I learn so much by working with Christian men struggling to get free of addictions. They experience in a titanic conflict what we all experience to a lesser degree. This gives clarity to many issues in the Christian life. Here’s one: Most of the men are so glad that Jesus is helping them gain freedom from the addiction that they simply camp out in what I call the “Neutral Zone.” This never works!
Some former addicts heroically fight off all desire to go back to Satan’s dominion over them represented by the addiction, but they seem to make no real attempt to go forward into the radically new way of life that Jesus offers us. They barred the door to the Big Bad Wolf on the outside, but typically fail to see that there is another wolf just as dangerous on the inside. They have “unplugged” their passionate attachment to the addiction (not necessarily other things of the world), but they have not reattached their passion to Christ. This effectively leaves Self in control—the other wolf!
This is a tragic mistake for two reasons:
1) They need a passionate attachment to Christ or they will inevitably drift back into their addiction once they leave us and are no longer coddled and cajoled by us to stay within the boundaries of the program.
2) They have a golden opportunity set before them to begin living in radical abandonment and passionate pursuit of Someone who is far superior to any created thing, Someone who can make them deliriously joyful in a way no substance ever could. Then they won’t need a program to stay free. They will be “addicted” to Jesus. Loving Jesus is the greatest passion anyone could ever hope to discover!
I try to warn them that one of the great dangers of the Neutral Zone is boredom. You have Satan (represented by the addiction) shut out, so there is a lot less chaos, but without Jesus brought fully in, there is a lot less excitement. Beloved, we were never meant for boredom!
These former addicts are men who should know this. They have lived for their passion (the substance) in reckless, radical pursuit of the dream it represented. They risked their lives, were willing to lose all worldly goods, even the respect of their families and former friends. They risked imprisonment, even death for their “god.” That’s just the kind of devotion that Jesus is looking for!
You would think that they would all eagerly transfer that hard-won previous training in passion-based living to Jesus, and use it in hot pursuit of the only sure provider of everlasting “ecstasy” and earthly fulfillment. Some do, but not all by any means.
By the way, even the still-addicted ones have something to show us. They are a full-color portrait of what radical living can look like, if you have “a god” you are totally devoted to pursuing! What fuels their passion for the substance is a deep-seated pain that needs mending—an inner angst or emptiness that they desperately want soothed, combined with the recognition that (at least for the duration of the “high”) their substance of choice makes them feel fully alive. Of course it never lasts and dooms them to destruction once the hook goes in deep enough, but don’t we all have something that needs deep mending?
Jesus is my “substance of choice”: He mends me, fills me and sends me higher into peace and joy than anything else I’ve ever found! Let’s go for the good addiction!
For more on overcoming addictions see No More Idols!