"Honesty involves the willingness to face the truth of who we are, regardless of how threatening or unpleasant our perceptions may be.” - Brennan Manning
Last Thursday, I had the incredible opportunity to speak at a church about an article I wrote a few weeks ago titled, “Why is church so scary during our grief.” The response to that article has been tremendous. I’ve heard from quite a few individuals in grief who have struggled with this and feel encouraged to know they aren’t alone. So having the opportunity to share about this topic at a church was a special privilege.
This is all information that you can learn about with a quick skim through my Facebook page. But in order to discover the depth of why this was such a special night, I have to be willing to go BEHIND THE IMAGE and talk about some things that I’d rather not share.
I am a recovering people pleaser and approval addict. I'm sorry for not posting a "Spoiler Alert" in front of that statement, but unless this is your first time visiting this blog, you should have figured that out by now. Addicts live for a high. Some people turn to drinking or drugs. I’ve always craved people’s approval. I want people to like me.
While I have grown a lot in this area, it still likes to pop its ugly little head up from time to time like a little garden weasel. This often happens during times of stress because my ability to practice healthy self-care disciplines decreases right at the time I need them most.
When I’m honest about my desire for approval, I am able to talk about it with others and surrender it to God. When I live in denial or pretend it’s not a big deal, I begin to slip back into unhealthy patterns of people pleasing and striving for approval.
So here's some honesty:
When I sat down for coffee a few weeks ago with my friend who invited me to speak, he said, "ok, don't get nervous, but the church leaders enjoyed your article so much, they've decided to open up the evening to the entire church and put your talk in the Sunday morning bulletin."
This is a pretty large church. Needless to say, I got pretty excited after hearing this. My mind began to wonder how many people were going to come hear the talk. Could it be 75? 100? 200?? When I saw that the Facebook post about me coming to speak that evening had been shared 14 times, my excitement level began to skyrocket. This wasn’t hosting during a Sunday morning service, speaking at a grief workshop or doing a outreach presentation. This was just me, a guy who started a blog three months ago. And I began to enjoy the feelings importance.
Would you like to know how many people were there that night?
Twelve people with struggles who want to break free and live fully into who they were created to be. No masks, no agendas, no strategic moves. Just grace.
And it was perfect.
Every person that took the microphone to share an announcement, to read the serenity prayer, or to welcome visitors first opened by first sharing why they were in the group - drugs, pornography, anger, abuse, jealousy, etc. Their authenticity and courage was beautiful. They weren't basing their identity on their addiction or pain. They were stating it as a reminder to avoid the trap of self-righteousness that can easily happen as we go through a journey of transformation.
It was a trap that I had fallen into that afternoon, and their authenticity rescued me.
After the meeting, I sat in my car for 20 minutes writing, reflecting, and repenting.
We Are All Addicts
We are all addicted to something. It could be something obvious, like drugs, alcohol, pornography, or gambling. Or, it could be more subtle, like food, shopping, success, affirmation, or (gasp!) church service.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, A Ragamuffin Gospel:
“Honesty is such a precious commodity that it is seldom found in the world or the church. Honesty requires the truthfulness to admit the attachment and addictions that control our attention, dominate our consciousness, and function as false gods. I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice; to marijuana or being loved; to cocaine or being right; to gambling or relationships; to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day.”
The message at my church this last Sunday drove this point home further, looking at how disobeying God is similar to wrestling with an addiction.
There are four key stages:
1. Distress: We encounter an obstacle or problem that proves too difficult to cope with.
2. Agent: Something we turn to for freedom from this distress - drugs, alcohol, a relationship, pornography, money, our career, social status.
3. Trap: The agent no longer satisfies and begins to holds us hostage. We build tolerance towards the agent and crave more. We can never get enough.
4. Denial: We deceive ourselves and others into believe we are not trapped. We hide our problem or pretend it doesn't exist. We then spend so much time hiding that we become consumed with the lie.
The crazy conclusion is that the agent now becomes the source of the distress an we are now trapped and in a cycle of addiction.
A Simple Way Out
This is the part of the article where I could go through a five step process on how to avoid the trap of addiction. Instead, I will give you one simple tool that can help keep you out of this cycle:
This is Admiral Ackbar and he's here to help. For those of you who don't know, Admiral Ackbar is a minor character (but major in our hearts) from the Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. As the rebel fighters make their way towards the newly rebuilt and now functional Death Star, Ackbar realizes they are walking into an ambush carefully orchestrated by the evil emperor. He spins around, seemingly to look directly into the camera at us, and shouts in his strange lobster-with-a-lisp voice: IT'S A TRAP!!!
My simple step is this: burn this image in your head. Speak these words out loud enough so that when you are in distress and deeply desire your normal coping agent, you are reminded of the long-term consequence of that action...
"I'm so stressed at work right now, I think I want to eat an entire large pizza..."
IT'S A TRAP!!!
"I'm tired of feeling rejected, at least online I can live in my fantasy world..."
IT'S A TRAP!!!
"What's another few more hours at work, my family understands..."
IT'S A TRAP!!!
Speaking at the recovery group was an Admiral Ackbar moment for me. Seeing the authenticity and humility amongst the people brought me back to the heart of why I wrote the article in the first place. There are people silently hurting and in desperate need of love and compassion. Stress does not give me an excuse to begin basing my self-worth on what people think about me. IT'S A TRAP!!!
So here’s the question: What’s your drug? Mine’s people.
Let's get sober.
Join The Conversation
Who can be your Admiral Ackbar? Who is someone willing to jump out and scream these words to help avoid an ambush? Do you have someone in your life that you can be totally honest with about struggles or agents to help cope with stress? Have you noticed patterns in your life that develop during times of stress that can help you avoid getting trapped? Let's all reflect on these questions and make a commitment to take action. I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to comment below, or contact me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.
Enjoy this article? Please share it on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the tabs below.