During the last four years, I have spent most days learning how I can come alongside people who have found themselves addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Although, I had my days of partying, and fairly hard at that, by the grace of God, when He set me free of that lifestyle, I never looked back.
But because of that, I often found myself in either one of two camps of thinking: I either thought that Jesus can just heal their addiction and if the person had enough faith to believe, the need for the drugs/alcohol would be taken away or I couldn’t understand how they could get addicted in the first place.
Although I enjoyed at times going out with friends for drinks, any drug I took never really impressed me enough to want to do it everyday. In fact, when I was on the really heavy stuff after a surgery, I wanted to switch to extra strength Tylenol as quick as I could.
But God has done a few things in my life that I want to share with you today, especially to those of you who keep those in active addiction or recovery at arms length simply because you don’t understand. I too have been there, some days can still find myself there, and therefore can completely empathize with you. But because I have heard story after story of why people use drugs, read books on it, watched documentaries, and most importantly prayed and sought the Lord on it, I have a few thoughts for you and me (I’m still preaching to myself) about how we can all better respond to this growing epidemic that is leaving a line of bodies in its tracks.
Side note: To those of you who are reading this that are in active addiction (and I hope you are reading this) and those who are walking in recovery, I pray this article helps to build bridges for you to have people come along side of you. I am a cheerleader for you and with God’s grace, an advocate for you. So if I get something wrong, I hope you know it’s not intentionally, but I am always open and willing to learn. Teach me what I need to know.
Now, to those of you who, like me have looked at an addict and thought…”Why? Why would you do such a thing to your body? Why would you do this to your friends, family, loved ones? I don’t understand why?” I hope this encourages you and helps you to maybe consider seeing things from a difference perspective.
I start by saying this to you. The reason why an addict uses has nothing to do with you and everything to do with you.
If you’ll stick with me, I promise you I’ll explain why that is true.
Last week, I told you in this blog post about my friend Sherry. Sherry is just one of many women in my life who are recovering from addiction. Each one of them have their own struggles to overcome. But just as I told you about Sherry, I believe these people to be some of the bravest people I know. They have chosen to daily let go of a lifestyle that had a huge grip on them to follow Jesus in sobriety. They are re-inventing themselves through the identity that He has given them.
As I have walked with them, God has revealed some things about me that has helped me to relate. One is that I too am an addict. No, I’ve never needed to go to rehab for drugs or alcohol, but I have found myself addicted to other things. Years ago, I was addicted to shopping. Any chance I got, I wanted to go shopping and purchase the latest and greatest finds. I loved it. The thrill of the spending, I felt powerful being able to buy things I wanted but just like an addict the aftermath of it left me feeling ashamed, empty, and powerless.
I have learned that I am also in recovery from being an approval addict. I find myself on many occasions seeking and needing the approval of others. Though God has brought me a long way on this, I still find myself refreshing Facebook to see who “liked”, commented, or shared my post. I still check to see how many people read my blog and I still pray every time that I write only for God and not to tickle the ears of the people reading.
Over the past few years I battled with another form of addiction, sugar. There were times where I would dream about it and think about where I could get my next “sugar fix.” Sugar is cheap and easy to find, it was also easy to hide because I could purchase it, consume it, and no one would know otherwise. The evidence was easy to cover up and it didn’t alter my state for anyone to know what I had done.
I think if each of us took a moment to think about those things in our lives that we crave outside of the Word of God. Those things that we need, that we have to have, that we cannot get enough of…even things that may seem to be healthy, we’ll realize it’s not difficult for us to be addicted to something. And from these experiences I learned and hopefully you can too, empathy. Or let me say it this way, compassion.
Romans 9:15 (ESV) says, this… For he (God) says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
What does it mean to have compassion? It means to have sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Synonyms are pity, sympathy, empathy, fellow, feeling, care, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity.
When you feel these things for someone it opens your heart up to them, it helps you get into their shoes, and it helps us to love them right where they are at.
To be honest with you…I don’t care which camp you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that addiction is a sin, a disease, mental health issue, or genetics. God doesn’t make exceptions to the rule. We are to love regardless. Regardless of why the person has gotten caught in the addiction.
And to love people, sometimes you have to do it the same way Jesus did it for us, sacrificially. It’s easy to love someone you believe is doing everything the way you think they should. It’s not so easy when they aren’t.
John 15:13 says “No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
When we have compassion on them just has our Father had compassion on us, we can love people sacrificially.
But this is where we have failed. Instead of having mercy and compassion on our sick, we condemn them. Instead of loving them we shun them. I can’t tell you how many people over the last four years I have heard tell me that a local church told them they were no longer welcome there. They were told to take their tattooed bodies somewhere else. They felt judged and not loved.
Some of you are thinking…well, maybe they felt that because of the way they were dressed, they shouldn’t have worn that to church. Or maybe, you are coming up with a rebuttal to their tattoos, or their life style or something else, but I plead with you. Please STOP. Just stop.
