The sun has long since slipped behind the horizon, but I’m still at my computer. My back aches from sitting in the same chair. My mind feels like the inside of a beehive, full of restless buzzing. I’m exhausted, but I push myself to click a few more keys. I can’t stop.
I didn’t have a glass in my hand, but there was a season in my life when I worked like it was an addiction. It’s been years ago now, but I still remember how it wreaked havoc on my life. My relationships suffered. My health declined. I had no peace of mind. All of this came back to me in a recent conversation with a friend. We talked about how some of the things that destroy us are also, ironically, the ones that bring us the most praise from others.
No one had an intervention with me about my work habits. I didn’t get arrested. I never attended rehab. Instead I got told, “Good job!” and “Keep at it!” Productivity and busyness gave me a sense of worth; they made me feel needed and valued. I’ve personally come to believe anything we consistently do to excess can become a trap.
It doesn’t matter if our behavior is labeled “good” or “bad.” It’s the effect on our lives and relationships that matters. I’ve seen people become dependent on ”good” things like helping, legalism, meeting needs, and religious activities. We all have something we’re consistently tempted to go to in order to numb out, cope with stress, or avoid facing difficult emotions or experiences. Sometimes it’s just harder to recognize.
This tendency to gravitate toward what takes us captive is part of human nature. As the Apostle Paul said, “I have discovered this principle of life — that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” (Romans 7:21-23) When we’re caught in this cycle, it’s impossible to have peace because we’re at war with whatever we’re doing to excess.
We all know what this is like — to live fighting off the urge to have another drink, eat another cookie, say “yes” to one more request or put in another hour at the office long after we know we should have gone home. The good news is we don’t have to win the battle on our own. “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25)
This doesn’t mean we simply say a prayer and have automatic victory. Getting free may involve counseling, accountability, a support group, many times of trying and failing, as well as practical and spiritual resources. What these words do mean is that Jesus will empower us to overcome what we’re struggling with and help us regain our peace.
When Jesus began to free me from finding my identity in my work, I felt terrified. If I didn’t keep up the pace, then surely everything would fall apart. This is what addictive behavior tries to tell us — that if we stop we will never be okay. But I discovered when we stop trying to hold it all together we can finally rest in what we need most — a God who holds us.
God, it’s so easy to give our worth over to something other than You. When we start to do so, even if it’s a “good” thing, draw us back to You and remind us we have nothing to prove. Set us free, restore our peace, bring us victory. In Jesus’ name, amen.