As each day passes, we see more of the devastating effect COVID-19 is having on families, churches, and businesses across the globe. But we often don’t see how the pandemic is affecting those recovering from addiction.
As a former heroin addict, I can’t help but view this pandemic through the lens of addiction recovery. For those struggling to stay sober and clean, a time of social distancing, closed churches, and postponed recovery groups is especially challenging—especially when the liquor stores are open.
Coming to Christ and Church
I grew up in a normal (if there is such a thing) Christian home where I learned about Jesus, had a stable family, and wanted to become a professional baseball player. Instead, wanting to fit in and escape from anxieties and stress, I tried drugs. What began as a seemingly small choice eventually plunged me into the throes of addiction.
Through my mom’s love I began to see a glimpse of God’s love for me.
In 2007, I passed out driving my car while high on methadone and crack cocaine. I remember waking in the hospital with my mom at my side. I was expecting her to express disappointment with me, but she didn’t. Through my mom’s love I began to see a glimpse of God’s love for me. She didn’t condemn me for being an addict; she just wanted to see me get free.
The Hound of Heaven was after me from that moment on. Eventually I ended up in a Christian treatment program where the gospel message became real to me for the first time. In Christ Jesus I was set free.
It’s been more than 12 years, and by God’s grace I’ve remained sober. The local church has been with me every step of the way, providing a steady flow of doctrine to help me learn about God, support when I’ve wanted to give up, and a community of believers who’ve helped me fight temptation and held me accountable. I would not be where I am today without the local church.
Addiction Recovery in a Pandemic
This is what makes the present situation so difficult for addiction recovery. Liquor stores are open, but churches are restricted. Support and recovery groups have been temporarily suspended or moved online, which isn’t the same as in-person support. Added to that is job loss and financial hardship.
Addicts typically struggle with knowing how to handle stress—even without the added pressures of a pandemic. How can we help them now?
1. Move toward them.
Jesus was clear: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Those enslaved to addiction are often trapped in guilt and shame. As a result, they want to hide. The call to social distancing is easy for an addict—they’re already experts at isolation. They often feel dirty and disgusting, the modern-day outcast.
Christ moves toward the outcast, and as we follow him, we find his heart growing in us to do likewise.
When we move toward them in the love of Christ, we are representing the heart of Jesus and inviting them to come out of their guilt and shame. As Dane Ortlund reminds us, “Time and again it is the morally disgusting, the socially reviled, the inexcusable and undeserving, who do not simply receive Christ’s mercy but to whom Christ most naturally gravitates. He is, by his enemies’ testimony, the ‘friend of sinners.’”
Christ moves toward the outcast and, as we follow him, we discover his heart growing in us to do likewise. Reach out to those you know battling with addiction.
2. Listen to their perspective.
While many people are arguing about the economy, vaccines, and masks, addicts have a different worry. They are in a war against their flesh, and one of their main defense weapons—church—is hard to access.
Listening to their perspective lets them know you are in the trenches with them. Hearing their struggle helps you know how to care for them well. Bonhoeffer offers a helpful reminder: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”
3. Lament with them.
One thing I’ve learned over the past decade of counseling addicts is that they struggle to lament. When stressed, suffering, or frustrated, addicts have difficulty directing their emotions upward.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” For the addict, this verse is often lived out like this: “Alcohol is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” After you’ve taken time to listen, lament with them. Help them express their situation to God, pouring out their hearts and finding him to be a present help even in a pandemic.
4. Pray they find true satisfaction in Jesus.
I once heard a brother in Christ and former alcoholic say, “I still drink. I’ve just changed the fountain from which I drink.”
The hope for those enslaved to addiction is that they would find a superior satisfaction in Jesus.
Addiction is like the idolatry described in Jeremiah 2:13, drinking from “broken cisterns that can hold no water.” When we come to Christ for salvation, we come to the fountain of living water, the only place of lasting satisfaction. The hope for those enslaved to addiction is that they would find a superior satisfaction in Jesus. So intercede for those trapped in addiction or on the path of recovery. Pray that they’d find Jesus more worthy and satisfying than anything else in this world. Pray that they’d agree with the psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25).
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This is a call to collectively bear the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic—including the burdens of those in addiction recovery. When we do this, we fulfill the law of Christ. What a glorious opportunity in this time.