Does the thought of addiction frighten you? You can be addicted to lots of things. The Bible lists many possibilities for addictions idols like anger, control, fear, money, people, food, alcohol or drugs and sex as potential addictions. Anything that controls you is not God is an addiction. Therefore, unless it is an addiction to God in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you are in deep trouble.
‘“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).
This second commandment is saying that anything we hold above God whom or which we serve is an idol that has control. The consequences are very serious, because they can last three to four generations. In other words, these addictions are hard to break. They are passed on in families. I have certainly seen it personally. For my family it has been alcohol. My mother was an alcoholic. I started mixing her drinks before I was 10 years old. That was not a good sign. Eventually her Alzheimer’s took over exacerbating the effects of a mind controlled, dulled and changed by alcohol. Together, along with an undiagnosed bi-polar personality, these illnesses destroyed her mind and life at a relatively early age. It is only by the grace of God that an intervention took place to save her.
However, before God’s intervention there came that of our family as we institutionalized her. My father, brother and I took her from a luncheon at her favorite club to a facility almost across the street. Then the chaos began. My brother lived in another city and my father who had been diminished to a despairing place through my mother’s illness, was forced to relocate to Florida in order to regain sanity and life itself. I was left with my wife to manage what would be an almost perilous journey. Because of my mother’s illnesses, she acted out violently to her incarceration, not only trying to escape but to injure staff. I was forced to move her nine times and several of them with no notice in the middle of the night.
I received panicked calls more than once from overwhelmed facilities telling me to come and get my mother. Finally, her geropsychiatrist recommended a locked dementia unit. Fortunately one of the two facilities in the State of Wisconsin was only 15 miles away, ironically across from the county zoo. In retrospect, my mother should have first been admitted to a geropsychiatry unit where she could have “dried out” and been treated and balanced with the appropriate medications. Besides our overwhelmed family, I fault the medical profession for not recommending this step. My own 45 years in hospitals as a CEO and chaplain should have allowed me to require this step. Of well, we live and learn hopefully.
The ensuing nearly 10 years was beyond difficult as my mother’s friends understandably abandoned her and I was the only visitor. My father was in Florida trying to regain stability and a new life. My brother was busy in business in another state. He also had not forgiven my mother for the years of emotional abuse he suffered at her hands as a young child. This is an issue that he will need to address in his life of course or he will be in chains to it forever. We don’t forget, but we must forgive. And until we do forgive we will never forget.
My mother eventually slipped to a condition where she did not talk and barely ate. For two years she did not say a word, until a God ordained moment before she died. I was the Director of Managed Care for a large health insurance company that happened to be located very near the facility where my mother was housed. As I walked across our company campus to a meeting with the President, the Holy Spirit spoke clearly in my heart to go see my mother. I told Him that I had a meeting, but God persisted until I told the President I needed to go. Fortunately, he was a Christian and understood my dilemma.
For some reason I was carrying my Bible with me when I entered her room. She sat alone on the bed, unspeaking. I sat beside her and shared my testimony of having turned my chaotic life, now struggling with alcohol and other issues over to my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. My conversion had been a dramatic, Pauline-like experience on a snow-packed road in the middle of the night. God’s invitation to my broken spirit and soul was gladly received as I knelt in snow reflected by the headlights of my car near Lake Superior. I was exhausted from 16-hour days leading a hospital financial and quality turnaround, that although successful, left me physically and morally bankrupt. The light was blinding, but the warmth of God’s embrace was more powerful.
As I told my mother the story she stared with intense interest. And then she said, “You mean you have Jesus and you will go to heaven? And if I receive Him into my heart I will go too and we will be together in heaven?” We prayed together in an embrace and she received the gift of salvation and eternal life. Within a couple of days she contract pneumonia, to which I responded as she wished with no antibiotics. She peacefully passed on to be with the Lord.
Alcohol had destroyed my mother’s and almost my father’s life. It had grabbed me and my oldest son, now 43 years old and a successful dentist. Both of us have received and given Jesus Christ center place in our lives. Christ has given us the self-control to not become addicted, but we are ever aware of the risk.
