Recently I was released after 5-years of service as an addiction recovery missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My 4th of July was very different than any prior. I spent it conducting an addiction recovery meeting with 6 good brothers who realized that addictions don’t sleep or take holidays. I didn’t know it would be my final night to administer to my dear brothers.
That night, at a brother’s request, I administered priesthood blessings to two of these men. The Spirit moved me powerfully as I pronounced this last blessing. It was that this man was needed as a great patriarch and priesthood holder in his home and that the Lord would bless him with power to become so and to overcome as he gave his full measure.
After the blessing, this great, troubled man remained seated, without speaking for nearly a minute. He finally rose, and through tears, he said, “I’m not going to be a 90% man any more. I’m all in. I’m going to do this”. I believe and hope he will.
As we start a new year, please reflect with me on what truly overcoming all things means. In a way, I resent that our program name is “Addiction Recovery”. It is in actuality the “Eternal Life Recovery Program” and is fundamentally the gospel in 12-steps. Every person who wants to be more like our Savior and enjoy His presence, needs the principles this program teaches.
A dear sister in our ward asked me what it was like serving these men. I told her, “Sometimes the men come, saying they had a great week, and I joy with them. Sometimes they come heartbroken, saying that it’s been rough, and I sorrow and sometimes cry with them, but either way, I can’t imagine loving them less. I simply always love them.”
Learning to Love
I primarily served men 18-30 struggling with pornography, but I had several special opportunities to address other addictions.
I learned to love from my Savior, because I’ve been broken myself… There is no purer love than from Him. In cleansing my heart, he prepared a way for me to bring others to him. It is not a light thing to go into a room full of men who want to repent and teach principles to weaken addiction’s grip. I would prepare thoughts ahead of time for the night’s focus on one of the 12-steps in the ARP program, but as I would listen to these great men with their powerful insights and troubling concerns, I found I clung more to their words than my own.
Repeatedly, the distinct impression came that these men needed love and encouragement much more than reiteration of a principle or sharing of a clever quote. My messages became focused more on what I felt the Savior would say if He could hold them in His gaze and penetrate their troubled hearts.
The result is that I have a 5-year recovery journal of nearly 100,000 words. Much of it consists of thoughts I prepared for meetings, but never said. The Spirit, very often, would change the thoughts I had prepared to meet the needs of the brothers there. This journal reminds me that this is His work, not mine, and it is replete with the miracles and tender mercies of the Lord.
I once heard it asked in Sunday school, “Can someone who has had a serious addiction ever be fully trusted? Can they really, completely get over the addiction?” The response I witnessed from the second-guessing members wasn’t encouraging. To me the real answer to the recovery concern is an unequivocal, “Yes, we can completely overcome!” Our Savior is mighty to save and he can give us a new heart when we turn to Him.
Many times, I have heard the struggling men themselves say, “I will always battle this addiction!” This declaration presupposes that addiction recovery will always be incomplete, but the reality is at a certain point, we can simply let the battle fizzle into insignificance as our hearts fully turn to service and care of our fellowmen.
I understand people being worried that an ‘addict’ is not truly overcoming. Relapses are fairly universal during recovery for even the most-sincere efforts. What I call ‘addict brain’ is very deceptive, particularly to the person affected. Without enabling addiction, or failing to protect and safeguard family and church from compromising situations, find a way to be forgiving and encouraging to one struggling with addiction. In time, for one who truly repents, the results will begin to speak for themselves.
What God hath cleansed, let no man call common or unclean.
Boyd K. Packer said:
“The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed.… It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.”
Forgive men and women their trespasses and their weaknesses. Help them overcome!
The Temple’s Role
The temple requires sacred preparation, and many of our men have not been to the temple for years because they aren’t ready to be in the presence of our Father in Heaven. For while our church meetings are first aid stations of life, the temple is where we go to be reunited with our Father, which is what Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances are for.
Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “Temple service is the end product of all of our teaching and activity.” (Oct 2005 conference)
One brother had spent a lengthy period preparing to return to the temple. When he did, we met there as our paths converged briefly. His eyes spoke a clear message to me: “I am clean!” He smiled happily and exclaimed, “It’s my third time this week!”
How many times has the Lord brought my men to me in the temple? Many times! And oftentimes my men and I have embraced there with tears in our eyes I love this holy place where Heaven and Earth meet. It is filled with light, forgiveness and joy.
All it Takes, is Everything…
A dear brother used to say, “A 99% commitment is a bear, but a 100% commitment is a breeze.” I agree.
Many men still subtly consider what they really have to give up and what they can get away with keeping. My men know what I would tell them about overcoming: “All it takes is: EVERYTHING!”
Perhaps my own most pitiful mind-state was when I remember thinking, “I wonder how good, is good enough. Surely, I can give up this much and be pretty good, and I can always give it up later.” Oh my heart repulses now at this thinking. It is completely misaligned with the purposes and power of God, and is fundamentally dishonest.
The sole purpose of this clever, double-mind is to make us and/or others near us feel better but lacks true commitment to overcome. It causes the overcoming process to take a very long time and fosters despair, distrust and discouragement. I vowed that this could not be me. I wouldn’t make myself feel better by just telling myself I was trying. I had to be ‘all in’, and I was.
All of us need to be, ‘all in’, in ‘all things’ to be like our Father in Heaven in every way we can, so that by His grace, we can be saved.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. The day of the Lord is near, in the valley of decision.Joel 3:14