*”Addicted to God” is a chapter from my book, The Blind Writer: Finding Faith Beyond Our Christian Subculture. If you’d like to receive a FREE copy of The Blind Writer via eBook, simply subscribe to my blog at www.mattbayswriter.com, submit your email address, and you’ll receive an email for a FREE download for your Kindle, Nook, or other reading apparatus. You will NOT, however, receive any follow up emails advertising christian dating services, signups for The Voice, CNN updates, a request by George W. to take a political survey, or Facebook Quiz that wants to know what “non-human entity” you are. (Cheese, a potato, Craig Ferguson’s accent, the Air Force, or a trio of Bobbi Brown’s long-wear cream eyeshadow (limited edition). But if that’s right up your alley, you can find those clever little “who you are” fb quizzes in abundance right here. Knock yourself out!
While I was working in Flint, I came to understand what it meant to be addicted. Up until that point I had always thought about addiction and the trouncing of it sort of how I thought about weight loss; if you wanted it bad enough, you’d figure a way to seek, attack, and destroy. To me, it wasn’t a whole lot different than spring cleaning; just take a weekend, pull down the drapes, get in the corners and behind the refrigerator and come Monday, viola! Clean. I had been touched by addiction in that my father had struggled through alcoholism twice, but since I didn’t grow up with him, I didn’t see what it meant to actually be addicted.
I have a friend who says he’s addicted to porn. Says he thinks about it all the time. Says that when he’s doing good with porn (doing good not doing it) he usually turns to something else, like drinking, running or nail biting. He says he’ll pretty much do anything as long as there’s something to do. I understand that better than I’d like to. I’m real thankful that porn has never been an issue for me. Guess it just wasn’t my thing. But other things were my thing. Things just as damaging. Things that would get in my head, talk to me and call me to obsess about them. But it’s easier to talk about my friend’s garbage, ‘cause his addiction is porn and that’s real bad. Much worse than my garbage.
So while I was in Flint we started preaching different sermons and having different study groups and changing things around up there. And the next thing you know, there are recovering addicts all over the place. Some weren’t recovering at all; they were just plain ole addicts. And I know it’s stereotyping, but most addicts have a tattoo or three. I could usually spot the addicts in the crowd of our services because they had tattoos. I have a tattoo too. Hmmm. Lots of people have tattoos, if you know what I mean. Anyway, because all these recovering addicts started coming to our church, we started having recovery groups in our building. Some of the people that came to our groups were addicted to alcohol, some to OxyContin, some to sex, some to other stuff.
I remember feeling good about myself. And why shouldn’t I have? I was working at a church that addicts were coming to. It was a pastor’s dream; crazy people! So one day I thought, “You know, since they’re all meeting at our church, I should probably go see what the crazies are up to.” So I did.
I have not been a big fan of traditional small groups, in the past, for several reasons. One reason is that I was usually the one leading them – which is too much pressure. Secondly, we always seemed to start with a Bing Bang and then fizzle after a few weeks, sighting “busy schedules” as the excuse for poor attendance. Thirdly, I got real tired of trying to figure out why Paul said this or Jesus said that, or trying to figure out how I could “be a light to my co-workers this next week,” and then doing none of the things I said, especially since I worked at a church, which meant that all my co-workers already believed in God.
Well Saturday came and I attended my very first twelve-step meeting. I only knew three of the people in the group. John and Jan had been coming to our church and had well over ten years of sobriety. I also knew my wife, who had been attending for about six months, which I thought was a little weird since she didn’t have a drinking problem, a drug problem or a sex problem. But as I said, I wasn’t there for me; I was there to see how the crazies were doing.
The people in this group were not sharing about how they could fix people or live out what the Bible said they should do. Instead, they were focusing on themselves and their shortcomings. For one hour, as each person shared, uninterrupted, (another perk) they talked about what was broken in them. They talked about how some of the things they were doing were connected to things in their past that needed to be fixed. These were not whiners who were blaming people in their pasts for their present day actions. Instead they were taking responsibility for their own hurts but also for the hurt they had caused their children, parents, friends and lovers. When they got to me, I didn’t know what to say, (which is not like me at all) so they told me I could pass if I wanted. I wanted. I was afraid they’d see straight through me if I said, “Well, I guess I just need to share Christ more with people at work. I mean they’re already Christians, but, ya know, probably not real good ones.”
