Encouraging a Season of Healing…with Jason Bourne?

Sometimes life principles only become obvious to us when we stop trying to over-spiritualize absolutely everything and instead do the hard work of sorting through the day-to-day realities and disarray of the average human life.

We would all be horrified if someone we knew ran up to another person with a broken leg and took away their crutches, shouting as they did so, “Why are you using this crutch? Don’t you believe that Jesus can heal your leg? Shame on you!” Yes, granted that Jesus can do whatever He wants to, including on-the-spot miraculous physical healing, most of us would still respond by asking our friend to lighten up and, for crying out loud, give the crutches back.

This example helps us see what I’m trying to say; physical truth can often inform spiritual truth.

I was talking to a friend several nights ago, and the gist of the conversation was that his efforts to recover from a lifestyle of addiction and badly-wrecked relationships had left him with a lot of spare time on his hands. Time that was previously given over to all manner of activity that fed and fueled his self-destruction. Time that he now needed to fill, yet had no idea how to do that in a “more helpful” way.

I could immediately relate. When God enabled me to walk away from alcohol and drugs in the summer of 1997, I had the exact same problem. The pursuit of righteousness had necessarily deleted a lot of unhelpful activities (and people) from my life. So now what?

Had I been tempted to give this man a “proper Christian response,” I might have said something to the effect that he should join a men’s group (or two!) or use his spare time to begin a serious study of the Bible. The only problem with that “right” answer – given that it actually would be a great season for him to read his Bible more – is that I know this individual well enough to know that several hours of focused Bible study is not something he is going to be able to do right now. Heck, I still can’t fill up an entire evening with Bible study, so why should I expect him to?

My advice to this friend was decidedly practical, though possibly unspiritual. I recommended that he schedule a few “movie nights” during the week and make a big deal out of treating himself to a bag or two of microwave popcorn and some form of entertainment that he could look forward to, but would in no way set off any other “triggers.”

My rationale for this suggestion is simple. I recognized that he, like all of us, is on a two-steps-forward-one-step-back journey, and what I think he needs right now is advice that he might actually be able to enact as a means of staying out of trouble. He had already erased the problem contact information from his phone. He is already doing the work of bettering himself through a Bible study, prayer and involvement in a community of other guys. My suggestion was designed to give him something to look forward to that gave his heart and mind time to simply rest and recover…and live as faithfully as he can during this difficult season of change.

I know from personal experience that pursuing a lifestyle free of addictions can feel like a very lonely place, at least for a season. When I stopped drinking in 1997, I lived within walking distance of Gerbes grocery store on Ash Street, and Gerbes featured weekly video specials where customers could rent two movies on VHS for a buck. I lost count of the number of movies I saw that summer – some good, some “less good” – but while I was trusting God to heal my heart, I also found it “better” to be watching Hong Kong action flicks with Chow Yun Fat than to be in a downtown bar getting hammered…or worse.

There are any number of other suggestions I could have given, but the overarching idea was that it’s okay to relax and have fun sometimes while you’re trying to make a serious paradigm shift in the trajectory of your life. It doesn’t have to be all about recovery and intense personal growth. A night playing cards with friends or joining a basketball league might have also been fair suggestions, as long as the alternative activity doesn’t tempt one to re-engage in sinful behavior.

Sixteen years after sobriety set in, most of my weekly calendar is now spoken for; I can barely find time to watch one movie even when I really want to. (I still haven’t seen Iron Man 3!) The Lord has done a lot of work in my life, and much of my “spare time” is filled with other, more productive commitments. Using the cast-and-crutch word picture, I would say I threw off the need to fill up my days with movies long ago, but I think it’s really crucial for the rest of us, especially those of us who mentor other “newborn” Christians, to help our fledgling brothers and sisters in Christ find a way to walk in a manner worthy of Christ (Ephesians 4:1) as they seek to transition from one lifestyle to another.

Perhaps you don’t agree that my suggestion was as helpful as it could have been. You might be right.

But for me, the key is knowing someone well enough to know what kind of advice they are able to receive at that particular time. “I want you to read Paul’s letter to the Romans” might not do as well keeping my friend out of the bar and away from his unhelpful circle of friends, but “Hey, why don’t you get caught up on the Jason Bourne movies?” just might. At another season in his life, when he’s stronger and in less need of “crutches,” he might be able to tackle that ambitious Bible study that today just feels “daunting.” However, if I hadn’t invested my time in knowing this person, he wouldn’t have even asked my opinion…and even if he had, I wouldn’t have had any idea what help to hand him.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

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