By / Mar 31

I recently celebrated one year of sobriety from alcohol — a goal I’d been working to accomplish for several years. I’d felt I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol since the first time I took a sip as a teenager, and I often thought of my grandfather, who died of liver disease related to alcoholism. I knew it was unhealthy for my body, my choices, and my faith. It was a barrier in my relationship with God. Rather than water and refresh my heart, it dried it up or drowned it out. 

To quit a substance one is physically or mentally addicted to is no small feat, and the support of friends, family, and community can make all the difference. There are likely more people in your life struggling with addiction than you realize. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 25% of people 18 and over regularly engage in binge drinking. During COVID-19 specifically, excessive drinking increased by 21% overall.  

The truth is, addiction doesn’t always present itself in stereotypical ways. Women, especially, are often high-functioning and successful, masterfully hiding their strongholds behind the highlight reels of social media and accomplishments. Interestingly, alcohol consumption among women rose by 41% since March 2020, according to a Harvard health study

An addiction of any kind is toxic to the body and the soul, and it’s important to know how you can best encourage friends who are struggling. As for me, the process was a journey. After years of asking the Lord to help me quit drinking, I was finally able to do it, knowing that I had been sinful in so many ways with my alcohol consumption. The Bible provides countless warnings about the substance. For example, Ephesians 5:18 states: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” What I recognized, finally, was that one cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit when one is filled with wine. They are like oil and water — unable to mix — and that is one of the best reasons I found to finally walk away. 

This year, I am most grateful for my sobriety and how it allows my faith to flourish and my family to take priority. I am thankful to be rid of mental games and broken promises, feelings of rampant hypocrisy and powerlessness. As 2 Corinthians reminds us, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s only in the strength of the Father and the beautiful community he surrounded me with that I was able to overcome this stronghold. 

Helping a friend with alcohol addiction 

Based on my recent experience, I want to suggest five things you can do to help a friend or family member struggling with non-life-threatening and non-life-altering alcohol addiction:

1. Offer to be a safe place to talk. One of the hardest things about early sobriety is the fear that you will fail and look weak or irresponsible. It’s important that your friend knows you will not berate them if they slip up. A safe relationship opens the door for honest conservation whenever it’s needed. The moment someone feels they may be shamed, they will probably close off. The more vulnerable someone can be in a community, the more likely they are to succeed in the end. 

2. Invite them into community. God has designed us for relationships, and people need community to walk in sobriety. That’s part of the power of Alcoholics Anonymous; it’s a band of men and women who stick together through thick and thin. So, it’s vital that you don’t alienate your friend who is struggling with alcohol addiction. One of the ways you can be most supportive is by inviting them into community. Surround them with the safety of friendship in Christ. Be willing to have a mindset focused on others and how you can best serve your friend as she seeks to overcome her dependence on alcohol by the grace of God. 

3. Pray for them diligently. When someone is giving up an addiction, spiritual warfare is in full force. I used to say that the only thing Satan had to do to keep me away from God was keep a drink in my hand. The enemy doesn’t want your friend to give up alcohol. That’s why we must pray regularly for their strength and ability to overcome. Understand that sobriety is a journey and it’s not always a one-and-done situation. Sometimes people start again and again before it sticks. Never give up on your friend, and be there for then every time they fall. The consistent support is like a safety net that helps them feel they can get up again. 

4. Educate yourself. When you understand addiction, you can be a better support for someone. Sometimes the well-intentioned help by Christians fails to take into account the holistic nature of every individual. There are many sobriety memoirs out there that can help you get into the mind of a person struggling with alcohol. Read the stories of other people and study up on science behind an addicted brain. It can be easy to wonder why someone can’t just “stop drinking,” but it’s usually not that simple. Our brains are actually re-wired when they become addicted to alcohol, so quitting is far more difficult than you can imagine. In addition, know what God’s Word says about addiction, forgiveness, and walking in Christ. 

A solidly supportive friend or family member can be what it takes for someone to overcome their addiction. Without a community to help fuel them, it’s easy for someone to fall into isolation and despair regarding their addiction. Your job as a friend and as a Christian is vital, and I encourage you to take it seriously. God has put you into someone’s life for such a time as this. Be the vessel that they need to to get to the other side. I can tell you from experience that the freedom awaiting them is priceless. 

