Gary is now 57. He and Brenda have been married 36 years -- yeah, she stuck with him. This is the story of how his life changed.
Gary starts getting drunk
I turn 21 and Dad takes me to "The Cozy" in the strip mall behind our house for my first celebratory drink as a legal-age real person. I guess that's how it started with him when he turned 21. I've never drank alcohol before and it's no big deal. Eight months later I get married. Right after that, I occasionally buy a quart of beer and enjoy it. Then several quarts. This quickly becomes a daily habit. Every day I'm under the influence, legally drunk (every day -- but never at work). I don't stop until I'm 35.
During the next fifteen years I'm layed-off from jobs 4-5 times, sometimes for a year or more at a time. Then we live off unemployment (this does not stop me from buying beer). One time unemployment runs out and we're on food stamps (this doesn't stop me, either). Years later, when things have changed, when we have glass coke bottles to turn in for deposit, Brenda will say, "Why? We don't need the money..." It becomes ingrained in her that you only turn bottles in for deposit if you're poor.
I have no college, no training, no ambition. I don't think about the future, other than having a vague sense that of course it will be better, although I do nothing to make it better. But hey, the present isn't so bad (insert smiley face).
In my 20's and 30's I have all the usual drives and passions and lusts and mindsets that a person apart from God has. We all have our own specialties, our own mix of sin that makes us us. But I don't have ALL the sins, of course, that way I can say, "Well at least I don't do THAT -- I'm not THAT bad..."
I do learn one big thing during those years -- no money, and no job, will not kill you.
I'm in my teens before I realize Dad is an alcoholic, drinks pretty much all day every day, and is the unhappiest man I'll ever know.
His inner anger breaks out almost daily at home in loud, yelling monologues that are aimed at no one but intended for everyone to hear. We walk on tip-toes when it quiets down, hoping he'll go to sleep. But he's never violent or physical in his anger. Today it reminds me of that guy in the Bible who lived in the tombs shouting and hurting himself and no one dared come near.
He is not a good example, but he IS an example of what not to be or do, and that can be very useful. I make vows to 'never make my kids get up and change the channel for me' -- but my resolve doesn't carry over to the obvious biggest influence on our relationship, his drinking.
He drops me off at the skating rink to run in and get my brother to take him home, and says he'll be "right back" and my brother and I stand on the sidewalk waiting for an hour for him to pick us up. When we get in the car, Dad's in a good mood and slurring his words. This is a normal.
I graduate from high school and live at home for awhile and he comes home from work at lunch, drinking, and falls asleep on the couch. I shake him, "Dad? Don't you have to go back to work?..." This is normal.
I'm packed and ready for our spring break trip to Florida to visit colleges, and the old Impala pulls in the driveway and just sits there. I wait, then go outside -- the car is running and Dad's slumped over the wheel. I know mom's not going to like it if Dad blows our trip, so I scoot him into the passenger seat, load the bags, and start driving south. Two hours later in Kentucky, he slowly wakes up, chin on his chest, opening one eye at me, realizing what's happened. "You're a good boy," he groggily says.
We're not close, but we have a nice surface relationship.
All his life I long for something closer, something real in our relationship. I think he does, too. But, neither of us knows what it is or how to get it. I think it was the same with him and his dad. Today I have no bitterness toward him, and I wish he were alive, but have no clue how I would make things better for him.
Dad stops drinking three years before he dies. The first year he and mom have a normal year of marriage, probably the first one in a long time, maybe the only one ever. The second year mom dies. The third year Dad becomes more and more self-centered, and then his life of drinking catches up with his health. Dying, his last words to my sister in the hospital are, "I can't do this." But he does.
Getting away with it
I never get in trouble for drinking. No arrests. No firings. No embarrassing public scenes (oh wait, there was that one -- more on that later). I'm a functional alcoholic, which is dangerous -- there is no crisis to help me confront my problem.
I'm not physically dependent on alcohol. I never drink at work, so there's eight hours a day, plus sleep, when I'm sober. When I finally quit, I have no tremors or side effects like Dad has when he quits.
