Addiction: A Longing for Jesus

God has placed longings and desires within us (Ps. 145:16) and He longs to fulfill these desires. Therefore, many human longings and desires are good and blessed by God as long as they are in harmony with his will. Terry Wardle describes beautifully six core longings that God has placed in every human heart (Wardle, 2003). The first is love, to love and be loved. The essence of God is that He is love (1 John 4:8). As the crowning act of God’s creation, created in His own image, love is what we were made to experience. Children need love from their parents to help them to develop and thrive as healthy humans. They have basic love needs such as affection and nurture, affirmation, time and attention, protection, discipline, comfort and guidance (Sedlacek, 2018)

Parents stand in God’s place, representing Him in the lives of their children. Their view of God is formed by the way that they are loved (Hertel and Donahue, 1995). Ellen White wrote that “parents stand in the place of God to their children” in their early years (p. 45). Children who are loved well develop secure attachment (Bowlby, 1969). Secure attachment begins to be developed in infancy when parents respond to the basic needs of their children. For example, when a child cries because they are hungry or need a change of diaper and the mother responds empathically with love, the child learns that it is okay for them to have love needs and that they will be met. However, when their love needs are not well met, rather than secure attachment, the child may develop insecure attached types such as anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment. The child may develop an unconscious internal working model (IWM) that does not view other people, the world, or even God as safe (Zarzycka, 2019). This is a type of trauma that results in emotional pain that is often medicated through codependent or other addictive thinking, emotions, and behaviors.

The second core longing is significance. Each of us longs to know that we are important and that our lives are of value. Many of us, as adults, find our significance in the work that we do and the roles that we play in our families and communities. While these sources of significance are of value, the problem is that if we don’t know our value simply because we are, we can easily become addicted to what we do. The messages that parents give their children about their value often lay the foundation for this distortion in identity. When children are only affirmed when they do what is pleasing to their parents, e.g., go in the toilet during potty training, they learn to connect positive affirmation with what they do. Another significance trap is that of perfectionism. If children are shamed or otherwise diminished when they make a mistake, they learn that it is not okay to be human. Then they learn to hide their real self, sacrificing authenticity. This leads to giving others the power to define one’s value, either peer groups in adolescence or other adults in adulthood. Performance orientation is the structure most closely related to finding our significance in what we do. In doing so, we give other people the power to be God in our lives. There is only One Person who has the authority to define us and that is God. He is our creator and redeemer. For these two reasons, we are of infinite value. “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isa. 43:1). Don’t give any other human the power to define your identity, value, or significance. Only give God that power and be sure that you come into agreement with Him! Many of us internalize the shame that has been heaped upon us and we beat ourselves up and often condemn ourselves while the Lord is offering us grace. It’s okay to be human, to make mistakes, to be imperfect. The journey of life is one of progress, one of growth, not perfection. Paul writes “Not that I have already attained this or am already perfect, but I press on, to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has already made me his own” (Phil 3:12). In that lies my ultimate significance!

The next core longing is security. For children, this begins in very practical ways by protecting them, sometimes even from themselves. Young children are naturally curious. They want to investigate everything. So, keeping latches on the doors under the kitchen or bathroom sink protects children from getting into substances that may be poisonous or otherwise harmful. Other examples of keeping children safe include locks on the doors and windows of our homes so that they will not be taken during the night. Teaching our children healthy boundaries is a form of protection not just during childhood but also later in adulthood. Many of us do not believe that it is acceptable to say no. We’ve been taught that it is selfish to do so where in reality it is a way of creating balance and self-care. Many children have never had a parent stand up and fight for them to protect them. If they are bullied at school or sexually abused, they need to know that it is safe for them to tell their parents and that their parents will do their best to intervene at school or wherever the perpetrator is. They will spend the money to get their children the best help possible. Permissive parents too often fail to see the danger their children face. They don’t take the time to know what their children are doing on social media or the friends they keep at school. Perhaps they are too busy trying to make a living. It is understood that many parents face financial pressures with inadequate income or in a single parent home. Children need to know, however, that they are important enough to fight for. The other extreme of overly controlling parents can be just as damaging. Children need to be empowered to learn to make healthy choices for themselves. Balance is needed. “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you” (Joshua 23:10).

