Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
It is not enough to admit that I am powerless and out of control (my addiction to self is a power greater than me). That just means that I will die in my own futility without an intervention from something or someone more powerful than I am, and greater in power than my addiction, with sovereign authority over everything that holds me hostage to my addiction. This second step is easily the step that everything in recovery hinges on. It is the most challenging step. Once I have a belief in God, known to me even though I do not see Him with my own eyes, faith catapults me into spiritually empowered recovery that is as real as the words on this page; alive and breathing.
BELIEVE Assess and Challenge Ambivalence
FREEdom – Freedom in God versus MEdom – Freedom from God
How and why does a loving God allow bad and evil—even hell—to happen to “good” people?
Of course, there is evil and tragedy in the world, and there are always people in the wrong place at the wrong time; so many who couldn’t choose their parents and where and when they were born in the world. There are victims and there are villains. When then do my choices affect the outcomes of my existence in the world? What in my life and in the world am I responsible for? Am I a victim? Am I a villain? Addicted to serving my own wants and needs, am I in some way both?
Do I want this or that… or maybe this AND that?
Ambivalence, or being ambivalent, is when I want this as much as I want that but they are opposite from each other so I have to choose or else risk losing this or that. Ambivalence might be best described as a kind of internal disagreement. Which is more important; which do I want the most… this or that? I might want something that brings pleasure, but at the risk of some pain; perhaps severe pain. Which do I want more? Do I want pleasure or do I want to avoid or at least minimize pain and discomfort? The fool calculates the risk, seemingly comprehends the risk, and yet will risk it all to gain both this and that, only to in the end lose it all.
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15 (NLT)
The cycle of unresolved ambivalence continues into the insanity of addiction ranging from erratic random episodes to repetitious redundant rituals; recycling back-and-forth patterns of fleeting gratification and inevitable discontentment, hoping that my “needs” are met but always left wanting to be fully satisfied. Scratching the itch feels good for a minute but the itch never really gets scratched. It still itches and when left unscratched drives me crazy.
Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, and paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:4-6
uncomfortably miserable… numb?
Jesus asked the paralyzed man, “Do you want to get well?” He challenged the sick man’s ambivalence. Was the man resistant to his world changing, even if for the better? It was obvious the paralytic had a great need, but how obvious was his need to him? Did he want to walk and carry the responsibility challenges that would come with freedom from disease, or did he want the “benefits” that came with being enabled and taken care of while sick? It’s a fair question. Asking what may seem ridiculous, Jesus intends to evoke discrepancy—contrast—for the lame man. Should the man consider the possibility of a better life healthy and free emotes an unsettling discomfort intended to motivate him to want more and better than what he has.
When discomfort from dysfunction and illness feels balanced and “normal” (homeostasis—a tendency to compensate for disrupting metabolic changes—is a clinical term for it), changing from “normal” can be stressful and seemingly less comfortable. As absurd as it sounds, deviating from pain might actually feel more painful. The result is paralysis; stuck in discomfort and pain. Can you see now why Jesus asked the question?
Today, he is asking you the same question.
“Would you like to get well?”
“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 (NLT)
Honestly… and I think that you know this to be true… if you fully believed and were absolutely certain about it—certain about what you have to gain in the best of relationship with Christ; certain about what you would be missing outside of relationship with Christ—you wouldn’t minimize your need for a Savior in Jesus; and you would trust Him with your entire life, surrendered into His best. But to fully believe is to have a sense for what it actually means and takes to live in the experience of God’s best.
The man Jesus healed thought that was all he needed Jesus for. He had no idea to even begin to fathom anything more to experience in relationship with Jesus. He continued to be mired in the milieu of his ambivalence.
Afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” John 5:14
They themselves are slaves of destructive habits. For a man is a slave of anything that has conquered him. 2 Peter 2:19 (NKJV)
For all we know, the man, now well and free to choose wisely or foolishly, may have returned to the foolishness—the scene of the crime, if you will—that jeopardized his freedom and rendered him sick in the first place. Jesus once again challenged the man’s ambivalence now with how to manage his freedom: freedom in God or freedom from God. God affords us that choice.
I want to do (choose) what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway… There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Romans 7:19, 23
Most unfortunate is when, having assessed the risk, so insulated in this irrational belief of entitlement that I don’t appreciate the heat that warns me that I am going to burn, I decide I can have this and that… until my obsessions, my addiction to me, when full grown delivers inevitable outcomes, and in the end ruins me. The Addiction to self has built-in consequences. It is the law of addiction. I cannot defy the law of gravity nor can I defy the law of addiction to sin.
