Provision #410: Embrace Freedom

Laser Provision

What are you addicted to in life? Alcohol and drugs may get all the attention, but addiction on any level to any thing • even addiction to security or fame • interferes with our well being and our ability to love. Spiritual wellness starts and ends with freedom from addiction. It’s not about following a formula for salvation. It’s about the end of all formulas and attachments in our quest to live and work free. This Provision offers 5 simple steps to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision

Those of you who know me, who have been reading Provisions for any length of time, or who have viewed my online resume know that in my former life I served as a United Church of Christ pastor. This liberal, justice-oriented denomination embraced me as I graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1979 and provided strong support for almost 15 years of work in the inner-city of Chicago.

From Chicago, the UCC took me to Columbus, Ohio where I served as the Senior Minister of an historic downtown church which has the distinction of being “the church of Washington Gladden.” That was all before I started LifeTrek Coaching International in 1998. That background explains, in part, why LifeTrek has an interest in spiritual wellness and why I would introduce today’s Provision with 130-year-old material.

Born in 1836, Washington Gladden was a pioneer of the social gospel movement and a key apologist for theological liberalism. He served as pastor of the church in Columbus from 1882 to 1914. A prolific author, orator, and activist, Gladden’s biography reads like a Who’s-Who of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From labor leaders to business tycoons, from United States’ presidents to city council members, Gladden found ways to meet, challenge, and serve them all.

One of his early books, published in 1876, was titled Being a Christian: What It Means and How to Begin. This book, translated into foreign languages and destined to become one of Gladden’s most popular works, was written as a case statement for people who were curious about Christianity, or who wanted to be Christians, but were not sure what it was all about or how to get started.

The book reads as though it could have been written yesterday. Even the language has contemporary overtones. After dispensing with the notion that Christianity is primarily about ritual, dogma, or sentiment, Gladden goes on to ask whether or not people should become Christians in order to enjoy themselves and be happy. In other words, Gladden addresses the transactional (this-for-that) understanding of religion so prevalent yet today.

After due consideration, Gladden rejects the notion that Christianity is yet another feel-good formula for success. For one thing, he notes that the founder of Christianity, whom Christians are encouraged to emulate, is best known for his sacrifice, public humiliation, and death. Beyond that, Gladden identifies an even deeper reason for not turning Christianity into a formula for blessings, prosperity, and honor.

“The chief good, both in this life and in the life which is to come,” Gladden writes, “is not enjoyment, but rectitude. The reason for being a Christian which ought, then, to have the most weight with every human being is this: that Christ promises to help those who trust in him and follow him … to be set free from … the long catalogue of evil practices to which, if you are honest, you will sorrowfully confess that you are more or less addicted.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I find that statement to be rather remarkable for someone writing 130 years ago. To suggest that the foundation of the Christian faith has more to do with freedom than enjoyment, and to speak of that freedom in terms of addiction, is to speak in very contemporary terms to one of the most serious and widespread of contemporary issues.

Addiction became widely recognized as a distinct and pernicious problem in the latter part of the twentieth century. From the time of Freud, traditional psychoanalysis approached self-defeating behavior primarily in terms of repression and unresolved conflicts. By working to uncover people’s hidden longings and unmet needs, like peeling away the layers of an onion, psychoanalysts hoped to reach and resolve their patient’s core issues.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work for everyone. Some problems, such as alcoholism and drug abuse, include attachments and chemical dependencies that have nothing to do with repression and unresolved conflicts. They have to do with addiction and genetic influences that require (as Gladden so aptly noted back in 1876) a more spiritual approach to healing.

Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is an unabashedly spiritual program to set people free from alcohol. “We have come to believe,” they acknowledge in the second of their 12 Steps, “that only a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” On that basis, more than 2 million people have recovered from alcohol addiction since the group’s founding in 1935.

So, too, when it comes to spiritual wellness in general. We know we are on the right track when we experience increased freedom from those practices to which, if we are honest, we must confess that we are more or less addicted.

Ironically, too many religions set themselves up as yet another addiction. Instead of liberating the spirit to dance with freedom, they enslave the spirit with yet more requirements, biases, and obligations. I urged you to avoid religions like that in the first Provision in this series Click. Spiritual wellness does not result from substituting one addiction for another.

