to retain a temple recommend and attended the temple occasionally, although sometimes he felt unworthy and did not go. He gave blessings to his children and others, but occasionally declined. His opportunities to serve in church callings diminished. Eventually he began to fear for his soul, that where he was going would lead to adultery and excommunication and would leave him subject to the devil. He was terrified. He even felt a recoil at the mention of the Savior’s name, but recognized that it was not he himself feeling this but the evil presence he was harboring.

But then a ray of light came. Kathy began attending the Twelve Step, LDS-oriented, Heart t’ Heart meetings. He asked whether he could attend with her. She wondered why, because he had successfully hidden his addiction from her. So he confessed to her that he had a problem with pornography addiction, and, although she was saddened and hurt, she said he could come.

After learning of his addiction, Kathy was nervous when Phil was on the computer, but allowed him space to grow. They went to the meetings, read Colleen’s book, and to his amazement, he found that there were other Latter-day Saints who had addictions, including sexual addiction, and who were finding recovery. He began to have hope!

He says, “Today, I recall those experiences as the equivalent of being brought back from the brink of spiritual death…I began to feel alive again.” And, although total abstinence did not come immediately, it eventually did, along with an overwhelming feeling of freedom and peace. He often says that Ether 12:27 applies to him (in fact, he has written a song with those words.) That verse reads, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”


2. Lies and Truths About God.

In his book, Phil observes that a frequently believed lie about God is that He is an angry god, and quotes Jonathan Edwards’ terrifying sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which reads “That God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire…” He also points to scriptures like Deut. 9:8, “…the Lord was angry with you…,” and Rev. 6:16, “And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,” that seem to support this view.

But as Phil points out, this view is false. What is really fearful is hell, as Alma found out in his three days of insensibility (Alma 36:17-19). Here I'll cite a discovery of my own: I was always troubled by 2 Nephi 9:41, which says, “…the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel and He employeth no servant there;…”, until Elder Marion D. Hanks pointed out in a stake conference that he was glad that the Lord had no servant there, because He is the only one who understands us.

Phil goes on to say that God must allow us our agency; we must choose to follow Him. If we do so, through repentance and submission to His will, then His mercy is unbounded and He can give us all possible blessings.

The “wrath” of God is actually the inevitable application of the laws of justice—that God has no choice but to let those who sin and refuse to repent suffer the unavoidable consequences. God’s actual, personal response to our sins is sorrow. He weeps at the wickedness of His children because He does not want to see us suffer.

In contrast to the lies we may believe about God, there are important truths, and knowing these truths can help us to repent. He is love, He cannot lie, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He was God before the world was made and is the same God today, He is no respecter of persons, and He is merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness. (These qualities are outlined by Joseph Smith in the Lectures on Faith.) The Savior continues to call us to come to Him, as we see in scriptures such as Matt. 11:28-30: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Hebrews 4:15 is similar: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” ( See also Alma 5:38 and Moroni 10:32-31.)

Often we may not remember that we are literally God’s children. If we sin, we often regard ourselves as basically evil and unsalvageable, not realizing—as Phil puts it—that dirt on our hands does not mean that we are inherently dirty. We may think there is no hope for us. People with addictions often feel this way, as Phil did for years. We compare ourselves with other people, whom we may believe are practically perfect, and we feel we can never be like them.

Phil says he lived out the following verse from Alexander Pope:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As to be hated needs but to be seen, / Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

He originally abhorred sin, but after years of enslavement, he began to abhor himself. However, after he began recovery, he saw things in scripture that he hadn’t seen before. Alma 13 speaks of high priests as men who abhor sin, but they chose to repent. They hadn’t always been so pure! After they had been sanctified, then their garments were washed white, and they could look on sin only with abhorrence.

Instead of being disdainful with ourselves, we should be dissatisfied with our imperfections. That way we can allow ourselves to improve rather than to wallow in self disgust and degradation.


3. The Twelve Steps.

Step One is admitting that we are powerless to overcome our addiction. Step Two is coming to believe that there is a Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity. Step Three is making a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God as we understand Him. Experience has shown that the Twelve Steps can help people recover from addiction, whether they are able to accept the possibility of a higher power or not.

Phil says that he, like most addicts, was a perfectionist. Perfectionism is an obsession with doing everything right. This is pride--it is actually pathological. In this frame of mind, when one makes mistakes, as one will, it is damaging to one’s self esteem and one feels worthless.

