As I write these words it has been exactly a year to the day since we approached our child with a heartbreaking request. “Honey, we think you have a problem. We made an appointment at a substance abuse clinic. Will you go with us to get checked out?”
“Yes,” our child responded. “I’m tired of lying.” So began our family’s painful journey of mingled sorrow and hope. The following are a few things we’ve been learning:
You never know what goes on behind closed doors. This is what people say when kids from good families go bad. At one time I would have harbored the same idea, believing if we had only parented correctly it couldn’t happen to us—but then it did. Our cherished firstborn, reared in the love of Christ, is a heroin addict.
Behind our closed doors, I know we did our best. We played hide and seek and made homemade play dough. We went to the library, the park, and the zoo. I stayed at home and then worked part-time so a parent would always be available. My husband worked full time and was always home for dinner. We attended church and volunteered for ministry regularly. We studied the Bible at home, and I remember a specific morning devotion discussing the dangers of addiction and treating our bodies as God’s temple.
I don’t say these things proudly. I can’t. I am forever cloaked in the humility that devastating failure brings. No matter what we did right, we failed to rear a law-abiding, moral child. As a parent I have been brought very low, but I can take comfort that humility always touches the heart of God. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Why? Because never are we more like his precious Son than when we are humble (Philippians 2).
Humility is simply admitting to God what he already knows to be true—we can’t do it on our own. Even if I had been a perfect parent, I could not build the perfect child. Jesus tells us that, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing of true value or eternal consequence can be done without God.
As we digest this truth, we become more like Christ, for Jesus also said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). Isn’t this what we are striving for—to be conformed into the image of Christ? I can never again look at a hurting parent with judgment or criticism in my heart. Humility is a gift that can be embraced by the parent of an addict.
Over the last year I spent several months in the “bargaining” stage of grief. What could I have done differently? Should I have homeschooled through high school? What should my husband have changed? Should he have taken a different job so we could move?
To heal I must admit that my insufficiency to achieve anything apart from God extends to the ability to save my child, physically and spiritually. As a follower of Christ I am willing to admit my inadequacy as it concerns eternal salvation, but I resist this belief in other areas of my life. My humanly independent, arrogant nature expects to achieve success through effort in my career, finances, and family.
In some ways our church culture has integrated this belief as well. We may think that a good kid from a good home will turn out “good”—but assuming that a child reared in a Christian home will automatically become a Christian cheapens grace. If we believe our careful training can change the heart of a child, we devalue the necessary work of the Holy Spirit in salvation.
Listen to what Paul said when considering Timothy’s Christian heritage: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:4, 5). Paul did not say, “Of course, now lives in you.” He said, “I am persuaded, now lives in you.” To Paul it did not seem a foregone conclusion that because Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Christians, he would also be a believer. The same miracle that saves a drug dealer off the street saves a choir boy out of the pews.
If we would truly accept that only God can save and sanctify, it would give us a radical gratefulness for our salvation. This understanding gives fresh, worshipful appreciation for grace through Christ alone.
Hope can be a painful thing. Our Christian counselor at church tried to comfort us with the words of Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” But the parent of an addict knows their child may not live till they are old.
I had to face the fact that much of my hope was ill placed. I was hoping in my prayer, and the miracle I wanted God to perform, not in the person of God himself. If I didn’t get my way, I was preparing to judge God by my limited understanding of his action or inaction, instead of the biblical doctrine of his loving character. This inhibited what God wanted to do in me.
Paul gave an example of this tormented, parental heart when he said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people” (Romans 9:2, 3). Paul would have gladly sacrificed himself to save Israel. Can you relate to this anguish? Have you wished you could die in your child’s place or accept God’s grace on their behalf? You cannot. The peace and reconciliation God wants to bestow can only be accepted and enjoyed by the individual. You cannot accept it for your child, but you can certainly reject it because of your child.
When the enemy whispers “addiction” into my child’s ear, he whispers “doubt” into mine. This is the challenge of my journey, to submit and hope only in God and his goodness.
“We can trust God with all our problems, all our heartaches, and especially with all our long-term anxieties. Every morning as we wake ourselves up with a splash of joy, we can say, ‘WHATEVER, LORD!’” said Barbara Johnson in her book Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life.
Our child is currently in successful recovery with a good job, nice apartment, and decent friends; but the week I am writing this, our child’s roommate died of an overdose after being clean for two years. We live in a world that can be dangerous and cruel. I have no more endurance for false confidence or expectation. My only sure foundation is to stand before God with no pride in self, a better understanding of grace, and determined hope in the Lord. It is incredibly freeing.
Wasted2Cor4.wordpress.com is a Christ-following mom from the Midwest. With her blog she wishes to encourage other parents of addicts.
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