Early Abstinence: can be the toughest stage to cope with because of many factors, including continued withdrawal symptoms, physical cravings, psychological dependence and a host of triggers that can tempt you into a relapse.
I think we have finally made it through stage 2 of our Family Rehab: “Early Abstinence.” We have struggled with the occasional “fall off the wagon” ending up in the high-pace race to worldly success. Whether educational success, “spiritual” success, or behavioral success, anytime we ended up frantically reaching for goals that were deceptively laced in fear, we knew we had slipped into old habits and addictions. Now, here we are, I believe, exiting “Early Abstinence” and getting ready for what lies ahead.
Over the past 2 1/2 months, I have found myself on the floor in withdrawal feeling overwhelmed by the dooming presence of my failure to succeed and craving my old schedule with kids in school and daily quiet time. I have found myself physically wanting to keep our day busy with meaningless activities to merely pass the time, rather than engage with the hearts of my children. I have heard the voices in my head telling me that if I don’t have something to show by Christmas or by the end of the year for all our (my) hard work, then this was all for naught. I have lost my temper. I have declared school holidays for the sole purpose of feeding my laziness. I have forced school with a short fuse for the sole purpose of breaking God’s commandment to rest. There have been days I have gotten it all wrong–days when my priorities were all out of whack, my heart inward focused, and my strength was being sucked up from an empty well of self-ambition. Stage 2 of Family Rehab has been really, really, hard.
We live in a world–in an American society, rather–that so heavily speaks against all that Jesus desires us to hear. We “hear” that Jesus wants us to have abundant life and as Americans we try harder for a life we think we deserve. We “hear” Jesus say observe the Sabbath, and we rush the kids to bed so we can flip on the TV for a dramatic escape to rest. We “hear” Jesus say children are a blessing, and we find a way to manage them rather than love them. All these words from Jesus get drowned out by the words of the world. There are temptations to “relapse” everywhere. Especially, when as Americans we have most likely grown up in a fast-paced success-driven world, retraining the heart and the mind to break free from that mold is an overwhelming task. It is so much easier to just conform to the rest of the world around us. It’s so much easier to worry about money, success, schedule, education– ALL of it, instead of trusting Jesus with it. I often think, if I could just see Jesus sitting at our dinner table, if I could just audibly hear Jesus saying, “I’ve got this!”, then I think it would be so much easier to trust Him. But that’s not faith…
As Stage 2 of Family Rehab is rounding out, I am certain that the same struggles to trust His voice will be there tomorrow. Once an addict, always an addict, right? Maybe the worldly voices, the temptations, and the desire to take the easy “faithless” way out will always be there. But I don’t believe I am destined to live a life addicted to the ways of the world. Jesus lives in me. The old addict, who was always “jones-ing” to “keep up with the Jones” has been buried with Christ, and a new person has been raised with Him. Jesus tells me that I am a new creation.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I could think of no better way to sum up “Early Abstinence.” Family Rehab isn’t about stopping an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Our Family Rehab is about pulling away from the ways of the world for a year to renew our minds. It has been a process, through an abstinence of worldy things, of understanding and identifying where and how we even do conform to the ways of this world. We have been too engrained and trained by this world that we don’t even know or realize how much we have conformed to it.
Today the girls were working with clay. They were very determined to handcraft some dragon pets. Unlike them, I don’t know much about dragons. Apparently, there are books about different kinds of dragons. Helen’s dragon, for instance had huge ears, which made it a “listening dragon.” It was all very cute. They spent nearly 5 hours, from lunch to dinner, at the table crafting their dragons with such purpose and patience. When the clay wasn’t too dry, or too wet, it did a descent job of keeping it’s shape. When the clay was too dry, it was brittle and would easily break. It couldn’t be worked with at all. But when the clay was too wet, leaving the dragons untouched for an extended amount of time resulted in droopy dragons. The clay started to melt into the surface of the table–flat and shapeless. The dragons needed to be reshaped, remolded into the thing their creators wanted them to be. In order for those dragons to remain dragons and eventually dry into bone-hard dragons, they had to go under continual tweaking and pushing and pinching.
God in His mercy and love also created us out of clay. Why? Because to Him we are as fascinating and enjoyable as dragons are to my daughters. Dragons are not of this world. They are fanciful and fantastic. They breath fire. They are big beasts that fly and glide through the air. They bring joy to little girls and little boys alike. They are just plain cool. Today, those dragons were created to not just provide fun for my girls, they were a display of Ava and Helen’s artistic creativity and talent. Similarly, God designed us to model His glory. We were created out of love with the purpose to glorify Him. But sometimes the clay is too hard. Sometimes we don’t see a need to be anything but clay. We have hardened hearts that refuse to let anyone, let alone God, shape and mold us into something other than what we think we should be.
And then there are those of us who are wet clay. We want to be molded. We want to be shaped, so much so, that we dive into so much that we are wet with how-to books, 12-steps to happier lives, and all the influential stuff of the world. We can’t seem to separate the molding hands of the Father from the shaping hands of the world. We can’t decipher the Truth from the facts of life and worldly success. We are so interested in becoming what we “think” we are supposed to be, that we are not patient with the Father and His timing. A potter adds water to soften clay and make it pliable, but that is the Potter’s job. Outside of His timing, we have drenched ourselves in our own plans and our own desires that we can’t keep shape on our own. We start to melt and conform to the flat and shapeless goals and ideals of the world around us. He desires us to be dragons! He wants us to be fantastic and fanciful! He has a vision for us that includes breathing FIRE!
Thank goodness He keeps coming back to our droopy dragon tails. When the temptations of the world encourage us to “relapse” into our previous clay bondage, He comes to us in a very intimate and loving way to push and pinch. Sometimes, it’s not comfortable. But He sees in His mind’s eye the finished product. He sees soaring wings taking powerful and dramatic flight. He keeps tweaking and touching until we are able to stand firm in His truth, in our identity as His creation, and in our purpose to glorify Him.
We have been wet, slouching dragons during “Early Abstinence.” We were eager and excited to learn and be transformed. We took on a lot of change under our own power and vision. As we sit and dry out, getting pinched and pushed, we are learning that the Potter is to be trusted. He has a vision to mold us beyond our eager set-aside Family Rehabilitation. I am learning that to set aside the voices of this world and listen to His voice is key. During this time of rehab, abstaining from what the world tells us is important, good, and meaningful allows us to be able to even recognize and hear the Truth coming from Jesus. Putting aside my ambition to let Jesus do with me whatever He wills is what sobriety looks like. We are in process. We are learning. We are seeing more and more everyday that our role in all this is to just sit on the shelf with trust and humility. I am learning to see ourselves next to our children on the shelf instead of trying to shape and mold them myself. Jesus knows whether they are to be “listening dragons” or something else. I can only show them through my obedience what it looks like to sit on the shelf and be okay there.
We will be tempted and tested. But through that testing, I pray that we “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I pray that over time, we struggle less and less to hear the voice of Jesus amidst the voices of this world. I pray that over time, with much pinching and pushing, I give up my wet clay and look more and more like a strong, powerful, fanciful and free-flying dragon. I pray that I surrender all trust to Jesus letting Him define my future and direct my steps.