Deanna Favre, New York Times bestselling author, activist, and wife of NFL's Brett Favre and Pastor Shane Stanford both share experiences with a life-threatening illness. They have combined their strengths and stories to write "The CURE for the Chronic Life," a new book that inspires readers to rise above hopelessness and experience a joyful life.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted. - Isaiah 61:1
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength. - Proverbs 17:22
"Lord," he said, "if you want to, you can make me well again." Jesus reached out and touched the man. "I want to," he said. "Be healed!" - Luke 5:12-13
What could an HIV-positive minister and the wife of one of the NFL's greatest players have in common? More than one might imagine. Each of us has lived through difficult life situations and illnesses, overcoming the propensity for chronic hopelessness, to discover the transforming grace and strength of God—no matter how much the questions of life seemed unanswerable.
Our friendship was born from one of life's "coincidences." We discovered our common roots as survivors of chronic illness, but also as survivors of those chronic life situations that, oftentimes, come to define our perspectives of self, others, and God. After all, haven't we all asked questions of God when hope seems lost or at least out of grasp?
In this book, we share our personal journeys and offer a word of hope for those going through life's everyday struggles, and we ask the question, "Are you living in crisis or in Christ?" The answer to this question, more than any question we know, determines so much of how we both see the world and our issues. But more important, it also determines how we view the potential of our solutions in Christ.
This book is framed in the language of questions and answers, hope and despair, ache and healing. These are words and phrases that every person will understand, whether from personal experience or from conversations and interactions with others. Regardless, we have all had unanswered questions that seemed to foster unreasonable decisions; feelings of despair that promoted a sense of apathy or discouragement; or the emotional, physical, or spiritual ache that kept us from seeing God in our midst and from living faithfully as God's person in our paths.
These questions, and this journey, affect all of life's situations. And most of the time, we use such language when we feel as though too much is unanswerable, undoable, or unreachable. How many stories or life situations can we recount that point to our uncertainties of a life with far too many questions?
But what about the other side of that language? What about a God who provides answers for our questions, possibilities for our uncertainties, and a new story for the unrecognizable avenues of grace and hope in each of our lives? This book answers those questions and provides a picture of hope in spite of our aches and pains—emotionally, relationally, physically, or spiritually. And if that wasn't enough, God's wonderful gift to us through Christ not only addresses these old hurts, habits, and hang-ups, but it also gives us a new path and a new opportunity for grace and healing. More than any- thing, God's gift and promise to us in Christ is the reason we wrote the book—that God's redeeming love will meet the deepest of our questions and help us begin again. Wouldn't you like to start over?
In fact, the unanswered life can be as simple as a spiritual ache or as complicated as a debilitating disease. It may be as simple as a bad attitude or as complex as a broken or betrayed relationship. Either way, the effects often become habitual and infectious in how we make life decisions and, especially, how we connect with others. This book describes how disconnection, disaffection, and misdirection from life's choices ultimately create more damage than any physical illness could.
The "unanswered life" of broken relationships or misguided intentions, of habitual patterns of poor decisions, or of the wrong answers from the start invariably disrupts our relationships with God and with one another, because, as the effects grow, our natural tendency is to turn "inward" (the original dilemma from the garden of Eden) and to focus more and more on our own self-interests. Relationships become difficult for us, and we struggle to connect to God in the ways he would have us grow in and serve him. But, more intricately, we also struggle to become who God has so lovingly and extravagantly prescribed in us, and this is the real shame of the chronic life.
We believe the answers to these questions remain found within our relationship with God, especially as they are shared, expressed, and lived out in faithfulness with each other. But it took a while to learn this. We didn't wake up one day with a supernatural "directional sign" hanging over our heads. No, we lived through the same broken, misguided, often hopeless circumstances that you may be dealing with and that continue to cause your soul to ache. But we discovered that God has a "new normal" for our lives. Throughout Scripture, God provides one example after another of not only why the chronic life is not what God intended, but also how to restore the potential of such a life once it breaks down.