For the next year and a half I did not miss that twelve-step meeting. I started to understand what addiction was; a physical or emotional dependence on something which is harmful to a person’s physical or mental health. I began to see myself as some sort of pre-addict nominee in our group, no longer a voyeur of “the crazies,” but actually “a crazy” myself. Not only that, but I began to see the crazies as bona fide contributing members of society. I no longer saw them (us) as spiritual mascots, hailed as sinners saved by grace, but never allowed to teach a class in church or be taken too seriously when it came to spiritual matters. As it turned out, one of our twelve-steppers who was a recovering sex addict became an elder at our church. I know, wild huh? I’m not trying to make a point here. Okay…yes I am. And the point is that Jesus knew His love could change people. And that when they started to get it – life, God, freedom, they could live with the new DNA He gave them at the cross, and could become new creations. Not mascots. Mentors.
For the first time in my life I began learning how to assess what was wrong with me. Before this I had always thought I was perfect. I’d say I wasn’t perfect but deep down inside I thought I was. That’s the thing about waking up to your life – you start to realize that you have problems. “Me? I have problems? How did that happen?” Then the tough part kicks in, which is realizing just how much your problems are negatively affecting your life. And then realizing that you have been “coping” with your problems by “using” something. As Christians, we are supposed to be “using” God, right? Well, this is where I say, “WRONG!” I’ll explain in a minute.
Okay, so here’s how addiction works. (It’s actually much more complicated than I am about to explain but I’m making a larger point here.) First, you have a problem; a real problem. That problem is usually a wound that stems from your childhood; something that happened to you, or perhaps a lie that you believed about yourself. Some of us were abused; some of us were neglected, teased, hurt, etc. This unhealed wound has a hold on us. As children we learn to ignore the wound, which is called denial. Denial, in my opinion, is not a bad thing at all. It gets a bad rap but in many cases it’s the only thing that may have kept us from going off the deep end and potentially taking our own lives.
So denial, at least for a time, exists to keep us safe. It is impossible for us, as children, to sort through the pain we incurred during our formative years. But when we are adults, and when we are ready, that all changes. For me, it was in my late twenties when things began to surface. My issues began to unearth themselves like fossilized creatures from my childhood. They didn’t just unearth themselves whole. It was like erosion – little by little.
Okay, let me debrief for a second here:
- I have a problem; a core wound.
- As a child, I use denial to forget it and keep me safe.
- At some point, the denial stops working and the wound resurfaces.
- As a very natural response, I begin to find ways to ease the pain of the resurfacing wound; substances, food, shopping, drugs…God?
- My addiction begins when I use ANY of these things to ease the pain of my wound or to keep me from dealing with it.
Generally people turn to alcohol, drugs, or sex to ease their pain. But I’m not talking about these coping methods. I want to focus on how Christians have used God to numb the emptiness created by these wounds, and how this has become a serious problem.
How could someone “use” God? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Mmmmm, sort of. When our wound begins to resurface, part of the process of our healing is to investigate the wound and discover how it affected, and is still affecting our lives. Christians are very good at using God the way someone else might use food. They use Him to numb out, refusing to acknowledge the pain of their wound. I did this for years. If I was hurting, the answer was to get through it. As a Christian man, that meant praying, going to church, not thinking about the pain, but instead focusing on the good things in life. I know this can be confusing because these are all things God calls us to do.
The problem with using God is, are we really using God, or are we just trying to find a quick solution to the pain and slapping God’s name all over it? Just because we say “I’m trusting God,” does not make it true.
I have this picture in my head of a guy who’s going through life, trying his best to live well. Yet inside he is sad and questioning whether or not he’s enough. He lies in bed at night feeling empty, lonely, depressed, trying to convince himself that it will pass. Let’s say he is one of those guys who is respected as a spiritual leader because he knows the scriptures of the Bible well enough and has been a Christian for 30 years. But the problem is, his marriage is not what it should be, he is finding himself angry a lot, and he feels marginalized by co-workers and/or family members. Things are not going well for this guy yet he continues to worship God each weekend, say his prayers, and buy up books about being a good dad, husband, and leader. This guy is doing everything right but still feels unsettled and unhappy.
So what’s going on here? There’s God, God, God in his life. He has church services, books, worship, and prayer, but they are not working. Is it possible that he is using, not crack cocaine, but God? Is it possible for a person to be addicted to God? Some use alcohol, but I would say others use church services, Bible reading, and yes, even the almighty God.
