The Psalms: Support and Challenge in a World of Addiction

Psalm 6:2-4, 6-7 Have mercy on me, YHWH, for my strength is gone.  Heal me, for I am afraid to my very bones. And my soul is full of anguish. And you, YHWH – how long? Turn, YHWH!  Save my life!  Deliver me because of your love. I am exhausted from crying; every night I flood my bed with tears, I drench my couch with my weeping, I’m nearly blind with grief; my eyes are weak because of all my foes.

 

Today we begin a summer sermon series. Last year’s summer series on addiction and 12 step programs had a good response, so I decided to follow-up that series this summer with a sermon series on the Psalms, and using the psalms to help with addiction in our families and communities. The Psalm readings for today came from a Christian website with resources for dealing with addiction.  They suggest these particular selections from Psalms as relevant to recovery work.  Listen for the word of God for you today.

 

Psalm 31:9-10  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

This is God’s good news.

 

The Psalms: Support and Challenge in a World of Addiction

July 15, 2012

The first step for dealing with addiction is acknowledging the depth of the problem; or as 12 steps programs put it: “We admitted that we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” This first step is difficult.  None of us wants to say that we are powerless over anything! We act that way a lot of times, but we don’t want to admit it.

I can say too that it goes against my instincts to counsel someone to admit that they are powerless. I want to skip right to the next step and counsel someone to depend on a higher power, but this is where the Psalms can help us – as well as the 12 steps.  They allow us and enable us to first dig in to the depths of our helpless feelings, our inability to be in control.

“Have mercy on me, God, for my strength is gone! Heal me, for I am afraid to my very bones!… I am exhausted from crying… my eye wastes away from grief; my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.”

I hope you don’t feel this way.

I hope you don’t ever feel this way.  But look how eloquently the Psalmist expresses the depth of despair and hopelessness in the face of the difficulties they are facing! If we need a guide in prayers of lament, a model to show that we can face the worst of what life has to offer, the Psalms show us the way. “Be gracious to me, God, for I am in distress!”

As we get older, we forget that we can express our feelings that deeply, that strongly. In Cincinnati, where I grew up we learned to hold those feelings in check and try everything to be on an even keel. We never want to admit to feeling bad.  Where I grew up, you could have pneumonia and people would ask you how you are and we would say, “Oh, not too bad.  It could be worse. No use complaining. Nobody wants to hear it.”

We guys were taught especially to gut it out and never admit how bad it hurt. I remember one guy in my boy scout troop in Cincy, chopping down a tree for fire wood. The tree was dead and the top of it fell off and hit him in the head. He didn’t say a thing. He just held his head, went and lay down and waited for somebody to come help him. I was impressed, but the Psalmist teaches us a different way to deal with pain and need. “Heal me, God, for I am afraid to my very bones! I am exhausted from crying!”

There is a time for all things under heaven. There is a time for holding it in and there’s a time for crying out in pain. As we mature we realize that we need to listen to other people’s pain, and be available when other people cry, but that doesn’t mean we have to never take a turn. We never cry out because we have been convinced that nobody will listen, that nobody is there.  Our experience has been that nobody wants to hear it.

One time I was with a veteran of the Vietnam War and I invited him to tell me what his experience had been like, what it felt like. I was trying to offer him a hand with deep feelings of despair and aloneness.  He said there was no way that I could hear how hard it was for him. I said try me.  It took some convincing, but in after a little while he decided I was sincere. A moment or two later the lamp was broken on the floor, and I was almost broken myself, and I had to cry uncle. I had to admit that I was naïve in thinking I could handle his pain by myself.

This is why so many vets are dealing with addiction. They have trouble finding any place where they can let out that depth of despair and need. Their experience is that no one can take it, no one can hear it.  The truth is that there is One who can hear; there is One who can take it.

When we cry out like the Psalmist from the depth of our being to the Being from whom we come, that’s when we really know that we are alive – that we can come back from the death that we’ve locked ourselves into. That’s resurrection power. In the 12 steps, admitting powerlessness comes before claiming God as a higher power. Expressing our need enables us to realize there really is help, a force beyond ourselves who can bring us back from the death dealing trap of addiction, depression, isolation, and hopelessness. There’s a force beyond ourselves, a higher power, a dependable guide and companion, who can hear the cry from the depth of our being, who will gift our hearts with hope, who promises to lead us out of brokenness into wholeness, and renewed relationship.

It’s not an easy road. It means going through the pain. It means facing the pain every day and deciding again and again to depend on that power.  And as painful as it is, it is a powerful, blessed, gift of life, life renewed, life restored, life fulfilled.

This is God’s good news.