He quotes the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, with the famous lines, “I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.” He took pride in thinking that he was indeed the master of his soul. Another quote from Calvin Coolidge says, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” But implicit in these quotes is the threat of failure. Phil was frequently told that he could do better if he tried, and when he didn’t do better he felt he was indeed a failure.

Later, on page 69, Phil quotes Elder Orson F. Whitney’s answer to Henley, pointing out that the Savior, not oneself, is the captain of the soul.

Phil was troubled by scriptures that said that man was nothing, like Helaman 12:7, Mosiah 4:11, and Alma 26:11-12. He could not accept them. Wasn’t he a child of God? The answer, of course, was yes. Moses 1 puts it in perspective; while verse 10 says that man is nothing, verse 39 says that God’s work and glory is to bring to man immortality and eternal life. We are “nothing” only by comparison with God; we are actually of great worth to Him.

Phil’s downward spiral is heartbreaking and terrifying, as he glimpsed the possibility that he might lose his soul. He considered the possibility that he might be a sexual addict, but in his pride he clung to the idea that he could fix the problem by himself by trying harder, not realizing that he needed to humble himself. This went on for years. He managed to be ordained a high priest, but that did not solve his addiction. He heard stories about men who were fired because of viewing pornography on their computers at work or men who were disfellowshipped or excommunicated or who lost their families because of their sexual addictions. But these stories were still not sufficient to cause a change in his behaviors.

Finally, learning about Step One (i.e., admitting one’s powerlessness) helped him. As he attended Heart t’ Heart meetings, he realized that there was hope, as he saw that there were others with similar difficulties who were finding recovery. When he went back and reviewed the scriptures, he saw that they contained promises of success and even of joy! Reading Alma 26:12, “ Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast in my God, for in his strength I can do all things:…,” was greatly encouraging to him. He rejoices: “The admission of powerlessness is not discouraging but is exalting! It’s all right that I am nothing because Christ is everything!”

In Step Two, Phil notes that the wording of the original version of Step Two (from Alchoholics Anonymous) spoke of restoring our sanity. A common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That fits sexual addiction perfectly. He said he was a slow learner. He knew intellectually that wickedness never was happiness, but he just didn’t believe it. (This is reminiscent of the basic idea in Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ, that people believe in Christ but they don’t believe Christ, that He can help them—right now!) Three questions arose: “Could God really take this addiction away from me?” Yes! Why would He? And why should He? The simple answer is that God loves us unconditionally. Look at the men in the scriptures who were saved from sin: Paul, Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, and Zeezrom. Phil quotes Elder Hartman Rector Jr.: “God doesn’t love us because we are good. He loves us because He is good.”

We were raised by parents with a strong work ethic and were taught to be self-sufficient, and in church we learned that faith without works was dead. So the emphasis seemed to be on works. (That of course is one of the reasons members of the Church are criticized by other Christians.) 2 Nephi 25:23 says that by grace we are saved after all we can do, which can be read that we have to do everything first before qualifying for grace. That was discouraging to Phil; but then he realized that “after all” does not necessarily imply a sequential order. It can mean “in spite of”—or “besides.” Grace can be applied immediately, despite the fact that we are unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:21).

Phil quotes his wife Colleen, who wrote in He Did Deliver Me From Bondage of her reaction on reading 2 Nephi 33:6: “…I glory in my Jesus…” Tears welled up in her eyes as she read that—He was her Jesus. As she read she found verse after verse that suggested there need be no distance between her and Him.

Sometimes we become so familiar with the gospel that we take the Atonement for granted. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why President Monson counseled us to reread the Book of Mormon, even if we have read it many times before—so that the message does not become stale, but is constantly refreshed and made new. President Nelson also reminded us recently that the Atonement is not an “amorphous entity” but rather the action of Christ in our lives.

Step Three reads, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” This is exactly what Elder Neal A. Maxwell and others have said many times--that the only gift we have to give Him is our wills. In fact, it is the gift that Jesus Christ gave to His Father, fulfilling His will completely—which then became the wonderful gift they had for us. A touching scriptural example of this submission to Christ is the account of King Lamoni’s father, who says, “I will give away all my sins to know thee.” Applying the thoughts of Elder Maxwell, Phil realized that if he didn’t give himself, or his agency to God, that he would be automatically giving it to Satan.

