All people are addicted to something, maintains author Gerald May. “All of us suffer from addiction,” May writes in his book Addiction and Grace. “The psychological, neurological and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being,” he continues. “We are all addicts in every sense of the word.
Moreover, our addictions are our own worst enemies. They enslave us with chains of our own making.” While many people do not have a problem with alcohol, drugs, tobacco or gambling, they may have problems with anger, coffee, computers, or golf — and the list goes on, May insists. And while some addictions are more physically and emotionally destructive than others, all addictions are spiritually destructive, he says.
That is because all addictions are spiritual in nature, May notes. “I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God,” writes May, director for Research and Program Development at the Shalem Institute in Washington. “Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. It gives us meaning. …
The yearning is the essence of the human spirit; it is the origin of our highest hopes and most noble dreams.” Unfortunately, that inborn desire can never be filled in this life, and that places humans at dis-ease.
Many people respond by repressing or misidentifying the longing, May says, but the greatest danger is addiction – when something other than God becomes the focus of attention, energy and desire.
“(Addictions) become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives … ,” May says. “(That is) why addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity’s desire for God.”
The Bible calls it idolatry, May says.
“Addiction makes idolaters of us all, because it forces us to worship these objects of attachment, thereby preventing us from truly, freely loving God and one another.”
“Addiction is when you have no choice,” May said in an interview. “You feel compelled. It doesn’t
matter what we’re talking about when it’s a matter of compulsion rather than freedom.
“And the spiritual importance of that is that we’re meant to be free. … So anything that hinders that freedom is a problem.” It is spirituality gone awry.
“Saint Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them,” May writes. “If our hands are full, they are full of things to which we are addicted. And not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds and attention are clogged with addiction.
“Our addictions fill up spaces within us, spaces where grace might flow.”
May acknowledges that most people would rather see addiction as a disease or affliction that other people have. But he is adamant in his view that addiction is something no one escapes. Indeed, humans are faced with the prospect of struggling with addictions throughout their lives, May says.
There is only one answer – the grace of God, May says.
“Grace is the most powerful force in the universe,” May writes. “It can transcend … addiction and every other internal or external power that seeks to oppress the freedom of the human heart. Grace is where our hope lies.”
Some people see dealing with addictions simply as a matter of willpower, May says. Unfortunately, many of these simply fall into the trap of trading a more destructive addiction for a less destructive one. They are reforming behavior, rather than transforming their desires, May says. May calls such transformation “deliverance,” which, he says, does not remove one’s addiction but enables a person to make a change in behavior. May does not deny deliverance has a miraculous quality. “(But) the real miracle was that avoidance became possible; the person could actually do it. Deliverance does not remove a person’s responsibility; it does empower the person to exercise responsibility simply, gently and effectively.” How deliverance comes is a matter of mystery, May says. People cannot create such a moment of grace and enabling – but they can pray and be open and ready to respond to God.
They can choose to live openly before God, to admit weaknesses and present themselves to God just as they are, May says. They can choose to live responsibly and to seek and follow God’s guidance. Enabled by God, they can choose to stop their addictive behavior, he says – to say “no” and keep saying “no” to temptation. One joins his or her will with divine will and allows God’s grace to enable a change. “Here, finally, is the proper place of willpower in the spiritual life,” May notes. “We bring our intention, our effort, our strength and all else that we can muster to the cause of love.”
People can expect to fail and give in to temptation from time to time, but grace is always present, May says. Some people shy away from that idea, May notes. They look for a God who will come in and deliver them once and for all from addictions and the hardships of life. It does not work that way, May insists. Instead, the call of God is to focus on God as the source of true security and to risk that God is trustworthy. Answering that call takes honesty, May points out. “We have unconsciously been saying no to God in countless areas of our lives all along.
Honesty simply asks if we are willing to acknowledge some of this.
Can we stop hiding our secret desires and start claiming them openly before God, who already knows about them anyway? …
“Honesty before God requires the most fundamental risk of faith we can take: the risk that God is good, that God does love us unconditionally. It is in taking this risk that we rediscover our dignity. To bring the truth of ourselves, just as we are, to God, just as God is, is the most dignified thing we can do in this life.”