In searching Scripture for answers about confronting the chronic life of choices, patterns, and problems, we discovered four primary categories for setting a new direction in life: compassion, understanding, response, and encouragement. These concepts may seem familiar and even simple. But each of these four categories provides a different way to view the world, to disconnect from our self-destructive patterns, and to take up God's purpose for our lives. And these principles also show how living in Christ changes every aspect—yes, we mean every aspect—of our lives forever. God's intention for us is that we will be permanently affected and changed. Remember, this is not supposed to be a series of treatable maladies; God expects a CURE.
You may be thinking, how convenient it is that the first letters of each of the four categories of answers form the word CURE. No, it is not a coincidence. Actually, we tweaked the concepts a bit to help you remember these qualities in your life and to enable you to apply them in your journey. But these categories are more than just a play on words or an acronym; they are a connection to how Christ intended for us to live in our world, free from our aches and with our deepest, most important questions answered. Thus, we believe readers will recognize this conversation, as we all confront these broken places from time to time. However, we also believe the impact of the chronic life can complicate other aspects of life. This is not a static issue; with the chronic life, a cascade effect takes place until every part of our life is touched. The results of this pattern for life leave us living "Chronic in Crisis," thus evoking other worries of what the crisis will mean for us. And the cycle continues on from there. But God's plan is different. God wants us to live "Chronic in Christ," throwing off our worries and experiencing the wonders of God's love.
This book is framed around a forty-day spiritual treatment plan and devotional guide that provide practical daily connections to life lessons, Scripture, and prayer suggestions. Forty is an important number for several reasons. Most important, it represents the number of years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and the number of days Jesus spent being tempted by the devil. But the end of any such period in Scripture also marks a major transition point. After forty years, the children of Israel entered into the promised land. And after forty days, Jesus left the wilderness and began his public ministry, which would change the world forever. Most Christians know these stories, but few realize the significance of this period of time for framing and forming the faith that we proclaim and believe today. Forty is a period of reflection, renewal, reframing, and restoration that ultimately leads to a new beginning. How about you? Could you use a "new beginning"?
God still wants a new and whole life for us today. He no more intends for us to live in an unanswered state or with a chronic pattern of loss and brokenness any more than he intends for us to live in relationship, separate from him. God has a new normal. He has something better, something sweeter in store.
The Cure for the Chronic Life is more than another self-help book. Sure, it provides lessons for living more freely and more faithfully. But it also involves story—the stories of our lives; the stories of those whom we love and who have made a difference in our lives; and most important, the story of God and God's love for us. Oh, and by the way, it includes your story too. Because the more you read and work through the forty-day spiritual treatment plan day by day, the more you will discover that we are all knitted into this fabric of life together. The lessons of this book work because they are framed by the story of very real problems that plague real people, every day. But in the course of your reading and reflection, you will also discover real hope born of God's very real love for you and me. And that is the greatest lesson of all.
CHAPTER ONE: THE SEVEN WORRIES OF LIVING IN CRISIS
Too much of our world understands crisis firsthand. Recent earthquakes in places like Haiti and Chile remind us of the fragile nature of life. In fact, there are "earthquakes" happening every hour of every day for families and individuals through the consequences of poor marriages, abusive childhoods, poor decision patterns—you name it. The debris is strewn from one end of the journey to the other. And when we are dealing with life on these terms, we find ourselves living in the trenches of warfare or in the ruts of complacency. Either way, we are unable to become what God has placed so deeply inside each of us.
But we must survive and so, in response, we learn to live chronically in crisis. And these patterns give birth to worries that permeate every corner of our lives. Soon, we become less about becoming all that God has in store, and instead we spend most of our time enduring what the world has thrown our way. Unfortunately, this sort of life is the most difficult and painful to continue and confront. On the one hand, it is not terminal. It is not the end. Life doesn't transition itself. But on the other hand, it isn't real life either. When we are living in chronic crisis, we are never quite breathing in the fullness of life, but instead holding our breaths, afraid of what might come around the corner. It is chronic, never-ending, all-consuming, but not fatal. Instead, we get the displeasure of living through our illness, for it is powerful enough to drain us of our hope, but not powerful enough to kill us—at least not all at once.
