Misguided Strength

A Surprising Discovery)

Early in my recovery journey I went into the mountains to attend a three-day spiritual retreat based on the writings of John Eldredge. While there, I discovered a deeper and more consistent connection with God than I had ever known before. I gained an understanding of my past and a roadmap for my future. One of my takeaways was that I needed to start writing. I came back home and started a story blog, later expanding into this spiritual blog and a novel.

My initial motivation for writing was simply to do something creative, something that I had loved in my youth but abandoned somewhere along the way. Much to my surprise, though, the act of writing also became one of my greatest tools in recovery. As I wrote consistently, I felt my desire to lust decrease to a level where I could easily turn it down. I hadn’t started writing to gain sobriety, but that was what had happened even so.

I found this a strange, if welcome, phenomenon, and I started paying close attention to my behavior and feelings. Through my self-examination I believe I found the link between my writing and sobriety. Perhaps this concept will help you on your own journey.

Energy Costs)

One thing I noticed was that my writing took real energy. Sometimes I would try writing when I was tired because I thought it would be a calm and sedentary activity, but it didn’t work. I really struggled to compose anything, and whatever I did get down was of inferior quality. I found that I did my best writing when I was still fresh and full of energy. I might not work up a sweat with my writing, but it does take real mental energy.

And this, I discovered, was the same with lust. Lust takes a story of energy, even when one is only sitting at a computer. It expends your strength and leaves you weaker than you were before. Thus, I found that my act of creativity was burning the same fuel that was used for lust. When I gave my energy to my writing, there simply wasn’t any left over for vice.

This made me consider how one of my earliest triggers for lust was being bored as a teenager. Sitting around with nothing to do had left me with pent up energy that needed some sort of outlet. At first, I had spent it in my writing, but when lust presented itself as an alternative, I moved over to that, leaving my writing behind. I was able to do one of these activities but not both, and if I didn’t want to do one then I simply needed to do the other.

The Strength of Man)

I don’t think that my situation is unique, either. As I consider men as a whole, I can’t help but notice that so many of us have problems with anger and lust, two high-energy vices. This has led me to theorize that God has given men great strength, in order that we might do a great work. But too many of us are not seeking what that great work is. We miss our calling, but we still have this great strength within us and it’s got to come out in some way.

If this is true, then one of the key things for real recovery is for a man to find what his calling is and spend his strength in it. Exactly what that calling would be is something that he must discover personally for himself. For me it was writing, but that won’t be the right calling for everyone.

One thing I am curious about is whether this phenomenon of pent up energy leading to addiction holds true for women as well. The addiction recovery groups I have been part of have been exclusively male, and obviously I am a male myself. I would defer any insights on the addiction patterns of women to someone who is more directly connected there.

But for men, at least, I think there is some real truth here. I am still evaluating this theory, and perhaps my opinions will evolve as to how energy, productivity, and addiction relate to one another, but I am at least certain that it is always good to seek one’s calling and put one’s strength into it. I am certain that doing so can only help one in their sobriety.

If you have desired sobriety for yourself, but been unable to attain it, I would recommend that you take some time to consider what calling God has for you, and how you can pour your heart and soul into fulfilling it. Join a group, work the program, and find your purpose in life. It is a wonderful way to live!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 31:1-3

1 And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.

2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

3 And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

Unsurprisingly, Jacob’s increase had the side-effect of upsetting others. The sons of Laban were growing angry, and even Laban’s attitude towards Jacob had shifted. Yes, it was true that Jacob’s flocks had grown at the expense of Laban’s, but as we will see in the coming verses, this was due more to the divine intervention of God than his own cunning.

Jacob had fled his original home to escape the wrath of his brother, and it might have been that harmful thoughts were being cultivated against him in this new home as well. Fortunately, before things could ever get to violence, God commanded Jacob to leave this land for his original residence. God did not specify how things would go down when Jacob met Esau again, but he did provide the comforting promise “I will be with thee.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 20:7, 9-12

7 Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.


9 Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

10 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

11 And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.

12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

God tells Abimelech what he must do to remove the threat of destruction from his house, and when Abimelech awakens the next day he quickly follows through. He doesn’t hold back in expressing his frustration with Abraham, though. “Thou hast done deeds that ought not to be done!”

And now Abraham is frank and forthcoming. “I thought the fear of God is not in this place.” He also admits the exact nature of his relationship to Sarah, yes her husband, but also that he actually is her half-brother.

At last Abimelech and Abraham are having a real and honest communication. Abimelech expresses his genuine offense and Abraham discloses his genuine fears, and now at last the two men are seeing each other honestly. It may not be the happiest of conversations, but their understanding of one another is now in harmony with the truth, which is the only foundation that a real relationship can be built on. Assumptions and unspoken fears lead to relationships that are not congruent with reality, and that disparity always causes harm.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

Peace in the Storm- Ephesians 4:31-32, Matthew 5:39, 1 Peter 3:9

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

COMMENTARY

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you
There are many who criticize and condemn those that are religious. They call us naive and brainwashed. They accuse of us being hypocrites, teeming with repressed sins even as we condemn others. Some even call for violence against us.
This creates a very real storm of prejudice and mockery around us. There is no shame in saying that one feels affected by these attacks. One feels hurt by actions that are hurtful, that is obvious and natural.
Also natural is the desire to respond in kind. Many that are religious therefore rush to bash their attackers right back, to rage a storm of their own that will drown out all the others.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another
Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing

If we respond to the buffeting of the world in kind, what then is different between us and the world? If we become just as impolite and heartless as the faithless, then what good did our faith do us? There is a strong irony if one preaches love, but is quick to hate anyone that calls them a hypocrite.
Religion only has a leg to stand on if it advocates a different way. Christ’s injunction to turn the other cheek is not only nice, it is essential.
Truly we prove the reality of Jesus by allowing the storm to rage outside, but remaining tranquil and loving within.

Knit Our Hearts- Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

COMMENTARY

Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.