Just recently I’ve been invited into another man’s story—a story littered with all the characteristics we would typically associate with an addiction to sex. Recently, my friend has taken the time to thoughtfully chronicle the events, the twists and turns, the shame and inability to bring his desire under any control, the collateral damages to family and career, defeats and victories, and losses he’s encountered throughout his journey.
In the process of identifying the real source for his obsession, he’s had to dig deeper into his own story to find the definitive place of broken-ness. That is, to find the point in time at which his heart was broken, the lie became truth, and the vow made. This broken-ness is presupposed when Jesus stands to read the scroll from Isaiah 61 in Luke: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” The origin can usually be found in those distant echoes of our formative years: the home we grew up in, a traumatic event, our family systems, the communities to which belonged and their corresponding systems, circle of friends only name a few.
As I turned the pages of his story, it became more and more clear that my friend couldn’t avoid sex any more than I can avoid breathing. This is true of any addiction in that it becomes defining to us. It’s who we are. It’s my own opinion that, really, the true force behind our addictions isn’t what you’d think—sex in this case, alcohol and drugs in others, work, sports—but a deeper longing that the sex replaces (actually, numbs).
One of the things I’ve noticed in his story is the familiar approach to combatting these wayward desires: just kill it. We vow to do better. To try harder. To pray more. To stop. Just not do it. But just trying harder only works for a spell if it works at all. (Either that or our efforts are reduced to mere behavior management.) What happens most often—and it’s the easiest and probably the safest—is that we just kill the heart. Most often our pledges to ourselves amount not to addressing the identifying the real problem and inviting God to heal us, but stamping out the heart. Just killing it. The problem, however, is that we are not called to kill our hearts. We are not asked to stamp out and kill desire. Instead we are called to “guard our hearts” as the “wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). And we are invited into desire. We are invited to remain the in wake of Eden’s loss … and look forward to paradise regained.
We’re not in the business of killing the heart. We are in the business of life. Addictions in their various manifestations make a play to destroy us at the very core of who we are created to be. Our hearts were created for paradise, Eden no less. God allows desire in order that we do not forget what we have lost, and what we stand to re-gain. Accordingly, our hearts long for a paradise lost. But we have a tendency to distort desire. These distortions of paradise promise fulfillment, but leave us empty; promise adventure, but actually rob us of adventure; promise control, but ultimately seek to own us; offer us beauty, but in reality only provide a veneer of beauty; suggest infinite pleasure, but at best only come through with fleeting, hollow moments.
Where our addictions are concerned, we would do well to take this question to our hearts: “What do I really want?”