I now counsel alcoholic and other drug addicts daily in my hospital ministry. I have served psychiatric hospitals both as CEO and now as chaplain for nearly 45 years. God has gifted me with the experience and addictions that have taken me through an almost life-ending food addiction with anorexia. He has also protected me from taking my own life while deeply depressed. God has empowered me to overcome addiction to alcohol or sexually perversion. These are all weaknesses of mankind that are very prevalent and killing 100,000 annually in the United States.
I have a lot more to say about anorexia and its origins in fear and the need for control in the lives of its victims. You see my upbringing, alluded to above, brought chaos at times that caused me to have an ever-present anxiety and even constant mild nausea from an early childhood. This anxiety, which is like fear, drove me to try to control my life through exercise and food. I was a pretty good athlete and exercised vigorously at least once a day. I played varsity sports in high school and college and even a little semi-pro hockey after college. My exercise drove me to running great distances and trying out for marathons that ended in my self-destructing from foot, knee and back injuries. I was the sparing partner for the states’ number one tennis player, helping him prepare form high-level tournaments. I was driven to not be the pudgy little kid anymore that coaches had made fun of in middle school. Oh, yes I was not pudgy anymore, but dangerously thin and dying from anorexia. By the way, God has used my experience to be a counselor at two psychiatric hospitals for men and women with this potentially fatal disorder.
I overcame this mental, physical and spiritual illness without counseling by the grace of God. I now know that I am fortunate to have survived this period of my life. A good friend’s daughter recently died of it and I have seen many others die through their own hands. As a counselor for eating disorders I have witnessed some of the most beautiful girls and women come under institutional care with this almost fatal diagnosis. Trusting in a male chaplain was a big hurdle for many until they hear my story. Then hearts begin to open to the horrors of parental abuse, physical, emotional and sexual. These injured baby birds, usually in their teens or early 20s begin to spill out their pain just as they then might do in the bathroom purging. Or they might stuff it in holding it to protect themselves. They take in no one and develop a routine of only eating a few things and exercising or some other thing to extreme. They are trying to control life, which has been out of control for them. This behavior will keep on going until breakdowns occur and bodies fail. Like my teenage neighbor, their hearts are overcome and just stop. This tragic cycle continues in our nation more than anywhere in the world.
Why? I suggest this is true of unrealistic expectations and abuse. We live in a society where women must be size “0” and beautiful as well as smart. Boys must be strong, handsome and intelligent, or rich in some way. But these are unrealistic and unreachable goals for most. Those who were abused often think that they caused it. Their guilt and shame overtake them. What is the difference you might say? Guilt is a natural and often good emotion for bad behavior. It is a consequence for doing wrong. Shame however, it a natural or imposed belief that we are not only guilty as charged, but we are the things imposed upon us. We are “bad, evil, a slut, a failure, a stupid kid, worthless or good for nothing.” We are the personification of it. That means we have become the “deplorables” using a recent title given most horrifically by a candidate running for President of the United States. This moniker is not only false it is hurtful to the extreme, even unto death for some who would believe it.
So what do we do when it seems hopeless? Ecclesiastes says, “Life is meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). It says that it ends in death. Yes it does end in death for every one, but Solomon also says at the end of the book, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). This is a promise of God. In fact there are some 7,500 promises of God in Scripture. These include key wisdom thoughts from Romans saying, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ” and “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23; 6:23). A similar promise is, “For it is by grace we have been saved through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God lest anyone can boast” (Ephesians 2:8). Returning to Romans 8:28 we can hear once again the wonderful promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Here is a dynamic truth, “all things.” Yes, that means that even the abuse, addictions, evil, pains and trials are being transformed along with each of us if we love God and are called. That means that this is a conditional promise. We need first to trust and believe in the One who is doing this great and hope-filled thing. We must be “born again” as Jesus said to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. When we believe we will be filled with the Holy Spirit of God who counsels, comforts, convinces, and convicts of sin and God’s love for us.
