Loving the Addicted
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
One of the hardest things we’ll do in life – other than dealing with our own struggles – is dealing with the struggles of those we love. When we engage in addictive behavior, it injures those closest to us. Conversely, when our loved ones self-destruct, they don’t suffer alone. Their disaster becomes our disaster.
This isn’t only about drugs. Addiction refers to any behavior that we continue to engage in despite painful consequences. Addiction can involve anger, porn, resentment, greed, gluttony, people-pleasing, gambling or even compulsive shopping. The question is, what do we do when those we love are enslaved to caustic behavior?
Today’s passage tells of Jesus’ response to one such person. In the story, a wealthy young man came to Jesus, wanting assurance of eternal life. He’d lived a good life. He wasn’t a murderer, thief, or adulterer. Still, he was lacking something. The narrative says that Jesus loved this man, and so, he gave him the truth – that he was missing something. To find eternal life, the young man must surrender his addiction – his wealth. Walking sadly away from Christ, the man knew he could never give up his money. Jesus didn’t chase him, and he didn’t perform any miracles for him, because the man needed nothing. The young man clung to the thing he desired most, and it killed him spiritually.
We would do well to follow Christ’s example. When a loved one is on a destructive path, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to tell them the truth. Truthfulness is not all that love is, but when someone is addicted, doing kind things for them often looks a lot like enabling. Like Jesus, we must speak the truth. Then we must often allow that individual make his choice.* As Jesus did not chase the rich young ruler, we too must maintain appropriate boundaries with those who refuse to listen. Sometimes this means painful distance and separation from those we love.
Honestly, this is brutally difficult to do. When faced with the destruction of those we love though, we must follow Christ, speaking the truth in love, maintaining boundaries, and allowing them to make their choice.
*I’m writing specifically of adults here.