The most profound lesson anyone ever taught me about addiction was this: “An addict will never truly recover until the urge to change and heal is greater than the pull of the addiction.” Over time I’ve come to associate this in my mind as the “Principle of The Urge.”
In essence, it’s how one takes the urge for their addiction and turns it toward a healthy application, bringing about growth, change, and ultimately healing.
Throughout my life I have watched loved ones struggle to overcome all kinds of addictions, from substances to lifestyle habits to behaviors and more. In each case I’ve seen the Principle of The Urge repeated over and over; I’ve watched them be led, most times by the love and light of Jesus, to an inner urgency for change that results in healing and overcoming what enslaved them.
The reconciling love of God is a critical part of conquering not just addictions, but all fleshly desires—whatever they may be. I’m not just talking about carnal things that hardly get whispered about in church pews on Sunday morning; I’m talking about the draw to indulge anything that runs contrary to the will of God. That includes things we consume, things we permit, and things we excuse in our lives.
On some basic level, especially with the nudging of holy spirit inside us, we recognize these things are wrong; and in typical human nature we often notice them quicker in others than in ourselves. Thus perpetuates the trend in Christianity of pointing out the flawed lifestyles of others—particularly those outside the church who have less incentive even than we do to live any differently—and decrying from the pulpit why they have to change. Why they are in danger of torment, suffering, “bad luck” or a myriad of other ills unless they change.
Essentially, we are trying to create with our own words and sense of righteousness the Principle of The Urge within them. We are trying to humble, shock, or frighten people into changing; but like pouring out an alcoholic’s drink or flushing a drug addict’s substance of choice down the toilet, we are trying to build a structure for healing on a forced foundation. And because that foundation is formed of outside pressure (our warnings and admonitions) and not necessarily by inner strength (true conviction and desire to change—the Urge rising from within) there are many times it does not last. Additionally, if the person simply abstains out of fear, outside pressure, or prevention from exterior forces without addressing the root cause of their addiction, the wound never truly heals. Often the person will lash out in other ways, whether substances or the original bad habit rears its head again or not.
Ultimately, what the Urge within drives the person to do is to kick down the idol enshrined on their heart and place God at the center where He belongs. And without the proper motivation, the proper addressing of the root cause, and the necessary healing, one idol, one addiction can simply be replaced by another and another without the person’s shadows ever truly being burned away by the light of God’s love.
I would propose that in large part, our methodology and approach in Christendom to affecting change particularly in people who aren’t yet saved—those who are addicted to the ways and means of this world—is actually backwards. What in the world are we doing, telling people to give up sinful pursuits and then come to Christ, when it’s by the power of Christ within us that we’re truly able to break the chains of bondage that this fallen world and its pleasures cast over us?
Can people give up addictions and habits and compulsions before coming to Christ? Absolutely. I’ve known many an atheist who’s become clean and sober in my life. But what I’m talking about specifically are the people who struggle to feel they’ll catch a glimpse of the love of God unless they first clean up their act and then come to Him.
My suggestion is this: until the reason to change becomes more important than the reason to stay stuck in our ways, we will resist that change. So rather than impressing on people the importance of why they must give up their ways and urges, our focus needs to be on leading them so deep into the love of God that His very spirit within them compels a life-altering shift. And this is true of all of us; when we stand boldly before the throne of grace, the absolute light of God burns away the darkness inside us and paves a way forward to healing and growth.
But first we must all reach a place where we recognize we are loved so deeply that we stop blocking that light from our hearts and turning our faces away from it, and instead open ourselves wide to let it change us.
True, effective, lasting change is made possible by embracing something larger than ourselves and our weaknesses and desires, something that makes fighting against our weaker nature and overcoming temptation worthwhile—and nothing could be greater or more transformative than the love of God Himself. So I encourage us all to be mindful of how we approach the sick, suffering, and lost in this world; what words are we leading with? What message comes first? Kingdom grace or the rod of iron? Love or judgement? Both have their place, but between the two there are many who have needed love and received judgement, who have needed to hear of grace and been given the rod instead.
For all of us, I pray for the discernment to know which is which, the strength to see past the temptation of self-righteousness to the way of compassion and mercy, and at the right time, the grace with which to speak of love and light.
And that this love will spark within people the Principle of The Urge.