Too often, or as human nature is expected to do, we focus on these worries of life and remain hostage to the whims of this world. And all the while, our souls are craving something more, something different. We crave awe and wonder. We are built for such, to run and to praise—not to be tied down by the meaningless goals and broken relationships.
Most chronic patterns do not start overnight. We do not wake up one morning with a brand-new chronic illness. No, the symptoms develop over time and become debilitating. The result is a life lived at 50 percent power or possibility.
We have a friend who has fought a chronic illness for nearly twenty-five years. We watched this vibrant person in her late thirties teach kindergarten, volunteer at her church, and take care of her family as well as several others. One day her right arm began to ache, until finally, two years later, she found herself in a wheelchair unable to move her legs or arms without significant assistance. The doctors told our friend that she was lucky: the virus had attacked only her limbs and not her torso, thus her major organs were OK. But she would be in a wheelchair the rest of her life. Our friend said she felt "like half of a person—and not the useful half at that." Now, that is not to say that people who use wheelchairs are less than whole persons. We have lots of friends who live very active, amazing lives in wheelchairs and with other non-traditional circumstances. No, the issue for our friend is that she felt like "half of a person" because of what her illness did to her each day. She had imagined that her life would be so different than the circumstances she faced now. In fact, she once said that "living in a wheelchair is not the issue; it is living with the ache that I wish I could get rid of."
Our friend, like millions of other people who deal with long-term and short-term bouts of chronic illness, has made the most of her situation. She is a hero to both of us. But having to face each day with a debilitating chronic illness is not the life we wanted for her. It is not the life her husband or children or family members wanted for her. It is not the life her art teacher and her guitar instructor wanted for her. And it is not the life she wanted either. As she likes to say, she has been "left in the middle of a hurricane and asked to carry on life as normal."
But nothing will be normal again for our friend. So, what has she done? She has learned how to live in her chronically ill body, to maneuver with the help of a wheelchair, and to rely on the love, care, and support of great family and friends. But she has also come to grips with the reality that she will never shoot a basketball again. She cannot hug her sons or cradle a baby. There is so much she does because she refuses to live out of fear and loss, but there is so much she does not do because her body doesn't respond.
The same is true for our chronic spiritual lives as well. One piece of our "spiritual aircraft" falls off at a time, until the fuselage is in serious trouble. We may still be in the air, but our potential for flight has become seriously limited. We are weighted by the consequences of this life and by the worries that do not give up their place. We must pluck them from our consciousness, our relationships, and our attitudes and move forward to become whole again, and to become what God has in store.
God is offering a new start, a new opportunity to begin again. He is not satisfied with us just getting by. What you have been experiencing in living the chronic life is just not normal to him.
SHANE: At the start of his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says that "It is not about (us)." I agree totally. But I believe the message is even more substantial. If it "is not about us," that means it can be about someone else: God. And this reality sends an even more important message as we hit the ground and drive the trenches. As we meander through the world thinking that we have it under control, we learn, usually in the most fragile of moments, that not only is it not about us, but we also learn that we are not enough for the task or journey on which we have embarked. This is a frightening, staggering realization. The story or point of its not being about us is sad; this realization of our ineffectiveness and lack of sufficiency while the bullets are flying, while the world caves and the piece shatters in our hands, is downright petrifying.
So, as the apostle Paul would say, "What shall we say about such things?" Sure, the answer is, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us?" (Romans 8:31). But God expects our participation on this one, too. We must confront the worries that have mildewed their way into our lives and leave us partially connected but always suspicious; rationally agreeable but always wary. These worries bloom from the ditches and cover the path rather quickly in our lives. By the time we look up, we can't see the stones that mark the path any longer, and we feel that we are wandering aimlessly in a field. Friend, listen to us . . . under that "field" is the path. We just have to claim it, clean it off, and start walking in the right direction again.
