I didn’t know about her drinking problem. When Jenny (not her real name) came to see me she was depressed, frustrated, and spiritually dry. She was trying to do all that she knew to do. She read the Bible every morning, prayed multiple times a day, attended weekly worship, and participated in a small group. She could not figure out why she still wasn’t growing. God seemed so far away and excitement about the things of the Lord was non-existent. She, of course, knew about the drinking but had been unwilling to address it. When it finally came out, in our third meeting, it was obvious to me why she wasn’t growing. Addictions will always become a drain on our spiritual vitality.
“Addiction,” in this post, refers to state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming. This may refer to substance abuse (alcohol, narcotics, prescription drugs, etc.) or behavioral addictions (food, sex, pornography, cutting, work, etc.). The broadness of the category, in this case, will allow us to speak to the diversity of struggles and temptations that we develop. These addictions will always sap our spiritual progress because they, in and of themselves, consume so much of our energy, time, and thought life. Addictions are all-consuming. They tend to follow what is sometimes called a “Stimulus Generalization Process.” This refers to the process by which something learned in one setting spreads to similar settings picking up cues along the way. So, for example, a person who starts drinking heavily on the weekends to unwind, will usually start drinking during the week, after work. Once he is going to the bar every night after work he may start going at lunch too. Carlo DiClemente explains it this way:
As the behavior becomes paired with more and more parts of the individual’s lie, it becomes ingrained into the very fabric of that life. More and more situations, emotions, events, and places become opportunities, cues, or triggers for behavior. Stopping an addiction once this generalization process has occurred often involves restricting access to places and situations where the individual has engaged in the behavior. Generalization is a powerful process contributing to the spread of the behavior throughout the life of the individual. (Addiction and Change, 48)
Addictions end up consuming our whole life.
They can consume our spiritual lives too. Often someone struggling with an addiction will reduce all their sin, all their confession, and all their needs to the area most directly impacted by the addiction. So, guys who struggle with pornography will reduce all sermon applications to the simple wisdom: stop looking at porn. Everything centers on the addictive behavior, but, of course, we all have lots of areas where spiritual growth is needed. Spirituality is bigger than our addiction. We must address it, but we cannot reduce our spiritual lives simply to that problem.
Peter puts the problem simply: whatever overcomes a man to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19c). Addictions are bondage, it is submission to a different master and Jesus plainly tells us that we cannot serve two masters. He states:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matt. 6:14a)
Addictions, as slavery and submission to a different master, means we will not be able to rightly serve God so long as this sin remains unaddressed.
Addictions come in various forms. It’s important to evaluate your own life and heart and gauge whether you have an addictive behavior that needs to be addressed. In that regard, consider this evaluation as a starting place for seeking further help:
- I have used addictive substances or behaviors to a degree that it has impaired my judgment
- My use of addictive substances or behaviors has made me a poor steward of my time
- What and/or how much I consume, use, or do has exceeded my intent
- I am beginning to plan my day/week around when I can use addictive substances or behaviors
- Friends or family have expressed concern about my use of addictive substances or behaviors
- I lie about my use of addictive substances or behaviors
- I continue to use addictive substances and behaviors despite experiencing negative consequences
- I have tried to quit using addictive substances or behaviors and been unsuccessful
- I experience some form of physiological or psychological withdrawal when I go long periods without using addictive substances or behaviors
- I know when I am going to use addictive substances or behaviors but feel powerless to stop myself
How you answered these questions may reveal that you are addicted. If so it is important that you seek help to address these issues. Your spiritual growth will remain stagnant until you do. Addictions always weaken our spiritual health and keep us stuck.