Tag Archives: addiction

Why we should finish the fast — or start it today

Lent does drag on, doesn’t it?

As the season came to the last few weeks people started complaining. Some felt guilty because they never did anything — at least not like the people who wouldn’t stop talking about what they were doing! The Daily Prayer entries started to seem redundant and even boring. As the Covenant List people were chatting about, acedia became noticeable.

So why keep going?

I know I am not talking to everyone, since you did not start to begin with. That’s OK. You can keep reading and there are plenty of other things than Lent to help you keep moving in faith. Keep going how you are going.

On the other hand I know I am not talking to some other people because you are having the time of your life! So I don’t mean to imply that everyone is dragging around and feeling miserable. If you are experiencing the exquisite pleasure of honing your relationship with God and experiencing revelations and revolutions, thank God! Keep going how you are going.

Discipline trains our loves

But I know some of us need convincing. We are not all experienced at spiritual discipline – or maybe any discipline for that matter. We might think Lent (particularly fasting) is not only hard, it is unnecessary – and maybe you even feel it is insulting to imply, “You are not OK. You need to grow. You should do something.” So about this time of year the church can seem kind of oppressive and like all the “good kids” are doing the right thing together and no one is supposed to be resisting. You might even feel that resisting such groupiness makes you better than all the weak-willed people who just do what they are supposed to do. If any of this resonates, you are experiencing Lent in the way you do, too. Keep going.

I don’t mean you should keep resisting or entertain and elevate all the natural defense mechanisms you have just because the whole thing is getting rather personal. I mean you should note what the demand you feel is arousing and follow that arousal right into the Lord’s presence and see what is happening in you. God does not need a particular discipline to relate to you, but the particular discipline of the Lenten fast is even vicariously useful.

Fasting is a means to pleasure, you know, not just a morbid elevation of suffering, as if you were not supposed to have any pleasure. The purposeful abstention from a particular pleasure, like eating a certain food, allows it to regain its place as a prolepsis, a gift from God in the present that has an even greater reality in eternity. Through fasting, a pleasure can regain its value and meaning as a gift and a promise.

Discipline reduces our distractions

We are inordinately connected to a lot of things that crowd out our relationship with God. The willful act of uncrowding when we fast gives spiritual space for our true selves to flourish. It is healthy to rest from our pleasures, like we rest from everything else. Most of the time the wearniness of our yearning or our resistance to yearning can lead us to become open to God’s presence. There is an old poem by George Herbert (1593-1633) called The Pulley that tries to get at it, if you’d like to give it a read. Our sense of emptiness and our frustration over not being at rest is like the pulley God uses to do his work of salvation.

The Lifeline by Winslow Homer, 1884

Fasting from what normally occupies us or addicts us, helps us rebel against the errors of the modern era that have overtaken most of us in one way or another. Addicts are actually unwitting prophets since they find a substance or activity that provides a central, organizing reality in a culture that has the meaning sucked out of it and is hollow. Society gives us arbitrariness, boredom and loneliness but your vidiocy, for example, provides a false, but stimulating antidote. Addiction highlights the damnation; fasting opens us up to salvation.

Discipline opens us up to true pleasure

Fasting prepares us to savor the pleasure we have purposefully deprived ourselves of during Lent. For instance, I usually don’t eat cookies, my favorite food, during Lent. A lack of cookies has a surprising way of opening me up to the pleasures of God’s guidance. So I especially enjoy the first taste of cookie on Easter morning. I could go home and eat an entire batch to get back on the addiction wagon. Or I could learn, again, that I can eat a cookie with meaning, savoring the pleasure of a bite instead of tanking up with a batch, seeing even a cookie as a gift from the one who made it – who baked it in my own oven and Who created it into the planet from the beginning, as a sign of my ultimate end in God.

In this day when everything is degraded with an outright joke or ironic lilt, fasting is radical seriousness about life. Keep going. Even if you are in a bad mood and think drinking that beer you vowed not to drink will make you feel better, that is a great struggle. If you drink the beer, you will see what kind of “better” you feel, if you keep listening. If you don’t drink the beer, you will see what it all means that way, too. God is good.