By / Dec 13

Most people look at me and see a cliché soccer mom from the suburbs trying to keep all the plates spinning: raising five kids, looking for that perfect Pinterest Instant Pot recipe that everyone will enjoy, racing to basketball games while practicing spelling words in the car, all while trying to squeeze in a weekly — OK, let’s be honest, monthly — date night with my husband. It’s the daily grind filled with small moments of joy, stress, pain, grief, and celebrations that many American families experience.  

What people would be surprised to learn is that my life didn’t always look so idyllic. I grew up in the 80s, amid the divorce boom. Every parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle I knew was divorced. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad, and overall, in addition to divorce, I experienced addiction, abandonment, abuse, and general dysfunction throughout my childhood. These experiences gave me the desire to break the generational cycle of dysfunction in my own life.  

My childhood also gave me great empathy for those who have endured similar struggles. It opened my eyes to ways in which the church supports its flock — like the way Jesus ministered to the woman at the well. Unfortunately, my experience of growing up with great instability and dysfunction has also shown me ways in which the church has room for growth. I have seen the church respond with both empathy and judgment, and it has caused me to pause and ask myself, “In what ways are we doing well, and in what ways can we do better?”

Growing and thriving

There are many ways in which the church is caring well for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction. In past generations, some in the church perpetuated the notion that Christians must “have it all together.” Believers succumbed to an underlying pressure to look, act, and be perfect. This perfection drove many believers to live secret lives of sin and shame — to hide their addictions to pornography, drugs, sex, food, and alcohol, among others. And struggles with pride, anger, depression, mental illness, and more were pushed below the surface. When they perceived they could not confront their sin in a safe and healthy place, they fed their sins until they were bloated with depravity and buried under a heap of guilt.

Today, I see a shift. The church is actively acknowledging that we — Christians included — are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Preachers used to preach it from the pulpit, but now local churches are putting Scripture into action by providing a welcome place where people can process their sin, pain, and grief through programs like Celebrate Recovery, GriefShare, DivorceCare, and other local, faith-based recovery groups.  

I also see a shedding of the stoic exterior once worn by the baby boomers and Generation X. And I believe we have the millennials and Generation Z to thank for that. While the older generations tend to conceal their emotions, the younger generations revel in vulnerability and authenticity. They view openness and sharing their feelings as a strength, not a weakness. They are creating a culture of open dialogue through life groups, discipleship, and mentors, which is helping everyone within the church feel less ashamed and more apt to confess their emotional struggles, familial baggage, mental health issues, and spiritual doubts and confusion. This mentality of vulnerability — along with the ability to acknowledge one’s sin—cultivates a field ripe for more authentic relationships with Jesus and with each other.

Room for improvement

But there is still so much the church can do to improve how it cares for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and overall dysfunction.  

First, we must realize that those in church leadership are not above these issues. We must provide safeguards and accountability for our staff, elders, deacons, teachers, and the entire church body (because anyone who steps foot in the church building becomes a leader in some form or fashion). These safety measures can come in the form of accountability partners, prayer partners, and life groups, all of which must be shrouded with truth and grace.

We also need to shake off the attitude of “that would never happen to me.” We think dysfunction occurs in someone else’s family and life until our spouse has an affair, our teenager becomes addicted to drugs, we get addicted to prescription pain killers, our daughter struggles with an eating disorder, or our husband looks at pornography on his work computer. We believe these things only happen to other people until we are sitting on our counselor’s couch asking, “How did I get here? Where did it all go wrong?” The truth is, we are all one bad decision away from living a completely different life.

Next, we need to embrace the sinners among us with truth and grace. Instead of having the Pharisees’ hypocritical attitude of judgment (Luke 6), we should have the attitude of Paul who realized he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  Fred Rogers once said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” Wrong judgment ends when listening begins. When we hear someone’s story, we understand them a little more. When we understand, we empathize. When we empathize, we can offer them the help they need.  

