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Saturday, June 05, 2010

On Relapse

It happens. I'm talking about a phenomenon that addicts (and those who love them) know as relapse. But it isn't exclusive to addicts. It happens anytime someone does something they know they shouldn't ... after a period of victory where they abstained from it.

For example, if you're diabetic and swore off doughnuts, but found yourself indulging a few weeks later, you just relapsed. Or you determined to not watch TV before your homework is done, but just couldn't resist that latest episode of Lost? Yep, you just relapsed too.

The point is that anyone can relapse and just about everyone does. We relapse in all sorts of areas by returning to something that we know isn't good for us. People have been studying it for years, trying to figure out how to prevent it. Those who do it suffer from guilt and shame, and sometimes try to hide the fact that they've relapsed. It's a painful issue, especially when the area we're relapsing in is particularly dangerous or harmful to ourselves and/or others.

But there's something about relapse that I think people should understand. It doesn't mean anything. All too often we tend to think that relapse means the prior victory wasn't real. Or we think that the individual who is relapsing wasn't serious or wasn't very committed. Maybe we think they were conning us. The individual who relapses doesn't need others to think these things about himself, he (or she) can easily think these awful things about themselves!

But if recovery or victory isn't real, or if the sinner was conning those around them, such things are not made true by a relapse. If they were true, they were true before the relapse. Relapse isn't what made them true. It just doesn't have that kind of power.

I've counseled people who talk about the relapse of a spouse. Maybe the wife will say something like, "If he uses drugs again, I don't think I can handle it. Not even one more time." And she watches him like a hawk, worried sick that he'll relapse. If there's even the slightest reason to suspect it, she can go off the deep end, hysterical, frantic, and even experiencing pain ... without even having to know if he really did relapse or not. Evidently, his future relapse frightens her that much. She's terribly intimidated by the prospect of a future relapse. How did the behavior of one individual get such power over another individual?

Or the dieter who relapses and then gives up. He or she will come to me and talk about what's happened. They'll say something like, "I'm tired of failing. I just can't fail again. I'm not going to diet at all. I'm just going to be fat!" I mean, what kind of talk is that? What kind of rationale gets someone to such a ridiculous place? It would appear that relapse has convinced this individual that they cannot possibly do something (like control their eating). How can one event, or even a string of events acquire such power over one's thinking and even over one's will?

Here's the thing. Relapse really doesn't mean anything. It means you screwed up. It means you failed. It means you're human. It might even be an indication of the fact that you're a hopeless sinner --- in desperate need of a Savior. (Fortunately one is available!) But relapse does not define you. It doesn't define your future, or even your present. And it certainly doesn't define your past (as in "my successful dieting in the past wasn't real").

Now don't get me wrong, relapse wants to have that power. It wants to define you and define your relationships, your future, your potential and everything else about you. Relapse wants to be the exclamation mark at the end of your sentences. It wants to be the blockade to your future. And it's a persistent little devil, it will keep trying to convince you that it has this power already.

It's time we stop looking that this phenomenon known as relapse and think it means anything. If your broke your diet, took a drink, looked at porn, used drugs, ate a doughnut or whatever else you are trying to break free of --- it doesn't mean anything. The truth is that the process of sanctification is still active in you. God, who began a good work in you (when you were saved) will be faithful to complete it.

This, my friends, is what's true. You're not perfect, you still need that Savior, and you'll have to keep on growing in holiness and righteousness until Christ returns. Until then, you may have to encounter relapse from time to time. It may be your own relapse. It may be the relapse of people you love and support. It'll be painful. But you are not to be deceived by it. You are not to submit to it. And you certainly are not to hand your power over to it.

It's time we put relapse in its place and stop giving it power that it doesn't have. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13) That includes walk through a relapse and reclaim the victory that Christ hung on that cross to ensure for me.

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