Well, the last paragraph was a mighty mouthful to chew, meditate upon and swallow. It seems paradoxical, but it instead in both/and or life and death for those who would believe or not. One seminary professor told me, “Shame losses its power when it is confessed.” Imprisoned souls and spirits are chained until confession and forgiveness are made. This truth is a hard one for many to take in and believe. Fear gets in the way. Trust or mistrust of others causes us not to receive God’s gift of life and forgiveness of our own sins allows us to forgive others their sins against us. Perhaps now is a good time to remind us of the most quoted Bible verse, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Isn’t that promise incredible? Yes, this same God also said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Get it? God will cleanse us of all unrighteousness that we cause and that which has been done unto us.
The above Scripture is dramatic yet many still live in fear and chains. David the Psalmist cried out to God in his pain and sin. Psalm 102 starts, “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ears to me, when I call answer me quickly…my heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forgot to eat my food. Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones…For I eat ashes and mingle my drink with tears…But you O Lord are enthroned forever…He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” God hears and responds by releasing us from our pain in which we may still be imprisoned.
I have said that by the grace of God I was healed from my own eating disorder, even before I knew Him personally. You see, He made each of us and loves us. “I will never leave you, never will forsake you” (Hebrews 13:6). But He also healed me miraculously from the ravages of tick-borne diseases that a major University Medical center doctors said was fatal. It was His word in Psalms 103 prayed out loud that brought His complete healing. One night as I lay almost paralyzed and sweating through my bedclothes with an intense fever I recited, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, all that is within me, praise His holy name. Who forgives all you sins and who heals all your diseases…” God’s Holy Spirit descended and embraced me with heat moving from my head to my feet bringing relief and joy to my now restored body and spirit. Yes, His word is true and healing!
I believe that God allows each of us to go through trials and pains that may even kill us physically. But we are more than body, we are also soul and spirit that live forever. God uses these trials for our good and His glory if we trust Him. He is using my trials with eating disorders, with alcohol and my own moral failures to help others. He had given me spiritual gifts of encouragement and healing. All believers have at least one primary spiritual gift that He wants us to use for the edification or building up of His church-other people. I worked for more than 30 years as a hospital executive and consultant. I had the opportunity to lead turnarounds of several hospitals that would have closed but instead are now serving communities that would have been underserved. It was a great privilege, but also an incredibly difficult and almost soul- destroying career. During this career I had the privilege of helping build major medical centers, closing financially and quality troubled hospitals and leading several from near closure to flourishing. This career was stress-filled to the point of despairing for me. I finally left this career after working 16-hour days for two years bringing a helpless hospital from bankruptcy to blossoming. The duress of the process left me bankrupt, as I was physically exhausted and drinking too much. I had lost my moral compass and needed to be stopped.
It came at midnight in a blizzard on a lonely highway off Lake Superior as I drove home from a long week. The only radio station I could pick up brought the voice of Chuck Swindoll, a Pastor/Teacher. He said that Jesus loved me and wanted to come into my live and make me new. I stopped the car and knelt in the now deep snow in the near blinding headlights, receiving Jesus Christ into my heart as Savior and Lord of my life. I could feel an immediate and transforming physical and spiritual brightening and quickening. God was healing me.
This dramatic, “Damascus Road” experience for me began a new life in every way. O, I still sin, but God has continued to lead, as I would be lead. He has audibly spoken to me in a Christians counselor’s office saying, “This is The Way; Walk in it!” My counselor also heard it and asked what God had said. As I told him, I came to learn that God had spoken these words straight from the Scripture, “Whether you turn to the right or left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it”” (Isaiah 30:21). These words have become a guiding principle for my life. I have recently published a two-volume book of the same title, “This is the Way; Walk in it.” It counsels on God’s way to live in this morally bankrupt world.
So it is in God’s word that we find healing. It is in prayer that we find healing as well. God always hears and answers us, unless we have un-confessed sin in our lives the Bible tells us in Psalm 66:18. So come clean, there is no other way.
