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By: Rick Fannin
What is the Gift of Desperation?
Most of us would agree that desperation is not a fun place to be. We spend our lives attempting to avoiding painful pits of despair. However, do not underestimate the power that comes with the gift of desperation and the good it can do for your recovery and your soul. Pain always serves a purpose. Suppose we find ourselves in desperation for a way out of a rock bottom moment. From this dark place, we become open-minded to try anything, motivated, and willing to exude every ounce of energy possible to scratch, crawl, and climb out of this dark pit.
When we think of being desperate, we envision an undesirable state: a poor, frightened, broken soul, with a desperate look in the eyes, frantically searching and clawing for something urgently needed. We think of hunted animals, hungry children, and of ourselves before we found hope in the rooms of a twelve-step program.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous described these rock bottom hopeless moments of desperation in the passages below:
"We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals – usually brief – were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period, we get worse, never better."
This passage conveys our cycle of addiction and the digging of multiple and progressively deeper rock bottom's which defy logic or reason. With shovel in hand and breaking ground on yet another one, we curse the shovel and search desperately for a solution to stop the insanity.
This was the desperation we felt before coming into the recovery rooms, and this desperation compelled us to accept the First Step. We were fresh out of ideas, and so we became open to new ones. Our insanity had finally risen higher than our wall of denial, forcing us with this first step to get rigorously honest about our disease and our limits to recover on our own. Honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, and commitment became the foundations where we begin to build our recovery.
Desperation is what finally drives many of us to ask for help. Just as the desperate, hunted animal seeks a haven, so do we in recovery seek healing in the safety of a counselor's office, in the accepting rooms of recovery, and the security found in the loving arms of our Creator. While we may have had an issue with God, the gift of desperation includes a willingness to believe in Something or Someone that can save us and rescue us.
In our pain and anguish, we simply cried out to God for Help. "God Please Help Me. Amen." Sometimes there is brilliance in brevity. "God Please Help Me" is such a great prayer because God is the gift of desperation. When you are in despair, you are teachable, open-minded, motivated, and willing to do anything to reduce the pain of suffering. Including believing in a God that you may not know, do not believe in, or have an issue with. Anything is better than the progressive pain that has marked our life and scarred our hearts.
The gift of desperation recognizes that major change is prompted by, or conditional upon, major, accumulated crises. We come into the rooms of recovery and hear the stories of addiction which sound very similar to our current battles. But thank God, these stories include what it is like now, and we hear first-hand details of the miraculous transformation that God has architected in the lives of other recovering addicts and alcoholics.
We finally became willing to surrender. We needed help. As a result of this gift of desperation, we were able to accept the spiritual principles that make it possible for us to recover. In the process of recovery, we discover the joy found in living in God's light. We may have surrendered and lost the battle, but now that we have help, and we have hope in winning our personal war of self-destruction. God gives the hopeless hope as we begin to believe that, with His Power, something good can come from our mistakes. God flips the script on our pain and uses it to fuel our passion and His purpose for our life.
How God Uses Desperation
God often operates very contrary to how we think life should be. It shouldn't surprise us, then, to learn that God likes desperate people. He wants us to be desperate for Him, to learn to rely on Him instead of relying on ourselves. It appears that God actually takes pleasure in us reaching the end of ourselves because it's when we finally start reaching to Him.
Scripture is filled to the brim with people finding themselves in absolute desperation. Spiritual acts of desperation proliferate Scripture in almost (if not every) book. The story of our lives would find similar moments of desperation in every chapter of the Bible.
God is the master of flipping the script on things. Take Jacob being betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, hopelessly imprisoned for years, and transformed to the second in command in Egypt. God flips the script on the brother's betrayal, and Jacob can spare his family's life and goes on to become a great Spiritual leader. Or take Saul, the biggest persecutor of Christians ever, who was blinded by a bright light while traveling on the road to Damascus and was transformed into a Paul, one of the greatest apostilles and the author of the majority of the New Testament in the Bible. Paul discusses this gift of desperation, as seen below.
"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In our weakest moments, exhausted from using every ounce of self-will and determination to change something that we cannot change, we finally reach the end of ourselves. For many of us in recovery, this was a miraculous moment where we finally got out of the way and felt the fullness of God's grace, love, and power in our life. This experience is so profound that we discover an unknown purpose for our life, and we begin to share this message of hope to others who feel hopeless like we once felt. We discover the twelfth step working in our lives and realize that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, God can still use our broken past and experience to benefit others. What a wonderful feeling from helping others that brings worth to our bankrupt life.
Leaving God's Grace and Digging New Pits of Despair
Unfortunately, much like the cycle of addiction, we usually return to the cycle of false self-sufficiency within a day or two. Like a dog returning to its vomit, we too leave God's safety, peace, and joy and return to our old sinful and self-destructive ways. This battle of the flesh wages war against our hearts' desire for being aligned with God, as shown in the verse below.