Instead compartmentalizing our faith — consciously or unconsciously — to Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights — we must follow Jesus into the messiness of other people’s lives. We need to listen to the hurting, weep with the broken, hurt with the sick, and cry with the grieving. Due to my family’s circumstances, I lived with a friend’s family during my sophomore year in high school. Later, during my senior year in high school, I lived with a different friend’s family. These families saw a need, and they met it. This is the church — seeing the messy and the broken and putting it back together. Not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s needed. 

So, what can the church do to help those who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction?  We can listen and empathize. We can get involved for the long haul. We can point people to Scripture instead of offering pithy, empty clichés. We can be on guard and accept that these traumas can happen to us, even though we live in middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, we have a college education, or sit in the front row at church every Sunday. We can intentionally focus on connection and discipleship, and we can do all of this while offering authenticity and vulnerability along the way. 

By / Mar 19

Honesty may be more difficult than sobriety.” I love that insightful quote from Brad Hambrick. Addictions require deception. In order to maintain an addiction, you have to become skilled at lying, representing yourself and your life in a different way. You have to become adept at hiding so that others don’t interfere, life can still be managed, and addictions still enjoyed. Of all the struggles that addicts have to overcome, learning to tell the truth is at the top of the list. Practicing truth-telling, then, becomes an important part of recovery.

The role of deception

Deception allows an addicted individual to maintain their habit. Exposure will require those who love them to intervene, take steps to help, confront, and issue consequence. But, secrecy, hiding, manipulation, and outright lying become necessary if an addict hopes to keep up the habit.

Tommy, for example, was an alcoholic. Pretty much everyone knew it, but he had developed a series of lies that kept people from being able to confront him. He missed his son’s ballgame because he had to “work late.” He said hurtful things to his wife because he was “tired from working late.” He drank a “little bit,” but that was just to take the edge off of the long day. If his wife had any compassion, then she wouldn’t have picked that fight with him when he got home. These were the sort of distractions that Tommy could throw around to keep people from talking about his alcohol consumption. He was just good enough at it that others, despite knowing he had a problem, could never find the avenue to confront him.

Self-deception is, of course, the biggest form of lying in which the addict participates. He convinces himself that he is in control. “This isn’t that big of a deal. Other people are being dramatic and blowing things out of proportion. I can stop whenever I want.” Wendy regularly used the excuse that her doctor had prescribed her pills, so they were medically necessary. She was taking more than she was prescribed, but that was a non-issue since she had a script that proved her need. 

Self-deception is a common and necessary preservation tactic for developing and maintaining an addiction. It’s not that the addict doesn’t know that there is some level of a problem, but the deception is a form of denial that allows them to keep engaging in the habit without guilt or recognizing the responsibility to change.

Deception, while common enough, will always keep people stuck in sin. Until an addicted individual is ready to take personal responsibility for their desires, attitudes, and actions, they will remain stuck. Honesty must occur, but it is hard to cultivate

The hardship of honesty

Honesty is hard for several reasons. Deception often arises from a place of fear. We don’t tell the truth because we are afraid of the consequences, we are afraid of change, and we are afraid of letting go of something that brings us comfort. Learning to tell the truth, therefore, requires confronting our fears.

Addicted individuals have often turned to substance abuse because they do not have good life management skills. When you don’t know how to manage your emotions, resolve conflict, develop relationships, or work hard, then drugs and alcohol provide an escape. They become the means by which a person “resolves” problems. Using substances to avoid addressing problems, however, simply compounds them. The consequences begin to mount up. If Bill drank to avoid dealing with his wife, his drinking often meant that he dealt with his wife in destructive ways. If Sarah used drugs to escape her failures, using only prompted more failures. The consequences are real, and honesty requires us to deal with them.

At other times, deception prevents us from facing disappointment. Change is hard, and overcoming a substance abuse problem is notoriously difficult. Many addicted individuals have tried, in small or sometimes great ways, to break the habit. Yet, every time they have relapsed. There is something unbelievably discouraging about trying and yet not actually changing. Sometimes the fear of disappointment is so great and we fear that it means we simply can’t change—we are just too broken to ever quit drugs and alcohol. So, rather than be disappointed yet again or face the supposed reality of brokenness, some individuals simply don’t try. Deception allows them to avoid hopelessness.