You know, Jesus is real. He walked and talked with many. More than 500 saw Him after His death and resurrection to life. He told the disciples in grief after His crucifixion, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Fear stops man from being healed. Fear of man, or pain, or being found out are just a few of our fears. It keeps us from moving on in life. What are you afraid? Jesus had to say some 365 times, one for every day, to “Fear not!” Yet we do, because we do not trust the “Peace that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:6). God, through the Apostle Paul tells us to bring everything to God in prayer and then we will have His peace. But this life-changing Scripture goes on to say, “Whatever is, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-thing about these things. Whatever you have heard or seen in me (Paul or Jesus)-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). The peace of God and the God of Peace are amazing promises to be given to those who pray. God releases us from our anxieties and fears. We must keep practicing this counsel, as it is not easy for humans to not fear. But finally, Paul states in the same chapter of Philippians 4, “I have learned the secret of bing content in any and every circumstance/situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him (Jesus) who gives me strength…And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:11-13; 19). What a set of promises! God can, does and will do it.
We still may fear from time to time, but God has given us the power to overcome. “For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1John:5:4-5). This promise is centering and calming to those who believe.
“Resolving imposed shame is a process that involves the whole self” (Dr. Daniel Green). I concur with this prescription from my own experience with my patients and my own circumstances. I have dealt with my own and others’ moral failures. Resolution comes with the acceptance of the guilt and acknowledgement of the presence of shame. My admission brought pain of failure and a response of “shock and anger.” As C.S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, I felt an intense fear like falling. Some relief came by stopping the behavior that brought pain and shame. Confession was not half the solution, but more lie chaos for a number of months. Numbness and weakness was coupled with profound sadness. Until I attached the blame to my own failure healing was not coming. For those abused by others, the blame is not with you. Coming to grips with strong emotions of self-hate and despair along with anger takes intense help. My epiphany came when I connected with Spirit revealed direction through God’s audibly spoken word from Isaiah 30:21, “This is the way; walk in it.” I was not totally healed until I had dealt with the “walking on eggshells” in my alcoholic childhood home. I have written elsewhere of how I had an anxiety and mild nausea for all of my life until my “Lake Superior Road” experience and the subsequent therapy. This physiological feeling left forever in this process, never to return. My fear of life and acting out were over. I had found an intense re-connection to myself and Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.
I only had one other strong experience to know and that was the Love of the Father. I had never really felt that in my childhood. But in my basement prayer room as I read the Luke 15 story of the “Prodigal Son,” I experienced the rapture and of the love of God physically around me. I felt lifted off the floor and held in a warm embrace for a long time, that now is forever real.
I have forgiven my parents and the pain of childhood. I have overcome anorexia, fears, alcohol and other immoral actions by the blood of the Lamb and the love of the Father. For me continuing to pray, journal and write about my experience in books is immensely healing. I also need to exercise vigorously every day for conditioning, meditation and an endorphin kick I must admit. This isn’t a bad thing, because I no longer abuse my body. Of course the consequences of having abused my body have come home to roast in hip implants, knee surgery and arthritic pains throughout my body. But those are a reminder and keep me walking in His way. Perhaps beyond this has been my willingness to share my story in books, blog, radio shows and testimony. I use my walk as background and credentials to be able to counsel others going through similar trials.
The Tsunamis of shame are gone, but the impression of God’s hand and Spirit are now within me. I find encouragement through a accountability brother in prayer on a weekly basis. Serving others with the gifts God has granted me, fulfills His great commission through me.
I know that trials are part of life until I see Him face to face. But God is faithful and has healed me again and again, most recently through the darkness of deep depression when trying to lead a large church through an implosion and brutal falling out. Hundreds were hurt emotionally and spiritually. Three of the four pastors were forced out, leaving only me with the help of others to lead the church back from sinking. The intense stress of counseling hurting people, preaching and teaching the grieving left me in despair. It was only on Pentecost several years ago as the story was read aloud from Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit once more descended with His warm power and covered me in His love and healing. I was filled with His light of joy and confidence that has remained. Of course this was a dramatic trial, but I had stood under it until God had healed and released me to go and heal others in hospitals as chaplain.
God is good and His love endures forever. Find Him and find healing and new life.