By Dan Crain, Pastor and Connector for REMERGE. This is a blog from the Loving Freely content.
There we were, at a Panera Bread patio drinking some coffee overlooking Lake Eola in downtown Orlando. Mark and I had just got down serving together at Compassion Corner, a ministry that existed for years welcoming the cities most vulnerable neighbors experiencing homelessness into community. Mark and I had known each other for only a few months and he was very open about his struggle with alcoholism and his recovery.
After we sat down and got into our conversation I asked Mark if he was willing to share his story with me? He shared in detail about his childhood, his struggle with alcoholism, how it didn’t define him, his path to recovery and how helping others seemed to ease the pain that was inside.
After about ten minutes of sharing his story, Mark looked me right in the eye and said, “So, what are your addictions?”
I reacted like a deer in the headlights. I wasn’t ready for this question. I mean, I was the pastor with a Masters degree from Seminary in Intercultural Ministries and had just got done facilitating the Bible study that Mark was a part of. Didn’t he hear the words of God though me that I had my stuff together?
I then proceeded to share a bit about my story and the struggles I’ve had over the years with codependency. He then proceeded to calmly say, “Yeah, you’re a validation addict.”
Once again, deer in the headlights. It was the first time I had someone peg me as this. After journeying through this for years, the Holy Spirit has revealed that my false self does long for the validation and approval of others. My false self lives off of what others think of me and by the grace of God, He’s healing me of this.
We all have addictions, whether we’re willing to name them or not. Richard Rohr says it like this, “We are all addicts…Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality. The very fact we have to say this shows how much we are blinded inside of it. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to…You cannot heal what you do not first acknowledge.”
My addiction is rooted in the false self’s longing for affirmation and approval. Sometimes it’s very strong and other times, when I am in tune with Christ and who’s created me to be, it’s not there at all.
As Dr. Anthony Gordon from Desire Street Ministries says, “It doesn’t take long to realize two things in Christian service, one is that you are inadequate for the task and two, you need someone or something to persuade you that you are adequate. We need validation. We need people to like us, we need people to need us, and we need people to celebrate us. As servant leaders we have to shift the validation scope whereby the vertical validation is central and the horizontal validation is secondary.”
The false self in us longs for the approval and validation of others. When we don’t feel affirmed and approved by God the Father who’s uniquely created us, we then go off our Island of Peace in our souls to try and find it in other things, namely people.
But what was remarkable in this interaction is that the patient became the doctor and the doctor became the patient. I was the one in power as the assumed doctor and Mark was the patient needing my help. His question flipped the script. This is in essence what a dignified interdependent relationship from Dignity Serves looks like.
Bob Lupton says about the healer/patient relationship, “When my motivation is to change people, I inadvertently communicate: Something is wrong with you, but (quite subtly) I am okay. If our relationship is defined as healer/patient, then I must remain well, and they must remain sick in order for our interaction to continue. Since one does not go to the doctor when he is well, curing, then, cannot long serve as the basis for any relationship that is life-enhancing for both participants.
Little did I know but God was beginning to help me discover my own issues as I was loving, serving and advocating for the cities most vulnerable people. It’s in the midst of the work of reconciliation and justice that God changes us.
As one that’s constantly recovering of my addiction for validation and approval, Christ has helped me discover that this will be my thorn in my flesh to keep me humble, dependent on him and vulnerable to others. Henri Nouwen in, “In the Name of Jesus” says, “that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.”
We all have addictions, whether we are aware of them or not. Christ is always present with us helping us to discover what our addictions are through others.
The good news of what Christ does through the gospel is that our fundamental identity is not in what the false self struggles with, it’s in Christ. Or as Dr. Anthony Gordon adds; “The leader finds his affirmation foundationally in Christ. This validation holds up under any pressure. Because this validation was never rooted in our abilities, holiness or virtues. This validation is rooted in God’s sufficiency.”
Our need for affirmation and validation is filled by the voice of the Heavenly Father, which spoke the words over his son Jesus in Mark 1 and speaks over us, “You are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” We no longer need the validation and affirmation of others because God speaks the words that He is well pleased with us.
What are your addictions based on the trigger of needing affirmation or approval from others?
How are you listening to what Christ is trying to say through others about your addictions?