Read Psalm 27:7-12
After a long and unexpected break due to a whirlwind of work activities, I’m back to finish our series on Psalm 27. Thanks for your patience!
During the first week of Sure we talked about being afraid and during the second week we talked about being brave by staying hidden. This week, I want to talk about how long it can take to see a victory.
In January, a lot of people, in the spirit of the New Year, complete what’s called “Dry January,” a month long abstinence from alcohol. This exercise in restraint is very different from sobriety. Sobriety, as any addict will tell you, is a lifelong process. When you’re addicted to something, a little bit can go a long and dangerous way. The mantra you hear in movie portals of recovery groups sounds something like this: “My name is such and such and I’m an addict.” The framing is always present tense, no matter how long the character has been sober.
I am an addict. Never I was an addict. I am.
Addiction never goes away. If you aren’t careful, if you indulge for just a minute or two, it’s prepared to come back in full force. This is why getting sober is so hard and relapse is so common. It’s also why addiction is so frustrating to those outside the addiction. All the person has to do is stop. Why can’t they? It’s hard, if not impossible to fully understand, if you haven’t been through it.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain addiction is like an itch that never goes away. Each day is filled with hours which is filled which minutes which is filled with seconds which is filled with milliseconds and all of those units of time itch. Choosing to get sober isn’t the hardest part of sobriety, it’s staying sober despite the weight of those itches every single moment of every single day. It’s choosing in every single itchy moment, not to scratch. With time and new habits, the itch fades. It gets weak. But it never goes away completely. If you stretch out just one finger to scratch, the dormant itch erupts. Sobriety is a long road that must be walked level. One unlevel step and the dam breaks.
As I read through this passage of Psalm 27, I hear a lot of longing, I hear yet another prayer of juxtaposition. The Lord adopts us as a good shepherd when our parents die (verse 10) but we find ourselves anxious for the Lord’s attention as a God who might be mad at us (verses 7-9). The psalmist is in a tug of war against themselves, their own doubt and their own confidence, and also in a tug of war against the weight of their missteps and the blindly loving faithfulness of God.
The psalmist is at once confident victory will come and worried that in the peak of their vulnerability, God might leave. They speak of abandonment, the fear of being left and also of the confidence that even then, God won’t leave. The tension is real for the psalmist because for them, even after boasting in this victory, the enemy doesn’t leave. The enemy is always there waiting to breathe something violent down your neck.
In his liturgy for one battling a destructive desire, Douglas Kaine McKelvey writes, “Let me build then, my King, a beautiful thing built by long obedience.” McKelvey recognizes the length of sobriety, of battling the flesh. Obedience begets the beauty we long to seek, but the beauty only comes after the long road of obedience. In short, there is no quick fix in life. No shortcut to the promised land. No belief without doubt. No level road to walk without faltering.
The key to getting sober is sometimes the key to relapsing. Only by understanding what triggers your addictions can you learn to overcome them. Only by breaking your old habits can you make new ones.
As the psalmist battles anxiety and doubt while simultaneously claiming confidence and joy, I think about the long wait we take oftentimes to reach goodness. I think about the intentionality of being set on a level path, a razor’s edge away from falling off into the violent mouths of my enemy. I think about the vulnerability to be pushed off, to relapse, to fall. I think about long obedience and making the choice to press on.
As you walk through this week, may you breathe in the same breath “Oh heart, seek God’s face” and “Oh God, do not hide your face from me.” And, when you inevitably stumble off the level, narrow path, may God grant you the grace and strength to climb back on.
SAMHSA offers confidential, free, 24/7/365 help to get sober. You can call them at 1-800-662-4357 or by learning more here.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).
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