So it makes it really very difficult to point fingers at folks who are struggling with far more destructive compulsions. I have said often that I am very grateful that my drug of choice is chocolate which only rarely affects the quality of my driving or ability to hold a job. And there are so many things to be compulsive about: drugs, thrills, control, pornography, shopping, alcohol and tobacco and food, complaining, judging, gossiping, violence, video games, collecting, sports, crafts, cleaning, nosiness, materialism, mean-spiritedness, unkindness, cruelty, spitefulness, selfishness--well really the list is endless. Some of those things come with potential legal problems all the time. Many are gateway compulsions that damage and destroy the financial security of and connections within families. All damage ourselves and those we love. Yet improving in even one area is a journey into God's grace that challenges us every day, every hour.
And the longer we embrace, justify, and hide a problem, the harder become our hearts until we resent anyone pointing out the obvious damage arising. And the more deeply ingrained are the habits that support the compulsion. And the worse we feel about the damage we are doing to those we love and to ourselves. And the harder it becomes to believe that God could ever forgive what we cannot forgive ourselves.
Fortunately, God says, " I will also put a new spirit in you to change your way of thinking. I will take out the heart of stone from your body and give you a tender, human heart."* That is, for me, the most important thing to understand. God can and does heal the brokenness in our lives. This does not often mean that the compulsion is magically removed. And sometimes when it appears that it has, instead it has simply morphed into a different compulsion.
But here is the essential difference. God frees us to pursue a relationship with God. And as we replace the errors, compulsions, fears, pain and loneliness in our lives with a growing love for and service to God, the less the attraction to the sad, damaging and ineffective stuff we have been using to fill the space created for God in our selves.
It is a lifelong journey. And it has plenty of challenges and even more victories. Like all worthwhile things in life, it takes work and submission to the disciplines that power such living. But any time we experience a set-back, God responds generously to our requests for help getting up and moving on again.
If you are having trouble with the shame related to having a loved one enmeshed in the legal system or chained by addictions, I have three steps to commend to you:
(1) Conduct a deep and honest moral inventory of your own conduct, values and choices. Don't "compare" them. Don't justify them. Just consider if you are living a life where, if every corner of your thoughts, deeds and choices were exposed to God's light, there are things you find uncomfortable. Are there things you should be doing or do regularly that you don't get around to? Sins of omission can be even more addictive than sins we do.
(2) Pick something you feel you need to do or stop doing in order to be more the person you want to be, more the person God created you to be, more the person your family, church or community and you yourself need you to be.
(3) Embrace the humility to share something of your own journey of change with your struggling loved one. I don't mean to "one up" or be dismissive of your loved one's struggles. Rather be honest, be vulnerable to share your own humanity and brokenness. And be honest as God's heart transplant begins to make small and large changes in how you live, love, think, grow and transform.
Give it a try, because everybody wins when you reach out to God in this way.
* Ezekiel 36:26