But I'm totally psychologically addicted. I'm always calculating how much I have, how much I can get away with drinking, and how I can get more without anyone catching on to how much I'm drinking.
As soon as I get off work, I stop and buy three quarts of beer. I drink one on the way home (so my wife Brenda doesn't know) and when I get home I drink another. So, within two hours of getting off work I have two quarts in me, and one in the fridge. Then I try to find an excuse to go to the grocery, or run an errand. I'm so helpful! While I'm out I buy another quart plus a couple of cans, drink the cans, and bring the quart home. Now I've got a good stash at home and don't have to worry about my supply. Then I fall asleep on the floor while watching TV. When I wake up I drink more beer. This scene is repeated daily for years, in various forms depending on my work hours, sometimes with quarts, sometimes with six-packs. You can get another quick picture of these years HERE.
I can't imagine life without beer. It's my security; in a way it's my life. I look at Brenda and think, "How do you do it? How do you go thru a whole day without drinking? Day after day!?" (I never say that, of course.) Alcohol is normal -- NOT drinking is a whole 'nother planet.
The dog on the floor
Is me. With two-plus quarts of beer and dinner in me, I get a bit sleepy and lay on my side on my elbow on the floor, watching TV with Brenda and the kids. It only takes a few minutes to fall asleep. Sometimes I snore, apparently pretty loud. Brenda and the girls throw shoes at me to get me to turn over and quiet down. I probably sleep three hours, more or less. I wake up and it's a silent night but not a holy night and Brenda and the girls are in bed. I hate to go to bed. It seems like that's giving up, like there's something important to do before I go to bed. But I don't know what it is.
I open more beer and turn the TV back on, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, drinking.
This is a normal evening.
"Roots" is on TV in those days -- it's a big deal, everybody's talking about it, it's a big event. The mini-series finale is still the third most-watched thing ever on TV. I miss the whole thing. I'm there, in front of the TV, but I'm asleep on the floor. When people talk about it at work I don't join in; I pretend I have more important things to do.
"Where were you when" and my most humiliating moment
I'm in the car in the parking lot in front of Northside Drugs at 25th St & Central Ave in Columbus, Indiana. I'm sitting there after work for a few minutes before I go home, pouring beer into a Coke can (as usual) so I can drink it without drawing attention to myself. The space shuttle with the teacher has just launched and I'm listening on the radio. There's an unusual awkwardness from the news announcer, and then the official NASA voice guy says, "obviously a major malfunction." I drive behind the little strip mall and throw my beer trash in a dumpster and rush home to see what happened on TV.
* * * * *
One of the times when I'm out of work I apply for a job at the local drive-in theater (yes, the old days). I have a couple of beers during the day, maybe a little too close to the interview time. I walk in the building where a few employees and the boss are, chat for a bit, have some laughs, and then the boss takes me outside and says, "we don't need to hire someone who shows up with liquor on his breath." (Decades later when I hear the word "liquor" I still remember he used it.) I realize all the people inside know, too. This is too much! I've worked hard to convince myself that no one thinks I'm a drunk and now my carefully guarded opinion of myself is threatened with the reality of others' observations! This could have devastating consequences! I might have to deal with reality! Fortunately, the reality of drinking beer overcomes the reality of reality. But there's inexpressible inner shame. I never tell anyone, until now.
For about 14 years drinking is an everyday lifestyle. For maybe 10-12 of those years I know I'm an alcoholic. I average about three quarts of beer a day, or maybe a 12-pack of cans. I think the most I ever drink is five quarts, sometimes 16 cans or so -- after that I just fall asleep. I don't drink all day, only when I'm off work. But it's every day. At most there's two days a year when I don't drink, due to work or family stuff just making it impossible. I hate those days.
You would think all that alcohol would pickle your innards -- it does. I see things in the news about the effects on your health and I don't want to think about it, but I watch and read it anyway. I figure my liver has earned it's keep, filtering about 15,000 quarts, almost 4,000 gallons.
One time at a meeting I'm standing in a doorway and I look at the clock on the wall and take my pulse by hearing my heart thumping in my chest. I don't have to grip my wrist or anything. I can feel it pounding. It's 100 beats a minute. Just standing there.
