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When Christians Relapse
We’ve come to the end of ourselves in addiction. We’ve admitted desperation, powerlessness, sin and rebellion. We’ve recommitted our hearts to Christ and put our lives on the straight and narrow. We’re repairing the damage. Everything is going well, or at least it’s getting better.
And then we slip. And we slip again. And soon, we’re in full-blown relapse.
How did it happen? Where was God? Where were we?
When Christians relapse it somehow feels more significant than when a non-believer does. As believers in recovery, we’re relying on God to keep us sober, we’re toeing the line and then the bottom falls out. What happened? Did we fail God or did God fail us?
There’s also the pressure and guilt of feeling like we’ve turned our backs on God once again and chosen sin over the Spirit. The problem is, the guilt and shame threatens to keep us in a state of relapse. We have to look at the situation, make peace with it and move past it.
Addiction Is an Illness
Part of the weight of a Christian relapsing comes from the way in which we tend to associate addictive behaviors with sin. And yes, it is sin, but it is also an illness. By refusing to look at the mental illness component, Christians struggling with addiction can be seen as willfully immoral rather than involuntarily ill. We may see ourselves that way. In order to get back on track from relapse, we have to remember that this is an illness and that we’re powerless over it, but there is help.
Repentance Closes the Door on Relapse
Alcoholics Anonymous, though recognizing that alcoholism is an illness, never allows us to abdicate personal responsibility for our actions. We have all the tools we need to recover and it’s our responsibility to make use of them. If we’ve walked away, then we need to make the choice to turn around and walk back. Repentance isn’t just groveling over our wrong actions; it’s acknowledging we’ve taken a wrong turn and now we’re doing a 180. We are intentionally turning toward the good. And if we’ve been in recovery, this is easier as we likely already have the right supports in place. There is no need to waste time in guilt, shame and self-pity; we can make a turn as fast as possible and start walking in the right direction.
God created us and He knows that life is hard and we’re weak. He abounds in forgiveness and grace. But often, because of our shame, we believe we can’t approach the throne of grace to receive God’s help. This mindset is not biblical and it only keeps us flailing in the problem rather than thriving in the solution. God calls us to be bold. We must have the audacious faith to believe that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we have the unconditional love of the Father now and forever. We are loved, we are covered in grace, we can recover.
If a Christian You Know Has Relapsed
A Christian in relapse, and also in denial, is a serious thing. Though he or she may have been exposed to the truth and the power of recovery, the disease has taken over again. While a return to addiction presents a threat to the individual’s physical and mental health, it can also make shipwreck of his or her faith. If you are close to the individual, consider attending Christian Al-Anon. Often, what we think constitutes “helping” might not actually be helpful. Al-Anon shows us how to help a loved one without enabling the problem.