Scripture discusses the broken spirit of a chronic life in seven worries that develop from chronically living in crisis. In each of these seven worries, one can see both the expression of a consistently chronic nature that precipitates our way into these patterns and the difficulty in finally relinquishing them. And these seven worries also speak to a unique blunder or brokenness in our souls that is practical and feels all too real. For instance, we can say that one of our worries develops from the accumulation of mental, emotional, and relational garbage, but it is when we begin to name the garbage, putting faces to what has cultivated the pain and bitterness, that things get very real, very fast. And it is not easy. These worries are consuming and devastating for us. Think of it as though we are swimmers weighted with stones that are not large enough to sink us to the bottom, but heavy enough to keep our heads constantly below the surface.
Quite simply, we remember that we are not enough. But we also can't let these worries linger, and we can't let them continue pushing the point of our inadequacy back to us. That kind of life is death—death for our hopes, dreams, and relationships. Don't misunderstand us; this life is not easy to confront. But once we do, the process will seem more real and natural than anything we have experienced. Remember, we have been built to crave life. We were born to praise, born to live close to God. And so we must fight to strip away the worries one at a time, no matter how difficult the task may appear or feel.
God wants these seven worries gone, removed from our scope. Period. He wants to take them from us and to offer us something better. Jesus called it "the better way." Peter called it "hope." Paul called it "faith." Regardless, God calls it ours, and he begs us to let go and receive this gift.
So, what about these worries? Let's take a look at "The Seven Worries of Living in Crisis" and what grows from such a path.
Worry Number One: Meaningless Relationships
SHANE: In my ministry, I have met several young men and women who, over the course of their lives, have reduced themselves or allowed themselves to be reduced to objects or possessions. When I was in seminary, I belonged to a ministry that responded to the needs of prostitutes in our city (both men and women) by assisting with things like food and services for health screenings. I must admit, though, that at first I was reluctant. Having grown up in an ordered, Southern Baptist family, I was raised to believe that good Christian people didn't associate with such folks.
But the more my ministry crossed their lives, the more I discovered these were exactly the kind of people with whom God had called us to associate. Not because we were good and they were bad, or because we could "save them" with our message and service, but because the path of their lives was much like ours, it just looked different to the world. Their sickness and sadness were really no different than those of the alcoholic housewife in my congregation who would rather medicate herself with martinis than face the doubts and decisions of the day or the father of four who used extramarital relationships as a way of masking his deep-seated insecurities.
These prostitutes sold their bodies because they couldn't find anyone to love them for free. The housewife and the father of four sold their souls for the same reason, just in a different market.
One of the prostitutes to whom my wife and I ministered over the years once told us, when we picked her up from jail, that she hated her life but she didn't know how to get out of it. We shared with her about how she could live better, healthier, and wiser. But what struck us most was when she mentioned what she really missed most about life. She said she had lots of "acquaintances" in her business, but very few meaningful relationships. With all that she had been through, the sex, the countless clients, the life of such degradation and despair, what she missed most was having a real friend who cared about her—not her body or what she could do for them, but her.
The human experience requires healthy relationships. And in the absence of healthy ones, we will develop and cultivate unhealthy ones. It is that simple. It is how we are wired. What our prostitute friend was saying is that the real broken place in her was the part that connected to people through friendships, not fees. The more mistakes she made, the more she shut off the real part of her life from other people. She had to do that in order to survive, she thought. But it also proved detrimental to real relationships in her life. The chronic life she led kept her from reaching out to others, until all she had was a set of meaningless encounters that said one thing on the surface and absolutely nothing on the inside.
She was created for relationships—beautiful, whole, meaningful relationships. But when life turns in on us, sometimes we will grab hold of whatever relationship we can and then hope that this one might mean something.