Having been taught to be self-sufficient, Phil struggled to retain his agency, his way of doing things. He realized that his views differed from the views of others, and that people like his boss or his children had their own agency. He wondered whether this plan of God’s, which allows us our agency, was a good one. Then he realized that the thoughts he was having were actually Satan’s plan to destroy agency.

Because of agency, the Lord lets us choose what we will. If we choose to follow Him, He rejoices. If we do not, He reluctantly allows us to go our own way. Alma 34:34 is rather terrifying; it reads, “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” Phil remembers a general authority telling of a man who was so addicted to smoking that even when he was dying of lung cancer and no longer had access to cigarettes, he wore a hole in his pajamas constantly reaching for one. The verse quoted above says that this sort of longing would continue into the hereafter. It is the same with sexual addiction.

Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, found it extremely hard to deal with his addiction until he stepped outside himself and realized that he was addicted. (Phil refers to him as Bill W., which is, I believe, the usual way to do so, but his full name was Bill Wilson; his co-founder was Bob Smith.) Elder Maxwell notes that what happens to us is according to our desires (D. & C. 11:17 and 137:9), so that “…we’d better want the consequences of what we want!”

When Phil was reading the SA White Book he realized that instead of surrendering to temptation he should surrender the temptation to the Lord. He found that every time he did that, the Lord took it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 expresses this idea well: the Lord provides a way for his children to bear temptations. This "way" is to let Christ bear them instead. In D&C 6:36, the Lord encourages us to “look unto [Him] in every thought.” Phil found this a daunting idea at first, but over time found it to be a saving principle.

The surrendering of temptations needs to be done over and over. “I have learned that my recovery absolutely depends on my willingness to walk through the door when it opens. Christ will open the door, but He will not push me through it; I have to walk through it myself.” (I am reminded of a slight variation of this metaphor—the painting showing Christ knocking on the door, but there is no knob on His side; the person must open it himself or herself.)

Because the surrendering of temptations is a continual process, many members of AA and other Twelve Step groups attend meetings throughout their lives. It is why we are counseled repeatedly to repent, pray, read scriptures daily, to attend church weekly, to partake of the sacrament weekly. Alma 5:26 counsels us to retain a remission of our sins: “…if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love,...can ye feel so now?” The mighty change is a reprieve, not a cure! (I heard of a general authority, in his eighties, who remarked that he hoped he would be able to endure to the end.) Constant vigilance is required.

Further observations from experience with SA members: isolation is dangerous. If the temptation strikes, it is very helpful to get in touch with another member as soon as possible. One cannot anticipate when the craving hits; but being tempted is not a sin in and of itself--it is part of living. And if one does succumb to a temptation, one gets up, repents, and continues. As this is done, the fear of our vulnerability lessens and we can look forward to the time when the obsesssion—but not the temptations, of course—will be gone. The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh which was not taken away, although he asked thrice for that to be done. We all have thorns in the flesh throughout our lives, but the Lord tells us, as he did Paul, “My grace us sufficient for thee” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Similarly to Elder Maxwell, President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more of their lives than they can…Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988, 361-371).

Step Four involves making a searching moral inventory of ourselves. This is done in order to clearly identify one’s sins and underlying weaknesses. Phil uses the metaphor of cleaning out a drawer or a room; it may be messy to begin with, but looks fabulous when finished and we feel fabulous, as we admit that some of that old stuff was really a problem and needed to be thrown away.

This takes a great deal of courage. We tend to hide our sins, not only from others, but also from ourselves. The first step in repentance is to face our sins so that we can repent of them. We may not even realize what we need to repent of. (A general authority once, in a conference talk, said to pray to know what one was doing wrong—that one might be surprised. I prayed and I was surprised.)

Phil cites a slogan from Sexaholics Anonymous, “I am only as sick as I am secret.” It is difficult to quit making excuses, to come out of denial, to quit rationalizing, to let go of one’s ego and pride. But it can be done.

It is scary actually to make the list. What if someone should find it? It was helpful to Phil to realize that this was not a permanent record, but rather notes to help him along the way. When making the list, don’t become overwhelmed; the Lord will help us get through it.

