Before I say a word about this month’s theme of “free,” you should know that I lived as a secret slave to alcohol for more than twelve years. By day I wrote Christian books on topics like marriage and prayer, and by night I got blotto drunk. I can’t think of anything I treasure more than the freedom not to drink today.
But freedom is a mysterious thing. Honestly, in the context of addiction, some of what the Bible says about it barely makes sense to me. Take for example, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”(John 8:36 RSV).
I always took this verse to mean that once you become a Christian, while you might still feel tempted to sin, you could never again be a slave to sin. But if that’s true, why do so many Christians end up battling addictions?
For years, I couldn’t figure it out. These days, I wonder if the answer isn’t as simple as this: Now that God has set me completely free, I have the power to say no to slavery. But I also still have the power to say yes.
Which is what I did with alcohol, one sip at a time. Of course, I thought I could stop drinking whenever I wanted—right up to the point when I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
My favorite picture of this awful dynamic comes from a story my husband—a missionary’s kid who grew up in the African outback—likes to tell. As Dave explains it, the local monkeys were often a terrible nuisance. But the native boys had a proven technique for capturing the critters. They’d tie a chicken bone inside of a hollowed out gourd, making sure the opening was too small for a monkey’s hand and the chicken bone to come out together.
Next, they’d fasten the gourd to the base of a tree. Soon enough, a hungry monkey would follow its nose to the gourd and reach inside to grab the bone. Now the boys would draw near with their nets. Sensing danger, the monkey would screech in terror. But instead of fleeing, it would cling to its prize… unwilling to let go of the bone.
You don’t have to be an addict or alcoholic to identify with the monkey’s dilemma. Clinging is what we humans do most naturally. Give us something that looks, tastes, or feels good, and we’ll go to almost any length to keep it—often, even when it endangers our freedom.
Jesus famously told his followers, “If you cling to your life you will lose it…”
So why do we still hang on? I wonder if it’s because letting go feels a lot like dying. It hurts so much. It seems way too hard. But as Jesus reminds us, it’s our desperate clinging to an empty substitute for life that will ultimately rob us of the real thing.
But here’s good news. Unlike those monkeys in Africa, we don’t have to find the courage or will to surrender our bone on our own. We can fall to our knees and cry out to God for rescue. And we can demonstrate our willingness to let go by accepting any help he sends.
Six years ago, when I finally sought treatment for my alcoholism, I felt terrified and embarrassed. I hated to admit that I couldn’t stop drinking by myself. But in rehab, I met a bunch of beautifully broken people who were just as baffled by their addiction as I was.
As I listened to their stories, I heard them telling mine. Slowly, my desperate grip on alcohol began to loosen. Then one day, I saw a fellow monkey who was stuck and scared. I reached out my hand to help her, and I must have dropped my bone.
I never picked it up. Today, I’m still free.
To conclude our July series on how we live Free in Christ from the lens of our own experiences, we’re excited to give away two copies of Heather’s new book, Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. Her memoir, an honest account of brokenness, will inspire you to live in the freedom of Christ’s love despite circumstance. Leave a comment for an opportunity to win. The winners will be selected on Thursday.