One of the worries of the chronic life is a series of meaningless relationships. This is not normal. God has something better in store.
Worry Number Two: The Accumulation of Mental, Relational, and Emotional Garbage
SHANE: Not far from where my family used to live was a large landfill. The community had dealt with this section of town for years. Not only was it unsuitable for building, many considered the chemicals and waste harmful to the health of those who lived in the area, especially the children at the housing project nearby. Eventually the city responded and discovered that the years of accumulation of garbage, rubbish, and other thrown-away materials not only had made the grounds unstable but also had seriously impacted the environment. The community was forced to dig up the garbage, clean out the landfill, and re-soil the area with lime in order to kill any harmful toxins. But even after the land had been "cleaned and restored," still, no one would purchase the property or agree to build. The point is that garbage has as much a mental impact on our community as a physical one.
I have watched friends who have spent years accumulating mental, emotional, and relational garbage in the corners of their lives. They never intended for their lives to be so full of dangerous toxins and effects. But at the end of the day, they are full of rotten, unsafe materials, promises, relationships, patterns, and attitudes that have made their lives almost unbearable.
What can be done? The only option is to clean out the garbage and "re-soil" the landscape so that it can grow healthy again. The problem is that, as with the property in the community where we used to live, a stigma erupts from those around who question whether this life, this area, can be made whole or useable one more time. Many question whether anyone with that kind of garbage can find real redemption after so much baggage. It is a complex dilemma. And to think, it is simply the result of garbage gathering unchecked in our lives. But the repercussions are not simple, and they have long-ranging effects.
The effect of so much garbage is a life filled with almost paralyzing hopelessness. We may not claim it or say it out loud, but at this point, we feel it. It is a life marred with waste, filth, and the prospect or feeling that nothing can be done to clean up the mess. Or at least, that is what the Adversary wants us to believe; quite simply, if he can so manipulate our internal conversations, we remain captive to our illness, living in the garbage.
But God changes that.
I have a friend who lived with garbage piling up for most of his marriage. He made a series of choices that one day led to his wife of twenty-four years walking out the door and taking their teenage children with her. It was a tragic day, and this family will never be the same again. But this was not a surprise to him. You could smell the garbage in his life from miles away. He knew that one day his wife just would not be able to take it any longer. But as so often happens, "one day" came sooner than he had believed.
For each of us, rectifying the chronic life is about, first, cleaning the garbage from the corners of our existence. It is not easy, and it is certainly not a wanted job. After all, who likes to roam through garbage? But even one piece carries the bacteria of an old life, old wound, or old, broken views and attitudes. It all must be gone. That worry cannot be allowed to remain.
And thus, that's worry number two in the chronic life—the accumulation of mental, emotional, and relational garbage. Again, this is not normal. God has something better in store.
Worry Number Three: Misguided Priorities
Unfortunately, as with so many unhealthy patterns, one trouble lands on another making the scene almost unbearable. With a load of meaningless relationships and stacks of mounting garbage, our lives surrender to misguided priorities. At first, we still see the edges of right and wrong. But over time, it is easier to settle with order than to stand up for change or a new direction.
SHANE: I once met a young attorney from a neighboring town who showed up at my office literally looking as though he was about to die. He was pale and nervous. He was sweating profusely, and at first I thought he was having a heart attack. He might as well have been. The truth he shared with me was even more serious.
While representing a young woman who had been arrested both for drug use and for prostitution, this attorney had begun an inappropriate relationship with the woman. Unbeknownst to him, the woman was part of a scheme against the young lawyer, and she had taped their encounters on several occasions. When she revealed the tapes to the young lawyer and divulged the identities of the men who had set her up in the scheme, he knew that he was being targeted for his work on another case, a case in which these other men had a direct connection. They had found an easy prey.
The young lawyer had for many years been headed down a difficult and dangerous path. He and his wife had done well for themselves, and he had made more money in the last five years than he had thought possible. But he also made enemies—people who had long memories and also the means to take advantage of his transgressions. Their answer was a sting operation that would, one way or another, silence the young attorney forever.