Always having alcohol in you affects your personality, too. You don't process life, you don't mature. It stunts your emotional and intellectual growth. I don't realize that, though. I think I'm pretty smart.
After a routine doctor visit I get a call that some of my blood work looks out of whack -- triglycerides and stuff. They want to talk to me about it. I don't go back to the doctor for a long time.
A breeze rustling the leaves
I've been drinking for a few years. My wife Brenda's friend from high school calls to tell her she's believed in Jesus, got saved, or something. Mary has an older friend and they start spending time with Brenda. Sometime after this, Brenda believes in Jesus, too, and she starts going to church and taking the girls and pretty soon they believe in Jesus.
My drinking is progressively increasing, but around this time it seems to stop getting worse. Not that it gets better; it just seems to plateau at a certain level. Years later I wonder if that's related to what the Bible says about the unbelieving husband "made holy" or set apart because of his wife's relationship with Jesus. As if somehow God's grace to her was affecting me because we were married. Also, there's people praying for me. I'm not aware of this at the time, though. I'm just working (usually), drinking, sleeping and listening to rock and roll, same thing, for many more years.
Hit men for Jesus
Brenda has a godly friend, Irene, who helps her understand what being a Christian is all about. I like Irene, except for the times when I smell her agenda. She's always ready to tell me about Jesus.
"But Gary, it says right here in the Bible," she says.
"Irene, I don't believe the Bible -- if I believed the Bible, I'd be a Christian." (I think, Duh!)
People from church come over to get me saved. They call it "visitation." The World Series is on. It feels funny with them there with me and my game and my beer. Show a little sensitivity, will ya? -- I don't say that, of course. I don't drink the beer with them there. The quart sits on the floor by my chair. I know they're not there to be my friend. It's part of a program. They're doing it because they're supposed to. I'm a target. I think they don't have time for me unless it's part of their program.
Another time hit men for Jesus come over. They are pros and they are pushy. "Just say this prayer," they keep saying. To shut them up, I say the prayer, then realize, oh it's THAT prayer, the one where you admit to Jesus you're a sinner and trust him for forgiveness.
"Uh, NO, I didn't know you were leading me in THAT prayer," I tell them afterward. I'm taking it back. They seem confused. I think, that's never happened to them before. I think they go back and tell headquarters I got saved. I wonder how many people are reported as "getting saved" who only said a prayer because they were pressured into it?
I also wonder why I have any kind of possessiveness or ownership or discernment about that prayer. Why should I care if I mean it or not?
Sometimes I try to quit
Sometimes I try to quit, without telling anyone. I might make it a couple of hours. But it never lasts and over time I give up. I get to the point where I think this is it, this is the way it's going to be, I'm just going to end up dying years earlier than I should.
I know that, but I ignore it and act like it's not true. I have to ignore it because it's too painful to accept, plus I know can't stop, so I'll go crazy if I think about it.
It's really not hard to ignore, though -- ignoring is one of my strengths. It's part of my whole escapist, pleasure-seeking personality. Since I was a kid I've excelled at avoiding the thing I'm supposed to do: I always put off that night's homework assignment, but spend an hour reading ahead in the same book.
So the same thing that makes drinking so appealing to me -- pleasure, avoid responsibility -- is the same thing that enables me to not face the facts of the consequences. It's like a muscle that the drinking habit has helped develop -- and my pleasure & escape muscle is now a rippling, bulging, Mr. Universe-worthy muscle.
So I'm an alcoholic and year after year goes by. It's a lifestyle. It's normal. It's who I am and what I do. It's actually the main thing I am and do. And it's not going to change.
The worst part
For years I lie to my wife, Brenda. I break her trust. She doesn't know how much I really drink. She knows something isn't right about why I take so long to go to the store. It makes her suspicious. I can't tell her I'm sitting in the parking lot, drinking. I tell her that's just how long it takes. She starts looking at the times on receipts, so I learn to drink first, then go in the store so the checkout time and my drive home match up. Later I start throwing away all receipts anytime I shop just to be consistent and to try to avoid questions. Yes, I'm a genius. Of course, it still takes me too long and she still has seasons of intense questions.
