Addictions are ruthless and destructive. That’s a lesson I’ve known for most of my life but, for some reason, God has seen fit to reinforce over the course of these past two weeks of my ministry.
A short while ago— on a brisk, overcast day when the temperature had dropped to something like minus 15 degrees with windchill— I welcomed a couple of homeless men into the lounge area of our ministry space, both of whom smelled of mouth wash. I put on a pot of coffee, retrieved some left over snacks from our weekly drop-in program and, over the course of roughly a three to four hour period, watched them slowly unthaw and sober-up. During this time, they had a chance to tell me a bit about themselves: the kind of work they used to do, what their exes were like, where they used to live and so on. They spoke always in the past tense, as if their sweetest, happiest days were nothing but a pleasant but all-too brief rest stop on the long road trip that was their lives. Understandably, the entire afternoon was marked by an undertone of sadness and regret. It wasn’t until I saw them off at the door that one of them freely admitted that alcohol had played a major part in bringing him to this present state in life. Sure, he wanted to quit but he simply had no clue where to begin.
Later that weekend, I learned that one of my friends from the neighbourhood had recently been admitted to the hospital as a result of alcohol poisoning. Needless to say this wasn’t the first time. He had been rushed to the E.R. on at least three prior occasions- each of which he can barely remember. When I visited him at the hospital that Sunday evening, I tried very hard to walk the thin line between, on the one hand, trivializing an affliction that had nearly killed him and, on the other hand, patronizingly lecturing him about his need for serious, longterm, professional help. (In the end, I may have erred in the latter direction).
Personally, I have never had to contend with a serious behavioural or chemical addiction of my own— at least not one that has compromised my ability to complete my schooling, hold down a job or sustain a relationship. I don’t make this assertion boastfully. I merely say it as a kind of disclaimer— as a way of conveying that, although I endeavour to show compassion to the addicted, I can never truly understand what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
However, like every other member of the human race, I do know what it’s like to give way to behaviours that I fully know to be injurious, not only to me, but to others around me. I (like every one reading this sentence) know what it’s like to think to myself— even in the very midst of doing something that I know to be wrong— “Why am I doing this?” This, according to the Apostle Paul, gets to the heart of what it means to be human: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18-19). He then goes on to write, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Paul’s answer, of course, is Christ. But this is no facile Sunday school answer. Merely believing in Jesus does not magically cause all addicts to simply drop their drug of choice and move on. And I can tell you from personal experience that being a Christian has not magically resulted in the disappearance of all forms of destructive cravings and desires from my life. I will say, however, that I am immensely comforted by the promise that, when I screw up, His mercy and forgiveness are graciously extended. And, I am equally comforted that the journey we all walk (whether to sobriety, to holiness or both) is one that we don’t have to walk alone. Indeed, we are sustained and empowered by the One who has succeeded where we have failed or, who in the words of the author of Hebrews, “was tempted in every way as we but did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
I think I see why so many of our friends in recovery rely upon what they call “a Higher Power.”
– Terence Chandra