I prayed with the young lawyer, who had family friends who had been attending our church for only a short time. His family attended a large church in their own town and were prominent members of the community. He didn't feel as though he could go to his own pastor, and so, after confiding in one of his friends, the friend suggested that he visit me. We had a long and sad conversation. He knew that his life was about to change and that he had little recourse other than to face the circumstances. But for some reason, as I looked into his eyes, I feared he would choose another road.
Tragically, several days after our visit, the young lawyer's body was found in a dense forest just outside of town. He had taken his own life. In the note that he had left, he talked about the shame he had brought to his family and the pain he would bring to his wife. (His wife had found out about his affair earlier that day, through a letter and videotape.) The young lawyer, whose priorities had spiraled so far out of control, saw only one way out. This worry, in the end, would win.
Friends, God says the worries are not supposed to win, though for so many of us in so many situations, they do.
That is the nature of this worry in the chronic life—a list of misguided priorities that are not easily reframed. But this is not normal. God has something better in store.
Worry Number Four: The Creation of Idols/Man-made Gods
There is a wonderful scene about the power of Creation in the book and movie Angels and Demons. [SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know what happens in the movie, you may want to skip ahead two paragraphs.] In this scene, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, confronts the "God particle." It is a scientific experiment that "re-creates" the conditions at the very beginning of existence. Of course, as the action ensues to control the power of this experiment, everyone realizes that some things, no matter how much knowledge we have or how much we think we understand, are beyond our grasp. The climax of the scene is when the camerlengo, the assistant to the pope, is discovered as the mastermind behind a plot that murdered one pope and threatens the ability of the cardinals to select a second. His fear, as we later discover, is that science will outpace our understanding of God and, worse, replace our need for God.
At the very end of the book and the movie, Robert Langdon is confronted by the newly selected pontiff, whom he saved through the course of events. During their conversation, the pope reminds Robert that God and science do not have to be mutually exclusive. Langdon is not so sure. He sees religion as an impediment to knowledge. The Vatican sees Langdon as a critic bent on tearing down years of tradition. Now, you must realize that this book makes for great fiction, and having great respect for the Catholic Church, we certainly don't believe that there are vast conspiracies and deception behind the walls of the Vatican. But the lessons in the book are about what happens when people build idols to their ways of thinking—mostly without even realizing it. The result is what they thought was incredible scientific advancement was also capable of great destruction, and the church realizes that it no longer lives in a world where it can ignore such conversations.
However, this process is not new. Whether our experiments or situations have been about something as extraordinary as the creation of anti-matter or something as simple as obsessing over having just a little more money to make us feel safe, the chronic life lives the patterns of idol worship well. How? you may ask. Idol worship? But I have never made an idol. I have no golden calves in my home. Or do you?
We scoff at the children of Israel for creating golden idols when Moses did not respond to their needs in time. We see the idea of idolatry as being confined to ages gone by, when people literally built altars to unseen gods. But idolatry is very much alive and well. The altars have changed and the golden calves are not so shiny, but the impact is still alarming.
Our idols come in the form of dollar bills or bank accounts. Maybe it is a house or a new car. Or possibly it is the new job title. Regardless, the idol is just as powerful because, no matter what it is, its job is to replace God. Replace God? We would never do that. But wouldn't we? Don't we? In fact, we do it every time we allow the world to dictate our worship or our prayer life. We do it every time we allow our circumstances to define how we treat our brothers and sisters. We do it every time we give up or give in instead of holding tighter to God's plan. We most certainly replace God, and the sting is still very real.
In the chronic life, this worry is meant to refocus us. The Adversary doesn't need to destroy us, he simply needs to distract us, only for a moment. That is enough time to reshuffle the deck and change the course. When we look up again, we may not even have realized things have changed.