Yet that may be the condition in which most of us find ourselves. Alcohol, claiming some 14 million victims in the United States alone, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addiction. Drugs, gambling, eating, shopping, entertainment, sex, and work (as in workaholics) claim an even larger slice of the pie.

The problem is so profound and so widespread that psychiatrist Gerald May argues “that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every” person in this society. “The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. We are all addicts,” May concludes, “in every sense of the word.”

And addiction is a terrible master. It eats away at our sense of self-worth, meaningfulness, dignity, and self-esteem. The more out of control we become over our own behaviors, the more attached we become to our possessions, and the more jealous we become of our relationships, the more we are filled with self-loathing and fear. We end up living in hell, to quote Gladden again, both in this life and the next.

How, then, do we change direction? Perhaps we can take our cues from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

1. We can embrace freedom as our choice and heartfelt desire. There is no way to live free until we adopt such a life position. As long as we view ourselves as trapped we are trapped. “I can’t lose weight!”, “I can’t leave this relationship!”, “I can’t stop watching this program!”, “I just have to buy this!”, and “I can’t help myself!” are common examples of addictive notions that must be dispensed with before we can move forward to spiritual wellness.

2. We can seek assistance from the Great Spirit of life. The 12 Steps are steeped in this orientation, which involves much more than right thinking. To connect with the Great Spirit that sets people free, we need to think, feel, move, smell, taste, and blink ourselves into position. In most cases, this requires daily habits and reminders to keep us on track. It’s a balancing act to make sure those habits and reminders do not, themselves, become addictions. In most cases, healthy practices lead to healthy spirits.

3. We can admit our need to other people. Freedom is not an easy choice to make let alone to maintain. Our society has a vested interest in keeping us addicted. Are high gas prices bad for the economy? Not necessarily, says one expert. Why? Because high gas prices make people feel bad, and when people feel bad what do they do? They shop. In other words, we soothe our insecurities with our addictions. Admitting that we need help to another person, and then getting support from family, friends, coaches, counselors, or advisors, is part of the healing process.

4. We can complete the past. There’s no way to experience freedom with skeletons in the closet. The more the past hangs over our heads the more difficult it is to live free in the present. So we do whatever it takes to set things right. We apologize and make amends to those we have wronged. We celebrate and give recognition to those we have overlooked. Clearing up the past lays the foundation for moving on; it not only gives us peace of mind it also gives us a newfound network of support.

5. We can extend assistance to others. No one is an island, especially when it comes to freedom. Ironically enough, to embrace freedom it’s as important to extend assistance to others as it is to seek assistance from others. My own addiction to over eating is a case in point. I spent most of my life either overweight or obese. I was a member of the “clean plate club” from my earliest days. After I lost my excess weight in 1998, my decision to become a coach • including wellness among my specialties • has been an important to continuing my freedom. It’s part and parcel of spiritual wellness.

These five strategies may appear simple, but they have the power to break even the most deep-seated of addictions. If you want to move toward spiritual wellness, then take these simple strategies to heart.

Coaching Inquiries: What are you addicted to in life? Do you want to break your addictions? Are there people you could turn to for assistance? Are there people you need to clear things up with in order to move forward? How could you lend a hand to others in common cause with wholeness?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Your article Painful Pleasure was outstanding and I encourage you to always interrupt a series to write about your experiences in the races. I tend to get bogged down with daily life and reading about “real people” doing “real things” and stretching themselves beyond belief causes me to rethink my thoughts and actions. I have been a fan of LifeTrek and it is the most important email I receive.

I’m glad you gave us your “race report” this week • I would have been disappointed if you hadn’t! Congratulations! You are an inspiration!

Beautiful article on your Boston marathon victory. Congratulations!

Congratulations on a fine run. Even though I am far from a runner, you inspire me.

I am have been a subscriber to your LifeTrek Provisions newsletter for several years and I have watched, with exponentially-rising amazement, your personal growth and the explosion of quality in your writing. Thanks for your contributions to the coaching profession, e.g., your willingness to confront and balance Thomas Leonard’s credo of “me first.”

Thanks for the gripping Boston marathon story, and congratulations on a race well run. I am still aching from the disappointment in reading some of your subscribers’ comments last week on the question of selfishness. It is the same distressing feeling I sometimes get when I realize that Christian values are not universally held by peers, even by another name. No wonder so much is messed up in contemporary society!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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