For some of us that way of life is foreign. It’s such an extreme from what we believe it’s hard for us to understand. Stop trying to understand it. You can’t. You’ve never been there. You don’t understand the hurt they have felt, you can’t get to a place to make it make sense. This is not compassion, it’s the complete opposite.
With compassion you respond with “I’m sorry this has happened to you.” You sit and you listen. You don’t pass judgement off of your own experiences. You listen to hear theirs. You open your heart to hear what they have to say and what may be behind what they are saying.
Because there is more to people than the mask that they put on. I cannot repeat that enough. We all have hurts, we all have wounds. We all have learned how to cope with them differently. If you listen to recovered and healing or healed addicts enough, you will hear a common thread.
“I used to cover up my pain. I used to heal the wounds in my heart. I used because I knew no other way to cope with the hurt.”
Do you hear that folks. These are our wounded. Our heartsick. Our hurting. And they need us to love them, to have compassion on them, to be in community with them.
A couple of weeks ago Crossroads, our church in Cincinnati, showed this video and it opened up my eyes to a whole new important piece in the addiction puzzle.
Take a moment to watch this.
How’s that for a wake-up call Church? What people need is community, and a compassionate one at that.
They need a safe place to be them with all their baggage, and their hurts, and their pain. They need community who will love them, encourage them, pray with them and lift them up even when they stumble. If I have learned anything from my addicted friends it is this…they will relapse. And sometimes when you absolutely least expect it. For sometimes no reason at all. It can be frustrating and challenging.But we need to be like the father of the Prodigal Son. We need to have our arms wide open waitingon them to come home.
Now, I know that there are some of you arguing all of this as you read because your thinking…I did that. I did that and they overdosed. I did that and they are still using. I did that and all I got was hurt.
Please hear me on this, I get it. I didn’t say this was easy. But I want to say this as gently and as lovingly as I can (because I know some of you are sweet Mamas who have lost their loved ones or may feel like you are going to)… right now you can’t love them the way they need to be loved. Right now, you need healing. You are hurting.
And in that scenario, “Hurt people only hurt people.”
You will do more damage than you will do good because you are angry. What you want them to do, they did not do. You are angry at them. You may even be angry at God. You could even be angry at you.
This brings me to the point I was making above, the reason why they use has nothing to do with you or may have everything to do with you.
So to help us all, no matter what situation you are in with the person in addiction in your life, I have some steps for you to consider.
First, you need to start to forgive them. Forgive the person for not living up to your expectations. For harming themselves and the people around them. For not loving you the way you needed to be loved, for whatever transpired between you two. I don’t know and can’t list every scenario here. You know the situation. You know the why. Your job now is to start the process of forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” You being bound up in unforgiveness, anger, and bitterness does nothing to help them. In fact, it only gives more power to the enemy to defeat you and them and anyone else in your life it has affected.
Second, you need to forgive God. He is a big boy. He can take whatever offense you may have brought before Him. You may blame Him for the addiction. You may blame him for their recklessness. You may blame him for their death. But you must remember that we have free will, each and every one of us. When someone willingly subjects themselves to drug and alcohol abuse, they are exercising that free will. No one can stop them, but them. Their choice to begin is just as much their choice to end it. I don’t like it anymore than you do but it is true. So I ask you to consider, letting God off the hook for your own sake. He is still God, on the throne, seated high and exalted. Your not forgiving Him does not stop Him from being who He is. It hurts you more than it does Him. So forgive Him so that you can move on and be free of the bitterness and anger you are holding on to.
Third, forgive you. I don’t know what you have done in your past and you may or may not play a role in why the person is using right now. You may be the perpetrator of their wounds or you may not have anything to do with it, but realize you are powerless. You may have enabled them to use again. Whatever the situation is, again, you need to forgive yourself.
Jesus Christ died on a cross, sacrificially, for each of us so that we may be set free from all of our sins. I’ve heard it said before, When you keep unforgiveness in your heart, you put yourself in a cage and hold onto the key.” it’s self-deprecation and again it helps no one move forward in this situation.
What a person in active addiction or walking through recovery needs is YOU. You having compassion for them, loving them, encouraging them, praying for them, and speaking truth to them.
So start this process with you. Seek forgiveness. Break yourself free from your pain so that you can receive the healing you need.
Why? Because healed people can help heal people. People who are healed, forgiven, loved and full of compassion freely give what they have recived.
That is the greatest gift you can give to someone in addiction. A healed you.
Now that we have gotten to the end of this post I feel like there is more that I need to share to equip you to love those in addiction and recovery well. So, with that, we’ll continue this topic next week.
Join me when we’ll start to talk about how you love an addict so that you are not enabling them but rather empowering them to take ownership of their addiction in the hopes of them moving forward.
P.S. If you are ready to get help, please contact me or The Link of Cullman County. We are happy to help you get where you need to be to start your journey to sobriety. If you are not in Cullman,AL please call your local church, non-profit, recovery, AA, ALNON to get help.
I know I hit on some things in this post that people are going to want to talk about, so please comment below on and let’s model compassion for each other as we seek God to help us love those people in active addiction and recovery around us.