The inventory may include: offenses toward God, ways we have hurt others, ways we have hurt ourselves, and taking offense at others, life, and God.

Step Five is admitting to God, ourselves, and another person the exact nature of our wrongs. This follows Step Four naturally. There we made lists of our sins and secrets; now we must admit them to ourselves and others, facing them squarely and not hiding them anymore. We must realize where we have denied, rationalized, or made excuses. Doing a Fifth Step is a chance to begin telling the truth and accepting responsibility. Failing to confess one’s sins to God or to others, is not only denial, it is in some sense an act of pride to think that one can handle it alone. Humility requires admitting our failings before others; not the whole world, but at least before one other person, including the ones we have hurt the most.

Admitting one’s sins to oneself involves, as indicated above, getting rid of excuses and rationalizations and slips. It is so easy, when one sees a revealing image on TV, or a woman with a low-necked dress, to take a peek, or to justify oneself by saying that one is just seeing what the world is like, or, as SA puts it, “Looking just to see if it’s something I shouldn’t be looking at,” or blaming the problem on others, like saying “My wife doesn’t understand me.” That way lies hell. Phil says, “There isn’t any safe way to indulge.” A quote from President James E. Faust says that if you cross the line by one inch, that you are in Satan’s power. In many conference talks we have been taught not to even approach the line. An old story tells of a bus company which advertised for a position as a driver. Candidates were asked what they would do on a narrow road with a mountain on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Most of them bragged that they could get to the edge of the cliff without trouble; but the one who was hired said he would stay as far away from the cliff as possible. If you don’t get close to the edge you will be safe.

It is hard to admit our faults and sins to God. He is Perfect; we are imperfect. We are ashamed to display those imperfections before Him. Of course, He already knows everything, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Scriptures speak of wanting to have rocks fall on us so that we can hide our sins from Him. This may be how we feel. Phil suggests starting with a prayer to God, reviewing the list and asking for His and the Savior’s help in taking these sins and faults from you. The Savior’s sacrifice has already paid for your sins; He can take them from you so that you can feel clean. Make full confession, be totally honest, and ask for forgiveness. When we do this, what we find when we do go to Him is indeed love, acceptance and forgiveness. We do not need to fear our God, who loves us more than anyone else can.

Perhaps the most difficult confession is to other mortals. God knows our sins, and has perfect compassion, but will anyone else be that kind? One should, of course, confess serious sins with one’s bishop. Moral transgressions that might affect our standing in the Church would certainly be included. Some choose to discuss even less serious faults with their bishops. The Spirit will guide us. A professional counselor may be another person with whom to discuss one’s inventory.

In Twelve Step programs, a Fifth Step Inventory is usually given to a sponsor (of one’s own gender), one who has already worked through the process for himself or herself. This is usually a very liberating experience, because the person finds acceptance and understanding from one who has walked a similar path. The sponsor can also guide the person in making disclosures to loved ones. The most significant of these, of course, is one’s spouse. Confession to one’s spouse is always daunting, because this person who has trusted in you, and you know it will hurt them to hear of your transgressions. You are bound to feel covered with shame and regret. What if your spouse won’t accept the confession? What if he or she seeks a divorce? These are possibilities, but keeping things hidden only continues the denial. It is best to get it out now before things get worse and the sins lead you further astray.

Phil suggests a caveat: don’t rush into this and confess everything all at once. Full and immediate confession may overwhelm the hearer. Sometimes the addict confesses with the motive of trying to get back into the spouse’s good graces. That kind of confession is not so much an act of full repentance as an effort to remove the uncomfortable feeling of having done wrong. It is then merely a continuation of the selfishness that fueled the addiction in the first place. Counsel with a sponsor, always listen to the Spirit, and follow His promptings. In all cases, the disclosure of details is unwise, since the spouse will remember them and be tormented by them, long after the addict has found relief in abstinence. The SA White Book says much the same thing, suggesting caution in revealing one’s sexual past to a family member who does not already know about it. Think about the other person’s feelings.

Another misguided motive is perfectionism, which tells the addict that he should wait until he has totally overcome the addiction. Since we cannot achieve perfection in mortality, confession may be postponed indefinitely. Recovery is a process that takes time, with many slips along the way. If one expects perfection and then sins again, it may be devastating. Take things step by step.

