Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt . . . Acts 7:39
Addiction – to anything – occurs when we repeat an impulsive, rewarding behavior, thereby changing the patterns of our brain until that behavior is compulsive. In being compulsive, the behavior simply becomes our natural way of doing things, and not doing it requires great effort. In recovery, we can undo those destructive patterns of behavior, but we don’t forget. Often, when stressed, we remember exactly how we used to deal with our pain. We look back, romanticizing the good old days. We don’t remember the disaster and misery. We only recall the instant gratification and we think, I know how to make myself feel better right now.
This looking back isn’t done only by addicts. In today’s passage, the Israelites did it too. God had used Moses to deliver his people from Egyptian slavery, but, while wandering in the wilderness, they grew discontent and began to recall the good old days. Looking back, they grew dissatisfied with God’s provision and returned to idol worship. They didn’t physically go back to Egypt but in their hearts they returned to their self-destructive misery.
We often do this. Whatever our release was, whether pornography, gambling, gluttony, anger, shopping, or chemicals, when stressed, we want to go back. We remember how we once dealt with our discomfort and we remember the temporary relief our toxic behavior provided. We don’t recall the slavery and pain. We only remember the pleasure. When we give in to those thoughts, indulging in looking back, we’ve already begun our relapse into self-destruction.
If we desire to know life, faith, and recovery, then we must purposefully choose to remember, not just the immediate gratification, but also the destruction that we caused in pursuit of our old ways. This takes a conscious effort though. We don’t naturally recall the misery that followed our temporary relief.
We must then learn to deal with our stressors constructively. Where we once turned to impulsive, immediate gratification, we must now learn to drag our misery before God, giving it over to him. We must ask what he wants us to do with it and then, we must obey. This is more difficult than choosing immediate gratification, but in the end, following the father leads not to death, but to authentic life as we look forward instead of backward.