One question I have never gotten a satisfying answer to is “How does one person revolutionize and set his life straight while another person working the same twelve steps in the same group goes flat?” The answer, I think, is a spiritual one and has something to do with my observations about human nature in general and some addicts in particular.
Observation 1: We humans want our way, manipulate situations to stay in control, and devote our lives to self-empowerment.
Power is what gets things done. If we put a lot of effort into something and nothing happens, we feel impotent or powerless. If we put effort into something and a lot happens, we feel powerful or potent. So power has to do with the efficiency of our energies that we exert. The reason we say that an addict is powerless over his addiction is that regardless of how much of his own effort he devotes to overcoming his addiction, his life remains controlled (or overpowered) by the addiction. The addiction calls the shots in the life of the addict. Of course, his standard reaction is, “I can keep it under control” or “I don’t need any help” or “I don’t have any problems that I can’t handle myself.”
Observation 2: We humans don’t want there to be anything wrong with what we’ve already got. This is the pride of self-sufficiency.
Where, then, is there a basis of hope for recovery? Hope is not based in the resources of the addict. Hope lies in power that lies beyond the addict. The addict must humble himself, acknowledge his limited ability to help himself, recognize the existence of a power greater that himself and surrender himself to the care of that higher power. It is in this failure to humbly admit their inadequacies that most addicts short-circuit the effectiveness of their recovery program. The opposite of the pride of self-sufficiency is an all-out trust in the sufficiency of God to manage our lives. This trust is like what a bankrupt person does with a financial planner who then manages all financial transactions. The bankrupt person has to get to the point of realizing “I don’t have what it takes to keep my finances in line. I must simply obey the directives of my advisor.”
Observation 3: We humans are more comfortable explaining everything in terms of the natural rather than the supernatural.
While a great deal of life is understandable in terms of our five senses, much more of life’s realities lie beyond the natural. It was Pascal who said, “Inside of each man there lies a God-shaped vacuum.” That is, God originally designed and fashioned human beings in such a way that He should occupy a place of prominence inside each one individually. We don’t have to be very perceptive, however, to realize that God does not actually occupy that place of prominence in everyone. Something happened to ruin the basic design so we spend much of our lives in efforts to restore ourselves to our original place of bliss. We resort to all sorts of filler material to occupy the emptiness left by the loss of the supernatural.
Imagine that all of us human beings were flashlights. Each was designed for a purpose. Some shine brighter than others. Some have stopped shining at all. Inside of each flashlight is designed a battery-shaped chamber to hold our source of power. Some of us, however, refuse to acknowledge this fundamental dependence on a power source from the outside. “Batteries might be ok for some flashlights,” they say, “but I prefer to fill my chamber with marbles. Yes, marbles will be my higher power.” The problem with marbles is that they have a very limited intrinsic power for flashlights. No matter how much those flashlights believe in marbles and entrust themselves to marbles, they can derive no more help from the marbles than marbles are able to deliver. Faith and trust are only as valid as the object in which they are placed. This is why so many addicts experience only limited power. They don’t want to be “limited” to surrendering to the Spirit that has intrinsic power.
We all tend to get this backwards. When we resist “limiting” ourselves in surrender to the Spirit of God, that is when we actually limit our potential the most. On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and surrender totally to the Spirit, then we open ourselves to truly limitless possibilities. We might even open ourselves to the possibility of our lives becoming manageable and productive.
Observation 4: We humans are basically spiritually blind but are not inclined to admit our limitations.
Many things are spiritually discerned, but if we are spiritually blind, we cannot “see” them. For example, how can there be joy in the midst of pain suffering, and temptation (James 1:2)? Natural eyes can see what is comfortable as good and what is painful as bad. Spiritual eyes, on the other hand, evaluate “good” on the basis of growth and not on the basis of comfort. So, if a situation helps us grow toward godlikeness, it is good. If it helps us understand or know God better, it is good. If it helps us to feel what God must feel or experience what God experiences, it is good. (Philippians 3:10). Spiritual eyes see joy and happiness as the by-product of a relationship, not a right of entitlement, not an achievement goal resulting from our efforts. Spiritual eyes see pain and suffering as mandatory but despair as optional. Spiritual eyes see our primary task to glorify God by persevering in our love and service to others. God, then exalts, judges and rewards. The Salvation Army captures this concept in its motto, “Hearts toward God, Hands toward People.” Our natural eyes see things backwards. We tend to glorify and exalt ourselves, judge others and expect God to keep us comfortable in the process.
Imagine what it would feel like if we actually let go of our need for self-empowerment, depended on the sufficiency of God to get us through each day, lived in the power of the Spirit, and understood life from a spiritual perspective! Now imagine what could be accomplished if our lives were so characterized.