I do not know a single family that in some way has not been affected by “addiction”–be it the most obvious addictions like food, alcohol, drugs and sex, or the sometimes less obvious but equally entangling addictions of greed, materialism, work, prestige and honor. It is so prevalent in our society today that when one mentions the discovery of an addiction in their family tree or themselves it is no longer surprising.
It is easy to simply label many addictions as “sin” and “of the flesh” (and to be sure that is what they are). However the sin of addiction often has a complex and large root system that is in many cases wrapped around a deep need to know who we are and that we are loved unconditionally.
It makes sense that addictions are often passed down in a family from one generation to the next. If mom and dad do not understand and trust in the unconditional love of God the Father, if they don’t know who they are in His family because of the work of the cross then they cannot share this love and truth with their children. Instead they pass on their pursuit of self-fulfillment and unconditional love in the flesh to their kids. And consequently we have generation after generation lost and looking for love and wholeness in things that will never really satisfy. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love I will remain “hooked” to the world–trying, failing and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest cravings of my heart.
Addiction might be the word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in the “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in a distant country. It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.
I don’t think Nouwen’s perspective on addiction and “a distant country” is written only about the unbeliever who is searching for Christ. No, I think he’s talking about the children of God who wander off to the distant country because we do not fully trust our Father’s will, love or provision for our life.
The prodigal son went looking for something more in life. How often do we as children of God do this? How often during the day or week do we wander from the will of our Father, from our true home, in search of another “high” in life–be it a physical experience or an emotional (i.e. the love and approval of others, success or the praise that comes with it, or vain ambitions and imaginations)?
How often are moments of your life lived in a distant country?