The fourth core longing is for understanding. To be understood when we speak is of vital importance to healthy relationships. This demands that we have and practice good communication and conflict resolution skills. Perhaps the most important key to understanding is attentive listening. Attentive means that we attend to or focus on the other person when they are speaking and put away all other devices and distractions that are a part of today’s culture. To understand another is to be fully present not only with one’s ears but also with one’s heart. It is important to admit that our prejudices and cultures often interfere with our ability to really hear another empathically. Also, our histories of brokenness also result in our filtering and responding to another through our own distortions and neural pathways. That is why it is so important to say what we heard and to ask whether we heard correctly. Understanding also implies giving another grace when they make a mistake. Most people do not intend to hurt or harm another person but do so because of our fallen human nature. When an offense occurs, we are to go to that person and tell them (Matthew 18:15). If they hear you and repent, forgiveness can occur, and the relationship is restored. To be understood is essential to be known, one of our greatest desires (Thompson, 2022).

The fifth core longing is purpose, that which gives meaning to one’s life. One’s purpose is often connected to the role(s) they are assigned or assume in their lives. In childhood, one’s purpose is to be a child, growing into the place of discovering their ultimate purpose in life. One of the goals of adolescence is to begin the exploration of one’s purpose. Adolescence can be a confusing time in their lives as they explore different possibilities and are subject to the push and pull of various voices with competing messages. College age is often a time where young adults sort out for themselves their purpose which if often connected with their spiritual journey. Does God have a purpose or calling on their lives, and if so, what is it? Decisions made at this season of life often result in one’s choice of vocation and work. The age of sorting out this important decision is growing longer as more young adults stay in their parental home trying to figure out life for themselves. When a couple marries and chooses to have children, their purpose expands to that of caring for their children. Each stage of life comes with its accompanying purpose. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). As God’s children, we have a purpose to fulfill that can be summed up in Jesus’ response to the lawyer who asked him what the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) was. Jesus responded that absolute, total love for God and love for one’s neighbor to the same degree that one loves oneself are one’s greatest purpose because “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (vs. 40). When a person is uncertain of their calling and purpose, they can wander aimlessly through life subject to loneliness, depression and addiction.

The sixth and final core longing is for belonging. God said from the beginning that it is not good for a person to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We all need to be a part of community, a place where we can be authentically seen, soothed and comforted, and find safety and ultimately secure attachment when we have not been blessed to experience it in our family of origin. Unfortunately, many of us do not have that solid foundation upon which to build our lives (Ps 11:3). We all need another human brain to come alongside our brain to help us on the journey of life. That can take the form of parents, friends, an accountability partner, a support group such as Journey Groups, a counselor/therapist, a mentor, and a safe church family with whom one can be transparent and accountable. God modeled an intimate place of belonging for us in the Trinity, three separate persons with their own identity but still connected as one God. To belong to a safe welcoming community gives one the experience of perfect love casting out fear (1 John 4:18). Belonging gives us a place to abide (1 John 4:13), to rest (Matthew 11:28), and to be known (John 10:14), not for what we do but for who we are.

When our core longings are not well met, we are set up for any of a multitude of addictive thoughts, emotions, and self-destructive behaviors. Trauma researchers have discovered that those exposed to trauma and who remain untreated have higher probabilities to have chronic illnesses, mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, and behaviors that are addictive, and by nature, self-destructive such as smoking, overeating, and substance abuse (Felitti, et al., 1998). The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as:

“a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

This definition describes well the neurophysiology of addiction, its negative impact on the brain and related circuitry. It is also wholistic in that it includes also the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of the person. How does this relate to our core longings? In his insightful classic, Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, Dr. Gerald May describes addiction as a search for God’s love that has gone astray and a search to fill an emptiness in the soul that was meant to be filled by God’s love. We were created by God and made to be one with God as both recipients of his love and also grateful lovers of him and others in return. Sin created barriers in us that kept us from comprehending God’s amazing love for us, so Jesus came to demonstrate God love (John 3:16). Overcoming addiction and embarking on a healing journey from addiction and the trauma that contributed to it will enable us to experience the fullness of God’s promise in Isaiah 51:3 “For the Lord will comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” Jesus described his mission in Luke 4:18-19 where he quoted from Isaiah 61:1—2

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

God is waiting for you with open arms, with a heart of love for you, and with the power to set you free from the prison of your addiction. His love will bring you comfort from the pain that you have suffered. This is the greatest longing of your heart. I want to invite you onto a journey of restoration to the Edenic experience of God’s perfect, healing love. That longing has never gone away from any human heart. If you have not already done so, please begin this courageous journey today.

Contributed by David Sedlacek, Ph.D.
Coordinator, Adventist Recovery Ministries


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