Phil tells of cases where young men admitted pornography addiction to their fianceés. Some of these women accepted the confession and chose to remain in the relationship. Others felt it necessary to break off the engagement. In any case, it is well to be honest up front; the truth will come out sooner or later. Deception is never a good foundation for a marriage.

Step Six is being entirely ready to have God remove our character defects. This is another preparation step. Change does not happen overnight. Phil gives an example. When he was a teenager, he wanted to learn how to paint. He bought books and took a correspondence course in art. The first lesson was: “If you want to paint, you must first learn to draw.” That dismayed him; he wanted to start painting right away. But he eventually realized that drawing was essential. (One is reminded of the reply given by Euclid to King Ptolemy that there is no royal road to geometry.) Phil did keep at it and is now a recognized watercolorist in Utah’s Cache County.

An important realization in all of this is that one’s addiction may have begun with a deeper problem. For example, one may have problems at work, in school, or in one’s marriage. Not one of these is a valid excuse for indulging in drink or pornography, but we tell ourselves they are. So to conquer one’s addiction, seek to resolve the underlying cause. How does one react to a sudden provocation by another? Does one get angry or remain calm? That reaction shows what one may need to improve in one’s basic character.

One of the Savior’s parables, Matthew 12:43-45, notes that if an evil spirit is cast out of a man and he does not fill his soul with good things, the house can be re-infested with even more evil spirits than before.

The SA book remarks that addiction is primarily a spiritual disease, although there are certainly physical features in the brain--some inherited and some acquired--which may correspond with a tendency for addiction. Because of this, the recovery from the disease must be spiritual. Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way: “No matter what the source of difficulty and no matter how you begin to obtain relief—through a qualified professional therapist, doctor, priesthood leader, friend, concerned parent, or loved one, the final healing comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and obedience to His commandments.” (Elder Scott did not say that other sources of relief were bad, but simply that they were incomplete.) Elder Ronald E. Poelman spoke of a man with a serious sin, working to repent of it—which was good—but who did not mention the Savior and His atoning sacrifice—which was bad (Ensign, November 1993, page 84). One cannot earn salvation, no matter how much we try. It comes only by acknowledging that it comes through the Savior and not through our own efforts.

The Savior not only pays for our sins, but He gives us strength and makes us into new individuals. Our characters are fundamentally changed. Phil quotes President Ezra Taft Benson from a conference talk (see Ensign, May 1988): “We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives…” The Lord’s promise in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest…” is truly fulfilled when we trust Him. Surrendering one’s will to the Lord in Step Six requires even more humility than surrendering one’s addiction in Step Three. It requires overcoming our pride and admitting our powerlessness to handle our weaknesses alone.

Step Seven is asking God to remove our sins and shortcomings. While Step Six is concerned with being willing to yield our hearts to Him, in Step Seven we actually ask Him to do it. The result can be wonderful, as with the Nephites who humbled themselves and received a purifying and sanctification of their hearts (see Helaman 3:35). Satan tries to discourage us and convince us that this process is hard and beyond our abilities. Yet it is easy, as with the Israelites trying to escape the poisonous serpents. All one has to do was to look. But people look beyond the mark and say it couldn’t be that easy, and so they perish. One thinks of Naaman the Syrian.

In other words, we must yield. The Lord invites us to come unto Him; He doesn’t force us to do so. We can choose to resist such invitations or we can choose to yield to them. Mosiah 3:19 counsels us to yield. We may be troubled by the remark that the natural man is an enemy to God, but all that says is that man is sinful. We are to become as children and abandon our pride. Phil, discouraged by his continual failures, finally cried, “Lord, I don’t want any more of these characteristics and I don’t want my stubborn, self-sufficient pride either!! Please take all of me—just as I am—and make me over in Thy image!” (emphasis in the original).

This is true conversion, the mighty change. Jesus told Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Peter had already told Him that he knew He was the Christ—but he still exhibited character flaws and weaknesses until he actually was converted with the help of the Holy Spirit. Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of a cycle of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience (May 2002 Ensign, page 24). Phil quotes the book, Helaman through 3 Nephi 8: According to Thy Word from the BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992, page 22, which reads: “Sometimes we tend to focus so much upon the fact that Jesus Christ died for us that we do not attend to an equally important fact of his redemptive enterprise—the fact that he also came to live in us…

Step Eight is making a list of all persons we have harmed and becoming willing to make amends to them. Phil suggests making three lists. The first is the list of the persons harmed. Most likely the first one on this list is one’s spouse, and the next is one’s children. They are those who are closest to you and who suffer the most harm. Besides family members, other people on the list may include fellow workers, social acquaintances, and Church members. Phil says to ask yourself, “Is there anyone I would be embarrassed or feel awkward about meeting today?” Perhaps they should be on the list.

