No One Need Walk Alone: Offering Christlike Love to Our Neighbors In Recovery

Jun 13, 2023

You’ve seen him here before. He usually sits in the back row and slips out right after Mass. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d never know he was there in the first place. He’s always hunched over, shabbily dressed, and sitting alone. Nobody ever talks to him, at least not like before. He glances up from his dirty hands folded neatly on his lap and catches you staring. You quickly look away, embarrassed.

This man once was a faithful church goer who always participated fully, his head erect, shoulders back, and smiling. But last summer he was in a bad car accident. Your friend in the church tutoring program the man was involved in told you the whole story – pain, too many pills, then emptying his family’s savings account to buy heroin when he couldn’t get any more medication. His wife kicked him out, and he has been living on the street ever since. So sad, you think, as your mind drifts back to the service. A few minutes later, you have entirely forgotten him.

This scene plays itself out regularly in more congregations than we can count. Unfortunately, and more often than not, that man is somebody you know, possibly even a close friend, child, or spouse. As Christians, we have a duty to love and care for others as best we can in all possible situations. The challenging question becomes: How can we show love as Christ does for someone caught up in addiction? And the natural follow-on to that is: How do we love but not enable?

“Showing Christlike love means that we offer those who are struggling our friendship, understanding, and patience,” said Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance Ranch, a faith-based treatment center headquartered in Bluffdale, Utah. “We must resist the urge to judge someone for their addiction or ignore the issue altogether,” he continued. “The Savior was brutally honest with everyone He met, but also unmatched in His empathy. He never let His disapproval or sorrow for the problem get in the way of loving and healing the person.”

We recognize that it’s not easy to try and reach out to someone dealing with substance abuse, regardless of whether or not you’re close to them. In light of that, we have put together some thoughts based on our experiences here at the Ranch to help you:

Christlike Love to Our Neighbors In Recovery

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Be Knowledgeable

It’s difficult to help someone find solutions if you’re not educated about the difficulties they’re facing. Throw out all the stereotypes and media depictions of addiction and look to qualified resources for information and guidance. Organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) can give you a solid knowledge base on substance disorders, how they occur, their effects, and available faith-based treatment centers in your area. Local Al-Anon and Nar-Anon groups also provide critical, Christian-oriented support for family and friends of people in substance crises.

Finally, take time through prayer and scripture study to learn more about Christ and grow closer to Him. As you open yourself up to the Savior, you will find increased guidance in approaching and assisting people who struggle with addiction.

Be Gentle

“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (King James Version Bible, 2013, Proverbs 15:1). People don’t often walk away from a confrontation feeling inspired to change. Yelling at or trying to shame someone into not drinking usually has the opposite effect – they either fight back or withdraw themselves from you completely, not wanting to be lectured anymore on something they need to address but can’t.

On the other hand, one thing that will help is pointing out that you’re concerned about their welfare and letting them know you’re there to listen if they ever need to talk. Do your best to love and accept the person as they are.

Be Direct

Jesus Christ never beat around the bush when something was happening that wasn’t right. He rescued the adulterous woman from being stoned to death by calling her accusers out for hiding sins of their own. After showing her this tremendous kindness, He told her to ‘go and sin no more.’

Using illicit drugs or drinking heavily can destroy your health, relationships, and livelihood. Allowing those we love to make excuses for substance abuse (or sometimes making them ourselves) isn’t being kind or showing Christlike love. On the contrary, choosing not to intervene does the person struggling a great disservice. People with SUDs need someone in their life who will step up and be direct and honest with them about the dangerous path they’re on and where it will eventually take them.

Be Firm

It’s important to maintain boundaries when assisting a person with a substance use disorder. As mentioned above, Christ accepted the person, not the person’s sinful or misguided behaviors. An excellent example is when He lovingly but firmly chastised the brothers James and John for wanting to rain down fire from Heaven on the Samaritans for not accepting Jesus into their town. Christ reminded them that vindictiveness and retaliatory behavior were wrong and unacceptable.

Likewise, you can and should establish healthy boundaries around your interactions with an addicted loved one or acquaintance. These include:

  • Not supporting the person financially, such as paying their rent, bills, or giving them money for gas, groceries, and other necessities. Unless they are actively pursuing recovery, your monetary assistance will only further enable their destructive behavior.
  • Saying ‘no’ to drug and alcohol use around you, your family, or your home.
  • Not making excuses for them at school, work, etc. You need to let consequences take their natural course, be it jail time, poor grades, or loss of employment.
  • Making insults, ridicule, and arguments unacceptable behavior in the family. It’s essential to do everything you can to help build the self-worth of the person with the SUD and everybody else in the home.

Be Mindful

In the scriptures, we read that Christ often left His disciples to go and pray and rest himself spiritually. Loving a person addicted to drugs, alcohol, or anything else can quickly become all-consuming and emotionally draining. Make time to engage in activities that renew your mind and body, such as exercise, meditation, prayer, outdoor recreation, games, and hobbies. Regularly doing the things that refresh your spirit will increase your capacity for providing love and support to others.

Be Grateful

Daily gratitude puts your mind and soul in a peaceful, humble state. Whether it was for food and drink or His followers’ faithfulness, Christ always thanked God for every blessing He enjoyed. When we do likewise, we can experience joy even when we’re in the middle of terrible trials and challenges.

Watching a loved one spiral into the disease of addiction is devastating, and it’s tough to see anything good when you’re in the thick of that kind of ordeal. However, when we put pen to paper (or finger to iPhone) to jot down some of our blessings, instantly, we are reminded that in these difficult times, the Lord walks with us. Consider starting a gratitude journal to note some of the gifts you experience each day. It’s an excellent way to see how deeply and consistently God loves you.

Be Patient

While residential treatment programs for substance abuse can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days or longer, recovery is lifelong. Christ knew we could never become perfect beings on our own, so He died on the cross and paid for our sins. In His eyes, we’re a constant work in progress. Our Savior sets the ultimate example of patience as He lovingly directs our path and helps us find our way back when we step away from Him and get lost. With addiction, stepping away and getting back on track happens all too often. It’s called relapse.

As we exercise patience with those battling drug and alcohol abuse, we show that we understand that relapse is simply a part of their disease, not an abject failure. You still believe they can recover no matter how often it happens. It also signals them that your love is not conditional on their sobriety.

Be Forgiving

When Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive his brother of trespasses or grievances, the Savior answered, “Until seventy times seven” (King James Version Bible, 2013, Matthew 18:22). In Jewish culture, the number seven represents completeness, so the Lord wasn’t telling Peter to count someone’s sins to 490 and then refuse to forgive them after that. He was essentially saying that His forgiveness is infinite and, therefore, whole and complete. If we want to follow Christ, we must also continue forgiving our family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies indefinitely.

The consequences of addiction usually include a lot of heartbreak and regret. Crimes against others may be involved. And certainly, close relationships often end up shattered. The only path forward in recovery must involve healing and strengthening those broken bonds. There is no pain, injustice, or affliction that the Lord has not experienced Himself, and we can turn to Him in prayer to help soften our hearts toward the people who have hurt us.

Additionally, consider seeking support through faith-based treatment center programs for families. For example, at Renaissance, we offer affected family members and friends webinars, podcasts, and in-person classes that provide understanding and empathic solutions for working with loved ones with substance issues. Sharing your journey with others in similar situations can supply strength and relief.

For more information on Renaissance Ranch’s unique Christian-based rehabilitation centers in Utah and Idaho, call us at 855-736-7262.