What Makes Recovery Christian?

Lance David

For many Christians the idea of addiction recovery seems a touchy-feely, self-help, unchristian thing. With terminology that includes, “Higher Power,” “sponsor,” and “12 steps” recovery can be unfamiliar and possibly threatening to some Christians. It is certainly possible to do recovery- submitting to the program and to a higher power and experiencing sobriety- without following Christ. But this does not make recovery anymore unchristian than non-Christian couples remaining married until death does them part would make marriage unchristian.

For something to be unchristian it would have to be contrary to the gospel. Even though the terms may seem foreign to some Christians, the key principles of recovery highlight significant realities of that are contained in the gospel.

The first reality is that all of us are a mess. You may hide it or I may be in denial but that will not change the fact that we are both broken. This is the essential entrance exam both for Christians and those in recovery. The context for recovery is realization of the prodigal who knows that he has been fighting with pigs for sustenance. When a person does not view himself as a mess, he is more like the older brother who has all the riches at his disposal but remains aloof and on the outside. Jesus said, “It is not it the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 NIV). It is tragic that many in the church today do not deeply understand and appropriate this, instead resembling Pharisees rather than repentant sinners. Those truly engaged in recovery, on the other hand, grasp this reality very well.

A second reality of recovery is that I am responsible for this mess. Neither recovery nor the gospel allows a person to wallow in the blame game of victimhood. No matter how a person has been sinned against, he is responsible for his response. Even though others have sinned against me, recovery only begins when I begin to struggle and repent of the character flaws that have developed as a result of my resentments. Jesus captured the essence of this idea with the admonition, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).

A third reality is that the path to healing in recovery must be done with others. Meetings, fellowship, support and sponsors all demonstrate that in recovery healing does not happen alone. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that most of us in the church in the western world have abandoned. Even with small groups, men’s groups, accountability partners, Promise Keepers and other seminars, most men remain terribly isolated from others- especially when it comes to our problems. We have been taught that it is not masculine but weak to be a broken mess. But to be isolated denies the reality that we all have blind spots that can only be exposed to us by other people. Furthermore, relationships provide the context for change in that just as we all get hurt in by unhealthy relationships, healthy ones heal. Sanctification and recovery do not take place without community.

A final reality of recovery is that it must include a recognition of and submission to a spiritual reality. Of course, as Christians, we recognize that the only “higher power” is the one true God revealed in the bible. However, the generic language of recovery makes the steps palatable to those who are not convinced of this truth. The twelve steps of recovery reveal a very spiritual agenda. It is one that includes submission, confession, repentance, reconciliation, and deep character change. These demonstrate that an addict’s core problem is a commitment to self and not addiction per se. Only by submitting to the One greater than self can the addict and the run of the mill sinner experience true inner healing.

The essential feature of anyone’s recovery that makes it Christian is the person who is in recovery. Christ did not come to give us principles, a system, a cause, rules or many of the things that we have perverted his message into. Christ came to bring us back into relationship with God. Left to our own ingenuity, we have found so many different ways, including addictions, to run from him. The story of the gospel is the story of God’s recovery of the human race to himself.

For more help on this subject see Every Man’s Battle.

Looking at Your Life: Grieving Childhood Losses

Lance David

Most of the men I see in therapy who struggle with sexual addiction and temptation have no idea what is driving their battle. What I often hear from them is that it seems like they were just born with an overactive sex drive. However, something else is going on in the person who uses sex in an addictive manner. Addictive behaviors do not make the addict feel good even though they would seem to. Instead, they numb a person to what seems unmanageable to him.

One of the most common factors that contributes to sexually acting out is shame from childhood wounds. By exploring and grieving these wounds, the roots of the weed of addiction are attacked.

No one would deny that it is important how we raise children. Good parents protect, nurture, correct, affirm, and discipline their kids, all the while knowing that they cannot always keep them from harm. Why is it then that so many adults say their childhood had no effect on them or they had no childhood hurts?

Often I hear statements like the following: ‘The past is in the past. Just leave it there.’ ‘What good would it do to blame others for what they did to me?’ ‘I can’t do anything about it so why bother.’ ‘The Bible says, ‘forgetting what lies behind, I press on…’ ‘ Let’s look at these objections to looking at the past, and consider what a healthy model of grieving one’s childhood losses might look like and bring about.

I would agree that there are ways a person can look at his past that would not be helpful. One such way is to play the blame game. Blame merely keeps a person just as stuck if he doesn’t address his wounds in the first place. Both options do not take the sovereignty of God seriously. God knows everything that has happened to us and his desire is to take the good, the bad, and the ugly and turn it into something beautiful for His glory. When we refuse to look at our past, we keep a door closed that God may want opened so He can move in and through us more freely.

When Paul writes in Philippians 3:13, ‘forgetting what lies behind,’ he is not commanding or even suggesting we forget our past. Rather, Paul is making a rhetorical descriptive statement of what he is doing. Much of scripture is telling stories of the past, many of them painful. Looking at the context of this passage, the past about which Paul says he is forgetting is limited. Paul says he is forgetting the accomplishments he had thought during his Pharisaical days gave him a right standing before God. He was not forgetting his entire life history, merely his religious performance. So this passage should not be used to avoid looking at the past.

One exercise I like to give my clients is an impact egg. I take a piece of paper and draw a large egg on it. Then I draw horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on the egg to make compartments. I ask my client to draw or write something in each compartment that represents a story of impact in his life. Each story can be positive or negative and they need not be in chronological order, but should include ones as early as a man can remember. I encourage men to tell their stories of impact to as many others who will give a receptive ear. But men should make sure they tell someone who will give them feedback on their emotional processing as they tell their stories. I have heard heartbreaking tales of pain and loss told to me by the person who lived it as if he were describing the scores of a ball game- or worse, with a laugh. What this person needs is the feedback of a safe friend who can create the space to allow the emotion- whether it be fear, sadness or anger- to flow.

Most men learned at a very young age that it is not okay to be a male and show that you have hurts. We have all been made fun of, shamed, punished, or withdrawn from for showing emotion–especially crying. The impact of this is to send our emotional selves, our hearts, into hiding. When we are not able to feel for ourselves, we have to do something to take the pain away. Many turn to sex in an attempt to quell an ache they do not even know they have or just because it has become the repository for all unmanageable feelings. However, looking at our past and the wounds we have sustained can help open our hearts to allow God to break in with His healing touch.

For more help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.