They were more astonished than ever, saying to one another, “in that case, who can be saved?” Jesus gazed at them and said, “By human resources it is impossible, but not for God, because for God everything is possible.” — Matt 19:25
Really, sometimes it’s nothing less than a profound challenge.
For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace. How does this happen? It’s surely impossible by autonomous willpower alone; the addicted systems of the brain are too numerous and overwhelming. It’s also impossible if there is only an intellectual attempt to align the will with grace. Grace is simultaneously too close and too transcendent for comprehension by the intellect. The alignment of our will with God’s must happen at a heart level, through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God.
We can’t actually make this empowerment happen. But, we can pray for it, seek it actively, open our hands for it, and try our best to live it. We can confront our addictions as honestly as possible; we can claim responsibility for the choices we make, and we can turn to God. It is the best way we can reach out for God with humble dignity, the most effective means by which we can nourish our receptivity and responsiveness to grace.
Insofar as we can turn to God, it is grace that enables us to do so. Grace enables dignity within us by empowering our efforts to be honest and responsible. Grace enables humility within us by empowering our realization that our efforts are insufficient in and of themselves. Grace enables receptivity and responsiveness within us by empowering our growing trust and our ability to take the risk of faith. This all comes from God – God in us and reaching out to us.
I believe that we, as God’s creation, instinctively desire to receive and respond to His grace, and our lives are an ongoing attempt to satisfy this deepest desire for God. At the core of fulfilling this desire is the willingness to commit ourselves to the struggle with attachment.
This means we must be willing to be present to and responsible in the situations we face. Too often, however, I think we want to have our cake and eat it, too. I’m terrible at receiving grace because I’m so bad at denying my own addictions. I don’t like denying my addictions and it makes for a difficult prayer life, to be sure.
Frankly there is something in me that wants to say that how I am is how I ought to be. Objectively, I cringe when I think how I have hurt my wife with my addictions, and how my addictions have blurred any vision I may have of a healthy life. Subjectively, at the same time, there is something in me that wants to affirm my broken condition.
To do so, however, would mean to choose to stay broken and remain attached to my addictions. To be sure, the addicted systems in my brain want to remain that way, for that is what is natural and normal for them.
I’m far enough along in my own recovery, however, that I have a vision of something better. And when I have my wits (or at least half of them) about me, I know there is only one good and true thing in my brokenness, and that is humility. Everything else about my addictions keeps me bound and enslaved.
At the same time I want to affirm my brokenness, there is something in me that is highly suspicious of purity and perfection. If you hang around the AA rooms for long enough, you eventually encounter people who think they are pure and perfect. I’ve met several of these people and I didn’t like them very much.
I’ve met many people in AA who were simply striving for purity and perfection, and frankly they angered me. Underneath it all, however, I’ve come to realize that I’m actually more afraid of purity and perfection than I am those who strive to be so.
With the striving for purity and perfection comes the realization that something defiling, corrupting, and life-dominating must be replaced. And I’m not talking about drinking or drugs. I’m referring to our sense of autonomy – that we can somehow live out our lives detached from the God who gives life.
In dealing effectively with our addictions – whether relation or behavioral, it really doesn’t matter – there is a certain amount of soul searching and serious self-reflection that is necessary. Most of the time we don’t do that. We simply struggle with our addictions.
That’s why AA is ultimately a healing and discipleship program, whether anyone is willing to admit it. If your intention and desire is to simply change an annoying behavior, why should anyone care if you changed at all?