Finally, honesty is hard because addiction is pleasurable. The longer you indulge in a substance abuse pattern, the more your addiction dominates your life. Addicts have let go of many other healthy outlets of fun, pleasure, and joy, whether friends, hobbies, or social outings, in order to engage in drug use or alcohol consumption. Furthermore, substance abuse changes their experience of the more commonplace fun in which they used to engage. The “high” they get from using makes all other pleasure seem mundane. Being honest about an addiction means letting go of the only thing that makes them feel good. That’s how Derek felt when I first began meeting with him: “If I give this up, I am giving up the only good thing I have left.” He was scared.

Practicing honesty

Understanding these dynamics about honesty and deception allows us to begin to point beyond addictive habits to hope. God gives grace to help us face our consequences (2 Cor. 4:8-10); he gives us promises to guarantee our eventual change (Phil. 1:6); and he ensures that joy is possible as we grow in his Spirit (Gal. 5:22). But honesty is still hard and is going to require cultivation. Just as addictions formulate over time, so too can honesty become a habit as we practice it over time.

Lying can become its own “addictive” habit. Addicted individuals may find that they are so used to lying that they do it even when it serves no immediate advantage to them or their addiction. It becomes part of their routine. Likewise, honesty is going to have to be practiced. They will need to learn to tell the truth with regularity.

Jesus is the truth who sets us free from being enslaved to our sin (John 8:31-32). He call us to walk in the truth. And the Bible is clear that God hates a lying tongue (Prov. 6:17). Cultivating honesty means that we must begin to evaluate what we say and how we live according to biblical standards. The following three questions can help to serve as a grid for evaluating our statements:

  1. Is it true? In other words, is it factual?
  2. Is it the whole truth? Are you trying to leave anything out, or are you declaring the full reality?
  3. Is it nothing but the truth? Are you embellishing or adding to the facts?

We can use these questions and begin evaluating general statements we make about events. Practice it. Pick one thing that happened to you in the last 24 to 48 hours (it can be anything). Share what happened and how it made you feel, filtering the event through these three questions.

If you’re an addict, practice, this and then discuss this exercise with a friend. How did this exercise make you feel? Was any part of it challenging? Did you struggle to answer any of the three questions? Were you tempted to be deceitful in any of the three questions? How will practicing this exercise help you to be more truthful?

Do this again and again. Start with the more routine aspects of your life, describing them honestly. Cultivate the habit of truth-telling. Eventually, however, (and sooner rather than later) you want to increase the gravity of the events you describe. Progressively select events that are more important, that you would be more likely to lie about, and those with consequences. Keep practicing.

Addiction and deception go hand in hand, but you can learn to tell the truth about yourself and your problems with the Spirit’s help. By practicing truth-telling, you are already beginning to change. By continuing to do it, you are growing. Truth telling won’t solve all your problems, in fact, it may mean that you have to deal with more problems initially. Eventually, however, the truth will empower you to fight against sin and to get the help you need. Those who lie and deceive will stay stuck, but the truth will set you free.

By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Mar 23

When I entered into seminary I had plans for my ministry career. I was going to preach lots of exciting sermons and pastor a growing church. Admittedly my plans weren’t very detailed and were simplistic and naive, but nowhere in my mind was the idea of working mostly with addicted individuals.

Over the last 10 years, however, God has given me more opportunities to work directly with those who are struggling with some kind of life-dominating addiction. As much as I believe God has used me to be helpful, working with addicts has also taught me much. In working with addicts I have learned nuances about the power of confession, the significance of community, and healing of the gospel.

It’s not, of course, that I didn’t already know about these three things. I’ve read my Bible and been part of church for many years. I knew that confession and community are both important, and I certainly knew about the healing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, in working with addicted individuals I began to see these truths in new light. I began to experience them afresh. As I watched lives both changed and ruined, I began to appreciate in deeper ways the significance of these three elements.

The significance of confession

Confession, for example, is one of the key ways that we find help and hope in the midst of our struggles. James tells us that healing and confession of sin go hand in hand. So, he writes:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

The apostle draws a line from confession to healing through the prayers of others. As we confess our sins, we expose it, rob it of some of its power, and amass a team of people to come to our aid. We invite others to help carry our burdens (Gal. 6:2), and we especially elicit their prayers on our behalf. Healing can come, then, as people pray with and for us.

