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Snared by the Internet

It started innocently—but before I knew it, my online relationship consumed my life.

As an administrative assistant for a public school, I was able to communicate with our different buildings through the district's e-mail system. When we connected with the Internet, we were strongly encouraged to test it out. The information highway beckoned me, and I hopped on.

Because I was attracted to anything related to courtroom trials, I decided to tap into an O.J. trial newsgroup that allowed me to check out comments about the trial. Most of the time I only read others' comments. But once, after posting one of my rare comments, a thoughtful, friendly e-mail message appeared in my computer "mail box." I replied to the sender, and thus began my odyssey.

My new e-mail pal, "Ed," was energetic and witty, just the thing I find attractive. Our initial discussions centered on the trial, but suddenly, at the end of one of his comments, came the statement, "Tell me about you!" I ignored the request—but it continued to come like a sticky note stuck at the end of each of his trial-related comments.

I pictured my e-mail friend as a twentysomething computer hacker with a penchant for trials, and reasoned that when I told him I was a born-again, single, middle-aged woman, that would be the end of his questions. "I like it!" was his reply. He too was middle-aged, he said, and married. His marital status brought me relief. My overly cautious imagination had been working overtime. He wasn't trying to hit on me after all. He only wanted to discuss the trial.

He seemed to want a friend. I learned he had been raised in a fundamental Christian home and could relate to my spiritual beliefs. I shared with him that I believed Jesus was the one and only Son of God and that by acknowledging my sins to God and receiving Jesus as my Savior, I was assured of eternal life in heaven. He said he had gone forward as a child many times, not to receive Jesus but to keep peace in his family. Ed said he didn't have a lot of use for God today, but he seemed eager to discuss spiritual things. I became convinced this was the purpose for this strange encounter. God's using me to offer him another chance for salvation, I thought.

My crusade began. Now we not only discussed the trial but also salvation, God's commandments, obedience, heaven, and almost without realizing it, biblical standards on sex. In a typical discussion he would ask how Jesus' resurrection could be proven—then, as I was composing an answer, Ed would send another e-mail, asking me what the Bible said about masturbation, followed by "Do you do that?"

At first I'd answer only the first question, ignoring the second. But, he persisted, saying, "Are Christians afraid to talk about such things?" I soon found myself talking about masturbation and revealing things about myself I would never talk about with a man face-to-face. A different kind of intimacy developed as these conversations continued.

In a relatively short time, the exchanges built to a fevered pitch, coming more often. Friendly messages such as "What are you doing?" or "Let's meet tonight at 7 p.m." frequently appeared on my computer screen at work, compelling me to stop whatever I was doing to answer. It felt like a game. It was easy to forget there was a real person at the other end.

My game quickly became an addiction. Like most addictions, I didn't intend for it to become one. I found myself wanting my computer turned on even when I wasn't using it. More than once I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to log into my e-mail from my home computer, just in case I had mail. I didn't want to go out, preferring to stay home in case I got mail. And when I did go out, I'd immediately check my "mail-box" upon returning home.

Deep scars from a painful prior relationship had left me vulnerable, and before I knew it, my fantasies were in high gear. I had no voice or face to attach to my friend, so it was easy to ascribe the particular attributes I personally found attractive. I envisioned him single again. To wish him a divorce was against my Christian principles, so I imagined him suddenly widowed, his wife dying in a sudden accident or perhaps of a mysterious disease. The phone would ring and I'd hear his voice for the first time. After helping him work through his distress, I would help him come to the Lord and receive Jesus, then we would marry and live happily ever after.

I soon found myself revealing things about myself I would never have talked about face-to-face with a man.

Scripture tells us to think about such things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—anything excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). My thought life definitely didn't meet that criteria! My conscience told me I was treading on dangerous ground, but I continued to tell myself nothing could come of it because we only met on the computer, and I was crusading to bring a lost sheep back to the fold.

As all these thoughts and distractions filled my mind and time, my own relationship with God began to suffer. I was disciplined enough to continue my morning devotion time, but the depth to which I related to God became more shallow. I prayed, but the prayers were not heartfelt. Often after a titillating exchange on the computer, I would be in church singing and praising God—and feeling like a hypocrite. I felt unclean but yet not ready to repent, because I wasn't ready to change.

Then, suddenly, Ed's e-mails stopped. After about a week I became concerned, thinking he must either be sick or dead. Almost as much as our exchanges had filled my time, worries about Ed's welfare now consumed me. I knew I couldn't call his house so I sent an e-mail asking if he was okay. For several days the silence dragged on, then a response arrived. He hadn't been honest with me when we had exchanged our exact ages, he wrote. He'd lied about his age and was many years older than I. He could not continue the charade. It was over.

I had to accept what I had known for a long time. This situation was wrong! I realized I'd been living in a fantasy. Ed saw that by inferring a reawakened interest in the Lord, he could keep me involved in the dialogue. Although he was the pursuer in this cyberspace relationship, I wasn't blameless. I didn't get out when his questions moved into areas I once considered off-limits. I stayed in the conversation and eventually was caught up in it as much as he was.

The restoration of my relationship with God was a step-by-step process that took many months. The first step was to confess my sin to God—the sin of an impure thought life, of consorting with a married man in an inappropriate way, of letting such a relationship interfere with my relationship with Jesus. Several weeks later, during a time of prayer, I came to recognize that my situation was no different than adultery, for Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that anyone who looks on a woman or a man lustfully has committed adultery in his or her heart (italics mine). After acknowledging this realization to God, a heavy burden lifted. It was almost as though God said to me, That's what I wanted you to realize the whole time! I had to face this before I could move further in my healing process.

I wish I could say I was the one who called a halt to this dangerous liaison, but I can't. However, I can say I'm on guard against such alliances on this new frontier. In fact, just after my relationship with God began to be restored, I received an e-mail from Ed, saying he missed our exchanges and wanted to begin again. Even though I immediately deleted the message without responding, there was a temptation not to do so. I realized that just when I was experiencing a spiritual healing, the enemy was trying to throw me off. His mail came periodically for about a year. I always deleted it unread.

I'm now working to use the Internet in a positive way. I've recently been involved via e-mail in a friend's job search. He's shared his moments of disappointment as well as the insights God's provided during this difficult time. In turn, those of us on his mailing list have offered him encouragement and prayer. We're able to pray almost instantly for his needs. I also correspond with missionaries who are stationed in other parts of the world. It's exciting to receive messages from Moscow, Russia, and Athens, Greece—parts of the world I may never see. We share prayer requests and other pieces of information, encouraging each other at the same time.

The Internet is a wonderful and amazing thing, but it can be dangerous. Many people are unknowingly drawn into situations similar to mine, becoming "hooked" before they realize it and letting their lives be controlled by its magnetism. We must continually be in a personal relationship with our Lord and in his Word, and—most importantly—in constant prayer, asking for his protection and wisdom.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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