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:14-15
Understand entitlement to be irrational
Ambivalence can offer resistance to continuing a pattern of behavior when I want to avoid painful consequence, or resistance to recovery when when the pain subsides and I remember the pleasure while forgetting the pain. Healthy ambivalence accurately assesses gain and loss, measuring benefit (reward and pleasure) against consequence (risk and pain), promoting enough discrepancy as motivated for something authentically better. The trick is to use the ambivalence to disagree with the rationale (reasonableness) of irrational addictive behavior that is attached to adverse consequence until it no longer makes sense to continue in it since it hurts too much. Choosing to challenge ambivalence is to identify those beliefs motivated by entitlement that prove to be irrational (unreasonable, problematic) when they lead to unhealthy negative outcomes. Then rationally (sensibly) challenge those beliefs and justifications through recovery God’s way. It comes down to a choice between life and hell.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” —C.S. Lewis
Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible. Proverbs 10:23
What gets messed up is when in my selfish pursuit of freedom my way, I run from God. C.S. Lewis contends that the outcome of freely and willingly parting from relationship with God is hell, which Lewis suggests is “the greatest monument of human freedom”. To part with God is to align with evil (sin). Freedom from God is hell, now and then in all of its forms. Timothy Keller (The Reason for God) writes that hell is my choice to be separated from God. Chosen isolation from God is the ultimate dissatisfaction. Where is the sense in that? True freedom is experienced in the choice to be in relationship with God.
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)
More work to let go or to hold on?
Questions I wrestle with: Am I addicted to harboring jealousy, or resentment… you know… internalizing anger while holding a grudge? Do I stew on the inside when someone steals my joy; robs me of a good thing? Do I cook on the inside when I am certain I’m right while someone else is sure that I’m not? Do I burn on the inside when someone has obtained possession of something that is, was, or should have been mine? It’s about control and the burden it is to bear when others present obstacles in the way of maintaining control. I could choose to let it go, but… I can’t just let ’em off the hook. I was wronged; wounded… damaged perhaps. I simply cannot let injustice go unpunished. Someone has to pay. Let’s call this a brain problem, yet very much a spiritual problem. Intellectual reason and spiritual morality give way to rogue, perhaps even fringe, emotional impulses. allowing values to dictate morality, when it should be the other way around. It probably would feel better to let it go and forgive, but due to unchallenged ambivalence (resistance), I’ll hold it in and seethe. So much for control.
jealousy and resentment…
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16
is like swallowing poison…
For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:16-17 (NLT)
waiting for the other person to die
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3 (NLT)
More questions I wrestle with: What desires and motivations are at war within me? Am I motivated by selfish ambition and pleasure? Am I motivated by jealousy? Am I motivated by rage… revenge? To what lengths am I willing to go to satisfy what drives me? Perhaps I am motivated by fear to withdraw and isolate. Or, am I motivated by love to pursue and receive God’s best for my life… at least motivated enough by my pain to seek help, today… to pursue freedom IN God? Or have I been deceived into seeking freedom FROM God? Or as C.S. Lewis suggests, deceived into choosing hell?
Who’s free in hell?
So why all this talk about hell and (until now) not even a mention of heaven? Question: Are you motivated by pleasure or pain, reward or the impact of loss? The sad truth is that the profound impact of loss tends to far outweigh the festive celebration of reward, and prolonged effect of pain tends to outlast the gratification that comes through pleasure. If this were not so we would be motivated enough by peace, joy, and love in their purest forms that we would not need to seek remedies for instant (however temporary) gratification.
It’s been said that you have to go through hell (captivity) to get to heaven (freedom). Why? Eternally speaking, Christ’s sacrifice changed all that. The debt for sin has been paid. So why surrender to the bondage of discontent? Isn’t it too bad that “heaven” is not reward enough.
If you are reading this seeking answers, then whatever peace, joy, and love you may have had and want in your life is missing or insufficient. Discontentment is its own hell. Addiction to the pursuit of remedy is its own hell. We’re all addicts (Jesus said as much). Addiction is hell. Loss is hell. Hell hurts!
Today, I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses (consequences). Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19
You and I live with two choices, really. There is my way and there is God’s way. My way leads me into darkness. Mine is the pathway to hell and the hell I experience along the way. God’s way lights the path of new life into His best… pure joy.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world (age, time), but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing (satisfying) and perfect. Romans 12:2
It is a choice. I can chase the ritual—the religion, if you will—of my selfish obsessions, or I can pursue the best of recovery in relationship with God. I can be driven by corrupt emotion, or I can be motivated by what makes the most sense. I can choose to submit to the shameful lies told by the darkness in my tomb of discontent, or I can choose to step into the light of something new, submitting to the One with the authority to transform my life. One way or the other you and I submit every single day.
If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.
Proverbs 29:18 (The Message)
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church (all who are in relationship with Christ). Ephesians 1:19-22 (NLT)
Please read the following for the steps to recovery and to understand who God is who offers real hope for recovery that works:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness… so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 (NLT)
*Timothy Keller quotes are all from his book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism