So, you did it again, huh? You promised you wouldn't, but you did.
What was it? Did you wake up still drunk wondering how you got home? Was it gambling? Was it another night alone with the computer? Maybe you weren’t alone, maybe you were with him again? Was it drugs? Was it rage let loose on your family because they aren't as committed to God as you are and you just couldn't hold it in one second longer?
Is another promise to change really going to turn out any different? Look where all your promises got you.
You're too ashamed to get help. And God… well, you prayed, even begged him to take away your thorn in the flesh, but that obviously didn't make much difference.
What would you say if I told you that your addiction is actually a gift from God? What if it's actually the key to your transformation?
This is the last post in a series that started with Drunk Believers, in which I wrote about how we trade the ultimate reality of union with God for artificial transcendence via our addictions. Living sober means embracing reality, and embracing reality means welcoming the healing presence of the Spirit within the very pain that sent us to our lesser spirits for relief. In Pain is Your Friend we looked at how the Spirit can make us more compassionate when we decide to redeem the pain instead of run from it. In Beauty from Brutality I wrote about embracing pain as a catalyst for creative expression. In this final post, we’ll look at the big one, the Grand Poobah, transformation.
How can redeeming our pain instead of running from it help us see lasting change in our lives?
It starts with correctly identifying our problem.
We’ve seen that pain isn't the problem. In fact, some of the worst pain in our lives comes from avoiding the pain that's already there. That's how we ended up with our addictions in the first place.
Our addictions aren't the problem. Sure they cause problems, but they aren't the problem.
The real problem is that we are creatures made for union with God who are suffering in self-imposed isolation.
Tragedy or Transcendence
We are broken people in a withered world at war with the very source of our healing. It's tragic. The problem at the root of all our problems has actually been solved, but we reject the solution at every turn.
We have unlimited access to the source of all life, goodness and peace. God designed us to live filled with himself, like plants filled with water, and his Spirit waits for us to drink him in. Yeah, things were a bit dicey there for a while after the fall. God’s image walked out on him and we went to war. Living independently left us wilted and in need of transformation, but we’ve been reunited by God’s grace.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19
There is no greater reconciliation than God and man as one. Jesus is the reunion of creation with creator.
So many of us live like we’re still at war with God, but the simple fact is the war is over. We can come home and it will be like we never left.
Jesus said, “…the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Anyone who wants in can be a part of this body at peace with God, filled with the Spirit.
The transcendence we long for is ours if we would only believe it. Remember, Jesus told the Father, “…the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:22-23).
It really is finished. We can get on with living in union with God the way we were supposed to. Get that right and transformation is the natural consequence, just like parched plants stand up straight when they’re watered. God fixed the mother of all problems, and he did it with no help from us. You'd think we’d rejoice and run to him for healing, but we don't.
Because turning to God for help requires that we accept our helplessness. Rather than seeing his salvation as a peace offering, we see it as an assault on our pride. We desperately want to save ourselves, and that desire is at the heart of every addiction from booze to religion. That's why pagans and religious people alike both despise grace.
In our self-imposed alienation from God we think it's up to us to rise above our suffering or sin. We think we can control when and where we get relief. We look for transcendence in the next bottle, the next achievement, the next sexual encounter, the next purchase, the next distraction, the next hit or even the next commitment to holiness. We become addicted to seeking the transcendent on our own terms and our lives become unmanageable.
Paradoxically, that is the gift of addiction.
Remember, sobriety is simply embracing reality, and nothing shoves painful reality in our faces like addiction. Addiction gets worse the more we try to manage it. It gets stronger and ratchets up the pain until it's unavoidable.
Above all the lies we tell ourselves, addiction screams the truth, “You are not in control!”
Some fight it until they are forced to finally face the reality of their powerlessness in death, but not the addicts at rock bottom. The burned out self-saviors get to realize the truth of our weakness before we die. Our broken lives are proof that we can't escape pain and we sure as hell can’t fix ourselves.
Follow the trail of wreckage from all our futile efforts and it will lead to a loving God who offers what has always been ours… himself… the water that quenches the raging addict’s thirst… the transcendence we looked for everywhere else when he was with us the whole time.
His Spirit and his scriptures assure us that he is the only one truly in control, and that is not something to be feared or fought. In his sovereignty, he promises to fill us with his life, to cause us to grow and to work all things together for good.
Yes, our addictions wreck us, but in God’s hands, we're wrecked for life.
So, come. Come drunk, hungover or high. Come angry. Come self-righteous. Come scared and ashamed. Come hurting. Come lonely.
Don't make any more promises you know you can't keep, just come.
You won't have to go far because he's right there with you. All it takes is a nod in his direction or an open hand and the tears will flow out as his Spirit flows in.
You can stop trying to perfect yourself because Jesus has given you the gift of his perfection to call your own. You can rest in his ever-present care. You can stop running from your pain and instead enter into it to find that pain is the place where you will encounter God in the most profound ways.
Come to him and transformation will happen in his presence.
All you have to do is trust him.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6
Steve Brown taught me something about that verse that has been a huge comfort and source of hope for me. It’s essentially this: God finishes what he starts.
If you’ve opened yourself to the presence of God (and based on what I’ve written, there’s really no good reason not to), if God has done anything at all in your life, the very fact of its beginning is the promise of its completion.
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature..." – 2 Peter 1:3-4
Transformation is simply a side benefit of walking in union with God. It will happen slowly, little by little as you dare to accept the Spirit’s invitation to trade the pain of not changing for the lesser pain of changing, but it will happen. He will bring others to help you, so be on the lookout for them. But in the end, transformation, like transcendence, is a gift, not an achievement.
“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:2