We argue over it. I get defensive. She feels like she's going crazy -- either I'm lying or she's crazy; she knows it's one or the other. I let her think she must be crazy.
What a horrible, abominable thing for a man to do to his wife. But sorry, alcohol is god, and this god must be served. This has a long lasting impact on our relationship and marriage. I can't imagine what it does to her sense of worth and self-esteem. It takes her years to trust me, long after the drinking ends.
Oh no, not you
One day I come home like always -- gone too long, drinking beer in a parking lot somewhere so Brenda doesn't know how much I drink. And it's the same thing again, what took you so long?
Something is different this time. She's really pressuring me, almost as if she thinks I have something to say. And I'm so tired -- tired of drinking, tired of all the work of hiding it, tired of lying, tired of being tired.
And it just comes out -- "Brenda...I'm an alcoholic."
And I think, this is not gonna be good, but I don't care. She always said she wouldn't be married to an alcoholic. Well, she is, and she just found out.
She does the worst thing she can possibly do: she doesn't get mad.
If she gets mad, I can get mad too, because I'll find something in her argument or something in her that can be criticized and I'll go for that and I can be distracted by that and we can have a big fight and probably somewhere in there she'll be guilty of something, too, and I won't have to concentrate on my problem and how horrible I've treated her. But that doesn't happen.
She just says, "Oh no, not you."
Like her heart is broke. And that breaks mine, too.
She takes herself out of the picture. She has a lot of questions, but there's no one for me to get mad at. There's nothing to argue about. I'm left with nothing to distract me from the full reality of who and what I am. I'm standing there holding a beer and I know that's going to be my last one for awhile. I think, I don't know what's going to happen in the future, and I can't comprehend not drinking, but I know I won't tomorrow.
I'm not a Christian. I don't try to stop drinking. I don't make any commitments or vows. I don't go to any 12-step meetings -- no one tells me about them or invites me; it never occurs to me. I don't follow any methods or read any books. I don't know how to quit.
But I do know this (now) -- it's Jesus Christ. That beer in my hand 22 years ago is the last one.
Day 1, and 2, and 3...
Right away it seems strange to not drink, All the familiar cues are still there -- Marty and Joe and the Reds; the janitor lady before IU basketball games; any rock and roll song on headphones... There are dozens of cues that are married to the buzz of alcohol. And in a way, I have the urge.
But it's so totally out of the question that it's not a temptation. Several beers stay in the refrigerator for months, untouched. I finally throw them away
There's something about a closed and locked door that says, don't even bother. However, if it's cracked even slightly on the possibility, you'll do it. You can't resist. But it's like I'm dead to it. I drive past liquor stores; I'm with people drinking; I notice all the daily cues -- I don't care. I don't think about it.
It's not a commitment and I'm not doing it to make someone happy. It's not a temptation.
However, I do believe I can unbolt the door. I can open it up and give myself that choice again. I didn't take away the choice -- it was taken from me. I've been rescued. But I can still run back in the ocean and start drowning again. There is still potential to say, "maybe just this one time." I'm still an alcoholic.
Brenda's friends tell her not to get her hopes up, that I'll start back again soon. But I don't.
Climbing a sycamore tree
Once alcohol is out of me, I can think. I'm kind of an analytical, maybe a little intellectual and you could say I'm free to be myself more than I was with alcohol. So I begin to think and process in ways I hadn't been able to.
For some reason I occasionally ask Brenda, "so tell me about Jesus." It's just a casual question. One time I ask our 10-year old daughter Emily the same question. She can't believe it -- she suddenly has one chance to save her daddy from the bowels of hell and she panics and can't think of a single thing in the Bible. She quotes the only thing that comes to mind, a Sunday School song, "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see." She says it very serious-like, because, you know, there's a lot at stake.
About a year later we move to Iowa. Brenda asks me to go to church with her until she gets to know someone. No big deal -- I'm totally neutral. I hear a bunch of sermons and we make a few friends. I keep going to church; I don't know why. Brenda isn't bugging me about church or Jesus at all like the old days. There's a small spot inside me that wants to say, "Don't you notice I'm still going with you? Don't you notice the questions I'm asking?" She seems oblivious.