I saw this principle at play in life after life as individuals began to own the reality of their sin and ask for help in fighting their addictive habit. Confession is not something that the church does well. We tend to feign righteousness Sunday after Sunday. If everyone wears their metaphorical “Sunday bests,” then we will too, and so sin continues to live in the dark where it grows and spreads.

Often, however, the addict can’t really hide his woes. You can only live with an addiction for so long before it starts to eat at your whole life, and then people begin to notice. So, many are learning to simply shoot straight. I hate it that one of my friends tells me frequently of his relapses. But I love that he doesn’t run and hide when he falls. I love that he just tells me the truth: “I used heroin again last week.” He doesn’t pretend like everything is fine. He doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t even offer up excuses. He just tells me the truth and asks for help. Of course, not everyone is like my friend, but I am witnessing the power of confession as guys give up the pretense, stop playing at holiness, and truly seek help that can lead to lasting change.

We can be a holier church, in fact, if we stop pretending that we already are one.

There is immense power in confession. If we can be honest with one another, we too can change. If I can admit my own sin, my own selfishness, my own sinful habits that keep me stuck, then I can grow just like my brothers in our recovery program. If more members of the congregation will share their struggles with one another, we will be healthier. We can be a holier church, in fact, if we stop pretending that we already are one.

The importance of community

I’ve learned a lot about the importance of community, too. “Community” is such a buzzword these days. Everybody desires it, wants to talk about it, write about it, and promote it. Committing to it, investing in it, and working for it, however, are not as exciting. We all like the idea of community, but the moment it isn’t convenient for us, we quit. So, we love to join small groups, but when the kids have extra-curricular activities, or when we’re just too tired, or when we want to watch the football game, then we don’t go to meetings. We want friends, until friends ask us for help in ways that we are reluctant to provide.

Addicts, however, don’t have the luxury of shunning community. If they really want to change, they have to stay connected. And they have to invite others into the nitty-gritty details of their lives. It is a sad truth that in AA one can sometimes find better community than you can in the church. With recovery programs, you often get connected to a sponsor who is available 24/7, invests in your well-being, counsels you constantly, and holds you accountable.

In church, we are often left to fend for ourselves. But change is a community project. We need each other if we are going to grow. It’s not optional, and it must be a priority. Plenty of addicted individuals pull away from community and run from accountability, but those that change know that it happens because they have connected with others and invited them to speak into their lives. It’s a compelling example and a strong rebuke to the independent lifestyles that so many Christians insist on maintaining.

The power of the gospel

Finally, through working with addicts I’ve seen the healing power of the gospel in fresh light. The gospel is always the hope of change, and yet in working with addicts I’ve seen the gospel truly change lives ruled by destructive habits. Most of the men and women I work with have tried to get clean and sober. In fact, they’ve often tried many times and many different things to help them overcome their addiction. Yet, they rarely achieve victory. Research shows, however, that religious belief adds an element to recovery that may be a key to success. Three authors, writing in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly, said this:

Nonetheless, a growing body of empirical research supports the notion that religiousness and spirituality may enhance the likelihood of attaining and maintaining recovery from addictions, and recovering persons often report that religion and/or spirituality are critical factors in the recovery process. (Alexandre Laudet, Keith Morgen, and William White. “The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems.” Alcohol Treatment Quarterly. 24:1-2. 33-73. 2006.)

The gospel, in particular, is the power to change. I have seen men who for decades were in bondage to addiction finally break free as they encounter the living God and the hope of the gospel through Jesus Christ. It’s not a simple formula, and they still had much work to do in the process. Yet, knowing that Christ offered them forgiveness, healing, and help made a huge difference in their lives. The gospel changes people! I’ve not only experienced it personally, but I’ve seen it in the lives of men and women who thought they could never attain it.

I’ve learned so much from working with addicted individuals. I’ve been reminded of great truths and seen them deepen in their implications and applications. Working with addicts is indeed a “high calling.” But as much as I believe God has used me to be helpful, I’ve also benefited greatly from this ministry myself. They, too, have been my teachers—which reminds me of Galatians 6:6. Here, Paul instructs that the one who is taught is also to share with the one who teaches. Many of my brothers and sisters struggling with addictions have, in fact, shared with me.

