A Confession

I’ve been wrong about so many things.

I believed as a kid that hiccups would make me taller and eating spinach would make me stronger (nope! one look at me proves otherwise). I thought fortune cookies came from China (nope! they’re made in America). I thought that bats were blind (nope! they hunt in the dark using echolocation, but that doesn’t mean they can’t see). I believed that the Michigan Wolverines would prevail in March Madness (nope! hats off to the Virginia Cavaliers).

Over the years, I’ve been wrong about some financial investments and hired people that turned out to be a poor fit. I’ve been wrong about various movies, restaurants, vacation spots, political matters, doctrinal issues and a thousand other things.

Some of my errors in judgment have been harmless (I didn’t need therapy when I found out Santa Claus was a hoax). Others have been more costly in terms of time, money, and relationships.  

One of my biggest mistakes has been in my understanding of addiction.

I should mention something first, though: I am a recovering Pharisee.

Pharisees are law-abiding. They play by the book. It’s all about performance. They cross their “t’s” and dot their “i’s.” They earn their keep. No freebees for them. And they are proud of it.

Pharisees also know how to wield a gavel. They are critics extraordinaire. They are quick in making moral pronouncements: Good/bad, right/wrong, in/out. No in-between with them. No gray. Life is less complicated this way.

In terms of Phariseeism, I’ve been a pretty impressive rule-keeper and judger.

But I’m in recovery now. I’m not as good as I thought I was . . . nor as smart. I knew so much more when I was younger.

  • Addicts are just selfish, right? They don’t care about anybody except themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t use.
  • Addicts are lazy. If they would just be more self-disciplined and work harder, they wouldn’t be in such a mess.
  • Addicts are rebellious. They need to repent and submit themselves to God-established authority. Add some Bible reading, prayer and fasting, along with regular attendance at church and, abracadabra, they would fine.

I once wrote an article entitled, “Disease, Disorder, or Decision.” Like a good Pharisee, I came down with the latter D. “There may be disease components and psychological misfirings, but addiction is ultimately a decision.” I had it all figured out. Neat little boxes. Then I read a statement by Richard Rohr, “The major spiritual problem for many religious people is that they refuse to be baffled for a while.” Ouch! Guilty as charged!

My new favorite verse is Proverbs 30:2, “I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man’s understanding.” I relate to the parent who said, “I once had six theories and no children; now I have six children and no theories.”

Addiction is complex. There is no one-size-fits-all explanation. Biology, psychology, neurology, sociology, and a multiplicity of other “ologies” can be contributing streams to a person’s abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Yes, I still hold that at the core, addiction is a spiritual problem. We are sinners in need of forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and righteousness. Without a righted relationship with God, whatever sobriety mustered will be superficial and short-lived. The good news is that the Savior, Jesus Christ, has come to make a way possible for us to be brought into right standing with God. There is a Redeemer who offers real recovery! I believe this with all my heart.

What I’m not so sure of anymore are all the other factors involved in one person’s addiction from another’s. Everyone’s story is unique, and so everyone’s recovery journey will be unique. Making spiritual issues out of mental health issues is, at best, naive and, at worst, cruel.

It is not for us to judge. We don’t have all the information. We can’t read human hearts and ascertain motivations. Even if we did (have all the information) and could (read human hearts), what difference would it make? Our role is to simply come alongside broken people (as ones broken ourselves) and be conduits of God’s healing love.

I think that’s all He wants. I think that’s all that’s needed.

“The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable,
more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully
troubling than we could have imagined being able to tolerate
when we were young.” 
(James Hollis)

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