Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I have a recurring conversation whenever I do discharge physical exams for patients who’re leaving treatment. Often, when I ask how they’re doing, they feel great. Cravings for the drug are minimal and their thoughts and feelings are returning to normal. They’re getting their lives back and they’re ecstatic about it. The problem is that they’ve been here before. This is their 13th or 14th treatment. With every one, they’ve done well while in treatment, only to relapse when they leave.
Why do they stay sober in treatment? Because it’s a radical disruption of normal life and drugs aren’t readily available. In a completely new setting, working on recovery activities, the patient does well. The problem is that treatment must come to an end. Eventually, the addicted must return to the real world. When they go back to the old life, relapse happens.
This got me thinking about my own prior relapses and my now sustained recovery. It’s obvious looking back, to see that I relapsed because I didn’t change anything. It’s also easy to see that I eventually found recovery because I finally became willing to change everything. I followed God and he miraculously changed my appetite.
I went to treatment, finding much-needed time away from my using environment. I changed jobs (that wasn’t voluntary). Instead of sleeping in as late as possible every morning, I started getting up early to read and pray. I began exercising every day. I had to stop spending time with those who encouraged me to use tobacco or alcohol. I began going to bed early. I volunteered at the local jail. I went to recovery meetings. I even changed what I watch on TV.
In today’s passage, though he wasn’t necessarily writing about addictive behavior, Paul prescribed a similar reorientation of our entire lives. Instead of being frustrated that life doesn’t go our way, we’re told to rejoice always. Instead of pursing what we want, we’re told to pray without ceasing. Instead of complaining about our trials, we’re supposed to give thanks in all circumstances. This isn’t what we naturally do. This is the complete opposite of our nature.
And that’s the point. If we want a different life and if we want to follow Christ, we must be willing to change everything, pointing our lives at him instead of ourselves. If we’re addicted to pornography, we must do whatever it takes to separate ourselves from access to it. We must be willing to change our entire daily routine so that we may escape the old behaviors. This isn’t simply a flip of an “attitude switch” in our brain – though it starts there. This is a radical change in how we live. This isn’t just a diet we go on for a few weeks. This is reorientation of our entire lives for the rest of our lives. Daily, if we desire authentic, lasting transformation, we must be willing to change everything about us.