When we talk about the harmful use of alcohol, we sometimes hear people talk about the ‘red mist’, the violent or aggressive impulses that can take over when some people drink too much.
Australian songwriter Paul Kelly touches on this in ‘If I Could Start Today Again’, written from the point of view of someone regretting the words spoken and actions taken while under the influence:
It’s not easy to break free from alcohol and other harmful drugs—and perhaps those who’ve tried and stumbled along the way can relate to a story Jesus told about evil spirits (or ‘demons’): ‘When an evil spirit leaves a person, it travels through the desert, looking for a place to rest. But when the demon doesn’t find a place, it says, ‘I will go back to the home I left.’ When it gets there and finds the place empty, clean, and fixed up, it goes off and finds seven other evil spirits even worse than itself. They all come and make their home there, and the person ends up in worse shape than before’ (Matthew 12:43-45, CEV).
This could serve as a cautionary tale for the alcoholic or drug addict who wants to stay sober and clean, without slip after slip, relapse after relapse. The person who wants self-control and self-respect, not chaos and confusion.
Jesus knows how hard it can be to battle demons, warning that when an evil spirit leaves a person, it can try to take up residence again. And so, Jesus offers hope for the person who doesn’t want the regret of that Paul Kelly song to be the anthem of their life: ‘If I could start today again.’ Hope for the person who doesn’t want to pray, in desperation: ‘Please give me back today!’
What is that hope? It’s that it truly is possible to kick out the demons of addiction forever by choosing to clean house in a deep and lasting way.
Partly that’s done by learning new skills and new ways of thinking, and then—one day at a time—making these the new healthy habits of our life. If our old habit used to be to have a drink or get stoned or high whenever we felt anxious, frustrated or hurt, our new habit might be to reach out to talk with someone who wants us to have the healthy, happy life we deserve, free from drugs and alcohol.
Cleaning out attitudes and habits is a great start, but to keep the demons permanently at bay, we need get into every nook and cranny of our life. And that’s where Jesus comes in.
Many years ago, Robert Boyd Munger penned a story called ‘My Heart Christ’s Home’. It’s a simple idea—we open the front door of our life and invite Jesus in to help us make the best of all we are by inhabiting us fully. Munger beautifully depicts the discipleship process of coming to realise what it means to be ‘in Christ’.
Gradually, the person in this story lets Jesus into all the rooms of their life. Trust and friendship grow as they work with Jesus to put things right in the study, the dining room, the bedroom, and so on. But when they reach the closet, where hurts, pain and shame are hidden away, Jesus says, ‘Just give me the key and I’ll look after it,’ he says. And so even that dark and terrifying room gets cleaned up.
By the end of Munger’s story, the person has handed over the title of their house to Jesus. It’s not their house anymore—it’s Jesus’ home.
When we decide to tackle any addiction in life, what we’re really doing is kicking out demons. But let’s be honest, they’re sneaky little devils that will try to come back. So we need supernatural strength and power on our side. We need Jesus to make his home with us.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, ‘Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together.’ This is the picture of a close friendship, two friends sharing a meal together.
When we open the door to a close, trusting and transforming friendship with Jesus, we’ve found a way to keep the demons from our door.
Christina Tyson has been a Salvation Army officer (minister) for almost 30 years. For 16 years she was involved in Salvation Army communications, but now works to support local churches and recruit future leaders. Recently she also took on an additional role as The Salvation Army’s Response Officer for the New Zealand Royal Commission into Abuse in Care. Christina and her husband Keith live in Wellington, New Zealand, and have three adult children.