“I Used to Do Drugs”
SEPTEMBER 12, 2023
“I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”
Nobody ever mistook the late Mitch Hedberg for a prophet or preacher, but with this classic line from his standup act, he stumbled on something important for us to remember. As Christians, we have two stories to tell. And it’s important that we tell them both.
Story 1: I Used To Sin
This is the classic understanding of our testimony. “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” This is both true and the good-est of good news, right?
Story 2: I Still Sin
This is the story we often hold back. And why not – who wants to talk about their failures, especially when there’s this sorta unspoken understanding that we shouldn’t be failing in this way, or to this degree, anymore?
We hold back on this second story because we don’t want to be seen, to be found wanting, to be found naked and hiding in the garden again. Because we love God, we want to be a good ‘advertisement’ for Him. Well, God wants that, too, but He has a different ad campaign in mind.
In God’s plan, we show up fully forgiven, but not fully fixed (not yet).
Honestly, it’s not the plan I would choose. Nevertheless, God’s way accomplishes at least two big things…
First, us showing up ‘forgiven, but not fully fixed’ creates the opportunity for a “You, too?” conversation, that beautiful moment where, in our weakness, we can identify with unbelievers, mirroring how an incarnate Christ himself identified with all of humanity.
But it gets even better.
We Don’t Have to Hate Our Weakness
Showing up ‘forgiven, but not yet fixed’ means at least one additional thing: we no longer have to hate our flaws and weaknesses.
To illustrate what this means for us, let me share a scene from a film that I can’t recommend you watch (spoilers ahead)…
You Can Tell Everybody…
2019’s Rocketman is an unflinching biopic about Elton John. And while ultimately ending on a hopeful note, the camera doesn’t look away when it comes to his most self-destructive years.
Early in the film, we see a wide-eyed, elementary-age Elton pitifully ask his emotionally distant father, “When are you going to hug me?” which elicits a terse “Don’t be soft” in reply. From that point forward, we see Elton trying to cover that pain in various ways. But throughout, the ‘boy Elton’ shows up in scenes randomly, just sitting there. It’s an incredibly creative “Show, Don’t Tell’ touch illustrating that no matter what achievements Elton gained or how many people he slept with or what praise he won, this childhood wound still haunted him.
This ‘boy Elton’ is seen in the present time only by the adult version, but is never acknowledged. This culminates in the emotional turning point of the film when a desperate Elton, at the end of himself, finally acknowledges this personification of his wounded childhood. And in that moment, the childhood-self Elton turns to the grown Elton and asks, “When are you going to hug me?”
Fellow forgiven-but-still-flawed human believer… when are you going to stop hating your weaknesses and hug them?
You say you don’t like these shortcomings – of course, why would you? Any yet, it’s our weakness that originally signaled how badly we needed God’s grace.
It’s our weakness that reminds us we still need that same grace.
And it’s our weakness that allows us to speak on even ground to those who haven’t yet experienced that grace…
“Three different times I begged God to make me well again.
Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
A Gift For Our Father
I have a constitutional inability to throw away any drawing my kids bring me. I just can’t do it. And between you and me, some of them are really terrible. Little more than scribbles. But you know what? Those scribbles could not be more precious to me, not for their sake, but for the sake of the little person giving them to me – the little person who was (at least partially) made in my image.
So in that same way, I give God my best efforts, knowing they won’t make Him love me more.
I also bring God my worst – my daily sins and my persistent weaknesses – knowing they won’t make Him love me less.
And in that process, I try to remember there’s not as much distance between my best and my worst as I think there is.
You know what happens then? He uses it – all of it – demonstrating His power through my weakness.
To borrow the words of folk painter Howard Finster:
“I took the pieces you threw away
And put them togather [sic] by night and day.
Washed by rain, dried by sun
A million pieces all in one.”
Will you try giving God your best and bring Him your worst, too – your scribbles, your messy pieces? I promise that when you ask, “When are you going to hug me?”, the answer will never be anything other than a hug.
“I used to sin. I still do, but I used to, too.”
There’s more to the story, but amen to that part.