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Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but sin is forbidden because it is hurtful. Arthur H. Elfstrand
Some psychological and sociological conditioning occurs in every man's life and this affects the decisions he makes. But we must resist the modern concept that all sin can be explained merely on the basis of conditioning. Francis A. Schaeffer
One of my seminary students walked into my office and slowly closed the door. "I'm checking out of seminary," he said. His eyes never left the floor as he stood nervously in front of me, waiting for my response. Not everybody makes it through seminary, so this was not totally uncommon. He was a decent student, but he did have a tendency to miss more classes than he should. "Why are you leaving?" I asked. The fidgeting became more noticeable before he finally responded, "I guess I'm an alcoholic." "So why are you dropping out?" I asked. I think he was a little surprised by my response. Most people struggling with addictive behaviors in Christian circles fear the possibility of being found out, and they expect the hammer to fall when they are. That student and I had a long talk that afternoon, and we began to construct a plan for his recovery. Fortunately, he had a good pastor who I knew would work with us to help him break free from his addiction. One of the more meaningful graduations that I ever attended as a seminary professor came two years later when he walked across that platform and received his diploma-two years sober. I suppose it is a little unusual for a seminary student to be hooked on alcohol, but it is not unusual to find this and other problems in our churches or in Christian ministries. There are approximately 20 million alcoholics in the United States. It is estimated that 25 percent of these alcoholics are teenagers. Of those who claim to be social drinkers, 1 in 10 is an alcoholic. That ratio is 1 in 3 for those social drinkers who attend a church. Christians are more likely to be secretive about their drinking, which is counterproductive to their Christian walk as well as their recovery in Christ. What is more common, however, is the problem of sexual addiction. I surveyed the student body of a respected evangelical seminary and found that 60 percent felt guilty because of their sex lives. With the proliferation of gaming casinos and state-run lotteries, it is estimated that there are more people addicted to gambling than alcohol. In many evangelical churches, it isn't socially acceptable to drink alcohol (at least hard alcohol) or gamble, so we have our own ways of dealing with stress. We eat (too much) and call it fellowship. Casting our anxieties upon the refrigerator will not be healthy in the end (pardon the pun). Why do people-including believers-choose such destructive behaviors?
Partying Problems Away
When I was an engineering student, one night my wife and I had dinner with an Air Force captain and his wife. The captain's wife complained that her cocktail was not strong enough. "It didn't even give me a buzz," she complained. She needed a strong drink to free herself from her inhibitions. She couldn't have fun without dulling her conscience and laying aside her problems and responsibilities. Many people do not particularly care to get drunk, and some manage their consumption very well by setting a limit beforehand. Others don't seem to know when to stop, or they intentionally look for a buzz.
The Peer-Pressure Predicament
Some chemical abusers start and continue their habits in response to peer pressure. I once spoke at a Parents Without Partners meeting, which was on a Friday evening. My message on parenting was sandwiched between the happy hour and the dance. At the meeting, my wife and I struck up a conversation with a single mother who had a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. As we talked, the cigarette burned itself out and the ice cubes melted in her drink. This woman told us that on any other occasion she neither smoked nor drank. So why was she doing it here? Peer pressure! It was the social thing to do. In some settings a person would really stand out if he or she didn't do what everybody else was doing.
While smoking no longer holds the same status in most social circles, drinking certainly does. Why do people go to such events and why do they do things they otherwise would not do? Probably because we all have a need to be accepted and to have a sense of belonging. Many Christians in business find themselves in compromising positions. They battle thoughts such as, I don't really care to drink, but to make a business deal I'd better go along with the luncheon plans and cocktail party. If I don't go along with what they are doing, they may think I won't play ball with them. This is not the time to make some moral stand. They may take offense if I look down my nose at their drinking habits. It could kill the deal. A very successful corporate officer once told me that his unlimited expense card could buy him any vice he wanted, including a "massage." Of course, his company made such vices available discreetly, with no questions asked. Certainly this man and others like him are tempted: Who would know? The company expects me to take a few perks and write them off as business expenses. I work hard and I deserve some fun. Everyone else does it, don't they?
How well we stand against peer pressure and resist the temptation to throw off our inhibitions and party is dependent on how secure we are and how well our basic needs are being met. These are probably the primary reasons why young people drink, take drugs or compromise sexually. No one wants to be the odd person out. The nerd! The party pooper! Very few young people are secure enough in their identities to be able to stand alone. People are better able to stand against such peer pressure when they have another group that will accept them and provide them with a sense of belonging. We are more vulnerable to temptation when our legitimate needs are not being met. The question is, Are they going to be met in Christ, who promised to meet all of our needs according to His riches in glory (see Phil. 4:19)? Or are we going to succumb to temptation and turn to the counterfeit attempts to fulfill our needs, as offered in abundance by the world, the flesh and the devil? Paul admonished, "Let our people also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14). The first puff on a cigarette, the first taste of beer or the first sip of hard liquor is seldom, if ever, a good experience. So why do so many people proceed with an act that their natural tastes and their own body want to reject? Most are driven to fulfill an inner need for acceptance. They want to belong. People tend to compromise their own convictions, and children often ignore the warnings of their parents in order to be accepted by a friend or a group. They do not want to be lonely.
