19 2023
The Gift of Desperation

The Gift of Desperation

The phrase “the gift of desperation” has always caught my attention. The recovery program I attend is patterned after the 12 Steps of AA. Back in the late 70’s, virtually nothing existed for people to find a way out of lust addiction, so our founder attended AA meetings and soon discovered that the principles used there to combat alcoholism could be adapted to to “sexaholism.”

Along the way, both programs discovered that pain, discomfort and some degree of desperation have often been the starting points to true and lasting recovery. Why? Most of the world runs from these things or tries to fix them as quickly as possible before moving on. Why would anyone want to be desperate?

Interestingly, the Christian community has recognized the value of desperation right from the beginning. Until the prodigal son (Luke 15) became desperate, he did not return home. In Revelation, the Spirit speaks to the church in Laodicea saying, “For you say I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Rev. 3:17. An entire church community had to accept its true, desperate condition before it could move forward in reality-based discipleship, shedding the fantasy version of themselves. The Apostle Paul apparently believed desperation could deliver from complacency. ” For some people have deliberately violated their consciences….among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander whom I have delivered to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” 1 Tim. 19-20. Harsh words but let’s remember the purpose was redemptive. Apparently the remedial action of putting people outside the church to experience the pain of separation had a unique ability to focus and change the complacent mind and heart into one desperate to connect authentically.

A former sponsor of mine said it well. Until people can honestly say ” “I’m done. I will go to any length to stay sober, please tell me where to start” their chances of long lasting recovery are slim. These older, wiser 12 steppers shared their experience about this. “Until we had been driven to the point of despair, until we wanted to stop but could not, we did not give ourselves to this simple program.” In the case of alcoholism, they even went so far to say “John Barleycorn himself had become our best advocate.” (12 and 12) The history of AA has always been that no alcoholic can be convinced by someone else. Each one had to become desperate enough, convinced by ‘their own enlightened self-interest,” to try a new way of living.

Self Talk

What would happen if we looked into the thoughts of someone who is not quite desperate enough to surrender lust? We would likely find these kinds of thoughts and more thrown up as a barricade to surrender.

“It’s only porn and masturbation. It will never progress beyond that. I’ll stop when I get married. Why would I need it after that? Everyone is doing it. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I only do it occasionally. I can’t get honest now. The kids will be hurt. I’ll just cut down and things will get better. It’s her fault. Our sex life is so limited. I’ll give it up later, when I’m 30, 40, 50 , 60 or 70. I have other priorities right now. Maybe I’ll outgrow it or not need it anymore. Then I won’t need to do the hard work. God hasn’t made me stop. I wonder why He isn’t coming through for me. I give up ( oh, wait a minute.)”

In contrast, here are some likely thoughts in the mind of a man who will settle for nothing less than surrender and recovery, one who is willing to let go. ” This is so worth it. My life is so much better I wish I had done this earlier. Sobriety and recovery come first for me because without them, I have nothing I truly want. I am willing to take the actions of recovery every day. I am not only finding recovery from lust but also from fear, isolation, dishonesty, alienation and resentment. In their place I am finding God, true friends who know me as I am and can still identify with me and I with them. I am finding purpose, community and freedom. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am finally home.”

My final question is this: Why would God want me to become desperate? Perhaps it is because I was never meant to “run the show,” to go through life leading with my ego, mired in self-centeredness, focusing on control in order to deal with fear. I was meant to find a new way to live, one of acceptance, love and grace.

But to discover this new way, more often than not, we must become desperate enough to let go. For those willing to take that step,
there is plenty of room. Extra chairs are available for every person who is ready. So it turns out desperation is not the enemy we thought it was. It was our friend all along. We just didn’t know it.

In the Lust-Bearer,

Jay Haug
Executive Director
Living Without Lust Inc.