Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Running to Stand Still

One of the best books I’ve read in recent years is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May.  Gerald May was a Psychiatrist who, in his work with addicts, realized that he had the very same tendencies towards addiction (though his were of the more socially accepted variety).  May’s premise, which I have come to agree with myself, is that every person is an addict.  Some are addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or cigarettes while others may be addicted to habits and substances that are totally acceptable in our culture such as food, video games, shopping, people etc.  Whatever the object of addiction it is something that a person is compulsively drawn to.  May’s writings have been very helpful to me as I have come to terms with my own addictive nature.  This morning I was reading a bit from Addiction and Grace and I came across this highlighted quote:

A therapist friend recently told me he had observed that “addicted people can’t meditate.”…In know my own daily practice of prayer and meditation is not easy.  One reason is that this practice opens my awareness to things about myself that I would rather not be conscious of.  In many instances, these awarenesses have to do with my addictions: how attached I am to certain petty concerns and competitions, how worried I am about truly insignificant things, how important my selfish ego is to me.  So I find myself resisting settling down to pray, or I fill my meditation time with images or music or words—anything that will keep me from simply being present and awake before God.

These words really ring true with me.  I find sometimes that everything within me resists meditating, quietness and solitude.  When I plan to pray I feel a sudden urge to check my email, or make a phone call, or read a devotional, or turn on some worship music… anything but sit quietly with the Lord. 

One of my favorite U2 songs is Running to Stand Still.  The lyrics are about a heroin addict growing up in an impoverished area called the Seven Towers.  The imagery of the lyrics “She’s running to stand still” evokes an scene of someone running heroin into to the blood stream to get high, yet the bigger issue is not running the heroin but running from pain, trying to escape like Jenny in Forest Gump. 

The kingdom of God is completely opposite to the addictive inclination.  In God’s kingdom it is not a matter of running to stand still but of standing still to run.  We avoid this standing still with everything within us as if it is death itself, but this is precisely the place we desperately need to encounter God.  Carl Marx may have made the claim that religion is the opiate of the masses but true relationship with God doesn’t numb us or keep us distracted from pain, on the contrary following Jesus means confronting pain in the world around us and the pain within our own hearts.  This is not because God wants to see us hurt but because he wants to see us set free from the inside out.

Can you relate to these words of Gerald May?  Have you ever found that everything within you resists getting still before God?  


Matt said...

Amazing post Crispin. This really resonates with me. I was recently in Haiti without all the creature comforts (distractions) I normally have (for 2 weeks). On my downtime I found myself pacing back and forth from my tent to other areas trying to find something to fill my time. I have tried meditating and simply can't calm my mind enough to do it. Have you found anything that helps with this. Now that I am home I am back to my facebook addiction...argh!

Crispin Schroeder said...

I think when dealing with any addiction the first step is always recognizing the way that effects your life. I have found Gerald May's book very helpful on helping me to become aware of this tendency. Also some of Henri Nouwen's writings. I have begun to treat stillness as a discipline. It's much easier to see activities as disciplines like prayer or reading the Bible but getting still won't just happen by accident in our modern world with all of its distractions. So I try and carve out some moments in the week where I just go sit outside and get quiet. I would love to hear about your Haiti trip. Shoot me a message.

Zach said...

Paul Meany wrote " There are objects of affection that can mezmorize the soul - There is always one addiction that just cannot be controlled - You are Mine x4.
The 1st time I heard him do this was in worship one Sunday night.

Peter Bierma said...

Not to sound strange, but I think that quote from Gerald May (I'll have to check out that book...) is just what I needed today. Thank you.

Pi Man said...

To me, the premise, that “every person is an addict” is tangential with respect to the sinful nature that we inherit from “the Fall.” Relative to our “bad” choices, our daily struggle, our very nature, is to make choices that are rebellious and by theological definition, sinful. Why? These choices hurt us and/or others and can interfere with our walk and witness with and for Christ. The Enemy is very real. Besides our own selfish desires, we fight, literally against the powers and principalities of Darkness. We’re tempted to do what we know we should not, regardless if we know the exact source of the temptation. It’s gonna happen, period. And is it a struggle to resist? You betcha. That’s why we, I, often fail, because I’m trying to resist in my own strength or by my own intellect. It’s a “work in progress” for sure. We need to surrender not only daily to God and ask for His strength to trump our weaknesses, but often to surrender and seek His strength moment by moment when necessary.

As for finding that “still time” with God, there will often be conflict there because, again, the Enemy is real and certainly does not want us to commune with the Father, whether it be in prayer, meditation, silence, bible study, devotions, service, you name it. So the answer to your question for me is, yes. I sometimes have to make myself do those things. That said, and I know there are varying opinions on this, I submit to self-discipline in those times of doing it because even if I don’t feel like it, I believe it’s better to do so than to not. But not in a Pharasitical, slave-driven-rule-laden way mind you. And frankly, by God’s grace, I believe it takes maturity to know the difference. It’s got to be a “love” thing in the final analysis, or it just won’t be worth much. But for me, because I know that in my life, doing things without God has often ended in literal disaster, I’ll stick with the self-discipline, where “self” has to be defined in terms of believing that God wants the best for me, even if “best” is not always understood.

Pi Man said...

Sometimes I read what I write and realize that I probably could have said what I meant more easily than I did. Such is the case with my last post. In short, what I was trying to say is that in my opinion, saying “we are all addicted to something” is another (yet more secularly acceptable/eloquent) way to say that we are all sinners, as “inherited” through the ages from “the Fall.” Our choice to give in to an “addiction” is a sin (where we “miss the mark”), genetic predisposition notwithstanding. And as such, many of us will, the saving grace of God notwithstanding, have some desire to go against how God would have us live even if we’re “saved,” in the same way an addiction sometimes continues to call to the addict even if they’re “saved.” In plain talk, I know that I am loved by the King and am, by His grace, forgiven and part of the Kingdom. That said, I still am tempted daily, and sometimes succumb to temptations, in the same analogous way an addict would give in to an addiction. So that is how the two (addictions and our sinful nature) are related in my thinking. Hope that makes more sense. Thanks & peace. TA

Carlos said...

First of all let me say that all of these posts have been very interesting and I have really enjoyed reading them. Crispin, the thing that caught my attention in your blog was equating the need for stillness to a discipline. One of the inate characteristics of a discipline is that it has to be practiced and a committment has to be made to it. As a parent, I try to keep in mind that it is my responsibilty to teach my children the importance of things like being still and waiting on God. One of the things that my father did for my brother and me was to make us slow down. People often look at me weird when I talk to them about this, but my dad used to make my brother and I sit quietly for periods of time. We could read, write, pray, think, or just clear our mind. He always made us do just past the point it was comfortable for us. This has made it easier for me today to live in the fast-paced world I find myself in and occasionly just be still and listen to God.