All Who Are Weary

God wants to heal us of sinful attachments, but are we willing to let Him?

There is the pause before the kiss, before the pronouncement, before crossing the threshold. There is the conviction just before the confession, the confession just before the baptism. There is the emotion that gathers like a knot in the throat just before the tears, just before the simple prayer “Help.” Life is a series of decisive moments before one’s course is set—holy moments.

In late September 2013, I stood in the cool of a stone-walled church foyer, head throbbing, stained-glass saints staring holes through me. I was nursing a sloppy hangover when I noticed an old friend walking through the front doors. I knew her story. She was a recovering alcoholic, a writer who’d been clear about her struggle. She’d normalized the confession of dependency and walked her 12-step road into recovery. And now there she was, eyes as sober-blue as the Minnesota sky of her upbringing.

Close enough for her to smell the stale tequila on my breath, I whispered the question I’d so often been afraid to ask.

She smiled. I crossed the room, which seemed to list to the left. Close enough for her to smell the stale tequila on my breath, I whispered the question I’d so often been afraid to ask.

“How did you know you had a problem?”

“You know. Don’t you?”

Yes. I did.

There, in that foyer, I sensed those saints in the stained glass whispering, “What’ll it be, son?” I sensed the Spirit’s call—You can take care of this now, or things will get bad. I sensed an invitation to surrender, to lay down the bottle. This was a moment of decision. I made good on it.

Over the next few years, I learned the truth: So much of my drinking wasn’t about the alcohol; it was numbing the pain. The pain of my suffering son—one year old and unable to gain weight, unable to thrive—amplified the silence of God. And without Him, the voices of friends who gave me all the easy answers of faith or how “all things work together for good” grew unbearable. The bottle was anesthesia.

Life is nothing if not persistent. It does what it does, and just as sure as it brings joy, love, and beauty, it brings pain too. In recovery from alcohol dependency, I came to find that anesthesia and medicine are two different things. One provides temporary relief; the other brings wholeness and completion. In recovery, I learned that though I’d become an accomplished anesthesiologist, I was an incompetent healer. There was a Healer, though, who knew my need for the best doctoring.

 

Recovery is impossible without surrender to the higher power, they say, and I found that to be true. What’s more, I found that the higher power—Jesus Christ, the Great Physician—spoke to me in scriptures long memorized. “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” He said, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Take up your instrument of pain, He says. Through that pain, through bearing it with Jesus, we come into ultimate healing. This was the power of Christ I found at work in those early days of denying myself the bottle.

As I stretched into recovery, opportunities to confront pain seemed unending. My son was still ill. Medical tests remained inconclusive and the doctors, clueless. It was a season of medical mystery, and then the hospital called to schedule yet another test.

Would I reach for the bottle?

Deny yourself. Surrender your desire to drink. Follow Me to the source of healing.

A few weeks passed, and the insurance company denied another medical claim. How could I kill this pain?

Deny yourself. Surrender your desire to drink. Follow Me to the source of healing.

The voices of friends who gave me all the easy answers of faith or how “all things work together for good” grew unbearable.

The cycle of surrender in recovery is unending. There is pain, and it repeatedly brings you to that decisive moment. Will it be the bottle or the cross of the healing Christ? When you release the numbing mechanisms, your ears open. You hear the voice of Christ, resounding—It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Come. Even in that comfort, one thing is certain: Tomorrow the pain will come again; another decisive moment will arise.

As I’ve practiced that cycle of surrender these last four years, I’ve seen it leak out into other areas of my life. And though I struggle less with the desire for alcohol these days, there are other numbing mechanisms—work, entertainment, and people pleasing, to name a few. Complete healing requires giving up those attachments, too. Complete healing requires letting go of everything but the primary source of healing: Christ Himself.

My wife and I have a good marital spat and pain rises. The anxiety of work performance comes calling, and my breath draws short. My youngest son struggles still with his mysterious illness.

Deny yourself. Abandon your desire to fix it. Follow Me to the only source of healing.

Surrender, surrender, surrender. This is the heart of the gospel, I think. It’s the gospel I never understood until I walked into recovery. This sort of surrender is not just for pill poppers, alcoholics, and porn addicts. It’s for people pleasers, egocentrics, workaholics, entertainment addicts, and compulsive shoppers. Surrender—it’s the first step toward true healing for any of us who feel pain—in other words, the first step for us all.

 

Illustration by Sébastien Plassard

Related Topics:  Addiction

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24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

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