The One Good Thing About Addiction
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35
I’ve lived two very different lives. In one life, I was a reasonably successful ER physician who had a decent reputation. I was hiding a secret addiction, but as long as I could keep it a secret, that life was hard to give up. I can’t blame the job for my life mistakes, but I knew that finding recovery would likely mean letting go of being an ER physician. That was a choice I couldn’t make.
Eventually the choice was made for me. As my secret came to light, the life I came to know in the consequences of my addiction was one of profound misery. Where I’d once known success, dignity, and respect, I only found shame, misery, and embarrassment. This life wasn’t so difficult to want to let go. I’m not saying that actually changing was easy, I’m just saying that the decision to want that life gone wasn’t hard.
In today’s passage, Jesus said that those who desire to follow him must be willing to give up the old life. Only in surrendering ourselves will we find the new life in Christ. Jesus goes on to explain how absurd it would be to reject this transaction. We can attain the whole world, but in the end, we can’t keep it and we’ll lose our soul in pursuit of it. It’s only in abandoning self and following Christ, that we truly find life.
As miserable as I was in the consequences of my addiction, this was the one good thing about it. I wanted the old life gone. I was desperate for it to be gone. In the self-sufficiency of my first life, I couldn’t let go, but in the disaster, I couldn’t let go fast enough.
I’m not saying every addict has this experience and I’m not saying that change is easy. I’m just saying that as long as we love and cling to the old life and as long as it’s working for us, it’s very difficult to do what it takes to surrender it. In this sense, the addict – who’s lost everything – has an advantage. He knows the futility of the old life and hungers desperately for the new one. Jesus doesn’t seem to have much to offer the self-sufficient, but for those of us who’ve come to the end of ourselves, he offers a fantastic new life.