In No Perfect People Allowed (page 44) John Burke wrote nothing poses a greater challenge and opportunity to the church than the overwhelming emotional pains that drive our generation into so many addictive behaviours….If God is going to use his church to reach [this] generation the church must be prepared for these struggles of brokenness….If [we] are going to minister to [this] generation [we] must create a culture where broken people are welcome and healing happens….Broken people are wounded people…they often run from those attempting to help them. Leaders must create a safe climate, so that the healing work of God can begin in their lives.
Burke (page 206) goes on to quote an anonymous person who asks if this is fate, if this is all I deserve, why can’t I just accept it? Why do I keep hoping? When seekers come to church they usually know something’s broken; but they don’t always know there’s hope for something better.
The message of our congregation is that God sees all that we endure, and it counts. (Hebrews 10.) Even for Christians it might seem sometimes that there is no honour in doing the right thing, yet if God exists then maybe it means something to God. Sometimes the greatest act of faith is simply hanging in there until, it gets better, and to remember that God knows what we are enduring and that it matters to God. We all need this hope that despite all our screw-ups and misguided stabs at life we can still become all God intended us to be by relying on God’s protection and God’s wisdom to see us through.
One of the greatest challenges that Christians face today is correcting the misperceptions of the nature and intentions of God that people have so that they can learn to trust God. Someone might ask how does God handle me getting it second best all the time? and if they have a wrong idea of God then they will have a wrong answer to that question. They may even have a negative answer to that question. Perhaps for them God does not handle me getting it second best all the time. If the Church does not create a context for hope and healing, and provide opportunities for people to come and receive it, then those in the world will keep acting in sinful ways because of their pain. The Christian community must become a safe harbour from the storms of life that beat people up and throw their lives upside down. This problem compounds when suffering people come into our gatherings and rather than hear the predominate message of hope in Christ; that the Creator of the seas wants them to come on board and navigate them towards life; they only hear that God is angry with them about the reefs they keep hitting. People who hear this sort of gospel are not likely to feel encouraged by our invitation to let an angry navigator on board, their lives are miserable enough. However, as Christians we know that until they do allow God to navigate they will keep running aground, and they will never become all that God intended.
One of the major results of brokenness is addiction. Addiction is not about having a 24/7 interest in something, it’s actually about being unable to shake the need to return to something that gives us meaning and pleasure. You might go days or weeks without meeting your need, but when you are feeling broken you will return to the thing that gives you comfort, even if you know it to be wrong or even dangerous because you are trapped. Addictions drive people into a state of absolute helplessness, a state Jesus referred to as spiritual poverty Matthew 5:3. Jesus calls it a blessed state to be in because spiritual poverty cracks our shells of denial and our desire to hide away, and forces us to recognise either our deep need or our deep dependence on God. So it is kind of ironic that those close to this so called blessed condition, those in greatest need of grace and truth, are often not welcome in Christian circles. This is why there is so much hurt around the churches; many who know they need help and that the Church is the right place to get help find themselves mistreated or ignored by Christians. But as a local church we cannot simply invite the addicted in and hope for healing. We must be prepared with groups and programmes to welcome people into, or at least try to make ourselves aware of outside resources available to help set people free. We must help, even if only to act to connect them with better-able agencies.
True healing requires a lengthy process of righting the wrongs and uncovering the lies of the past. Recovery from brokenness is a lengthy process, you cannot microwave healing
At the core of most addictions is cycle of shame. Shame is the feeling that there is something unacceptable about me at the core, yet I have a desire to put things rights and prove I am acceptable. As local Christians we need to recognise and teach that shame is healthy because those who feel ashamed have not given up! If you didn’t care, and if it doesn’t matter, then you won’t feel shame. But we can’t allow people to stay ashamed, and we must be careful ourselves not to add to their sense of shame. Shame opens the way to grace, and grace is what we do because as we learned a few weeks back grace is something that only the Church can access. The world can offer tolerance, but God alone can provide grace and accomplish complete restoration in a broken person’s life.
