The Journal of a Junkie
By David Olshin Posted on October 05 2009
I am a recovering junkie. An addict. I feel embarrassed to admit it.
My addictions began at an early age. I’ve never accepted mediocrity. I’ve always wanted to be great at something. Before I became a Christian, it was tennis. In my teens I spent hours every day improving my forehand and backhand. Then my cravings for "more" led to drinking. Then to pot. Then to heavier drugs. By the time I was a high school senior, I was dealing drugs. More drugs...more beer...more fun.
At the age of 18 I became a follower of Jesus. I wanted a new start and a new life. I still wanted more—but it was more of Jesus (and less of me). God delivered me from substance abuse in a matter of months.
Soon after my conversion, I received a great deal of recognition for being a Messianic Jew—certainly a novelty in the church. In college I was the leader of a Christian fellowship that grew from five students to more than 150 in two years.
I went off to seminary with high expectations. I was popular in the circles I traveled, and I felt needed. I was God’s man. (Humble...and proud of it!) And without realizing it, the intoxication of being a "player" in the kingdom was my new high.
More, more, more!
My addiction increased over the next two decades. I loved being part of the "big show" in youth ministry—at times I felt like I was the show. People laughed, cheered, and praised me. My addiction drove me onward. Have the biggest and best youth ministry! The fastest growing! The most student leaders! Be the best youth speaker on the planet!
Then, with a doctorate in hand, I was a youth ministry expert with a degree in family systems. Invited regularly to speak to students, youth workers, and parents of teens, I began thinking, "People look up to me...they want to hear me speak...I’ve taken a college youth ministry department to higher levels...I write books...I consult...I counsel students who love me."
But no one knew I was a spiritual junkie.
One day my good buddy (and Christian psychologist) Larry asked me, "Could you ever give up the accolades?" I asked, "What do you mean?" He said, "What if God took away speaking, writing books, and mentoring students? Could you handle it?"
"Sure, no problem" was my flippant response.
Then the Holy Spirit began to work on me. I read Matthew 6: Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. (The Message)
Ouch! My self-image was directly related to my need to be needed and affirmed by others through ministry. Here’s what else Scripture had to say:Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have be given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself.(Galatians 6—The Message)
It’s as if someone pushed "stop" on my ministry roller-coaster button! I’ve just read about the Pharisees...and realized I’ve been one.
"The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked," the Bible says. Realizing I’d been drowning in my arrogance, I asked God, "Where will this lead?"
The answer? "Take your Isaac to the altar and lay him down."
I figured when I turned 40 I’d be spiritually wise enough—and secure enough—to relax. But I found myself obsessed with the limelight—again. Same struggle, different decade! As my psychologist friend says, "We don’t usually go through new issues—just old ones that we revisit regularly." And I concluded that it would take a
complete breaking of my corrupt motives to get any better.
A Light in the Distance?
Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. (Matthew 6—The Message)
A friend of mine gave me Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart—and it’s just what the doctor ordered. It’s a call to silence and solitude. A call to deal with our compulsions before God.
What have I learned? That my addictions are cycles. That they’re not new issues, but ones I’ll regularly visit.
I’ve started with some silent retreats. To really be alone with God. And I’ve found that solitude is transforming me. I’m still a recovering ministry addict, but the need for more is gradually fading away.
I’ve found I don’t need more.
I don’t need ministry.
I just need God.