This worry creates new gods and idols in place of the One who loves us most. But—you guessed it—this is not normal. God has something better in store.
Worry Number Five: The Trap Between Loneliness and Self-sufficiency
Once we take the focus off of the important things in life, once the chronic life has taken hold, it doesn't take long to realize that the promises of this world don't ring true. The effects take over and are very real.
Our friend who lives with the chronic illness (the one whom we mentioned earlier) vacillates between bouts of great depression and great self-awareness and self-sufficiency. Both ends of the spectrum are troubling.
The depression signals a degree of loneliness that permeates her soul. You can see it on her wherever she is. At times it debilitates her; at other times it runs her life in quiet ways, not peering above the surface, but you are always sure it is there. When she feels like this, she is fragile (even more so than usual) and insecure. Life seems to control her or, at the very least, she is held hostage by the day.
But the other side of the coin is just as dangerous. During these times, she sparks her strength and moves into the world with a fierceness that is strong and certain. But she is not well enough for the battle; she puts up a good fight but ultimately realizes she has taken on an enemy that is much stronger than she is. During these times, our friend will empty herself, usually for nothing much in particular, until she runs out of steam and is left drained physically and emotionally.
Thinking about the chronic life, we all live this pattern, especially if we bow down to the false gods of our own strength and knowledge every morning. We are not enough; sure, we have been over that. But that doesn't seem to matter on those mornings when the day looks either too dark to get out of bed or too easy not to jump over the skyscraper. The truth is that we are still somewhere in the middle, but our heads and our hearts don't know it. And so we jump, either back down into the well or into the bright sky, unaware in either case where we will really land.
By this point, the chronic life has us in its grips. The great pendulum that swings between our weakness and our strength is under its own gravity, and we doubt as to whether we can stop it. We can't—not by ourselves, anyway, and it will continue to swing and make a mockery of our lives until we either beg or jump off this ride.
The trap between loneliness and our false sense of self-sufficiency makes life neither easy nor really worth living. Absolutely, this is not normal. God has something more in store.
Worry Number Six: Participating in Uncontrollable Addictions
SHANE: My grandmother used to say that there are some things you just don't talk about, like Uncle Ed's drinking or Aunt Martha's gambling. I never really understood why we couldn't talk about it; after all, everyone—and I mean everyone—knew about both.
When I would ask my grandmother why it was such a secret, she always replied, "Some things, sweetheart, are just better kept quiet."
I've thought about this answer for many years. My grandmother was exactly right. After a while, I've learned that some things are just better left in the dark, unsaid and very quiet. Not because they will get better that way. On the contrary, only the light will make them well. But what do you do with a secret or a broken heart or an addiction that is too much for you to deal with or even admit? Most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol live extremely functional lives. And yet, they are always on the edge. Life has pushed them there, and they teeter between the next hit and the next plunge.
The chronic life is very much like this. We remain in these patterns long enough, and they almost take on the air of addictive behavior—a habit too much to handle or break. It is not that we want to live there either; we don't like what the aches and cravings do to us. But we are petrified at the thought of withdrawal or the uncertainty of taking a new road, the path of which is the only way to be clean again.
And so, we spiral further into our sickness by remaining in a cycle that is too big for us. And we don't speak of it. No one does.
DEANNA: I have met so many people who live in the middle of life. They haven't imploded as yet, but they also haven't reached their potential. And a lot of these people have great resources and fabulous lives—on the surface. But behind the scenes, they are controlled by something more negative.
I know of what I speak here. As I mentioned in my book Don't Bet Against Me, my life's journey did not always go as I had planned. Brett and I ran into our share of obstacles in the beginning and spent a great deal of time working our way through one difficult moment after another. For example, it was not easy for me being a single mom, but I also worried about the future and, with so much uncertainty in our lives, the possibility of entering into a marriage covenant that might have no chance of working. We didn't understand the full scope of what such a decision might mean, and so we trudged through the path doing the best we could.