As a chaplain I can tell you that a person with addictions often finds relief from his pain by acting out in ways that are often extreme. Yet this acting out brings comfort because he temporarily feels good or alive. Almost immediately though, feelings of being horrible and unworthy follow. Once he is out of control the addict tries to regain control again by acting in: compulsively cleaning or dieting or spending longer hours at the office to try to feel better about himself. But this attempt to do better never relieves the isolation and disconnectedness shame creates so the pain builds and builds. Like clockwork he will act out again seeking relief, and around and around the cycle of shame he goes.
The underlying cycle of shame only gets broken when grace meets with truth in a person’s life. When the person learns to take responsibility for her actions only then can she put her life and her will into the care of the God who will love her and give her the power she needs to overcome. But this act of surrender usually only comes when the pain becomes intense. Until the pain is severe, she will find it very hard to look honestly at her harmful behaviour patterns, because to her admitting her behaviour is wrong means admitting that she is unacceptable. This is why as leaders, chaplains, or even as local Christians we must become comfortable letting people go through painful consequences at times. Pain brings awareness and awareness brings healing.
In all things broken people must be reminded that regardless of what they’ve done in the past it’s not too late to honour God and honour yourself. We can read Jesus doing this in John 4 where he is speaking to the Samaritan woman. While he sits and chats casually beside the well Jesus steers his conversation with woman towards the real issue: which is not the sexual and relational mismanagement of her life, but her need to put God first in her heart, soul, and spirit. Her greatest need was for authentic worship, a vibrant connection with her creator; and Jesus knew that unless she had living water springing up in her soul, flowing out of a right relationship with God, she would forever drink from muddy puddles. As Christians we must not focus on where these broken people are in their lives, instead we need to encourage them to move on from that place enabled by God’s grace. We must listen attentively to their stories and then help them to plan the best ways forward. We must support people in moving toward Christ regardless of their past. Many addicts have an agenda for what they want God to do when they come to God. That’s why the first step is to admit that they have no control, over their life or over God or over their addiction. We can help them with this through our own testimonies of depending and living from grace.
It is important that when we are meeting with people who are coming to terms with their addictions and their brokenness that we provide the help they need. You would not send a reforming smoker to Alcoholics Anonymous just because “AA works with addictions”, since AA meetings are usually full of people smoking who are trying to give up alcohol. One of the insights I gained as a prison officer while working alongside RAPt (the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust) in the United Kingdom is that many smokers don’t want to do a 12-Step programme as they don’t want to be viewed as having a problem with drugs. Work with the broken man or woman; don’t treat an addicted case-study.
The effective local congregations in this generation’s Church have realised that just saying “that’s morally wrong, stop it” isn’t enough to help people to break free. For example whilst it is true that lust is harmful people need to know that lust and sexual attraction are two different things. Marriage in and of itself will not cure a man or woman’s addiction to pornography. But those trapped by lust also need to know that God’s vision for sexual wholeness gets them what they truly want; intimacy, wholeness, belonging, identity; and in a far more satisfying and longer-lasting way. The best we can do for people struggling in any area is to create a safe place to talk about these struggles.
We must remember that all addictions share a common root and a common solution, regardless of outward expression. Addiction, like all sin, is an attempt to meet a legitimate need by an illegitimate means. (It can also be the meeting of an illegitimate need: an unhealthy and unnecessary want.) Broken people in this generation struggle with many addictions and the Church for this generation must be prepared to encounter all types of people if we want to create a culture where healing and release can happen. The local church needs to become a healing community which ministers to those around us who are consumed and enslaved by addictions. Healing and spiritual growth require support and connection, and in a generation longing for connection but wired to stay isolated and alone the local churches must be places where nobody if left to stand alone. Our job is to help people connect with the Jesus with skin on.