Some people choose to give up addictive substances during the season of lent. As an act of repentance this is beautiful, in reality it is very difficult. What makes it difficult is that many people try to repent of their addictive behavior alone. This is difficult and nearly impossible. I can’t tell you how many years it took me to successfully overcome my addiction to nicotine. I would give it up for lent and tell myself that once lent was over I would make it stick . . . but I didn’t make it through lent. I got caught by my daughter one year who was standing outside the bathroom door when I came out (they were supposed to be sleeping but could smell smoke). I felt like such a failure in the sight of God and my children.
Then I took quit smoking classes and learned all the necessary techniques of saying goodbye to a ‘bad friend’, cutting straws and breathing through them, calling myself a non-smoker every time I reached for a cigarette, logging your habits of when you smoke and then changing your habits. I noticed that every time I had a cup of coffee I smoked, or when I had a soda. I smoked after every meal and . . . the list was long, you get the idea. So, I decided to replace my coffee and soda with water or juice. This was not very easy on me or my family. I was very agitated, on edge and seemingly angry all the time. So much so that they asked me to start smoking again. I called my physician who asked some questions about my coffee and soda and how much of that I was drinking. When I told him he told me it would at this time, be healthier for me to give up caffeine than it would coffee.
Calling my physician was a good thing – I was no longer working on overcoming an addiction alone. I no longer felt like a failure, I had hope and together my physician and I developed a plan to withdraw from caffeine in a healthy way rather than cold turkey. My caffeine intake had been too high to quit cold turkey and in reality so was my nicotine intake. In fact, my physician told me, the combination of withdrawing from those two substances could be as difficult as withdrawing from what was then called ‘hard drugs.’ I asked him if I could be admitted to a treatment or detox program. He said there weren’t any places that would admit people for caffeine or nicotine addiction but that if I eased off of them and if I changed my expectations of being able to maintain my then current level of activity which was extremely busy and fast paced, then I could succeed. So I worked on that and then I added prayer to this process. My addictions didn’t cease overnight – but I kept praying the same prayer every day and I found that it helped. The prayer is in my book, but I’ll share it with you now:
“Lord, please replace my addiction to __________ with a desire for you and your living word. AMEN”
I left the blank for you to fill in whatever addiction you are desiring to overcome.
After praying the above prayer I found myself with a strong desire to spend more time in reading the Bible and in studying it, I eventually began leading some small groups. A few people criticized me for going outside to smoke with ‘them’. I told myself and my critics that I had an ashtray ministry out there with them. And in a way it was true, we talked about our prayer needs and our praise reports and our desire to quit smoking and I shared with them the prayer I had been praying and told them I was smoking less.
Finally one day I felt compelled to ask my small group at church to lay hands on me and pray for me to be released of my addiction. I asked the Lord to forgive me for not having cared for my body in a way that was pleasing to him. I forgave myself for ever having the first cigarette and thanked God for his mercy and asked for the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome. It was a very healing experience and the truth is, I am no longer addicted to either of these substances. I have caffeine on occasion, but I am very cautious about that and I haven’t smoked in 10 years – Thanks be to God and the prayers of the faithful! My experience is that overcoming addictions with Jesus Christ and other people is much better than trying to overcome them alone.
Be kind to yourself when overcoming addictions – the world is cruel – but the Lord is merciful and kind, faithful and true. The world judges you from outward appearance and action, the Lord knows the desire of your heart and wants you to turn your desires to match him – he knows the plans he has for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you – he will be with you in your season of repentance – make it a fast and it will last!