Do you struggle with an addiction? Whether it is physiologically based like alcoholism or other substance abuse, or something that is more a habit of the mind than of the body, do you feel unable to break free from a periodic regression back into it, no matter how hard you try?
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 NIV)
Addictions can, and usually do, destroy lives, yet they are but one additional dimension of the sin nature–all of which Christ can help us conquer. Yet, the way He heals is not necessarily what we would call “miraculous.” Although it can be if He so chooses, it is not always a “waving-of-the-magic-wand” type of moment, before which we desperately crave something and after which we feel no compulsion toward it at all. More commonly it is a gradual and sometimes difficult process, like much else in life.
It is a waking in the morning desiring the object of the addiction, a saying “no” to ourselves and working to get our minds off of it through prayer, the promises of Scripture, distraction, and whatever else works. It is a going to sleep that night having stayed away from it for one day, and beginning the next day exactly the same way, but maybe by craving it just a little less than the day before, and doing exactly the same thing, and again waking the next morning, and the next, and the next.
This also is, incidentally, how we overcome grief–one day at a time. And while we never quite forget, each day that passes we have built one new little block of time without the person–or addiction–that is no longer in our lives, until enough time has passed that we now have a life without it.
Jesus Himself counsels us to daily do what needs to be done, and not worry about the rest, leaving it in God’s hands:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV)
It is not our job to abstain from an addiction for a lifetime all at once–we must merely get through one day. And tomorrow, we must again get through one more day, until we find that, through the grace of God, we are living a life of freedom from enslavement to the thing that previously controlled us.
Yet, the curious thing is that it is difficult to stop doing something we aren’t convinced is either wrong or genuinely harmful to us. During my lifetime, I have had personal experience with four separate potentially addictive substances: pain medications, cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee. Of these, I am fully convinced three–the long term use of pain medication, cigarettes, and alcohol–are harmful to my health, and can honestly say I am not addicted to them because I have not smoked any cigarettes since I was twenty, drunk any alcohol since I was about thirty-four, or medicated pain with anything but asparin for at least several months–not long within the context of an entire life but in the time-frame of a potential addiction, evidence of life without.
I cannot, however, say the same about coffee. Like many other people, I have not come to the point where I am thoroughly convinced coffee is dangerous to my health–that an excessive consumption of it may be weakening my heart or giving me unsightly wrinkles I otherwise would not develop–and it is precisely because of that I continue to consume it. On and off I get it into my head that perhaps I should not be drinking it anymore and taper down or quit altogether for a time, but eventually find a reason to begin again. Which leads us to the conclusion that in order to persevere day after day, we must genuinely understand–without reservation–that our addiction (or potential addiction) is detrimental or wrong for ourselves, towards others, or both. In other words, that it is sin.
God does not always give release from addictions miraculously and we should, therefore, pursue the avenues afforded by medical attention and common sense. Yet neither should we discount prayer, because we are told to do so:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread [something good] from any father among you, will he give him a stone [something bad]? Or if he asks for a fish [something good], will he give him a serpent [something bad] instead of a fish?
Or if he asks for an egg [something good], will he offer him a scorpion [something bad]? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
This verse refers to imploring God for His Spirit, yet we are certainly commanded to make our needs known to Him:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
And we are elsewhere instructed:
“…The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
But, does it “work?” Does God truly ever miraculously answer prayer? Biblically, we know He does. Experientially–if you have come to know Him personally–you know He has, on multiple occasions and in multiple ways. In my own life, I cannot attribute my release from pain medication to anything but God’s activity in some shape or form.
I don’t know if if was addicted or not–I don’t know what the criteria, the threshold, is for a genuine addiction–but I had gotten to the point of taking pain medication (typically hydrocodone) pretty much every single night, and sometimes during the day. Mentally I had become convinced I could not sleep without it, and relied on it as a sedative. Yet I knew hydrocodone is addictive, and read about the rising epidemic of pain killer abuse. So I asked God to help me not be addicted–and the strangest thing happened. The last two nights I used it (as miserable as the experience was, I had to do it twice to make sure it wasn’t an anomaly), instead of sedating me as it always had it miserably kept me up all night. Since I sleep better without stimulants, I have not taken a pill since; it scared me into abrupt cessation.
So, do you struggle with an addiction? Can you break free from it? The honest answer is that if you really want to, yes, you can. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) But you must have genuinely come to see it as a sin in your life that is hindering you from the holiness that Christ desires in you. This understanding will enable you to implore Christ for release while simultaneously saying, “no” to your desire and walking the difficult road, one day at a time, until you find that you now have a life no longer enslaved by your previous addiction!
Be my Lord in all things and give me release from all addictions. Give me the wisdom to know–in practical, daily ways–how to get through one more day not doing that which is sin in my life. Help me recognize it as the enslaving evil that it is. Thank You, that through Your power I truly “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Amen.