At church one Sunday, one of our friends, Karen, comes clear across the room during the invitation at the end, grabs my arm and pleads, "Gary pleeeaaase, pleeeease..." She tells me I've got to go up and get saved or whatever. It's a bit of a scene. This is an unbelievers nightmare -- the thing you always know is gonna happen if you go to church. For some reason, I'm not embarrassed and I'm not upset with her. I know she really cares, she's just delusional. Besides, I like her husband Mike. He's not pushy at all. But there is something about him that's different, that's appealing and interesting -- quiet, confident...I don't know, just...something.
So I'm sober for two years. And after a year in Iowa we find out I'm losing that job. Great. Now what? I'm 37-years old, no education, I've moved my wife and kids away from family and our long-time home, and I have no control over keeping my job or even if I can get another one.
And exactly what DO I have control over? Not my health, although I'm healthy -- I could have cancer and just haven't found out yet. I can't control how my kids turn out -- I can influence and try, but I can't MAKE anything happen. I'm totally confident of Brenda's love, but I can't MAKE her keep loving me.
Years ago I said I wouldn't have kids until I knew what I was doing and here's the kids and I still don't have a clue. I always thought at some point you become a "grown up" and you have maturity and judgment and wisdom, but here I am and I sure don't have it. So now what, Mr. Smart Guy?
One afternoon while Brenda is at the bank, out of the blue, while thinking of all that control I don't have, I get down on my knees in the basement of that rental house on Greenway Drive in Bettendorf. I have never believed in God, although I've always thought if there is a God, it would be a really big deal -- if he created you and the whole universe, then he's kinda like the owner of the whole thing, including you, right? So I'm on my knees -- on my knees?! -- but it seems normal and I've never ever had a thought of belief in God until that moment when I say, "Lord -- I'm saying Lord? -- Lord, I give up. I quit. I don't want my life, you take it." Inside me, there are some other things I'm acknowledging, things I've heard repeated over the years about me being a sinner, Jesus' death in my place, a pardon and forgiveness that are mine when I trust him and his death, his resurrection and real life that is still being lived. I'm believing all that, too, without saying it, but I'm telling God so I guess I'm praying, and it's as if I'm being carried along on a wave and I'm just riding it. I can't help myself, I have to do this. It's all one thing and it seems like a minute or two.
I get up and don't think or feel anything -- but everything's changed. I just don't know it yet.
That night I have a dream that my arms are all scaly and itchy, but then the scaly stuff falls off. I always remember that, but I never have any kind of dream like that again.
The expulsive power of a new affection
Right away I read the Bible and, uh, it's fascinating. That never happened. Before it was a bunch of guys in sandals -- why would anyone read this? It was like reading nuclear physics. But suddenly I'm interested in nuclear physics. I'm so interested I have to write down what I see -- oooh, look at that! It seems so important I just copy down what it says. I still have those notebooks. Over the first few weeks I read John and Romans and listen to J. Vernon McGee on the radio. I read My Utmost for His Highest but don't have a clue what he's saying. I can't wait until six months go by so I know something.
I stop using the f-word. Without trying. It just doesn't come out anymore. My interest in music changes. I've always loved rock and roll and I'm sort of a connoisseur but after four months when we move, I never unpack the old albums (these are the vinyl days). They're still in boxes over twenty years later.
I'm not bored. That had been a problem. My priorities and values and interests are slowly changing and merging into plenty to do.
When you move and leave a house for the last time, you walk out the front door and step away just like you always have. Everything feels familiar. But, even though it's the same as always, it's different because you're never going back. For awhile the house is still right there behind you. But with every footstep, it slowly moves farther away until it disappears.
The old house is still big behind me. But it's starting to get smaller.
I meet a man when we move to South Carolina. I've been a believer six months. I'm invited to tell our new church how I came to trust in Jesus (I'm part of a morning radio show so they think people might be interested in the radio celebrity). That night a man who was there calls and invites me to a class he teaches. He says I need to learn doctrine. What's that? When I walk in his class the first time, it's strange -- there's a calm, a peace, a seriousness in the air. And a sense that there's someone else there, but I don't see them.
