Abba’s Love for Addiction and Shame

Brennan Manning’s relapse with alcohol left him in a gutter. The best-selling Christian author and retreat leader hit bottom again. His clothes were in tatters. His face was unshaven and his eyes were bloodshot. His belly was bloated. His body reeked with rancid odor. He was clutching his last ounces of vodka.

“My marriage is collapsing,” he moans, “my friends are near despair, and my honor is broken. My brain is scrambled, my mind is a junkyard of broken promises, failed dreams, unkept resolutions… I shudder at the pain and heartache I have caused.”

He cries in self-pity or prayer or both, “Why didn’t AA work for me? I’ll never hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ I’m Abba’s drunken child. Jesus, where are you?”

He passes out on the curb. The next morning he wakes up in a detox center where he is cared for. It was time for more therapy, more Twelve Step work, more prayer, more grace.

Probably you or a loved one suffers with addiction.

One in seven Americans develops a substance addiction in their lifetime, according to a Surgeon General report. One in two develops a food addiction. If we include workaholism, codependency (unhealthy relationship addictions), and other compulsive pursuits that we entertain or busy ourselves with then most of us struggle with addictive tendencies.

Brennan tells his story of addiction in Ruthless Trust (pages 13-16, 46-47). He identifies self-hatred as a main cause:

“The biggest obstacle on my journey of trust has been an oppressive sense of insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority, and low self-esteem.”

“I have no memory of being held, hugged, or kissed by my mother as a little boy. I was called a nuisance and a pest and told to shut up and sit still…”

“When I was a child my father was never there… (except to speak a word of correction or to impose physical discipline).”

“When I saw kids my own age enjoying a great relationship with their moms and dads, I concluded that there must be something missing in me. It was my fault. Because I constantly blamed myself, the seed of a corrosive self-hatred took root. In the absence of any expression of attention or affection from others, I found it unthinkable that God might have tender feelings for me.”

Shame had closed him up in the mighty citadel of self and preempted an experience of God’s compassion. He writes, “The language of low self-esteem is harsh and demanding; it abuses, accuses, criticizes, rejects, finds fault, blames, condemns, reproaches, and scolds in a monologue of impatience and chastisement.”

“We would never judge any of God’s other children with the savage condemnation with which we crush ourselves.”

But in this period of recovery and healing prayer, he stopped hiding his true self from God and safe people and received Jesus’ tender touch through the healing of memory prayer, forgiveness, and more recovery work.

The best way to be sober and loving is to be God-intoxicated. That’s the lesson I take from having read all thirteen of Brennan Manning’s books.

When he was workaholic in ministry, isolating from people, and hating himself he escaped into drinking, deceit, and a double-life as a retreat leader and drunk.

But in sobriety and recovery, his heart was set on Jesus. He was participating in authentic, grace-filled relationships with the “The Little Brothers of Jesus,” his wife, or the “Notorious Sinners” recovery group. He prayed “Abba, I belong to you” (inspired by Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6), nourished himself in God’s Word, and spoke to others out of the overflow of the love of Jesus that he was enjoying.

Most of us are like Brennan. We struggle with self-condemnation and inner emptiness and this drives us to be compulsive. As Paul suggests, either we keep filling ourselves with the Spirit of Jesus or we get drunk on wine or something else (Ephesians 5:18).


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