Recently, I encountered a young man standing passively on a street corner in the city holding a sign, “Once addicted to drugs and alcohol – now addicted to Jesus”. It was a thought-provoking statement.
Over the years as an outreach worker, I have regularly witnessed the negative nature of addiction – it is a tenacious force. It has the potential to completely control the choices and behaviour of those under its influence.
Without consideration for future ramifications, or even in spite of such considerations, an afflicted person’s very existence will be rooted in the desire to satisfy a particular addiction.
That is why I found the sign so powerful. From my experience, the word “addicted” has only negative connotations.
It is a corrosive power that turns one’s focus intensely inward, at the expense of every other relationship in their life – the very antithesis of Christianity.
So is being “addicted to Christ” a state of existence I should aspire to? Is it what God desires for us?
The reality is we are all born with an addiction – to ourselves. It is at its most obvious as newborns.
Our entire existence revolves around personal comfort – if we are hungry, thirsty, wet, hurt or neglected in any way, we will let the world know about it.
My responses are guided solely by my physical and emotional needs.
As we mature and come to realise that the universe does not revolve around us, our behaviour adapts accordingly.
We are forced, externally at least, to accept the reality that it is us who has to fit into the world and not the other way around.
But do we ever really shake off the internal desire to satisfy our needs and wants? I found myself pondering this in relation to the sign-holding evangelist.
What are my first thoughts when I wake up in the morning? Where is my attention drawn throughout the day?
What aspects of my life must I satiate before I can turn my attention outward? The reality is I am still addicted to myself.
It is here my street corner convert, ironically, has an advantage. He knows what it is like to be completely vulnerable. He knows in the very recesses of his being the devastating effects of addiction to self – to a force driving his every thought, motive and behaviour.
If what he has written on his sign is true, then his entire existence is now rooted in Christ. The difference is he has now submitted to an addiction that is life-giving rather than life-taking.
He knows the mercy and grace of God’s unconditional love, that every breath is a gift and he would cease to exist without him.
From the moment he wakes until the moment he sleeps, his unwavering focus will be on how he can live out the life God intended for him.
I, on the other hand, still display the traits of a drug-addicted person in denial. I live with the illusion that I am in control of my desires, or, at least, it is the impression I try to portray. But, in reality, beyond the surface lies a self-addicted individual.
The first steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is to admit powerlessness over one’s addiction and then to surrender oneself to God. It is a synopsis of Christ’s message and one we are all called to follow.
Human nature ensures we will be innately inclined to a state of self-satisfaction but our Christian walk calls us to acknowledge this propensity and then surrender it to God. It is, in essence, a journey from self-obsession to God-obsession.
We must choose not to give in to self-desire but, rather, through choices of faith, feed the new life we have been promised in Christ.
“If we have been joined to him by dying a death like his, so we shall be by a resurrection like his; realising that our former self was crucified with him, so that the self which belonged to sin should be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin” (Romans 6:5-6).
We should indeed be praying for an addiction to Christ – that we become totally dependent on him in every aspect of our lives, that he is the centre-point of every decision we make, every relationship or interaction we have and that every thought, word and action is motivated by a desire to please him.
And we should also pray that he would always allow us to feel the painful pangs of withdrawal whenever we begin to fall into old habits.