Although I am a committed Christian, I have realized that I am also a compulsive “fixer.” After my family rebelled against my attempts to help them I started working almost constantly in ministry. I can’t seem to take time off just to live. My fear is about losing touch with my family, and feeling lonely and resentful that no one seems to care about me any more.
I can certainly relate to your feelings and to being so involved in ministry it feels like there is no time left for you just to live. At one point in my life I got burned out trying to serve God and minister to people. I went to a counselor and discovered a mystery, a secret about myself that had been hidden behind my confident smile and attempts to be God’s person. Much to my surprise I saw that crouching behind my compulsive religious working and overachieving was a lonely and starved self, like a lost child—which in one sense I’d felt like all my life. That was true even though I had caring parents and a brother and we lived in a “Christian home” and I had won all kinds of honors in school.
I saw that I was almost completely focused on getting love and attention. I used everything I had—all my talent and energy—to manipulate the people and things around me, often “for their own good,” but really so they would love me and think I was a great person. I saw, in short, that I am an almost completely self-centered person, one who puts himself in the center and tries desperately to control his world and the people in it—traits I have always abhorred in other people. Since this had not been conscious, I’d never faced these behaviors and when I made a serious commitment of my adult life to God I began to build a life and a ministry trying to solve this need to feel okay.
As I began to face myself at this new level I was horrified to see that this self-centered grandiosity, this playing God, I’d been involved in was “addictive.” I could somehow hide it from myself, but despite all my resolve, I couldn’t stop it. I realized that this compulsive, driving busy-ness as a Christian to be enough, do enough, to please people (to get their attention, approval, or love),to lead them to Christ and/or fix them in order to become okay myself, operated like any other addiction. I had an uncontrollable compulsion to repeat these self-defeating behaviors that was disastrous to me. Sometimes I felt as though I must be crazy not to be able to change simple habits I wanted to be rid of.
For example, I kept getting snarled up with people close to me. I would promise not to tell them what to do or try to run their lives. But then, against my own will it seemed, I would catch myself doing the very thing I had promised myself (and them) I would never do again. I was like a drug addict promising not to use chemicals and then going right back out and doing it. I could decide I was not going to give people close to me unsolicited advice or try to influence their decisions, yet at the end of every phone call or visit with certain people in my family I would see that I’d done it again—and again. I could hear the anger and discouragement in their voices.
I discovered that I used work, intensity, alcohol, and religious activities to cover and blot out the feelings that would have revealed to me that though I might look like a humble Christian (and truly want to be one), I was playing God in people’s lives to get the attention and approval I needed so desperately from them and/or even from God.
These may not seem like important issues to you unless you have made resolutions—to change your eating habits, exercising habits, or drinking habits, to get rid of resentments or fears, or not to do things that are irritating to those around you. But I tried to change some of these things and was baffled when I could not. I saw that what I was doing was Sin* and I also saw that it was addictive.
It dawned on me with an awesome certainty that when people speak of themselves as being “sinners in need of God’s healing,” they are actually talking about being in the grips of the addictive spiritual disease that the Bible portrays in connection with Sin. I realized that this disease can disrupt our everyday lives and relationships and never be seen to even be connected to Sin. And I saw that this Sin-disease may well be the matrix for all compulsive, manipulative, and controlling behavior. In an instant of clarity I saw that what we have always called Sin just might be the source, the breeding ground, of all other addictions and for the irrational destructive and addictive behaviors that are destroying our lives and institutions across the world—even our churches.
My counselor had told me that the best program ever devised for recovering from compulsive behaviors and addictions of any sort was the Twelve-Step program originally devised for alcoholics but now used by those addicted to food, people-pleasing, drugs, gambling, sex, religion, and many other compulsive habits and relationships. I saw that I was compulsive in several areas.
As I began to work through the simple twelve steps many years ago, I realized that here was a profound program of spiritual and physical healing that got at issues of spiritual sickness I had never been able to reach or even see through the traditional theological and psychological methods I had learned in seminary, in graduate courses in psychological counseling, and during over thirty years of studying the lives of the saints. Although those things had helped significantly and had led me to where I was, they did not deal directly with the repressed and compulsive behaviors of the Sin-disease I was now confronting.
After about a year of being in recovery I started to connect the sanity and security I was experiencing with the peace and joy that were such an integral part of the experience of the early Christian church.
I wondered if perhaps the simple spiritual program that was changing my life and the lives of thousands of people “right now” wasn’t pretty close to the early church’s clear recognition of sin and the gospel’s remedy for it.
If this was true, then countless numbers of people might find their way to freedom… and to God, using the spiritual process underlying the Twelve Steps.**
Dear Lord, thank you that your healing Spirit that was revealed in Jesus captured the hearts of some of your addicted servants and through them provided a way of healing and wholeness for millions of Christians whose lives and relationships have been bruised and broken though the same controlling compulsiveness that set up addictive drinking and acting out. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool? Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime [and unreality] of sin. These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.
– Psalm 19:11-14, The Message
O to grace how great debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.
– Hymn lyrics by Robert Robinson
* Sin with a capital “S” being to put myself in the driver’s seat of my life where only God should be if I wanted to live as he made me to be. Sins (with a small “s”) are things I do as a result of putting myself in the center of my life.