Over-spiritualizing creates big problems

In my work people often ask me, “How do people get sober?” They are skeptical, curious, hopeless, angry, afraid.

Some even come looking for actual answers. Their question sounds more like, “HOW DO people get sober?” These people want answers. They want action steps. They want solutions.

All the different ways people show up with these questions are fine - no judgment here. But the attitude that they bring into my office impacts my answer because frankly, there are many, many ways to get sober.

One way it does not work is to super spiritual-ize the journey. I learned this years ago when a spouse came in and wanted to know how to fix his wife. He brought his Bible (this NEVER happens) and the following passage:

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

~ Ephesians 1:11-12 The Message

Then he raged. He spoke of his wife’s issues and her stubborn resistance to treatment. He talked about their place of esteem in the Christian community and how God did NOT want them living “like this”.

“What do you mean exactly by ‘like this’?” I asked. He went on to list all the ways he felt his wife was a disappointment. He felt cheated. He wished for a wife who loved the Lord and submitted to her husband’s authority.

Three days later he was arrested for assault and battery of his wife. A week later she was in treatment. Ten years out she works with abuse and trauma survivors; he is in and out of jail for a nasty habit of trying to beat his subsequent wives into submission with the same fervor he used on his first wife.

I believe in the message of Ephesians 1; I worry when we try to use it to control other people’s decisions. I do not believe that Ephesians 1 is talking about designs for us that give no regard to who we are and how we want to live. This is more of a divine tango than an order to march in lockstep with God. God is relational and intimate. He does NOT beat us into submission. He is not codependent. Dr. Dale Ryan often speaks of God’s patience with us. He talks about how God is not concerned that his work in our lives will extend into the next life. Our cooperation requires that we are honest about ourselves and not hide behind false spirituality. A person who beats their spouse may be spouting the words but they are not living the life. A person struggling with a Substance Use Disorder who admits their problem and seeks help is daring to hope.

Who are you? Are you admitting your stuff or pointing the finger at others?