Then there are the women who pose for the pornographic pictures. Of course, he has never met them; but by patronizing the pictures, he contributed to the demand. Without a clientele, pornography would fall to the ground (unfortunately, this is not likely to happen soon). And these women's employers are corrupted. Without the market for the pictures, they might have sought more honorable work.

The second list is those who have harmed us. We may feel bitter toward them. This list may include parents, schoolmates, someone who has cheated you, or even someone who has injured or killed one of your family. But we are asked to forgive everyone, as the Savior forgives us. Forgiveness is not for them; the Savior will judge them. Forgiveness is for us, so that we can purge hatred and ill feeling from our souls. Are you willing to let them go into heaven if the Lord allows that?

The third list is simply oneself. How have you caused yourself pain? You may wish to make a list of those things. But the point is that the Savior has taken them. So don’t beat up on yourself, but have mercy on yourself. Look forward, not backward.

Step Nine is actually making the amends to the people on your lists. There is a warning: do not do so if that would cause further harm. In many cases, there is no way to make full amends, but simple apologies may help. Doing so marks further progress for oneself.

Phil gives the example of Alma the Younger. He apparently was a very sinful man. After his painful, yet fulfilling, repentance (as detailed in Mosiah 27 and Alma 36), he, along with the sons of Mosiah, went about to repair the damage they had done to others—and the Lord blessed them.

Phil writes that it is important to be direct. Talk to individuals face to face; don’t just write a letter (unless that is the only way to do it). This is difficult, but cleansing. Don’t rationalize, make excuses, or blame the victim (e.g., “If only she hadn’t dressed so seductively"). Get into a recovery program, and include your spouse. Resume intimate relations with her when she is comfortable with that.

He gives a letter that he wrote to a hypothetical woman who posed for the pornographic pictures. Of course, it wouldn’t be sent, but still illustrates the spirit of making amends.

If one cannot make restitution, then one must remember that the Atonement is precisely for the purpose of fixing what we cannot fix, healing what we cannot heal, and restoring that which we cannot restore.

Chapter 14, Step Ten, is a commitment to continue to take inventory and admit when one is wrong. Phil was somewhat dismayed when he realized that, after he had gone through all the previous steps, he still needed to make daily repentance and restitution. But, as he notes, “Recovery is not an event, it is a process.” One may have been able to find recovery from one’s addiction, but there are always sins for which we need to repent, since we never obtain perfection in this life. Even people who have been sanctified make mistakes.

What is the value of the first nine steps? It is this: Phil found that the things he did wrong in the past are no longer threatening to his membership in the Church or the trust of his loved ones. He is glad that he has gone through the first nine steps. He can now face the need to repent daily without being tempted to shame himself or blame others.

It helps to realize that even prophets need to repent. In 2 Nephi 4, Nephi shows that he feels weaknesses and pleads for help in shutting the gates of hell before him. Even Joseph Smith records, in the Doctrine and Covenants, several chastisements he received, and others are mentioned in Church history. Knowing how far we still must go, we often feel inadequate, fatigued, and perhaps discouraged. Elder Neal A. Maxwell pointed out that such feelings are normal and reminds us not to be weary in well-doing (D. & C. 64:33). “There are no instant Christians, but there are constant Christians!”

The Lord does not remove temptations from us but gives us power to turn away from them. Phil mentions the example of Paul’s having a “thorn in the flesh,” which was not removed from him despite his prayers. Paul remarks in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 that he glories in his infirmities—not that they are pleasant—but says that this is for Christ’s sake: “When I am weak, [and give my weakness to Christ], then am I strong.” In maintaining constant vigilance, we may remember the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Phil presents a metaphor. An art teacher of his was asked, “How do you know when you are finished with a painting?” He smiled and replied, “I take it off the easel, put it above my fireplace, and examine it. If there are still things that bother me, I work on it some more. When nothing is left that bothers me, I can call it ‘finished.'” Our lives are like that. Daily scrutiny will help us improve.

