There is no one I’d rather do life with more than my beloved wife Lori, but I’m not sure we would pass a standard compatibility test.
I might have my sights set on doing some work around the house over the weekend, and she is envisioning a trip to TJ Maxx or Detroit’s Eastern Market. I might be putting some special treats in the shopping cart at Kroger (for the family, of course!) and she is giving me that look which says, “Not today.”
Her and my ideas about spending money, entertainment, travel (she likes to camp!), retirement, etc. are often still poles apart after thirty-three years of marriage.
How much more have I discovered this in my relationship with God! His agenda and value system are seldom ours.
We want deliverance from a consuming, embarrassing, self-destructive habit, but God may have other plans. The things we want freedom from may be perfectly legitimate, but from God’s perspective, there may be more pressing issues demanding immediate attention.
So, I want to suggest something.
Could it be that sometimes (many times? most of the time?) God intentionally withholds healing from us? That he denies our request for a clean break from certain maladies, allowing these woes to haunt us for most—if not all—our lives? That God postpones complete deliverance from certain afflictions until we reach the other side? What’s more, that he does this for our good?
Could it be that God has a deeper and better recovery in store for us?
I know. Being able to not drink is heaven to an alcoholic (and everyone around him). Being able to abstain from heroin is glory for an opioid user (and all her loved ones).
But could it be that more important than being sober is having a contrite spirit? That being meek is better than being clean?
You might think it does not have to be either-or. Maybe you are right.
Then again, maybe not. At least not always.
Allow me to press a little further.
Maybe you don’t personally struggle with a drug and/or alcohol problem, but you have other issues.
Vanity. Selfishness. Prejudice. Greed. Anger. Judgmentalism. Self-righteousness (guilty!).
You love the Lord and may be an outstanding parent, spouse, congregant, and citizen.
But you have your hangups. You have made much progress, but like every human being, the journey has been fraught with ups and downs. Your relapses may not be as obvious or dramatic as that of a drug addict’s or alcoholic’s, but there are strongholds in your life that have not only adversely affected you but those you love.
And maybe that is, in part, by God’s design.
Your struggle is with your mouth. You can be quick to react and say things you later regret. You do not have control over your eating habits. You are a gossip. You are negative and ever complaining. Whatever the manifestations, your tongue has not been an effective instrument of righteousness.
Or maybe your problem is pornography. Gambling. Gaming. Nomophobia (fear of being without a mobile device). It could be a thousand other things.
You have sought God, been anointed by the elders of the church, stood on his Word, taken appropriate steps of action, etc. to seemingly little avail.
But maybe God has been up to something—saving you in ways you do not understand.
Total victory is not always good. In fact, for every person who can handle success, a hundred can handle failure.
Failure keeps us—all of us—on the ground. Low. Humble. And that is what is attractive to God.
I am not exalting failure. I am not excusing ungodly behavior. I am not minimizing the fallout of our mistakes. (Nor am I denying that substance use disorder is a medical and mental-health issue.)
What I am saying, however, is that there is a greater killer than booze or pills (or food, phones, and credit cards).
It is pride.
A haughty spirit is death. And the dangerous thing is that pride is hard to recognize, easy to catch, and ever lurching at our doorstep.
The worst thing that can happen to a person is that he succeeds before he is ready. The second worst thing is to experience a string of successes even when he is ready.
So, God has his ways of keeping us—all of us (including families of addicts . . . whatever the addiction)—from getting too comfortable and cocky.
I pray I do not sound insensitive or unsympathetic to those who have struggled for years and lost many battles. Nor am I making light of very grave—life and death—matters. All addiction is horrible . . . most especially drug and alcohol addiction.
More emphatically, I am not devaluing Christ’s salvation. What he offers is infinitely better and sweeter than we could ever imagine or hope for. Christ’s redemption, however, looks different for every person.
The reality is that mastery over smoking, masturbating, or cussing may never be completely realized no matter how valiant our efforts and sincere our faith. Our son or daughter may never find absolute freedom from using. The question is: Can we trust God to accomplish in us and those around us what needs to be changed in his time?
This brings me to my main point: Our priorities are often different (and most assuredly inferior) than God’s. Maybe more than anything else, we need to be broken.
It seems clear from Scripture (and life experience) that God wrecks us to save us. Our defeats and setbacks are the setting and opportunity for coming to grips with the painful recognition that we are utterly helpless without him. It is weakness—not strength, failure—not success, that connects us to God.
It generally takes defeat to break down the walls of denial. Only then can we get honest and receive his grace.
Brokenness and blessing go hand-in-hand.
Father Richard Rohr puts it bluntly: “Success has nothing–absolutely nothing–to teach you spiritually after age thirty. It just feels good. That’s all. Everything you learn at my age–in my seventies now–is by failure, humiliation, and suffering; things falling apart. Dissolution is the only thing that allows the soul to go to a deeper place.”
I want to be clear. God is not some sick, maniacal tyrant who likes to punish us and see us grovel in the dirt. He humbles us so that we can be happy. His purposes in our trials are to move us from independence and self-confidence to reliance upon him. God’s delay is not his judgment or chastisement. No! Christ paid the price for our sins: “It is finished!”
Maybe I have concerned myself with “things too wonderful for me.” I am just trying to make some sense out of things that seem so tragic and pointless. It is personal for me.
I believe that God is writing a story and that it is much bigger than simply me or you. God is liberating all creation from its “bondage to decay and bringing it into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you,
For my power is made perfect in weakness.’
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses,
in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Cor. 12:8-10)