There are a whole host of addictions for which people struggle and succumb to—some well-known and others less prominent, some considered socially acceptable and others viewed as heinous. Chances are you know or are related to someone who struggles with an addiction of some kind. The Addiction Center cites that in 2011 there were nearly 21 million people over the age of 12 suffering from an addiction ( https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/). More than a problem to be fixed, addiction is a reality in need of honest and compassionate attention. Neither lessening the real and serious struggles of those facing addiction nor seeking to spiritualize the pain and suffering that result from it, each of us is an addict in one way or another. If we’re honest about it, all of us have substances and/or practices with which we daily struggle to manage in healthy, life-affirming ways. There’s a whole multitude of addictions that we overlook as such. Practices we consider harmless, such as gossip, are inappropriate patterns we resort to make ourselves feel better—at the expense of others. Likewise, self-debasement—belittling and tearing oneself down as not good enough or unworthy—is an abusive practice many people do without even realizing it. Turning away from another in need and seeking to fulfill our own immediate wants is an addiction to which none of us is impervious. Sin—curving inwardly toward oneself, at the expense and to the detriment of others and God—is an addiction that we are never fully cured of in this life.
I, myself, struggle with daily addictions. The clerical and call to lead a congregation does not make me immune or mean I am unscathed by the grip and consequences of addiction. Just as guilty as the next person, there are times when I think and speak with selfishness or disregard of others. When an opportunity has arisen for me to act with love and care, there have been many times when I am too consumed with myself and fulfilling my own wants that I fail to respond as I should. At one level—though it may sound silly to some—I’m addicted to buying books for which I will never entirely read, all for the endless pursuit of knowledge which has the potential to become unhealthy or unhelpful to others. Like the greek god Narcissus, I too am addicted to my own reflection—often attaching my happiness and self-worth to how I look. I fall, time and again, into patterns and practices of addiction—resorting to idols and objects to offer fulfillment and wholeness of which they are finally incapable. I’m addicted to building myself up and securing my thoughts and feelings in ways that are not life-affirming, and can/do unfortunately contribute to the pain and hurt of others. The journey of faith for me is one that constantly sways between sobriety of myself to sinful relapse—back and forth.
In the apt words of Corporate Confession, spoken at the beginning of Sunday worship each week, we altogether come before God honestly claiming our sinful addictions: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” (The equally applicable alternative reads: “Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned from you and given ourselves into the power of sin. We are truly sorry and humbly repent. In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have failed to do. Turn us again to you, and uphold us by your Spirit, so that we may live and serve you in newness of life through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.”) We enter into worship broken, sinful people—addicted to ourselves—in need of God’s forgiveness and renewal. Listening with a gracious and loving heart, God hears our pleas for help and wholeness and responds by coming and meeting us in Christ with life anew. Daily, Christ Jesus walks with us amidst our struggles of sinful addiction—regardless the details—always drawing us to die to those thoughts and things that enslave us and to be resurrected in him. With the sending of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with faith to trust that we receive all that we are and everything we need in God, our Source of all Being. We ask God to both make us new and empower us to live in faith and love in spite of our sinfulness, until that day when we will be fully liberated from addiction’s enslavement.
The season of Lent is a time for intentional self-reflection. We are called upon as Christians to be honest and authentic—within ourselves, in our relationships with each other, and before God. This means, first and foremost, confessing our sinful addictions—the enslavement we give way to in those practices and substances which draw us away from God and our neighbor. We are captive and cannot free ourselves. Only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit are we forgiven, made new, and strengthened to carry on amidst our daily struggles of self-addiction. In never-failing love for us, God comes here among our sin and brokenness—journeying alongside us, taking our addiction upon Godself in Christ, and renewing us to live in life-affirming ways. As we continue in our Lenten pilgrimage these forty days, bring your addictions, your sinfulness, your broken habits and practices, and lay them all at the foot of the cross of Christ. Confess your heart to God, trusting that your heavenly Father hears you. Be empowered by the Spirit to live and serve as God intends for you. And give thanks, to God who makes us sober of ourselves.