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." – Romans 7:15-25
We cannot serve two masters. If we continue to serve our flesh desires, we will eventually pick up the shovel again and begin a new rock bottom pit of despair. We will continue to repeat this cycle of addiction and self-destruction until we discover that drugs or alcohol were not the real problems; addiction was just a symptom of attempting to live a life separate from God. Drugs or alcohol were temporary patches to our God-shaped hole in our hearts.
Suboxone: The Right Solution to the Wrong Problem
There is no doubt that Suboxone has spared many from a certain overdose death. There is substantial evidence that supports how Suboxone saves lives. However, many on Suboxone continue to live a life full of pain from the effects of past trauma, which fuel a myriad of negative emotions and dysfunctional behaviors.
By delivering patients from the torture of their addiction, medications like Suboxone can take away the lifesaving "gift of desperation." This desperation is the force that motivates them to engage in daily recovery practices and rituals, such as going to meetings, seeing a therapist, attending group therapy, working the 12 steps, or engaging in daily prayer and meditation (McGee, 2018). Medications should empower you to develop your recovery skills and supports, not alleviate the need to work on your recovery and your life.
Recovery activities, just like regular exercise and a good diet, should be part of a daily lifestyle whether you take medications, such as Suboxone, or not. A good prescriber will insist that their patients participate in a recovery program that both appeals to them and is effective. Medications are not a substitute for recovery work. Effective addiction treatment encourages you to work on the three pillars of recovery—abstinence, well-being, and citizenship—while simultaneously taking medications.
While medically assisted treatment (MAT), such as Suboxone, are great solutions for the problem of drug dependency, the medication does not provide any solutions to dealing with past trauma, abandonment, overwhelming negative emotions, a meaningless life, or the tendency to get into or stay in toxic relationships. Full recovery from addiction is so much more than the simple discontinued use of drugs or alcohol.
Living a God Dependent Life
But what if we started living our lives dependent on God? What if we began craving dependence on Him and learned to savor it? Our faith would be stronger, would it not? We'd relinquish control and align our agendas with God's far more often, which always proves to be the best course of action.
We need God desperately. And it is a priceless gift to feel it. Anything that drives us to dependence on God, even if it is "a messenger of Satan" (2 Corinthians 12:7), becomes a means of grace to us. The shame that we once had regarding the stigma of being an addict or an alcoholic vanishes. We are able to connect the dots and see how God was able to use something like our addiction to lead us to a reliance on Him. While we were once dependent upon drugs or alcohol, God flipped the script, and we are now fully dependent upon him.
In living a life dependent upon God, we find that the promises in the Bible begin to come true in our life. God's promises are a place of refuge, safety, comfort, and joy that are available to us at all times, especially when we are feeling afraid, weak, or vulnerable. Some of these promises include:
- "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." – James 4:7
- "I will never leave you or forsake you" – Hebrews 13:5
- "Yes, ask me (Jesus) for anything in my name, and I will do it!" – John 14:14
- "No, I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you" – John 14:18
- "I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." – John 14:27
- "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." – John 8:36
- "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." - Isaiah 41:10
- "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you." – Psalm 32:8
- "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." – Exodus 14:14
- "no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me, declares the Lord." – Isaiah 54:17
- "The Lord makes firm the steps of the ones who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord uphold him with his hand." – Psalm 37:23-24
- "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
- "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus." – Philippians 4:6-7
- "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." James 1:2-3
- "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." – Isaiah 40:31
- "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." – Jeremiah 29:11
- "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." – Romans 8:28
A New Way of Looking at Desperation
If God has allowed into your life some exquisite pain, some difficult burden, some struggle with hurt or habit, some anguish in the secret place that drives you to him frequently, sometimes these are the very things that will ultimately bring you closer to God, increase your faith, and lead you to your purpose in life. It is likely a gift of greater mercy than you know. If you still struggle with guilt or shame over your painful life or those rock-bottom moments, then just connect the dots and see how these things are connected to goodness and mercy who have followed you all the days of your life. When you make this connection, you cannot feel grateful for something and ashamed of the things that let you to God's grace.
The gift of desperation has helped us become honest, open-minded, motivated, and willing. We are grateful for this gift because it has made our recovery possible. We are eternally grateful because many of us would have never discovered that His grace is all that we need without this gift of desperation. This gift leads us to a purpose in life that is so much greater than ourselves. If you have ever experienced the joy that comes from a spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ, you suddenly know that any drink or drug can never replicate this feeling. What the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).
McGee, M. (2018). The optimal management of opioid use disorder: Leveraging advances in addiction psychopharmacology to enhance treatment outcomes. Psychiatric Annals, 48(5), 248-253.