It wasn’t part of my plan, but I am grateful to get to be involved in this type of ministry.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Jan 20

She shivered in the church pew trying to stop shaking, but the drug withdrawal had begun.

He finally confessed that after months of saying he had stopped, his addiction to pornography was still alive and growing.

The young woman tearfully looked at me as she held her baby and pushed up her sleeves to show me the cuts and needle marks that ran up and down her arms.

“I’m addicted to sex,” the woman tearfully admitted. “I had my third abortion last week.”

If you have a family or are engaged in a community of people, it doesn’t take long to find someone dealing with addiction. Whether it is a member of your family, small group participant or a member of a congregation, there is someone near you who is struggling.

What do you do when someone you love has an addiction?

Have the right perspective

Recognize you are no better than the addict (Rom. 3:23). The truth is that we are all addicts on some level. The woman who has consistently yelled at her husband for 10 years has become addicted to seeking a certain response or outcome. She feeds her habit through indulging her anger. While the consequences of her habit are different and a bit less complicated than alcohol or cocaine, the sin problem in her heart doesn’t look all that different. All sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23), and death is not a respecter of “varying degrees” of Christians. Admitting your own need for Jesus will help you seek to love and confront your fellow sinner.

Pray. James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Dealing with loved ones’ sin can be overwhelming. Our culture has given such power to diagnosis that the church has been placed in a demeaned state. Don’t make little of God by thinking he cannot redeem the broken and give us what we need in order to respond well. While addiction may be powerful, God’s Spirit is more powerful and his Word can help (1 John 4:4, 2 Pet. 1:3). Pray that God will give you the wisdom and grace needed to walk alongside those struggling with addiction.

Trust the Lord. This may sound a bit trivial at first, but understanding that God cares more for the health of your loved ones than you ever will or could and that only he has the power to change us brings great encouragement to trust God on behalf of others. Without the love and power of God, the cyclical nature of sinful addiction cannot be broken. But God says that with him, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). Trust that what he says is true. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”

Love the person well. Do not confuse loving someone with doing what is comfortable. Walking with someone who is “stuck in sin” can be painful and messy. Oftentimes, loving someone well means putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Knowing when to say “no,” being willing to intervene or finding someone help is often difficult, but it is incredibly loving. Serving others well will frequently require giving up your own personal comfort.

Step out in love

Seek outside help. Knowing where and what kind of help each individual needs can be challenging. A good Biblical Counselor should have relationships with medical doctors and be knowledgeable about resources to help those enduring the physical consequences of their sin. For those struggling with extensive drug or alcohol abuse and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, hospitalization may be necessary and helpful to begin addressing the issue. I say “begin” because the vast majority of rehab facilities will not be Christian institutions. Root heart issues will likely not be addressed. But still, a person struggling with addiction can benefit from being away from bad influences while the physical body clears of the substance.

Be like Christ. Be willing to be a part of the process. When we spend years practicing sin, it often takes a long journey to change hearts, ways of thinking and therefore, habits. Even if you are not an addiction counselor, knowing the person’s story and about their relationship with the Lord can create rapport. The church body should come alongside in order to provide ongoing care, accountability, teaching and relationship. Be humble to address your own heart as you seek to be like God—consistent in nature and steadfast in love (Ps. 86:15). Remember that rehabilitation or hospitalization only lasts for a moment, but you will forever be brothers and sisters in Christ.

Understand the root

The truth is, we are all tempted to give in to idolatrous lusts. Craving what we want or can’t have is the very essence of addiction. At its core, addiction is idolatry very well practiced and deeply worn. I must confess, I often find myself tempted in such a direction. It is only by God’s grace that we are kept from such deadly circumstances.

In ministering to those struggling with addiction, we must remember that the addict is compelled by a desire for something that seems better than what he has or something he thinks he is entitled to or deserves. The tragedy is that the addict finds death at the end of his idolatrous conquest that falsely promised life. But there is a real and loving God who has promised life (John 10:10). He promises that those in Christ have life (Eph. 2:5). And, in Christ—who has overcome the world—there is always hope (Jn 16:33).

Further resources for help:

Certified Biblical Counselors

Biblical Counseling Residential/Inpatient Centers

For Further Training: