Anesthetize: Overcoming The Desire To Numb The Pain Of Unmet Longings

“Thank God I got sober now so I could be hyper-sensitive for this series of humiliations.” -Meryl Streep in Postcards From The Edge

I still remember the conversation I had with a man who had gone through quite a few trials in his young life. He struggled with an addiction to cocaine but eventually he gave up his addiction and got clean. Not long after that he found out that his wife had a terminal disease and was going to die. After his wife died he needed to learn how to honestly deal with the pain of life without numbing himself with drugs. He was telling me about a time when he was at home and was contemplating having a beer. He was
not thinking about getting drunk, just having a couple of drinks. From his perspective, nothing overtly wrong with a beer or two. What got me is that he, in that moment, sensed that the Holy Spirit was telling him not to have the drink. Instead of having a beer he was being told that he needed to stop self-medicating and actually feel the pain present in his life. He knew that his propensity was to do something, take something, to help him cope with the pain of life. He put the beer down and began the lifelong process of embracing the pain of life and looking for how God was going to meet him, heal him, where he was most deeply broken.

It makes me wonder how often we anesthetize ourselves throughout our daily lives? It may not be cocaine, it may be prescription medicine, alcohol, entertainment, food, shopping, pursuit of romance, career advancement, money, etc…

Here are a few thoughts I have when it comes to our tendency to escape our pain rather than meet God in it…

  1. Most likely we have tightened the stranglehold of an addiction in our life. Every time we turn to something other than God to deal with the pain of life or unmet expectations we enslave ourselves to something that can not possibly deliver what we need. Every compromise with sin makes it a little easier to give into it next time.
  2. We are telling God that he is not enough. When we give into an addiction we are making it very clear to ourselves and anyone else in our life that we do not believe that God is enough for us. We may not say that God is not enough out loud, but the way we live reveals what we truly believe.
  3. We are quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieving (Ephesians 4:30) the Holy Spirit and keeping him from healing our brokenness. God loves us no matter what. Time and time again in Scripture (Luke 15) we see that God’s love for the prodigal knows no boundaries. Yet Scripture does warn us that, even as Christians, that there are repercussions if we continue our sinful habits. If we feel distant from God or that there is a serious lack of spiritual power in our lives it may be because we are trying to manage the sin in our lives instead of treating it like a cancer that wants to kill us.
  4. We keep from seeing how God was going to care for us and love us in our moment of desperation. We read in God’s Word that Jesus is (John 4:14) the living water that satisfies our deepest longings and thirsts. Perhaps we have gotten into the habit of giving into our temptation instead of patiently enduring the trial and experiencing God’s gracious provision in Christ.
  5. We may have given the devil a foothold in our life (Ephesians 4:17).  The Bible is clear that we are in a spiritual battle (1 Peter 5:8) and it would appear that continual, habitual sin may give the devil an undesired influence in our life.
  6. We keep from seeing and understanding why we are feeling the way we do. Our pain may be revealing something that we love too much. Is it possible that we feel desperate, angry, bitter, depressed, anxious because we love something or someone more than we should? If we numb ourselves instead of dealing with the pain we may never see the the many idols that are present in our lives.
  7. We reveal that we fail to understand that God uses hardships and trials (1 Peter 4:12) in our life to shape and mold us into the image of Jesus Christ. It is rather easy for us to dismiss the prosperity gospel as truly awful theology. Yet, how many times do we we demonstrate that we harbor a little gospel prosperity theology in our lives when we question God’s goodness in the middle of our trials? The Bible tells us that God redemptively uses suffering in our lives to spiritually transform us and make us more like his Son Jesus Christ.
  8. We fail to see what God is doing in mundane, everyday life. Is it possible that we have unrealistic expectations about what it means to walk with God? If so we may be tempted to escape and look for a quick fix to our unmet expectations. For some people following Jesus will mean giving up everything and moving to a new country for the sake of his kingdom. Sounds radical. Sounds exciting. For most people living as a Christian means living out our faith in the grind of everyday life. Jobs, raising children, sports, neighborhoods, friendships, hobbies are all a gift from God and his desire is that we live as salt and light in the middle of it all. Have we taken for granted what we already have been blessed with in Christ?

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