Saturday, June 28, 2014

A congregation of ghosts

What are you addicted to in life?  An addiction is described as the state of being "enslaved" to a habit, practice, or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.  To cease from the addicting substance or activity would be to cause great pain to the one who is addicted.  Now, answer that question again - what are you addicted to in life?  If we purely examine this from a material or physical perspective, we may miss some of the stuff we sometimes are "enslaved" by which are not physical or material in nature. For example, if we are people-pleasers, we are addicted to the desire to make everyone happy regardless of the cost to us or others closest to us.  This would not be a good addiction, right?  If we are addicted to the praise we obtain from others in order to affirm our self-worth, then we also are not really free from being enslaved to something which has a "rule" over us. There are lots of addictive things in life - to live free of them is quite a challenge. To never recognize their control over our lives is another!

Whoever wanders off the straight and narrow ends up in a congregation of ghosts. You’re addicted to thrills? What an empty life! The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied. (Proverbs 21:16-17 MSG)

The issue with addictive behaviors or tendencies is the issue of who or what is in control in our lives.  Pure and simple - what has our attention the most has our heart.  Whatever has our heart has our entire being at its disposal.  This is the issue underneath physical substance addiction - the substance has control over our lives and all our attention is focused on the substance and its effect it has as far as how it makes us "feel".  Most addictive behaviors are emotionally based - in other words, there is always an element of the way they make us "feel".  Even if the addiction is not physical (such as pornography) or substance invoked (such as with alcohol or narcotics), the power an addiction has over our lives is astronomical.  Psychological addiction is also controlling in that what has in inroad into our emotions has an inroad into our actions - what we feel drives how we respond to the thing which enslaves us.  If we feel unworthy until someone praises us, we are addicted to the praise for our sense of worth rather than reliant upon the truth that God gives us ultimate worth in Christ Jesus.

How do we know when we are "enslaved" to something, someone's approval, or the like?  First, we have to look to the direction we receive from the Word of God.  The "handbook" on living we are given is both a set of positive and negative examples by which we may gauge our actions and thoughts.  If we consider the instructions laid out in Proverbs as illustrations of what to move toward and also what to avoid, we can use these instructions to evaluate how much we might be "entrapped" by certain actions or behaviors in our lives. This gives us a basis to then explore what else God says to us about embracing right actions and avoiding those which will only bring harm into our lives.  We use the Word of God to bring light into our lives - truth reveals where we are not in alignment.

Next, we find our actions often reveal a lot about where it is we have directed our focus.  For example, whenever our focus is directed toward what brings immediate pleasure or satisfaction, such as a shopping addiction, we may find out a little about where it is we are finding our sense of self-worth.  We often substitute material things for things spiritually or emotionally which are missing from our lives.  A woman feeling unloved by her spouse due to his frequent absence from her and extreme amount of time he spends pursuing his career may gravitate toward filling up her free time with the shopping habit.  It isn't because she needs what she buys, but it substitutes for the attention she doesn't feel she is getting.  Seems simplistic I know, but trust me, most addictive behaviors have at their basis some relationship issue - whether it is our relationship with another, God, or even the comfort we have with being who we truly are!

A congregation of ghosts is an apt description of what addictive behavior produces in our lives.  Anytime we substitute something which is not what God intended for our lives with another pursuit or person, we are substituting something of inferior purpose.  The problem with substituting anything else for what God intends is that we always need MORE of whatever it is we are substituting than we would if we just followed God's plan.  God knows very well what we need to make us "feel" good about ourselves, or to "feel" loved, yet we pursue this love in many other forms - quite incessantly at times. This constant pursuit of what will never fulfill is what leads to this addictive behavior.  We want and want and want - until all we are left with is more want.  Indeed, a congregation of ghosts abides in the shadows of the one who pursues life on the terms of what he or she thinks they need instead of allowing God to really reveal what needs he has already met for you in his son, Jesus Christ.

I don't proclaim to say an addictive lifestyle is easy to break.  By no means is it - but it is POSSIBLE in Christ Jesus.  In the changing of focus from what it is we "believe" will bring us pleasure, release, fulfillment, or the like, we begin to see something other than our "enslaving habit" as possibly being able to produce something of lasting value in our lives.  Focus is what determines whether we see ghosts in our past, or if we finally put those ghosts to rest. Just sayin!