Phil discusses “lust” extensively. The first thing that word brings to mind, of course, is sexual lust. Looking at women lustfully may be a habit that one needs to work on constantly. However, the word can be generalized—it can mean unnecessary desire for food or for things. It is, in a sense, just another form of idolatry.

The things we take with us at the end of our lives are simply our character, our memories, and the covenants we have kept. No material things! And if we have not conquered sexual desire, or desire for food or other things, that state of mind will persist with us beyond the grave, and it will be hard to remove it.

Step Eleven is seeking to improve our conscious contacts with God through prayer and meditation. Phil begins with an insightful quote from President Spencer W. Kimball: “Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual” (Ensign, August 1979). Phil is now able to feel the Savior’s great compassion for him. The Savior showed him that his earliest experiments with pornography were simply a mistaken attempt to pacify his adolescent insecurity about being acceptable to girls. The SA White Book says a similar thing, that we all have an innate drive to have union with another. But if we confuse the personal with the sexual, we lose the spiritual aspect, letting sex or lust take the place of God in our lives.

Phil has labeled his addiction as a form of “idolatry.” Recovering from it was not easy. He tended to rely on his wife to keep him abstinent, not recognizing that he had not yet turned to God. He was more concerned with what his wife thought of him than what God thought of him. But when he finally turned to God, he felt reassured in the knowledge of God’s love for him. He says that the hymn, “The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare,” says it beautifully: “The Lord my pasture will prepare, / And feed me with a shepherd’s care. / His presence will my wants supply, / And guard me with a watchful eye. / My noonday walks he will attend, / And all my silent hours defend.”

It may be difficult to find the Savior because of the anesthesia caused by years of addiction. Phil felt this and the same sentiment was expressed by another who wrote to him and said he could not feel any relationship with Christ. When he prayed he felt nothing. But we already have a relationship with Jesus and with the Father because of our knowing them in the preexistence. We just must recover it. How does one do that, to become friends with Them again? By spending time with them, through prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, and even personal conversation.

Prayers should not be superficial. It is possible to pray and not connect with God. Learn to know the One who answers our prayers. Have conversations with Him. John 17:3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

Examine our motives. Phil quotes a friend: “I am just now learning the difference between serving God and loving God.” The deeds done out of love bless us much more than those done out of a sense of duty. Studying the scriptures should not be a chore, but a delight. He quotes the SA book: “Learning to pray is like learning how to walk and talk; no one can tell us how or do it for us. We learn by doing, like everything else in this program.”

Acknowledge the revelations of God that already bless your life. Give the Lord credit for the intelligence and wisdom that come into your mind on a personal level. Be willing to ask and believe that answers can, and will, come according to the Lord’s timetable for us. Act on the promptings we receive. Strive to live as worthily as we can.

Step Twelve is, now that we have experienced the mighty change in our hearts, to carry that message to others. Alma did this after he had had his marvelous conversion, as noted in Alma 36:24:26. And in all of this, give all credit to the Lord. Most of us know Stephen Robinson’s “parable of the bicycle,” in which a child puts in a few cents toward buying a new bicycle and his father pays the rest. Someone has observed that even the few cents ultimately came from his father or someone else. In Mosiah 2, King Benjamin remarks that when we do good, the Lord immediately blesses us, so that we are forever in his debt.

Sharing the message helps in our own recovery, as indicated in Isaiah 58:10-12: “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as noonday: …thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”

In a series of appendices, Phil provides helps for applying the principles one has learned. Capture the scriptures—study them, start a journal and write down your impressions, and then review them. Liken the scriptures to ourselves. Converse with the Lord and write down His word in our journals. Learn how to make the inventory counseled in Step Four. Also provided are guidelines for holding Twelve Step meetings.


4. Final Remarks

The thesis of the book is that through the Atonement of Christ, one can overcome addictions, sexual and otherwise, and to overcome the pride that stands in the way of our accepting His help. The book certainly makes clear that this is possible. I recommend the book to anyone who is struggling with addiction.




Full Citation for this Article: Harrison, B. Kent (2018) "Book Review: Clean Hands, Pure Heart," SquareTwo, Vol. 11 No. 3 (Fall 2018), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHarrisonCleanHands.html, accessed <give access date>.

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