He's not like any other Christian I've met. He's not cool and hip or rigid and dogmatic. He's a bank examiner and looks like the bank examiner Carter in "It's a Wonderful Life." He'd be easy to underestimate, but I see a rock, a giant. I've never met anyone like him. When I speak he doesn't say a word and I feel him listening thru the words and seeing everything I'm thinking and feeling. He's intimidating but not on purpose. I know him ten years before I hug him.
I go to his home Bible study where I learn how to read and study, and I also learn how to think. Before he teaches he makes 30 minutes of wise, insightful observations on events and news and things people are talking about, then he apologizes for taking up our time on that. I learn the Bible is always relevant, and the most relevant thing you can do is think the same way you see God thinking.
He invites me to call with questions and over several years I do -- hundreds of calls. I always ask if he is busy. He always just says, "go ahead." I ask about church, marriage, kids, work, bosses, money, people -- whatever happens to be getting my goat at the moment. I take notes. I have several three-ring binders plus folders filled with notes from his home study and our conversations. I don't know it at the time, but it's a life-course on understanding the Bible and translating it into life.
For some reason things he says seem to stay inside me, coming out of my mouth years later.
He never tells me what to do. He asks questions and gives perspectives and expects me to think.
At some point he tells me someone did the same thing with him. He says he "can't hold a candle to that guy." Later, I meet that guy and he describes another giant doing the same thing with him. I realize I'm part of a chain that goes back to Jesus. I'm scared.
He's the one on the right, quietly waiting to see if George Bailey needs help thinking about anything.
Green stamps and locusts
When I'm a kid my mom collects S&H Green Stamps -- bunches of thick collection books stuffed with stamps. She earns them when she shops at certain stores. There's a big catalog that tells you how many books it takes to get oodles of cool products. But you don't get anything until you surrender the stamp books. I always think of that when I hear the word "redeem."
So I spend 14 years of life investing in drinking 15,000 quarts of beer. I don't get those years back. I don't get back sober evenings with my family, or the attention I owe them that goes to pursuing alcohol. I don't get back years of not learning how to think and live like a human being is supposed to.
As long as I did what I felt like doing, ignoring God, I didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. I called that a free life. What did I get out of it? Nothing I'm proud of now. Where did it get me? A dead end. (see HERE). Those quarts and evenings and attention and zombiness are books of worthless Green Stamps stuck in a drawer.
Those 15,000 quarts of beer are redeemed and replaced with 1,500 hours of guidance and encouragement from a godly man, like he is chosen just for me. They are redeemed and replaced with forgiveness and grace and love from Brenda and my kids -- there's no way it could be better than it is now. They are redeemed and replaced with a Jesus whose life is told about in the Bible but who continues to live his life on earth...in me.
My eyes are open. I see a ravaged field that swarming locusts gobbled. Things they ate are growing back.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten -- Joel 2.25
The voice of un-truth
From the time I'm a kid I have a personality of avoidance. In elementary school I discover I can skip class -- it starts out with a legitimate out-of-class project, but then I find I can tell the teacher the project is still going on and, ta-da, roamin' the halls, baby! I still have a tendency to want to avoid responsibility, to only do what I want to do. It's selfishness. Alcohol plays right into that tendency. It's like it knows my weakness: Pleasure. Now.
It can become this major demon thing that haunts you and wants to own your life. It doesn't have to be alcohol -- it can be almost any kind of urge you struggle with. Some feel like monsters, some like pesky gnats . We all can have a soup of temptations or addictions that are always trying to bust out in all kinds of ways. It's a constant thing: Drink. Eat. Look. Buy. Click. Smoke. Touch. Stick. Snort. Cheat. Lie. Curse. Control. Gossip. Get mad. Be selfish. Be bitter...
Strong urges and temptations seem like they have a personality, a voice. And it lies to you. It tells you, "You can't live without this...NOW." And you don't know it's lying until you live without it. I believe I can't live without alcohol -- until I do.
Don't eat the marshmallow
Some years ago a group of 4-year olds are given a choice. Each is taken into a room, given a marshmallow, and told by a researcher, "You can eat the marshmallow now, or wait til I come back and I'll give you another one so you'll have two."