For those of you who have gotten this far in reading and have never heard of Lent, fasting or Circle of Hope: welcome to our party! We are having a rich life together with Jesus. He is leading us through death into life, and there are many roads to His good end. Right now we are realizing that our sufferings are not for nothing. As a matter of fact, recognizing them in the safety of our Savior’s presence brings them meaning and restores our sense that the future is full of promise. In fasting, for instance, we embrace the sufferings that emerge when we leave open space for God to fill our emptiness. You have gotten this far! I hope you will keep going.

[Check out Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WIND or WATER for Holy Week options each day: the gathering, on your own, in a cell or in the family]

A version of this post originally appeared at Circle of Hope’s blog.

My revelation from the past week

I was encouraged by Michiko’s bold, vulnerable, faithful writing. So I asked her to appear as a “guest writer” on my blog this week. Here is her revelation:

It’s easy to look at the world right now and think that maybe there is no God.

On a personal level, as I’ve watched my son descend into addiction, I’ve at times wondered what God was doing.  Where was Jesus – when was he going to wake up and talk to him and bring him out of the hell he, and I were in?

Now that he’s going to NA regularly, I’ve started going with him.

Yesterday I was witness to the kind of love that I only see at Circle.  One young woman freely admitted her brokenness.  She was in full relapse, of food disorder, substance abuse disorder, and starting on the self-harm scale.  She also said she was apathetic.  She didn’t care.

One by one, the group acted as one.  It was one huge encouragement through many voices — One saying “You’ve done great to be here.” Another saying, “Push through; you’ll be OK.” Another saying, “We love you and are here for you.”

Continue reading My revelation from the past week

Don’t take my coffee away, Jesus!

He was honest, at least. He told the counselor, “If I tell you about it, you will take it away.” The counselor asked, “Can we talk about why you don’t want to talk?” He looked at her and said, “No.”

We love our addictions. Around the church, where people often want to keep relationships tidy and, irrespective of our openness and grace, persist in trying to look presentable — even when they don’t think they are presentable, someone can easily teach us the rules about what topics are on the table and what aren’t. I learn what you don’t want to talk about quickly. When someone says, “I only smoke to go to sleep,” we may not be welcomed into a conversation about how addicted that seems. The other night at a wedding one of us caused quite a stir because he was not carrying a flask full of whiskey like all the other guys. It was assumed that getting drunk was one of the goals for the evening so he caused a little problem by not having the right equipment. No one had ever violated the flask rule before, apparently!

coffeeGiven that environment, it is no surprise that it was socially unacceptable last week to ask questions about coffee. This time it was me. My friends were talking about coffee and I discovered that both of them do not think they will be able to function well if they don’t get up every morning and drink coffee. I had a dilemma, “Can we talk about that?”

Continue reading Don’t take my coffee away, Jesus!

Disentangling from Addiction

When Jesus spent his “Lent” in the desert, I think he went into the wilderness to face the utter absence of anything that was familiar, to experience being saved in his vulnerability before he went back into a world fraught with attachments.

Old Foss Cemetery

When I was pondering the Lord’s radical trust after Ash Wednesday, I had a surprising image come up in my mind. I remembered visiting western Oklahoma with my family, the very towns in which my father grew up. Remembering how it all looked was almost like the Holy Spirit drawing me back into the wilderness of my father’s life and the emptiness from which I came. My mind went back to the time we stood in Old Foss Cemetery. Our steps on the brittle grass invaded the hush as we explored. My father found a family plot enclosed by an old iron fence. The rusty gate creaked in the wind as big black storm clouds blew in. The place was silent, desolate, and I felt the ache of my silent, desolate  father. I felt his unmet yearning. I still feel his yearning like I felt my unmet yearning for him. I think Jesus was feeling that absence and yearning in the desert.

Yearning in the wilderness

I think Jesus was in the wilderness to experience the yearning all people feel and to enter the ache of their wilderness, the pain of their emptiness. And in that vulnerable place he was tempted by the devil like we all are. He went there to do battle, like we all are doing battle in our most vulnerable places where we long to attach, to be loved and to love. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid going to that hurting place, so the devil often wins the battle because we don’t even show up.

