Heaviness and Hope

I’m not going to lie…late Fall and early Winter is a tough time of year for me.

Some of it has to do with how overcast the sky is during the winter. Some of it has to do with the time change and getting dark at 5 pm. Some of it has to do with the fact that it was this time of the year in 2008 when my secret life of sexual addiction was about to be exposed, and I was painfully aware of how out of control my life was. I could feel the impending crash even before it happened. And even though it’s been more than a decade since that happened, I believe the body (and the brain) remember.

For these, and for whatever other reasons, this time of year can be a little tough. My emotions can spiral downward quickly and unexpectedly. I notice more triggers during the cold winter months than at other times of the year.

It can be pretty heavy.

Along with my own personal heaviness, there’s also the burden of walking with other people who are going through the worst and toughest seasons of their lives. I had a realization awhile back. The vast majority of times I meet someone new, it’s when they’re coming with their life falling apart, feeling hopeless and ashamed, and looking for help. They are at their lowest, in the destructive crater brought on by their addictive behavior. Whether it’s the addicted person, their spouse, or them together as a couple, that’s the context in which Stacey and I meet most new people in life.

That’s pretty heavy, too. Because when you walk with people in their pain, you can’t help but get a little bit of it on you. There’s something very real we discover while walking with people through addiction and recovery. And I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

Most don’t remain in the recovery process long enough to get truly healthy.

Since our ministry began in 2015, over 315 men and over 125 women have visited one of our recovery & support meetings. Over 440 people have come, at least once. That’s over 100 people per year.

But on any given week (combining our two local meetings), there are about 30-40 men and about 10 women who attend. And on any given week, about half of the men have been coming to the meeting for less than 4 months. What does this tell us?

A lot of people don’t stick around.

Another reality we face involves people who need others to guide them. The traditional model for 12-Step recovery is that a person will find a sponsor/mentor to guide them. Someone who has more time, experience, and sobriety in the program who can “show them the ropes” and encourage them. We always have many more people in our groups community who need a sponsor than we have people able and willing to be a sponsor. In many cases it’s because the “old-timers” of our groups either aren’t coming anymore or are continuing to struggle with their own sobriety.

And of course there are the wives of these men. Women who have been wounded by the sexual betrayal of the men they trusted. These women experience extreme trauma, and many of them can’t easily find hope that there is a path to their healing. For a variety of reasons (fear, shame, anger, lack of hope that things can change), far fewer wives of sexually addicted men seek out help and support than those men themselves.

A lot of people feel like giving up.

Recovery from sexual addiction is tough. A lot of the time it feels like we just aren’t getting the “traction” we want to see, the momentum that the tide is shifting, even within our community and culture of recovery. There are definitely days when we wonder if we’re making the kind of difference we envisioned.

Now, please don’t take this as just a lot of complaining. I know it may sound like Debbie Downer wrote this post, but I’m just trying to be real. Yes, this ministry is tough, but I LOVE what we get to do. I count it as an absolute blessing from God that He has seen fit to allow us to have a ministry in which we can share the hope we’ve received with other people. But it does get heavy.

I was carrying some of that heaviness into worship this past Sunday. So, when we started to sing one of the most famous of all Christmas hymns, O Holy Night, my mind went to a different place than it normally does. I noticed it especially as we sang the words to the third verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we – let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim!

As I was singing, I wasn’t thinking about Christmas lights, trees, or decorations. I wasn’t even thinking about the manger, the shepherds, or the angels.

I was thinking about hope.

I was thinking what a gift and privilege it is to be able to bring the hope of Messiah to people whose lives have been devastated by the enemy’s unending attacks.

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace

It’s a gift and a privilege to be able to show love to people who believe you’ll reject them once you know the truth about what they’ve done. To be able to tell them about the peace and serenity they can experience if they’ll surrender their struggle to the One whose power is greater than their own.

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppression shall cease

It’s a gift and a privilege to be able to tell the 40-year-old man who has been enslaved to pornography and sexual sin for more than half his life that there is a way out of his prison. To be able to validate the woman who has been oppressed by her husband’s abusive sexual betrayal. To help her see her value in Christ, and to encourage her to express that value through setting healthy boundaries.

When Christ came to earth, the implications were earth-shaking. Those who had no hope now have hope. Those who believe their brokenness is permanent now can receive healing and freedom. The power of sin and death was overcome by the power of love, grace, and redemption. And we believers have the gift and privilege of sharing this hopeful message to everyone…the hurting, the lost, the addicted, the betrayed…everyone.

Yes, the work we (and so many others with a similar calling) do is definitely heavy. But it’s really the same work we’re all called to do. To do this:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NLT)

In the midst of all the heaviness we experience, we need to remember and remind one another that there is hope. Often it takes a while for us to trust it. Often it takes a while for sin’s strongholds to be surrendered and broken in our lives. Often recovery doesn’t come as quickly or easily as we’d like, or without bumps in the road along the way. But this process, of surrendering daily to the One who comforts the brokenhearted, releases captives, frees prisoners, and gives favor, beauty, joy, and praise…the process works!

So, in this season of the year that tends to be a little heavier than other times, I’m praying that God will remind me of this and that we all – no matter where we’re called to serve and help – will “not get tired of doing good” (Gal. 6:9a), but will instead…

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we – let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim!

gregblogGreg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness. Greg & Stacey are available for recovery coaching, for individuals or couples. To support the ongoing work of Awaken, visit awakenrecovery.com/donate!