I have come to the realization that I have an addiction. Actually, to be more accurate, I should probably say I have “another” one. If I were to truly examine my black heart, I probably have more than two but since addictions carry a massive stigma in our culture, I’ll only officially admit to two*. Yes, I just put an asterisk after the number two. After all, no true addict lays down his sword easily without a semantic duel and definition argument. In other words, whether I have an addiction depends on what your definition of addiction is. Yea, let’s go with that. Maybe I only have one now? Or four. Ugh.
I am tempted to talk about my addiction in broad terms as that makes me feel better about myself. For example, I really want to Google this addiction and give you the latest statistics as to which demographics share my addiction, how many people are impacted by it and even the celebrities that also struggle with it. For some reason it doesn’t seem as pathetic if you can say you have the same addiction as a leading Hollywood action “hero”. Somehow, placing my addiction in the midst of that sandwich makes it seem more “common” and therefore, less stigmatizing. Even though I am not alone in this embarrassing pit, sometimes you feel like you are the only one who struggles with it. Or, that no one struggles with it as much as you. That is the insidious nature of addictions… to make you feel powerless and convince that you alone are the sole struggler.
Of course, I would probably tell you most days that I am not addicted to “it”. I would laugh at your accusation and scoff at your absurd suggestion. Isn’t that the classic response of an addict? I would passionately persuade you that I can give “it” up any time I want, for any length of time and be totally OK with that. But, isn’t that the mantra of all addicts? Of course, I would give you the same reaction if you accused me of being addicted to cottage cheese but does that response alone mean I am actually addicted to it? Because seriously, I’m NOT addicted to cottage cheese. That’s absurd. I can totally give that up any time I want. No, I mean it.
See how convincing I can be? I actually believe it myself.
That’s one of the major obstacles of overcoming an addiction, getting the addict to stop believing his own lies. It’s easy to deceive others if you can first deceive yourself. And because of this, this is the main reason why the addict is the last one to see his actions as they really are – addictive. No one likes to be confronted with the ugly truths about ourselves, particularly when those truths are damaging ourselves or our relationships with others. One of the reasons we deny the accusations so vehemently is not because they are totally false, but because they are mostly true. A truly ridiculous accusation we can laugh off and move on. One that is drenched in partial or total truth is a lot harder to blow off. Add the embarrassment of the truth, the consequences of the habit and the recognition that your once private addiction is now on a highway billboard – it can become utterly overwhelming and devastating to the addict.
Denial is not only the obvious response, but it is the only one that can keep the addict emotionally intact. To address the addiction is to address the heart and to address the heart can feel like you are tearing the soul. The addiction is there to cover some large gaping wound from our past or serve as the anesthesia for our current hurt.
The harsh reality about addictions is this… though it can be a very real and serious problem, the addiction itself is the secondary problem. The addiction is merely the symptom of a larger issue that needs to be addressed. There is always something much more insidious underneath it. Sadly, as a culture, we have stigmatized the wrong thing. We stigmatize the symptom and we often ignore the root.
The hard part for any addict is not that he loses his go-to comfort “blankie” in times of stress, but he also must address the reason why it is so important to him. The goal for any addict is not simply the removal of the habit. That is merely the first step. The actual goal is the addressing of the source of why it exists. All addictions, at their base, are first heart problems before they ever become physical problems.
There are four things I have learned about addictions over the last three years:
- Many people have at least one. (Don’t try to deny it. We already know that trick.)
- Most everyone has an addiction rating system. We rank some addictions as being worse than others. Most would say that a smoking addiction is better than a gambling addiction which is better than alcoholism which is better than drugs which is better than… etc.
- Those inside the church often hide their addictions behind good deeds or under shiny exteriors.
- Those outside the church often wear their addictions on their sleeve. They seem to be more open about their problems.
I’m trying to be more honest about my problems. I’m really trying to become more transparent about my sins and struggles and habits and past. I used to be a counselor to many – now I sit before one weekly. I used to help others with their problems, now others help me with mine. I used to proudly show my shiny exterior and good deeds to anyone who glanced my way. Now I try to humbly let people look through my stained-glass window and hear about some of my not-so-good deeds – when needed. It’s been refreshing. My addictions and problems may not be on my sleeve (yet) but they are certainly out of my pocket.
One of the most encouraging things about the Bible is that it is a book filled with sinful people who God loved anyway. Most of the characters in the Book committed some pretty horrible deeds – and God still used them to accomplish some amazing tasks. Just to name a few:
- Noah got drunk after God used him to build an Ark that saved his family. (Genesis 9:21)
- Abraham lied and yet God still allowed him to be the Father of Israel (Genesis 20).
- Abraham’s nephew, Lot, willingly offered his own daughters to depraved sexual predators (Genesis 19). In spite of this one-act, the Apostle Peter called him “righteous” (II Peter 2:7).
- Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was deceitful (Genesis 27) and yet God blessed him anyway (Genesis 32).
- Moses was a well-known murderer before God used him to deliver the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 2).
- Eli raised “worthless sons” and yet God allowed him to serve as the High Priest of Israel (I Samuel 2).
- Samson intentionally married someone forbidden by the Lord and yet God used him to destroy about 6,000 enemies of Israel (Judges 16).
- Rahab was a known prostitute and yet God spared her (and her family) for her brave assistance and faith (Joshua 2, Hebrews 11).
- King David was an awful parent, murderer and adulterer and yet God made him into the greatest king that Israel has ever known (I & II Samuel).
- Jonah was an appointed prophet of God and yet initially ran from God’s explicit command to preach (Jonah). Jonah reluctantly preached and led the largest revival in recorded history.
- At Christ’s most vulnerable moment, Peter (one of His most trusted and loyal disciples) denied that he ever knew Jesus (not once, but three times in Mark 14) and yet God restored him to his previous position (John 21) and used him mightily in the church (Acts 2).
- The promiscuous Samaritan woman was divorced four times, yet that did not stop Christ from using her to spread the gospel in her hometown (John 3).
- Saul was a known Christian killer and persecutor (Acts 9) and yet in spite of that lifestyle, God changed his heart and used him to change the world. Because of the murderer of Stephen (an early church Deacon), we have 13 books of the New Testament.
Yea, my addictions, sins and failures don’t look so bad in that company. Yet, that is not the point. I’m not supposed to compare myself to other fallen people since we all wear the same sinful sleeves. Granted, my sin (or addiction) may be different from yours – but at the end of the day, we’re both still sinners (or addicted) and in need of some help.
Our world does not value broken, weak, addicted people. God prefers us like that – not because He wants us to remain in that condition – but because He likes to show us what He can do with us and through us – even in our mess.
That’s why Paul writes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” – I Corinthians 1:27-29
Only God can make a prostitute pure. Only God can heal a leper’s skin. Only God can make a liar truthful. Man can change a behavior, but only God can change a human heart. And that same God can take my addiction (or sin, or past) and turn it into something beautiful and useful to Him. He can do the same with your junk too.
Oh, and I almost forgot… as for the current addiction of mine that prompted this particular blog post… the picture below sums it up.
And for the record. I’m really not addicted to cottage cheese. I’m serious.