Cross at St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo

I have been to the geographic desert many times to try to show up, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Not too long ago Gwen and I made a return visit to St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo where Gwen, especially, had some significant experiences of grace as she battled her temptations with Jesus.  For most of us, spending time in the geographic desert can be rare. Our geographic deserts mostly take the form of temporary, silent, solitude in a simple yet comfortable retreat center or hermitage. For everyone, however, the desert of the heart remains unchanged. And we can visit it anytime we dare. It is not comfortable. I have visited parts in me that are like a desolate, abandoned graveyard in Oklahoma.

Hungry for our addiction during Lent

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness are an intentional parallel to the Hebrews’ forty years of exodus. Lent is an intentional parallel to both. We are led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There, while hungry and vulnerable, we are tempted by Satan. The three temptations Satan offers Jesus are all about desire, about yearning, and we will meet those same kinds of temptations ourselves. Because everybody has an inborn desire for God, whether you are consciously religious or not. This yearning is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. Some of us have repressed this desire under so many competing interests and fears that we are mostly unaware of it. Or we may experience it as a longing for wholeness, completion or fulfillment of our potential. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. We hunger to love and to be loved and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of what people call the human spirit. It is the origin of humanity’s highest hopes and dreams.  (Read Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace, please).

We describe this desire as God given. So Paul says in Romans 5: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Bible is full of people yearning for God and God yearning for his people. Because in an outpouring of love God created us and planted the seeds of this desire for love and loving in us. Then God nurtured this desire in us toward fulfillment of the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

But something gets in the way of God’s desire. We don’t fulfill the commandments even when we want to. We are usurped by forces that are not loving; we are captured. Our desires get repressed and stifled. Repression is one thing, but something even worse happens, our desire attaches to something or someone other than God, something other than true love. We get addicted.

Addiction enslaves the energy of desire to specific behaviors, things or people. The objects of attachments become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives. They become gods. The psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of addiction are actively at work in every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addictions to ideas, work, relationships, power , moods, fantasies and so on.

The temptations that the devil presents to Jesus in the wilderness or to us in our wilderness, in the  emptiness we choose or the emptiness in which we are stuck, or which we inherited, all have to do with desires being attached, being nailed to something else.

Throughout these temptations, Satan was hoping Jesus’ desire in his vulnerable state would lead him to attach it to meeting his own needs, using his own power, or relying on the material world. Satan was trying to lure Jesus into the “I can handle it” trap, and Jesus could have handled it. But instead of giving in to the massive power of temptations to convince him to attach to something other than His true self in the love of God, Jesus stood firm in his own freedom, in his faith and in grace.

Jesus leads us home

Jesus was truly vulnerable, but the way he responded to Satan’s temptations reveals how people attached to God get through their deserts and get home. 1) He stood firm. He met the adversary, faced the temptation, and did not run away or rationalize. 2) He acted with strength: he claimed and used his free will with dignity. 3) He did not use his freedom willfully. None of his responses to Satan were even his own autonomous creation. He relied upon the truth that had already been revealed in love by quoting from the Torah. We are all working on being that free every day.

We go off into our wilderness of Lent to keep practicing being free, because we are still tempted. What’s more, like me realizing at a very young age out on a hill in Oklahoma, I have an emptiness in me yearning to attach and I need to be careful about what it latches on to.

It is an uncomfortable process to not merely avoid the pain. We have a proverb around Circle of Hope that speaks to that: We are all recovering from the sin addiction, expect conflict.

Recovering causes problems. It puts us in conflict with the whole society, which has notable addictions, en masse. I think, in general, the nation is addicted to fear, to carbon-based everything, to narcissism, to war, to radical self-reliance — even for poor people who aren’t allowed to be self-reliant, to freedom based on earning power. We live in a wilderness we did not choose in so many ways.

There is going to be trouble every day. As if where we live was not temptation enough, we all have our own personal drugs. Some are substances or habits like alcohol or sugar or painkillers or porn or Facebook. Some of them we don’t even see as addictions yet, because our desires are so trained by them, we are so enthralled to them, that they just seem like “us,” nothing else.

We need to get disentangled. Lent is a great time to face it all like Jesus in the wilderness, a great time to talk back and act back. Lent is a great time to exercise some freedom as members of an alternative society by going without addicted behavior we can recognize or to exercise some freedom by taking on new habits that come from grace, not bondage. Lent is for suffering the wilderness with Jesus, for aching. It is hard to show up for that battle, but losing by default is worse.

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