And added to this relational question were the questions we would face years later with Brett's addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol. For anyone who faces addiction, these questions are profound, frightening, and uncertain. One day, everything is wonderful. The next, the sky is falling. We couldn't move in any real direction, and so we became prisoners to our circumstances. We definitely found ourselves in the midst of a chronic pattern of living.
Yet thankfully, after much prayer, a lot of tough love, and an unbelievable will, Brett kicked both the painkillers and the alcohol. He is, today, the man I first fell in love with and the best father and husband one could imagine. But his journey—our journey—reminds me that all of us are susceptible to the broken places of our souls, and none of us chooses to walk into a shattered life. Over time the broken pieces accumulate, and we wonder if we can get them back in place again. When the chronic nature takes over, we retreat to whatever makes us feel better about ourselves.
The Brett I know today is not the same person as the man of so many years ago. He is the real deal—sweet, determined, caring, genuine. His love for life and his love for his family mean more to him than anything, even football.
But when the chronic life takes over, this worry of uncontrollable decisions and addictions makes us into someone else and then causes us, most tragically, to forget our first loves. As things hit a low point in our lives, I walked out the door of our home and told him that I would not be back until he got himself straight. Brett considers that moment like watching a car wreck in slow motion. His life was whittling away.
That is the Adversary's purpose for the chronic patterns we find ourselves in. Remember, he doesn't have to do it all at once. In fact, I have found Satan to be quite lazy and slothful. He can pick away one piece at a time, until one day, as with a loved one with an addiction problem, we just don't recognize that person anymore.
Worry number six, the worry of participating in uncontrollable addictions, is about becoming "hostage to life." Certainly, this is not normal. God has something more in store.
Worry Number Seven: Taking on Broken Approaches to Community
SHANE: "I just don't feel like I have any real friends," said the woman sitting across from me in my study. "Why do you think that is?" was my question.
"I don't know," she said. "But it has made life so difficult, so hard."
We are created to be in relationship. From the beginning of Genesis, the Creator intended for Creation to be intertwined, needing one another just as the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit need one another. That is the "image of God" talked about in Scripture and the critical connection that all of us have to God and to one another.
The chronic life disconnects us from God and from one another. With the other six worries at play, it is easy to see how people find themselves in a pattern where relationships are either hard to come by or difficult to sustain or both.
The real nature of the gospel is that we will find community among those who have believed and followed. That is why Scripture is so intent on reminding us that we have all fallen short of what we were intended to be. We have all missed the boat, so to speak.
But missing the boat in our spiritual walk is just part of the pain the chronic life inflicts. The other side is that we also experience a void of real community and meaningful relationships that then hinder our ability to build and participate in valid, productive interactions.
Does that mean we are anti-social? It can, but not always. Some people are very good at hiding their broken nature and thus never really connecting to anyone.
No, the real result is a series of relationships that are either unhealthy or unreasonable in terms of their objectives or expectations. That is why so many marriages and friendships fail when the chronic life is running rampant. No one will ever be enough to fill the void inside of us. No one. But that does not keep us from saddling our spouses, our children, our parents, and our best friends with those expectations, playing directly into the hands of the Adversary, who by this time has us exactly where he needs us.
The definition of a chronic life is one who consistently participates in a series of actions, deeds, or impressions that become a pattern for defining the self and the relationships in which we participate. Living in these worries, drowned by these self-focused issues and expectations, crumbling under the pressure of addictions, habits, hurts, hang-ups, and self-made gods, we are unable to become what God needs us to be—what we were intended to be from the beginning. In the eyes of heaven, it is a travesty of cosmic proportions.
This worry of the chronic life, like all of the others, is about disruption of our God-given rights, our imago deo, our place in the family of God as one of his beloved children. And no matter how many times the world tries to convince us otherwise, no matter how many times it steps into the middle of our lives and causes trouble, no matter how many lies it tells and how many times we believe them, the chronic life is not normal. God has something better in store. God has the CURE.
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, 2005.