Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

My senior year of college, I suddenly found myself enamored with Coca-Cola, preferably of the Vanilla variety. It was weird because I have never been a sweets person. Sure, I enjoyed dessert, and as a true Southerner, I could down some sweet tea. I found myself drinking multiple sodas per day. I figured it was under control as long as I wasn’t buying 12 packs. Then I started buying twelve packs.

I knew that all that sugar couldn’t be good for me, but on a certain level I didn’t care. I felt I should want to stop drinking soda, but I still craved it. So even as I tried to moderate my habit, I found myself daily giving in, then feeling like a failure. Because while I knew that this was a habit I needed to break, I couldn’t get enough of the bubbly, syrupy goodness.

This lasted for over a year. I would go between loving the stuff and feeling content with it, to hating myself for loving it so much. It was just soda, what was the big deal? Plenty of people drink it all the time and they seem fine. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure, what with my senior research project and performance just around the corner. I told myself I could have this one vice. Maybe I would regret it, but that was a problem for future Marebs.

April of the following year, I was in Cambodia. I had gotten dengue fever during the hottest month of the year in a country without the medical resources to which I was accustomed. Basically, I had to take Tylenol to try to break the 104 degree fever and hope I would get better on my own. This isn’t just a Cambodia thing; to my knowledge there isn’t actually a cure or vaccine for dengue.

I did anything I could to try to cool down, including drinking cold beverages. The only cold beverage I could get was canned Coca Cola. As I was also constantly nauseous, it seemed like a God-send. I forced myself to drink water occasionally, but I basically lived off of Coca Cola for the five days my fever lasted. It seemed like one upside of this miserable disease was getting to drink all of the Coke I wanted and a solid reason to not feel guilty about it.

As soon as my fever abated, so did my taste for Coca Cola. To this day, I cannot drink full sugared soda. For the rest of the mission trip that took me to Cambodia, I would occasionally drink a soda, but it no longer created the same euphoric effect. Suddenly, I was aware that it was too sweet, the flavor artificial, and the experience no longer enjoyable.

Now, I can’t even think about Coke without also recalling lying on a child-sized mattress on the floor of our tin-roofed dorm, body aching, unable to cool down, miserable and making everyone around me miserable. If you’ve ever watched the show House, I think I was only 2% more pleasant than Dr. House during that month.

Step six talks about being “entirely ready” to have our character defects removed. I’m not saying that liking soda is an issue of character or to shame anyone who likes soda. I think I knew, even in the midst of it, that for me it wasn’t just about wanting to drink soda. It was like a switch flipped and soda suddenly comforted the place where my anxiety and fear live. That’s why it was so hard to kick.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s define a character defect as a habitual response to stress, pain, or fear that is ultimately harmful to us and the people around us. Lying, arrogance, lashing out, isolation, [insert your thing here]. We may know that these things are not especially good for us or our relationships, and yet we still reflexively reach for them when we feel vulnerable. Have you ever, through sheer force of will, tried to get rid of one of these old habits? Were you able to or, like so many New Years Resolutions, did you slowly lapse back into your default?

Perhaps I couldn’t initially kick my soda habit because deep down I didn’t really want to. I was too enamored by the comfort and familiarity of the habit, and how good it made me feel in the moment. It felt empowering and satisfying to defy what I knew I shouldn’t do. When given the choice, I just wanted to experience that indulgent feeling. So until my brain began to associate the experience of drinking soda with something neither positive nor comforting, I was always going to choose the soda.

If we put this into spiritual terms, we know that there are things we do, and can’t seem to stop doing, that are harmful to our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and creation. Personally, I have this idea that, because I am a Christian, I shouldn’t experience this tension anymore. After all, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I feel like I must be missing something. I should be a new creation, and yet I find myself falling back on my same old comfortable habits.

I think that becoming “entirely ready” is a process. Just feeling the desire to put aside unhealthy patterns in part of that process. In his book Bold Love, Dr. Dan Allender describes this gradual growth thus:

“The believer has been grafted into the vine, and over time, she will have the capacity to bear fruit… This implies a process–a development from the day of attachment to the vine to the day that her roots are embedded in the vine, then to the day that her branch buds, and finally to the day she offers fruit to the tender Gardener who grafted her to the vine.”

I don’t think that we can guilt ourselves into better behavior, especially when it comes to our most deeply ingrained and harmful habits. I think there comes a moment when, though we have been fighting for better habits and failing, we reach a sort of rock bottom, a moment when the behavior is no longer associated with anything positive, or the supposed positive no longer outweighs the negative. We move from shaming “should” thoughts and into the reality of true, deep conviction. And we understand, maybe for the first time, what it is to be entirely ready. It’s that moment when we stand at the crossroads and we decide to turn the other way.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

What do you think?

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