Emma and I have just done a seminar at Bible by the Beach. Emma told some of her story and I spoke about 'The Big Story' around pastoral care and addictions as well as 'The Carer's Story.' Here are the notes I was working from:
Christ is our Identity
15 times “in Christ” in Ephesians. What a preposition: Can’t get closer than “IN”
You’ve died and gone to heaven. Ephesians 2:1...5-6.
“Seated in Christ” – nothing more to do – don’t need to move an inch.
What do we need? To know more of what we have: Ephesians 3:14ff
Don’t try to feel Christ in you – look to HIM.
To the degree you know yourself in Him, you will know Him in you.
Despite your feelings (or lack of them) it’s His relationship with the Father that’s central, not yours! You can’t trust your feelings, you can’t even trust your faith. Just know that Christ has faith for you.
We’re All Addicts
People are not free, rational decision-makers
Ephesians 2:2-3: In pursuing the desires of our flesh we are enslaved to the devil.
You say “I’m not enslaved, I just do what I want.” Exactly – that’s your slavery. You keep feeding your foolish desires though they never actually give you what you want or need.
Human beings are not decision-making machines, calculating costs and benefits and acting rationally. We’re foolish lovers who abandon ourselves to bad relationships that only enslave.
We’re not bound against our will. We choose what we choose. Nonetheless, we are trapped.
Addictions to substances or behaviours (like exercise or starvation) are obvious manifestations of this truth. But we’re all addicts. Ephesians 4:17-20
Both sufferers and carers need to know that the sufferer is not deciding to be unhealthy to spite everyone. Neither are they able to choose their way out of this. If you don’t understand the nature of their slavery you’ll only end up hating them. You’ll spend your whole time resenting them for their wilful rebellion and/or beating them with the will-power-stick to make them better. If you don’t believe that we’re all addicts, you cannot love people through their self-destructive behaviours.
Suffering is not a detour, it’s the way
We naturally think that the ultimate Christian life is one free from suffering and struggle. Of course we have to forget all about Jesus to believe that.
It’s not that God’s up there and we ascend through our strength.
Christ comes down because we have no strength of our own.
It’s not “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, here’s the 17 point plan for how you can get there in the end.”
It’s: “You’re dead in transgressions and sins. Utterly helpless. And Christ joins you in the mess.”
If you find yourself in this kind of mess: Know that RIGHT HERE is where Christ is at work. This isn’t a detour, it’s the way.
The Lord knows how to redeem the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25). Maybe you’ll be able to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received in your affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4). But whatever happens, Christ is IN the situation.
Redemption is Forward-Looking
When a loved one is suffering, it’s very natural to want to say “We just need to get the old Emma back.” It’s very natural to look backwards.
I’m not so sure this is wise. It seems to me that redemption works differently. In Ephesians we get saved out of the pit and raised to a new height. Salvation moves us onwards. In Exodus, the Israelites were brought out of Egypt and taken to the promised land. In the wilderness they yearned for Egypt with its decent food and shelter. But the Lord doesn’t take them back to the old place. He takes them through the desert to a new place. Their true home is ahead – a spacious land they haven’t yet seen. This is the whole pattern of God’s dealings with us – from a garden but onto a city.
I think it’s a mistake to try to return to the way things were. It’s very possible that the way things were got you into this mess in the first place. As you go through a wilderness time, the goal is a transformed you ahead (not the old you which you left behind.
Church Comes First
Ephesians 4 comes before Ephesians 5!
We belong to each other in baptism before we belong to our spouses in marriage - or even to our children in families. Modern understandings of “coupledom” are very destructive. We’re taught to cosy up to each other with a meal for two and a boxed set and we sing that old song from the 60’s “We’ll build a world of our own, which no-one else can share...” But church has a claim on us before even our spouse does.
So quickly crazy can become normal when you try to manage by yourselves. Far too often I coddled Emma in the darkness when I should have been moving her into the light of community. That’s a hard judgement call when she becomes afraid of others and when she needs to know you’re safe. But you need to be committed to life in community and to moving in that direction.
One Flesh Gets Twisted
FLESH: Ephesians 2:3 ⇔ 5:31. Those who deal with addictions will tell you that most addicts have an enabler somewhere in their life.
There are all sorts of dynamics that come into play when destructive behaviours flare up and if you’re close to the sufferer then it’s quite possible that you are some part of the problem.
Giving an addict what they want is not love. FEEDING HALF TON HUBBY is a chilling example of how an enabler can give the addict everything they want in the name of love. It was the story of Patrick Deuel who weighed half a ton and his wife who could bring herself to stop feeding him. He was in hospital on nil by mouth and his wife would smuggle pizzas into the hospital. Why? She said “Because I love him and it’s what he wants. I can’t say no to him if that’s what he wants.” This kind of “love” can kill.
When Emma and I got married I basically thought that love meant saying “Yes” to my wife, no matter what. If she wanted poison… well, what’s a loving husband to do but give her poison? That’s a stupid analogy but only because it highlights the stupidity of what I was doing. I took no lead in casting a vision for what healthy desires and directions might look like in our marriage. In the absence of this Emma demanded more and more of her own way and I conceded more and more to drives which were ultimately self-destructive.
You Need to Change
Ephesians 4:14-15 - we're all being told lies every day. We need "truthing in love" in church family to fight the lies. And that means that the carer needs to repent too.
This is hard to hear, but it’s vital. BOTH of you need to repent. Can I suggest talking to a trusted Christian friend about the details of how you’re handling all this? Don’t just get your friends to tell you There, there it must be so difficult - of course its difficult and of course you need sympathy and care. But give friends permission to speak the truth in love: to challenge you on how you’re handling things.
When I did this in Christian community, I started to see a pattern emerging...
IMAGE: Dancefloor - Emma edging towards the dark edges, I would follow to coddle her from behind. I should have spun her around and danced her into the light. (It would mean kicking and screaming and tears and accusations – and that would mean I’d have to repent of my need to be “Mr Nice Guy”. But that’s ok - I need to repent, and we both need community).
Prayer is Warfare
Headship means being a prayer warrior. This one’s for husbands but it has implications for others… There are few other things I’d articulate as implications of headship, but it seems to me that prayer is top of the list. The LORD thunders at the head of His people (Joel 2:11) and husbands make war at the head of their wives. When I’m prayerless Emma suffers.
And remember community. Some of the most powerful help we ever received as Emma was at her worst was going to another Christian couple’s house and praying on a Monday evening. They didn’t know much about eating disorders. Emma was able to talk about her struggles, talk about what the NHS were doing, talk about what was hard and we took those requests to God. It’s incredibly powerful to open up your needs before God and before church family. It’s a total reversal of the condition actually. The condition is about solitary, self-sufficiency. Praying with others is about a corporate expression of dependence and community. Very powerful!