Why? Partly because we don’t know any better. It is how we’ve learned to survive. But it may be time to finally acknowledge our wounds, and then, to let God take us on the powerful journey of healing these wounds. Jesus went to the cross knowing exactly what it cost Him. He faced the suffering and acknowledged His wounds. He wasn’t hanging on the cross praying, “All things work together for the good.” Instead, He reserved that scripture for after He was healed. While He was on the cross He said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He was hurting and wanted to know why God had let this happen to Him.
I know someone who has spent years spouting scriptures, going to church, helping people, etc. This person is exceptional in a hundred different ways, but he can’t seem to figure out why his wife left him and why his kids don’t really want much to do with him. He is NOT a jerk either. He’s actually a great guy although his spirituality has always rubbed me the wrong way. Now understand that I’m not trying to sit in judgment on this guy. Not at all. I think he’s in pain. He has all these easy answers to some really difficult questions. “I just need to trust God. He really is all I need. I’m going to continue to lean on Him.” But he continues to be sad. He continues to feel amiss inside. And every time the pain of his wound surfaces, he runs to God like an alcoholic runs to the bottle. And while I know that may sound good, it could be exactly what is keeping him from healing his core wounds.
I read a book by: Lynn Hybels called, “Good Girls Don’t Change the World.” I agree with her. In this book she talks about being 39 and completely lost. She says she spent her thirty ninth year on a sabbatical from God. She sat in her room, day after day, sitting in her chair staring out the window. She wanted nothing to do with God because all He’d ever wanted from her (she thought) was for her to be “good.” So she was. She was the best. She was quite the Christian woman; meek, soft spoken, gave people all they wanted and more, as she quietly died inside. She thought God was asking her to be good. But He wasn’t. He was asking her to be Lynn. Lynn was at a fork in the road. She could have gone on as usual, shoved the pain deep down inside until she couldn’t feel it at all; until she believed that it must not be there. But she didn’t. She told God off, told Him to take a hike, and sat in her chair. And then after months she decided to let Him back in on one condition; that He would not return to her the same as before. She was willing to open herself again but only if He came as the God formerly known as “god.” And that the extent of His wishes for her would involve a little more than just asking her to be good. Especially because she wasn’t good; she was Lynn.
I have to tell you, ten years ago if someone had told me I was addicted to God, I would’ve been proud. I would’ve thought it meant I was in the center of His will. I would’ve thought, “Right, and you’re not. That’s why I’m going to heaven, Loser.” But at 28, when my wound started resurfacing, I did the “God is my all in all” thing for about two or three years, but to no avail. I read and prayed and praised and spiritualized, and nothing. I mean sure, I learned some stuff about God, but the pain was still there; killing me inside. My mentor, Jan, from twelve-step, finally said this to me about all my praying and Bible reading and whatnot. She said, “So how’s that working for you?”
“It’s not,” I told her. So I decided to try something else. And that something was to let God take me on the wonderful, painful journey of facing my wounds, instead of “using” Him to distract me from them.
I started participating in my twelve step meetings and began to let our group know how I really felt on the inside. And you know what they said every week?
“Keep coming back, Matt.”
And I did. Every week I went. I stopped talking so much about how good God was and instead spent time talking about my hurts.
I finally asked God to show me what to do.
And together, I felt like we got down on the ground in the woods with our fossil tools and brushed away the dirt covering my fossilized wound. I can picture Him on the ground with me; one hand picking at the hard earth, the other holding something to brush away the dirt. He would dig and then brush the excess dirt away. And then dig some more, and then brush more dirt away. Until finally He would begin to reveal a little bit more of the preserved remains of my wound. And pausing to get a closer look, He’d shake His head at it, because He would know that it never should have happened. And then He’d let me tell Him about it, listening intently as I would rant and rave to Him about how it wasn’t fair. And then I’d be mad at Him for allowing it to happen to me. He’d never chastise me for being mad, and definitely not say, “I’ll work it out for the good,” as if that scripture was some kind of spiritual loophole for the nightmare I had lived with. Instead, He would be sad about it. He would tell me He was sorry for the pain I had carried all these years.
He would make sure I knew that when I was ready, He would do something about it. He would carry out the process of healing me and making me whole.
And then He would show me how to live with Him. He’d show me the difference between living with Him and using Him. Never in a hurry, He’d take all the time I needed, possibly a lifetime. But knowing I wouldn’t have to be “over it,” that I wouldn’t have to be… anything but who I am, is what would keep me moving forward, and what would finally have me replacing the pain, with Him, for the first time.