Labels: From Addict to Free

Lonely guy looking into the distance at sea

I want to introduce you to Herbert. Herbert is a member of Transformation Church, and he is my friend. But, he wasn’t always my friend, or a member of Transformation Church. Here’s the story of how we met.

One evening my family and I went to dinner with friends at an Italian restaurant near our home in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the time, my daughter, Presley, was twelve, and my son, Jeremiah, was just seven. Presley is an adventurous eater, just like me. Jeremiah will eat a wide variety of food, too—as long as it is cheese and bread. So he was not happy when he found out we would be dining at an Italian restaurant. And like most kids his age, he let us know this by having a bad attitude. On the way to the restaurant, he was cranky. In the parking lot, he was cranky. And when we sat down at our table—you got it—he was cranky.

But then a big man with an even bigger smile arrived at our table to serve us. Immediately his booming yet cheerful voice captured our attention; even Jeremiah’s pouting turned around. The hospitality this man exuded was beyond the typical “I’m-going-to-be-nice-to-you-so-you-can-give-me-a-good- tip.”

As I looked into the eyes of the big man, I sensed his heart was even bigger than his smile.

It still brings tears to my eyes, remembering how that big man with the big smile won my son’s heart. But he didn’t stop there. He charmed everyone at the table. We were under his spell.

Before I knew it, he had Jeremiah and Presley creating multiflavored pops with him at the pop machine. Jeremiah was having so much fun he had forgotten he didn’t want to be there. What a great night! The service was remarkable. The food was magnificent. But the night was about to get even better.

As we and our greatly expanded stomachs were getting ready to leave the restaurant, I sensed a prompting from God and said to the big man with the big smile, “Herbert, God has a call on your life. He has placed a massive amount of love in your heart. God has gifted you to make people happy. Get ready: God is going to do something in your life.”

I do not believe in chance encounters. In every moment of every day that has ever been, God—master conductor of the symphony of life that He is—orchestrates every encounter we have with others. I believe that before time began, God envisioned the day I’d encounter Herbert. All my past experiences were for this moment. I believe this about every encounter with every person I have. Having this Christocentric perspective keeps me aware, present, and appreciative of people.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve made it a habit to carry my NFL trading cards with me. What’s unique about them is that instead of having my football statistics on the back, I have the story of how I came to faith in Jesus.

At restaurants I leave a generous tip, my autographed trading card, and a church business card, in hopes that the server will connect with our church. Normally I don’t put my personal phone number on the card, but this time I sensed I needed to.

About two weeks later, I got a phone call from the big man with the big smile. For the first few moments, our conversation was pretty light. Then Herbert’s booming yet cheerful voice began to crack. That crack soon broke into deep sobbing.

Have you ever heard the agony in another person’s cry and sensed the pain that is breaking his heart? Herbert said, “Pastor, I’m tired of living a lie. I’m an addict, and it’s killing me and the people I love. My addiction has cost me my children, my family, and my money. It has stolen everything from me. I’m tired, Pastor. I’m tired. Can you help me?”

Herbert had an “Addict” label in his heart. The chains of addiction had limited him.

Addicts Don’t Suffer Alone

Addiction is a cruel master whose sole objective is to destroy the addict—and anyone else in his or her life. No addict ever suffers alone.

Here is Herbert’s description of how addiction ruined his and his loved ones’ lives:

Because of my addiction, I was lonely, mad, and always frustrated. I was always out in the streets, wanting to get my next drink or hit. It was devastating. I was a slave. I constantly worried about how others felt and thought about me. I tried to hide my addiction by cleaning myself up. No matter how hard I tried to hide it, my family knew. Addiction has separated me from my family for years. It cost me my first marriage. My children don’t even know who I am. My darkest days of being an addict felt like I was snatching my family’s life away from them. I was out one night, smoking crack, and I ran out. I knew I had to get more. I wanted more. I was craving more.

My sister wanted me to go grocery shopping for her. She gave me several hundred dollars to do it. It was tough because as I walked to her house, I was telling myself “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” When she handed me the money, I knew I wasn’t coming back. I knew my family was going to go without food. But it didn’t matter because I wanted to get high. Herbert’s addiction touched many: wife, sister, children . . . who knows how many more? An addict never suffers alone.

Addicts Don’t Know Freedom

For those who have never truly grappled with a severe addiction, the choice seems obvious. Why wouldn’t you simply choose freedom from this kind of pain and destruction? Well, once you are in the grips of these addictions, once the label of “Addict” has been stitched on your heart, it is so much easier said than done.

One of my favorite movies is Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. His character, Dom Cobb, leads a team of spies who are hired by corporations to steal valuable information from their rivals. Cobb and his teams pull off some specialized espionage by entering into the dreams of executives through special military technology to extract top secret information. The movie’s plot leaps off the screen when a corporation hires Cobb and his crew to do an “inception”—the planting of an idea in the minds of targets from a rival corporation. Cobb had done this only one other time.

Watching this film, it occurred to me that this is what Satan and his demons do to humanity. They want to steal God’s truth from our minds (extraction) and then implant lies about God and us in our minds (inception).

The movie’s tagline is, “Your mind is the scene of the crime.”

That is so true, and this is precisely what happens with addiction. If we don’t know who we are and whose we are, we will not know how to live in the world. This leads us to seek false gods to meet our needs. The result is addiction.

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Excerpted with permission from Limitless Life by Derwin L. Gray, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2013.

Your Turn

Have you ever struggled with an addiction? What success stories do you have of overcoming those addictions? Have you ever fought to get rid of old labels from your old life and old lifestyle? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Derwin L. Gray

Derwin L. Gray is the lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission-shaped community, which has been recognized by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America. He graduated magna cum laude from Southern Evangelical Seminary with a master of divinity (MDiv) degree with a concentration in apologetics.

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