In my nearly thirty-five years of interviewing candidates for our program, one interview in particular stands out.
After a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries, I asked the young man on the other end of the line my standard question: “So, how can we help you? What do you want?”
His reply was unusually precise and succinct. “I want someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”
Love. Work. Hope.
As human beings, we need relationship and a sense of belonging as well as an optimism and confidence about the future.
It’s the second in the trilogy above that I want to comment more on briefly. Work.
We are meaning-seeking creatures. We need purpose, reason. Along with a task. Something to do. Something that matters.
We want to be useful.
I remember washing a vehicle of mine years ago when my oldest son Joshua was still a little boy. He had witnessed on many occasions his daddy happily spraying down and sudzing up our car. He wanted to chip in. To give me a hand.
I went to the store and bought him a special bucket and brush so that he could help me keep ole “Betsy” clean. Having a job made him feel important and worthwhile.
In the world of addiction, I do not think enough attention is given to this aspect of humanness.
Most of us would agree that there are many factors contributing to drug and alcohol abuse. Guilt. Shame. Resentment. Loneliness. A sense of alienation. Trauma. Loss. Bio-chemical imbalance. This is but a short list of the many factors behind addiction. It is complex.
That said, I believe one of the primary forces often behind addiction—either triggering and/or exacerbating it—has to do with unemployment. By this, I am not restricting my meaning to “without a job.” I am also including the idea of employment “without significance.” To be employed in work that makes little difference, work that lacks redemptive value, and work that falls short of the potentiality of who one is.
Fundamental to a flourishing life is contributing to the overall well-being of others in the unique ways one has been made. Life is about love, and good work is a primary means through which we can love others by being useful. Helpful.
We were made to work (six days out of seven according to the Ten Commandments!). Crafted for a divinely ordered assignment. Made ready to find pleasure in being of service and benefit to others.
When we are not living according to our design, we implode.
Barbara Brown Taylor notes in one of her books, “When people feel superfluous—when we are deprived of meaningful work, meaningful relationships, meaningful goals—when we cannot find a purpose big enough for our capabilities, then we frequently become destructive. Our destructiveness may be focused outward, resulting in crime and violence, or it may be focused inward, resulting in depression and addiction. Either way, the threat of meaninglessness is our primary motive for repentance, and salvation comes as we discover purpose for our lives.”
I remember having this conversation with an older man who graduated from our program.
Me: “You’ve had thirteen months to reflect on your addiction (a twenty plus-year heroin habit). What was driving that?”
Him: “My kids were all grown up, and I didn’t have a self. I didn’t have a place anymore. . . didn’t think I had a need for me.”
This man had to discover a new purpose, a new work, as he pursued healing in his life.
Recovery is just as much about “vocational re-alignment” (a phrase Theologian N.T. Wright coined) as it is improved emotional and mental well-being, improved relationships, and spiritual awakening. It is about helping men and women find their place in God’s story and live accordingly.
Embracing God’s call. Accepting responsibility. Living according to one’s necessity.
Joining with God in his mission of liberation and reconciliation.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.”