The Rebellion Game
Some people act out of rebellion to authority. They drink alone as a way to prove they are not going to be pushed around or told what to do. They deliberately choose an offensive group to join. These youngsters usually come from dysfunctional homes or legalistic religious settings. Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. Their first taste of a vice is repugnant, too, but they keep rebelling, claiming they don't want love or acceptance from parents or some other authority figure. So goes their thinking, but actually they need to be loved and accepted. They are not going to accept rigid standards or abide by a parent's wishes if love and affirmation are absent. Initial attempts to overcome a child's rebellious attitude with unconditional love and acceptance will often be rebuffed. He or she may be testing the parent or authority figure to see if he or she is really loved. The child wants to be certain that he or she is not being directed to behave in a particular way just to promote or protect the parent's or authority figure's reputation or ego. If your own motives are pure, then you have to outlove the child, without compromising what you believe.
The Great Escape
Work is unbearable. Nobody understands me! My boss is an unreasonable jerk! I didn't have one sale today, and my bills are piling up! Maybe I could get my work done if they would only get off my back! They just laid off another bunch! Am I next? I'll stop off at the club on my way home and have a drink with the boys. It will help me get the pressures of work off my mind and allow me to relax! Just one drink! Well, make it two! How about another for the road? People drink or use drugs to escape these and other pressures of life. That is what the happy hour is all about. The truth is we all have a lot of pressures in life. However, running away from them or abdicating responsibilities only makes problems worse. Paul wrote:
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).
Seeking temporary release from our responsibilities with sex, alcohol, drugs and other addictions only increases the pressure. In contrast, hope lies in proven character-not by numbing our feelings, but by providing a lasting answer. Paul also wrote:
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
The Survivor Mode
We can learn to live by the grace of God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Unfortunately, in order to survive, some people choose to believe that their hope lies in trying to alter their circumstances. As a result, they become possessive controllers, and those around them become codependents. Even the slickest manipulators cannot control all the circumstances of life, so they turn to alcohol and other desensitizers to cover their anguish. These are angry, bitter people.
Other people are overcome by their circumstances and feel absolutely helpless. They drown their sorrows in booze, drugs or sex. They have never learned how to cope with life's pressures. Neither the control freak nor the escapist has learned how to grow through the trials and tribulations of life. This is one of the greatest tragedies of addiction: Growth in character and emotional development are arrested. The New Testament instructs us to cast all of our anxieties onto Christ because He cares for us and He has our best interests at heart (see 1 Pet. 5:7). The drug dealer and the bartender could care less about their clients. To them, the addictions they dole out are just business-the more a patron uses or drinks, the better. What makes matters worse is that the cure that chemicals and alcohol pretend to offer is only temporary. When the effects wear off, the addict has to go back to the same world with the same responsibilities, but the circumstances only get worse with each successive trip to the dealer or bar.
The Saloon is called a bar. It is more than that by far! It's a bar to heaven, a door to hell, Whoever named it, named it well. A bar to manliness and wealth; A door to want and broken health. A bar to honor, pride and fame; A door to grief, and sin and shame. A bar to hope, a bar to prayer; A door to darkness and despair. A bar to an honored, useful life; A door to brawling, senseless strife. A bar to all that's true and brave; A door to every drunkard's grave. A bar to joys that home imparts; A door to tears and aching hearts. A bar to heaven, a door to hell; Whoever named it, named it well.
Stopping the Pain
When you have a throbbing toothache, the only thing on your mind is to stop the pain. You do not care about politics, family or world evangelization. You only desire one thing: stopping the pain. This is another reason people turn to chemicals and alcohol. Many good people have become addicted to prescription medications because the pain they felt was unbearable. Responsible doctors will not prescribe a dosage that would cause a patient to become chemically addicted, yet some patients find other sources. They may have three or more medical professionals call in separate prescriptions, each to a different pharmacy to avoid detection. Some people mix alcohol with their prescriptions. There are many ways to beat the safeguards that society has set in place, including ordering drugs via the Internet.
My heart goes out to anyone who is in great pain because of an injury or illness, but pain is not the enemy. Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey wrote the insightful book Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants. They correctly point out that physical pain is a gift from God. If we could not feel pain, we would be shrouded in a hopeless mask of scars. That does not mean we should throw out all painkillers-sometimes they are necessary. The problem arises because we have become a pill-happy society. Even the slightest pain is unacceptable and must be eliminated immediately-at any cost. This kind of thinking could potentially destroy us, as individuals and as a society. We have to learn to live with a certain amount of pain. It is a critical part of growing up. The physical pains we feel in the body are not always the worst that we will have to endure in life. The emotional pains of failure, rejection and loss of a loved one can be just as devastating. Years ago I counseled a couple whose story illustrates how deep such hurts can cut. The husband was an exasperating man. His job was not working out; neither was his marriage. I have never seen a man so flat on his back, who nonetheless kept spitting at everybody. By his account, his boss, his wife and even his pastor were all messed up, but he was not! Although we seemed to have made a connection, he even stopped calling me. Several months after the last time I saw him, I received a telephone call late at night. To my surprise, he had just gotten out of jail. I did not even know that he had been arrested. His wife had left him and his family wanted nothing to do with him, so I was the first person he called.
Excerpted from OVERCOMING ADDICTIVE BEHAVI0R by Neil T. Anderson Mike Quarles Copyright © 2003 by Neil T. Anderson and Mike Quarles. Excerpted by permission.
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