What is it that you just can’t live without? For Christians, the answer is simple: God. We literally cannot live without God. Without God there would be huge, gaping holes in our lives. He is the one who ultimately meets our need for love, safety and comfort. Why, then, do so many Christians suffer from addiction?
It’s not only addictive substances that are the problem. Even if we avoid drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, we can still develop innocuous addictions—little destructive habits that slip into our lives. It happens so subtly, we don’t even notice. The process is always the same—you find something that you enjoy, so you do it. Maybe you do it only for recreation or maybe you do it to help you forget about your problems or at least not to think about them for a while. Maybe you don’t even know why you do it. The first time you did it was pleasurable, so you keep doing it. You don’t put any limits on yourself and soon you are doing it more and more, sometimes for large chunks of the day. Instead of doing the things that you should be doing, you are engaging in this habit. It draws you in and makes you forget about your problems. But you also forget about your friends, your family and God. You start to believe that you cannot exist without this thing in your life.
This is the picture of addiction. It can take many forms. An innocuous addiction can range from constantly checking your email, to spending money unnecessarily, to using chocolate or cheeseburgers as tranquilizers. The options are endless. So endless that it is likely that most people, if not all, could identify at least one innocuous addiction in their life.
Personally, I have had more than my fair share of innocuous addictions. The one that claimed the biggest stake on my life was food. I used food to numb my feelings. I’d have a bad day and instead of processing it or asking God for help, I would go to the kitchen. It was easier. It felt good. Soon I was eating just because of the feeling it gave me—or lack of feeling. But it always left me with the same problems I started with. More than that, my habit left me with physical discomfort, and perhaps even more debilitating, a deep sense of shame. I would avoid people and begin to withdraw. My innocuous addiction, though it started rather harmlessly, was leading me into a lonely grave.
An innocuous addiction can range from constantly checking your email, to spending money unnecessarily, to using chocolate or cheeseburgers as tranquilizers.
So how did this innocuous addiction creep into my life? Well, it started small and got big, but it never would have begun if I didn’t have an emotional issue that I refused to deal with. I would not trust God to comfort me. I have found that much of how I relate to God is mirrored in the Bible. Take the Israelites, a nation with which God developed a very special relationship. He saved them constantly from their struggles, but they still did not trust Him. They worshipped other gods that were not even real! “They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood” (Hosea 4:12, NIV).
Just like the Israelites struggled with trusting God and left him for fake substitutes, I would use food as my substitute. But whatever we use as a substitute for God inevitably lets us down and harms us. There’s a great analogy in the Bible that demonstrates this. In Hosea, God refers to himself as Israel’s husband, indicating a relationship of faithfulness and trust. However, Israel has taken “lovers,” (the seemingly innocent things that the Israelites care about more than God). So God admonishes Israel for dressing up for her “lovers.” He tells the Israelites the truth, “You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life” (Jeremiah 4:30, NIV). That warning stings and is still relevant for those of us today who pursue “lovers.” In my addiction that verse spoke to me—I was seeking my own pleasure but it was destroying me.
I was seeking my own pleasure but it was destroying me.
So how do we know if what we’re doing in the service of pleasure will lead to addiction and spiritual death? Is watching television or eating chocolate dangerous? These behaviors in themselves do not go against scripture, but what if we put them before God? Whenever we do that, the object that attracts us becomes an idol in our lives, something that we worship in the place of God but that has no power to save us. We are repeating the history of the Israelites. This is not only dishonoring to God, but also robs us of the true joy that can only be found in Him.
In the throes of my addiction I had so little joy. My obsession with food robbed me of my relationship with God. And though I blamed myself, God showed me that he was on my side. He showed me through the Bible that he desperately wanted me to be free of my addiction, even more than I did. I finally realized that I could not shake my addiction alone. As long as I clung to the belief that I could be my own savior, all my attempts to break free only left me more ashamed of my failures.
God doesn’t want us to be slaves to things that hurt us. For this reason we ought to continually examine our lives to see how much influence we have given certain behaviors. Do we constantly wait for the approving words of others instead of asking God what he thinks of us? Do we rely on outward expressions of beauty instead of resting in the knowledge that God has already made us beautiful? Do we buy too much junk food after a stressful encounter instead of asking God to meet our needs for comfort and security? The key is to ask yourself: what need do I have in my life that I am trying to meet without God? What is making me blind to God right now? Finally, stop and think: does this behavior bring me true joy? If not, it might be time to ask God for help and to let it go.
For me, the book of Hosea offers a beautiful picture of how God responds to our addictions. God does not leave us by ourselves. He will help us to turn back to Him if we are willing. Aside from the many practical things we can do to address our innocuous addictions (find support from friends, foster healthy replacement behaviors, address the root of the problem with counseling), I believe that the single most important thing we can do is come as we are to God, “…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17, NIV).