Regret: to feel sad or disappointed over something
I have plenty of regrets.
Words said and unsaid. Deeds done and undone.
Some of my regrets affected several people. People that I love(d). Other regrets were more limited in their scope, impacting perhaps only myself.
One of my biggest regrets is over a newsletter I wrote several years ago entitled “Disease, Disorder, Decision?” I discussed how drug and alcohol addiction have disease and disorder components but is ultimately a decision—an individual’s freely made choice.
I deeply regret writing that piece.
I should have known better. After all, my life-long ministry has centered around helping those bound by mind-mood altering substances find freedom in Christ. For over twenty-five years—while I understood that addiction has many contributing factors—I held firmly to the conviction that addiction rests finally in a man or woman’s personal choice.
I received some flack for my expressed opinions but considered it “persecution for righteousness’ sake.”
How I came to this notion is not surprising. I’ve always been a good moralist—one who has divided the world into neat categories of right and wrong, good and bad. I’ve always prided myself in taking ownership, being a responsible person. I’m a recovering Pharisee. It all comes with the turf.
Truth be told, addicts can’t help themselves . . . literally. That’s why it’s called “addiction.” Dependence. Compulsion. Enslavement. Where a person may have some level of control and power of choice in the beginning or in the middle or in the final stages of their addiction, one can never know. Culpability is something only God can assess. And we’re not him.
Johnny was a young man who recently completed our program. He tragically lost his life to his arch enemy heroin last week. It had been a long road full of ups and downs for this wonderful, vibrant man so full of affection and joy.
I have no doubt that Johnny loved Jesus. Was he perfect? No. Did he have some obvious weaknesses? Who doesn’t!?
But he tried. He fought like a champion. Entered therapy. Went to groups. Did our program. Did other programs. Read his Bible. Participated in church. Prayed. Worshipped God.
Johnny died of a disease.
I don’t write this to condone addiction, to give some excuse or permission slip for people to use. Nor do I write this to discourage addicts or their families, suggesting that there is no way out for the user.
I write this as a call to compassion. Addiction is complex. It is moral, medical, mental. Psychological, sociological, spiritual. Bio-chemical, neurological, and systemic.
It is sin. And it is sickness.
We don’t know how much it is one thing versus another thing. Our role is to simply come alongside those beleaguered by this awful curse and lend whatever assistance we can . . . judgment free.
I also write this as a call to realism. I believe in miracles, but I also know that everyone’s journey is unique, and not every story this side of heaven ends as we wish. Some addicts seem to have minimal struggle in their quest for recovery. (They are a relatively small tribe of “lucky” ones.) For many others, the battle rages an entire lifetime. To that end, we may need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and others. I remember one of my professors in seminary saying, “Hope can be a dangerous thing.” Too much too soon can cause irreparable damage. Modesty in all things, and this includes hope.
I still believe that conversion to Christ makes a real and profound (and eternal!) difference in a person’s life. I have not veered from my confidence that the gospel is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
What has changed is my understanding of God’s deliverance. It doesn’t always look like what we had imagined or desired. That I can’t explain.
All I can do is trust that God knows what he is doing and somehow, someway, it all works out for good in the end.
I have to believe that.
P.S. Johnny, we will miss you. We do not say, “Good-bye” but, rather, “See you later.”