He was standing in the street in midday traffic. He was trying to stay upright but was swaying dangerously. His eyes drooped shut, but he didn't loosen his grip on the empty cup he had outstretched to passing motorists. Drivers were honking their horns at the panhandler who was dangerously close to being hit by passing vehicles. A few drivers slowed and dropped coins into his cup. He never said a word. The beggar was high on horse tranquilizer, mixed with heroin and cocaine.
Reduced to a zombie-like state, he had no idea what was happening around him. One of his arms has a metal pin in it. He got the surgical implant because he was once run over by a car while begging.
I have recently started watching documentaries on substance abuse (such as Intervention and Drugs Inc) and I was struck by the tragedy of this scene. This man was panhandling so that he could make enough money to buy drugs. Food was a luxury: drug money was too precious for that. So earlier that morning he'd found a half-eaten chocolate cake in one of the garbage cans he rummaged through and ate that for breakfast. In one lucid moment he told the cameraman that there are so many other people out there like him: addicted with nobody to look out for them.
The drug was their god. Their source of pleasure. When you were high you forgot your problems. For the duration of the high, you felt carefree, transported to another realm of bliss where you were above your problems, until you crashed to the ground. As he was about to inject the horse tranquilizer into his arm, he said: "I absolutely love this and hate this at the same time." People of all races, ages, social status are addicted to drugs. One woman said she never imagined she would end up standing on a street corner at night, in freezing temperatures, winking and waving at motorists, trying to sell her body to support a heroin habit.
It had me thinking about the things people are addicted to. For some, its sex, work, money, the approval of others, sports and things. We are all addicted to something. There is something that we value more than anything and will give up everything else to acquire it. This got me reflecting on five habits of addicts and wondering whether Christians can learn something from the habits of addicts. In other words, what if we became God-addicts? An addict's traits are:
1. Addicts have a single-minded purpose.
2. Addicts do not care what other people think.
3. Addicts will bear the costs.
4. Withdrawal from the drug is physically painful for an addict.
5. An addict will follow the addiction to its end.
A single goal
The single focus of an addict is getting high. An addict will do whatever it takes to acquire their drug. They will ignore their children, steal from friends and family and get in trouble with the law. The pursuit of their drug is their one waking thought and they will put themselves into all kinds of situations to be able to acquire what they need. They live just to put the drug into their bodies.
Intimacy with God is something a God-addict desires. The psalmist David said that the one thing he sought and longed for was to stare at the beauty of God in his temple. For a God-addict, the pleasure of being in God's company supersedes other things. We live only for His Purpose - to do what he wants us to do, to put ourselves in God-ordained situations where we can be used for His glory. Is that your passion?
Not being people pleasers
Some addicts were in high-powered positions prior to their addiction. One man the documentary profiled was a stockbroker who once had an elevated social standing, a popular social life, who gave up a yacht, a luxury apartment, his income and US$2 million to support his cocaine habit. He pointed to a cardboard box and said to the camera crew: "this is my new condo." He now lives not far from where his apartment and workplace used to be. His colleagues and friends all know of his "fall from grace" and this does not deter him from pursuing his addiction. He does not care what people think about him or the street people, drug dealers and criminals he now associates with. He only wants to get high as often as possible.
God-addicts aren't afraid of what people think when they talk about Jesus. They want people to know Him, even if it doesn't make them popular and they lose friends.
Bearing the costs
A drug habit is expensive. Some people spend more on a habit in one week than others make in a month. One addict said that at his age he should own an apartment by now, then he held out his hand and remarked: "my house is in my arm."
The Bible tells the story of a person who finds something precious in a field and sold all they had to buy that field because of the treasure in it. The Kingdom of God is like that. The relationship we have with God is supposed to be precious. We would be willing to sacrifice everything to know Him more. Jesus encouraged his followers to count the costs of following Him. Being a God-addict comes with a price: we will have to give up other things that bring us pleasure, we will have to direct our resources (such as time and money) in ways that we may not feel like doing, such as: giving to the church, volunteering and giving support to others who are struggling. We will have to listen to what God wants us to do and obey at all costs. But it is worth it.
The bodies of addicts become so used to the drugs that when the addict tries to discontinue taking the drug, they become ill: they experience convulsions, intense pain and nausea. The chemical composition of their body has altered due to years of drug use, so that their body needs the drug in order to function normally.
What is it like for you when you withdraw from God? When you don't spend time with Him? Does a period of not communicating with God or reading His Word have no impact on you whatsoever? Could it be that your spiritual composition hasn't changed such that you need God to make it through your day?
To the end
Addicts are chasing their first "high." With every injection, snort or smoke, they want to experience what they felt the first time they used. They know that if they don't give up their drug, it will eventually kill them. But this knowledge does not make them stop using. Many addicts overdose several times before they have a fatal overdose. In the documentary, one addict who had been hospitalised because of an overdose said that the first thought she had when she regained consciousness in the hospital room was that she needed to get more drugs.
A God-addict is prepared to see it through to the end. In the Bible we read that Stephen who was stoned after telling people about Christ did not attempt to appease the angry crowd or save his own life by retracting his statements. He was going to be with Jesus and while being stoned he actually saw Jesus.
A Christian response
The heart of God breaks for drug addicts. Christians should care when they see people who were designed in God's image and made for great things, ignoring God's plan for their lives and using their bodies in ways that are not honourable. We should become involved in practical ways to support programmes in our community or church that are working to help people beat addiction.
With a drug addict, it is as if they are caught in a trap they can't get out of no matter how much they want to. No matter how long they have been "clean", recovering addicts can undergo a relapse: one weak moment, giving in to one craving, can land them into full-blown addiction again and the downward spiral continues. This means they have to be vigilant and know what situations triggers them emotionally to use drugs and avoid the triggers. In a sense, a drug addict is never truly "free" of an addiction. This reminds me of how sin is. Sometimes when you think you've finally conquered a destructive sinful habit, you are drawn right back in. This is why we need Christ so desperately and to be led by the Holy Spirit.
A God-addiction, on the other hand, is good for us. We don't have to worry that it will harm or bodies or destroy our minds. A God-addiction can cause us to lose our lives at the hands of others but we will have eternal life with Christ.
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. She won the 2017 Basil Sellers International Young Writers prize in the Press Service International young writer program, the 2019 Tronson Award (International) and the 2021 Basil Sellers award for International Senior Writers. Every day, she loves experiencing the beautiful surprises that God has stored up for her and longs to keep cultivating a servant-heart.