Why I’m giving up giving up

I won’t go into details but I’ve been learning a bit about addiction in the last year or two. And it’s not what I thought it was.

People often think that addiction is a sign of weakness, and in one sense it is. But in another sense it is not. You have to be strong, so strong, to be an addict.

Maintaining an addiction is hard work that requires focus, effort, and often careful planning. It requires you to push back against strong and meaningful relationships when an objection is raised to your lifestyle choice. It requires you to work at finding the space to indulge your craving, and to manage the lies you tell so that you remain undiscovered. Whether that’s an addiction to drugs, porn, gambling, shopping, sex or computer games. Drop any kind of junkie in the middle of nowhere with no money or mobile phone, and you will quickly discover how resourceful and focused they can be at finding their next fix.

Before we can even conceive of giving things up, we need to be captured by a vision of something better.

So when we arrive at the season of Lent, and everyone is talking about “giving something up” as a test of their willpower, my nose is more finely tuned to the smell of fakery—and I smell a rat.

We’re all addicts

There are many ways we can think about the nature of sin: as idolatry, as self-love; as rebellion. One helpful additional perspective is to think about ourselves as addicts. We develop obsessional love and attachment to and for things that are not worthy of that role. We worship the created—money, spouses, children, pleasure—not the creator.

And it’s why, when scripture talks about how we grow in our sanctification, it never does it solely in terms of a raw act of will power to stop doing something—it is more about moving on the shutting down. Take this, for example:

“Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3 v 9-10

In the imagery here, the process of change is much more complex than simply giving things up. We are changing clothes, and being renewed in our minds. The call to stop lying to one another is not a demand to steel ourselves to stop doing something we want to do. It is a natural consequence of something far deeper, more profound and fundamental. A root and branch transformation of our mindset, our identity, who we see our selves as.

As many addicts discover, they can only move on from their addictions when their whole way of thinking changes, and they find someone, something, to direct their energies towards that are more health-giving and life-affirming than the destructive addictions they have been used to: whether thats education, family, God or work. Before they can even conceive of giving things up, they ache to be captured by a vision of something better.

So the headline is clickbait — and if you’ve read this far, it has worked. I’ve not stopped giving things up. I’ve just recognised that before my addictive soul stands a chance of giving something up, I need to be change in my mind, and to see more clearly the glory of Christ and all that he gives compared to the poverty of all that I am, and the worthless things I cling to.

By Tim Thornborough

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