One third of the kids eat the marshmallow right away. One third wait, but finally eat it. And one third wait until the researcher returns, and get another marshmallow.
They study those kids over the years and find that the ones who delayed satisfaction to get a reward have higher IQ's. They also have more successful marriages, higher incomes, better health, and higher job satisfaction. The conclusion is if you eat the marshmallow now you're oriented toward the present. If you wait to eat the marshmallow you're oriented toward the future, and are willing to put off pleasure now for better rewards later.
The man who taught me to think says this about two different kinds of rewards: When the Lord promises a reward, he first reveals the cost to be incurred and if we comply with the requirements, then we receive the reward. With Satan, he gives you the reward first and then the cost is revealed and paid.
Isn't that the truth? No matter how many times you do that thing, when the next temptation comes, you always forget how bad it feels afterward.
I hear people say, "There's no need that God cannot meet," and I hear others answer, "Oh yeah, well right now I really need to drink--eat--look--buy--click--smoke--touch--stick--snort--cheat--lie--curse--control--gossip--get mad--be selfish--be bitter..." My urges always feel like needs, but I know there is a need behind the urge, at the root of it. And when God meets that need, my want-to changes.
When I ask Jesus, he helps. He has never not. This is not a cliche Christians are supposed to say. My problem is in not asking, not trusting and believing, not being willing for him to make a difference. Sometimes I just refuse to be willing -- so I don't ask, depend, trust, obey. Sometimes with urges that feel like have-tos I just "hurry up and do it" so there's no choice, no battle. But when I ask, Jesus always does something.
Is or isn't
It comes down to either what God says is true or it isn't.
He says no temptation has overtaken me that is not common to man. He says he is faithful, and will not let me be tempted beyond my ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that I may be able to endure it. (see here) It always feels like temptation is sin -- it's not. Fulfilling the desire is.
He says I do not have a Jesus who is unable to sympathize with my weaknesses, but a Jesus who in every respect has been tempted as I am, yet without sin. So I am to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that I may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (see here)
Either that's true or it isn't.
He says his divine power has granted to me all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called me to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to me his precious and very great promises, so that through them I may be a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (see here)
That's either true or it isn't.
He says I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh on this earth, I am to live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (see this)
It's true or it isn't.
He says that I am always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in my mortal body. (see here) Urges and desires can feel like you're going to die if you don't do it...you won't. Just the opposite -- but you don't find out til you go thru the thing that feels like dying.
These things are either true or they're not. Every urge and desire is a chance to have it proven that what you say you believe is true, really is. Do you believe it? Or do you just say you believe it?
Here's something I've told myself: If you do the thing, give in to it, at least admit that you don't really believe God has something better for you than this. If you believed he did, you wouldn't do this, right? You'd take the better thing. So just admit that at that moment when you go thru the urge door, you are proving that you think this is as good as it gets. Maybe the frustrating journey of repeated sin can help you get to the point where you realize that if not sinning is up to your power, you're doomed. If something is an option, if you try to NOT do something, you have a big battle on your hands. I seem to always lose that battle. Some people say there's only one way for that battle to be won.
Here's something that helps me picture and understand things I make complicated, like what it means to be a Christian:
With every step we take into the future, we can say, 'With Christ I died, and now thru him I live, as he shares his life with me on earth on my way to heaven, and then forever." -- Major Ian Thomas.
But a Christian is not just someone who believes in God, the same way a person is not just a living creature that breathes. There are many living creatures that breathe that are not persons. A Christian does believe in God, but every person who says they believe in God is not a Christian. Here's a Christian.
The Father who dwells in me does his works -- Jesus in John 14.10 talking about his relationship with his Father. He had earlier even said that apart from the Father he could do nothing.
Whoever dwells in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing -- Jesus in John 15.5 talking about our relationship with him.
He's saying the life he lived on earth, a life of dependence on his Father, is to be my life lived on earth, a life of dependence on Jesus, and that in the same way the Father was alive and working in Jesus' life on earth, so will Jesus be alive and working in mine. And he is.